Sunday, September 25, 2011

Breaking Down the Ole Miss Game

First, and most importantly, it was a win.  An SEC win.  On the road.  And while we never really put them away like we should have, there was also never a point where the final result really seemed in doubt.  That was nice to see.

Of course, the fact that we could never put them away showed that we still have a long way to go if Richt hopes to win enough games to stick around past this year.  It drives me nuts to see a team like Florida have their act together enough under a first year head coach, learning new schemes on both sides of the ball, to go out and completely dispatch Kentucky.........then contrast that with how we allowed Ole Miss to hang around all day.  The mentality of a killer instinct continues to elude this team.  Here are my thoughts on the units.

Defense

The defense overall played a good game.  Ole Miss was never able to establish a running game, and we consistently pressured the QB, resulting in 4 sacks and 2 interceptions.  We were helped by some timely penalties and some just awful execution by their offense that made us a look a bit better than we really were, but it's hard to find too much to pick at with the D in this game.  Yes, the trick play burned us, but at the end of the day, the defense has only given up 24 points in the last 3 games despite some significant injuries, and that is impressive (technically they have given up 31 points, but most people are in agreement that the touchdown scored by the 'Cocks after Gilmore's punt return to the 5 should be pinned on the offense).  And while the offense and special teams were pussyfooting around in the 2nd half, the defense pitched a shutout.  I thought we did a great job of covering the short, underneath routes and the big boys up front did a great job of clogging the middle.  Also, Herrera sure is a good looking freshman, and Gilliard made some nice plays, they are filling in well.  The other thing I was REALLY happy to see is the defense stepping up in sudden-change situations.  After Murray's interception (which was really on Charles), and after the onsides kick recovery, the defense came out and stonewalled Ole Miss both times.  Those were key to never really allowing momentum to build.

Special Teams

Weren't special teams supposed to be the one part of the team we didn't have to worry about this year?  Well, so much for that.  As I mentioned last night in the comments though, I have some mixed feelings.  The one play I will not fault the coaching or the players for is the onside kick recovery.  If you watch the replay, Marc Deas actually read it all the way, and it was clear to me that he had been coached to be looking for it.  It was just an absolutely perfect bounce that came down like a perfectly thrown fade pass along the sideline.  I honestly don't know what more Deas could have done, and it's not like the coaches should have been expected to have the hands team on the field at that point.  Sometimes, the other team just perfectly executes a play, and that was the case this time.

As for the punt return we allowed for a TD, that hurt for two reasons.  Obviously the first reason was that it turned a game we had complete control of into a game where Ole Miss was back within striking distance and had some momentum going into halftime.  But the other reason was that I fear it will make Richt even more gun-shy in the future.  Immediately before that return, we had just taken over the ball at our 27 yard line with 1:26 to go in the half, up 24-7.  You know every fiber of Richt's being was telling him to just run the clock out and take a 17 point lead into the half.  But we have all been imploring Richt to start going for the jugular in those situations, and try to get some points.  Well, 3 incompletions and a punt return for touchdown later, and you know deep down inside Richt was thinking "See, I knew running the clock out in these situations is best".  Even though it didn't work out, I still think it was the right decision to try to move the ball in that situation, but I fear that the special teams failure will only make it even less likely to see us try that again in the future.

The return game, both punts and kickoffs, was virtually nonexistent.  And Smith nearly caused a disaster with that ball that rolled through his legs, that would have really changed the complexion of the game.  That's the problem with not putting a team away, you're only 1 or 2 mental mistakes away from giving the game to the opponent.  But fortunately, while the return game didn't help us much, it didn't end up hurting us either.

As for Walsh.....I don't know what to say.  He has proven in the past that he has the goods to get the job done.  I know absolutely nothing about how you coach a kicker out of a slump.  To me, it strikes me as similar to a golfer's putting game.....almost more mental than mechanical.  But I have no insight of value to add here --- if any readers do, I hope you'll expand on this in the comments below.  I just hope he shakes it off soon.  I mentioned it last night though, one sure fire way to reduce missed field goals is to score more touchdowns, which brings me to..........

