Saturday, September 13, 2008

USF React

Well obviously last night was a tough pill to swallow. But given that there were some bad breaks (I am a big proponent for replay, but I operate under the premise that the guys using it are competent), an awful 20+ minutes where they saw a 17 point lead turn into a two touchdown deficit, and they still had a chance to win, we shouldn't go jumping ship just yet. We were playing a ranked team, on the road, in a hostile environment and only lost by a last second field goal. Two years ago that was unheard of. Now, we're disappointed.

The outcome was: awful. There’s just no way to feel otherwise. Losing after holding a 20-3 lead is inexcusable. Losing (in regulation) when you have the ball with 40 seconds left is inexcusable. And more than either of those things, it’s just damn frustrating when an opportunity like that slips away and you’re left wondering why. Especially when it ends on a kick that had to hook substantially just to get inside the uprights.

You can’t say enough about Todd’s game. Which is why the third quarter still baffles me so much. When you see your QB laying it all on the line like that, how do you not find a way to help him out. I know these are new, young tackles, but that was pitiful. Defensively, wha happened?!?! I knew USF would get some points and I’ve been harping on the lack of a pass rush for a while now. But again, that was pitiful.

The offensive MVP was: Todd Reesing. You can’t say enough about Kerry’s 11 catches (29 on the year) or Johnathon Wilson’s incredible game (which should have had a third TD, had Daymond not jumped in front). But Todd is this offense. I can’t even imagine what his numbers would look like if he didn’t have to scramble around and throw across his body over half the game. And even doing those things he still found a way to complete 34 of 51 passes (67%) for 373 yards and three TDs, while also running one in. Unfortunately, it all ended with his one mistake when he under-threw Raymond Brown. It was the right read and if he gets it there, KU is going to have a kick to win it, if they don’t put it in the zone. But it didn’t and sometimes that’s just how it goes.

The defensive MVP was: James Holt. He made great tackles on special teams. He was decent in coverage. And more than anything, he just found his way to the ball and made plays when he got there. He finished the night with 12.5 tackles, 3 of those for a loss.

The offensive LVP was: the offensive line. This is getting ridiculous. I know AC was great and Cesar was a veteran, but as good as they were, one was a 4th round pick and the other didn’t get a sniff. Good: yes. All-world: no. While the push (or lack threof) on the run game has been non-existent all year, last night they didn’t even show the ability to contain the pass rush. Which has me extremely excited for the game in Norman.

But honestly, what we saw is what we have. Presumably, they’re only going to get better. But this shit takes time, and they don’t have long if they want to compete in the Big XII. Perhaps even more disappointing is the play of the interior. True, Cantrell is the only really good one (and we knew that going in), but can Hartley and Mayes just do nothing without great, veteran tackles on their shoulder? When you have three returning seniors anchoring the center of your line, it should be a strength. Thus far, it’s a weakness.

The defensive LVP was: the defensive line. I hate to say I told you so (mostly because I wanted to be wrong), but I’ve long been convinced that we were not going to be able to count on any sort of a pass rush this year. And while it wasn’t great in the first couple of games, last night is when the indisputable evidence surfaced. Not too harp too heavily on the trip to Norman (as that game has always been considered a loss anyway), but Duke Robinson and Phil Loadholt just might swallow this d-line the way it’s performing right now.

But if what you saw is what we have on the o-line, that is even more true on the defensive side. We haven’t generated a consistent four man rush since Keith and Ashley and it’s not going to come out of nowhere now. The tackles have been pretty solid this year, but the ends barely get off the ball faster than me. This is a big, big, problem. (Note: the facemask on Laptad’s sack was complete bullshit, and he remains my favorite option here.)

Running game watch: fuck. I truly don’t understand what’s going on here. But I do know that I can put blame on every facet of the running game. 1) Coaching: I really don’t think Warinner is putting them in great position to succeed. When the ground game sputters and Todd leads TD drives through the air, Ed falls in love with the pass and isn’t patient enough to let a running game develop. 2) Line: There’s really no sense in harping on this any longer, but even when plays are set up and hole is there it is closing immediately, because Cantrell is the only one getting to the second level. 3) Backs: I have nothing bad to say about Angus. His blocking wasn’t noticeable bad. He’s timing as he hits the hole (when there is one) is great and he’s made the most of his chances. Jake and Jocques, on the other hand, look worse by the game. Both had a few decent runs last night, but they both look awful blocking and Jake in particular looks to be forcing the issue, blindly missing obvious opportunities to bounce it out or cut it back. Simply, he looks indecisive. And that can’t happen with a RB, especially one playing behind a questionable line.

After the first two games, I pretty much gave up any hope that we’d ever see a game controlled on the ground. But with Todd’s accuracy that didn’t worry me all that much as long as we could keep a semblance of balance to keep the defense honest. Right now, I’m not sure that can happen.

The skill blocking: is becoming a bigger issue. Kerry and Biere look pretty good, though I don’t think Biere was used nearly enough. If you’re going to leave a RB in to block anyway, why not just trade him out for a TE so Selvie doesn’t get a running start? But aside from Biere, we’ve already mentioned the RB blocking issues. And as great as Daymond was in games 1 & 2 (not so much last night), we really can’t underestimate how much of a falloff it must be to go from your best blocking receiver (Dexton) to a 5’8” freshman. Briscoe and Wilson are decent, but certainly not great. Briscoe because of effort, Wilson because of size. This is something else that will need to improve if we’re ever going to see a running game.

Odds and ends: The DBs were not nearly aggressive enough. When you have a non-existent pass rush, you have to break up their timing as best you can. You also have to force your man inside when you’re playing cover two (something Barfield neglected to do on the last USF touchdown), because there’s no way a safety can cover a sideline route…lost in all this bitching I’m doing is the play of the receivers, who, along with Todd, are going to keep the team in every game this year…though it would help if the defense weren’t so susceptible to patient offenses – I’m all for safe, assignment sound football, but as competition gets better sometimes you have to force their hand a bit and that did not happen last night (see: 0 INTs for a TO prone QB)….if they play this way against Methzou, Chase will do exactly what he did a year ago.

Sam Houston State Fear Factor is: 2 out of 10. Baseline of 5. (+1) for Rhett and the 58 points they put up in week 1. (-2) for Memorial Stadium. (+1) for them having three weeks to prepare. (-1) for being a FCS team. (-1) for Todd. (-1) because this is a perfect get-back-on-track game and SHSU is simply the victim.

Heading into next week I feel: fine. Obviously I’m not worried about the upcoming game. But big picture wise, I don’t know how the team will respond to that loss. I feel a whole lot better knowing that they could bounce back from 31 straight points and have a chance to win in that environment. But I’ve long felt that this was an enormous game confidence-wise going forward. And perhaps more importantly, I think it lessens the margin for error. And when you’re facing a 5 week stretch of: @ OU, Tech, KSU, @ NU, UT (& of course Methzou two weeks later), you’ve dramatically lessened your margin for error by starting that stretch with a loss.

That said, this team is capable of winning all those games. Maybe only because they have Todd calling the signals, but capable no less. Now, capable as they may be, they aren’t winning in Norman. But if they can start sewing up some of these gaffs, the rest are doable. And with this loss, they’re now also necessary. If you haven't read our friend, Mr. Whitlock today, he's right, if not a bit optimistic. We’ll see…

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