Offense

Immediately after the game, I felt that Bobo had done a pretty poor job the entire game.  However, when I went back and re-watched the game, Bobo actually had a pretty good first half.  On our first drive (resulted in a FG), there were two very good calls on passing plays that should have resulted in touchdowns......Murray was just a half yard long on the post to Mitchell, and a half yard short on the fade to Bennett (Bennett could conceivably have made the catch, but the defender did a nice job of getting a hand in there).  Charles hurt us with a couple of easy drops, one of which resulted in an interception.  And on that drive at the end of the half just before the punt return for a TD, Bobo had a perfect playcall on with Troupe crossing underneath that Murray threw just a little too hot (though it was still catchable), and Troupe couldn't come up with it.  That play would have gone for at least 15-20 yards though if executed properly, gotten us out near midfield, and given us a really good opportunity to get some points and put the game out of reach.  Bobo actually did a pretty good job of using Crowell in some misdirection plays, Carlton Thomas had some nice runs, and we racked up 289 yards of offense resulting in 24 points.  That's a pretty good body of work for a half by any measure.  We really should have had at least 30 points at halftime, but any points that were left on the field were the result of player execution, not playcalling by the coaches.

The 2nd half was a very frustrating 30 minutes of football to watch though.  Again, so much of it goes back to having that killer instinct, and the belief that you can put a team away.  We don't have that, and we haven't for some time now.  It was clear to me that Crowell was winded the entire second half.  He would break off one decent run, then had nothing left unless he went to the sideline for a while.  To be honest, he looked winded from about the mid point of the 2nd quarter.  On the first drive of the 2nd half, when we got down into scoring position, even the announcers noted how winded he looked just before 2nd & 7 from the Ole Miss 23........then he ended up not even trying to read where the blitz was coming from on that play, Murray took a big sack, Walsh missed the FG 2 plays later, and that seemed to set the tone for the half.  I know he carried the ball 30 times, but it's not like he got tired on the 29th and 30th carry, his last 10-12 carries had nowhere near the burst he showed early in the game.  I hope that's just a function of missing practice time with his rib injuries the past couple of weeks, and his fitness level will improve going forward.  Because when he has that burst, the kid is a stud.

The playcalling in the second half was about as unimaginative and uninspiring as you can get.  Third and long?  Inside draw to Crowell.  Every time.  Yes, it worked great in the first half on that 29 yard run when we were deep in our own territory.  But it didn't result in ANY conversions on third down in the 2nd half.  It only resulted in FG attempts.  Again, no killer instinct.  And Murray matched the uninspired playcalling with some easy misses, like the time he overthrew Figgins who had nobody within 12 yards of him.  Murray's stats were actually decent for the game, but he still makes mistakes that leave you scratching your head.  

On the plus side, I've been a harsh critic of Richard Samuel, and I still don't think much of him as a runner, but the fight he showed to convert that 4th down was great.  And he has shown himself to be a nice receiver out of the backfield, that 22 yard catch and run was a big play.  With his size and catching ability, I think he would actually make a great fullback in our offense.  Perhaps that will be a transition we see next year when Figgins is gone.  He just doesn't have the wiggle or the burst to be a good tailback (watching him try to make cuts is almost painful), but I think he could play for a long time at the next level as a fullback.

Overall though, our offense still does not have the ability to put inferior teams away.  Blame it on the coaching, the execution by the players (which to some extent goes back to coaching), a lack of confidence, or whatever, it's going to hurt us and we're going to end up losing a game we had no business losing (you could argue we already have, against SC).  And when that happens, it very well could be the final straw for Richt.  As I mentioned early in this post, the contrast in the mentality of our team under a veteran coach and UF under a first year coach, who should be struggling in his first year (even Saban was 6-6 his first year at 'Bama!), is very striking.  If that contrast is still present when we arrive in Jacksonville, it's going to be ugly.  Fortunately we still have some time and some winnable games ahead of us to try to improve.

But again.....we won, on the road, in an SEC game.  I guess you have to start somewhere.

-Rev.



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