Friday, October 17, 2014

UNC Preview

Well, that was frustrating.  Seems like GT is really good at doing that.  Getting into the rankings and finally getting some respect and throwing it away.  

Losing to Duke is no longer the embarrassment it once was.  Not by a long shot.  But, still, at home against a team who doesn't really out talent us, you hate to throw a game away with turnovers and penalties.  Particularly relatively unforced turnovers (as both interceptions were) and the 4th and 4 offsides.  Just inexcusable for a guy who isn't even rushing the punter to line up offsides on a punt.  And surrender a first down.  

There were numerous sloppy mental mistakes that really hurt, and honestly I don't feel like breaking them down one by one.  Clearly you can't expect to play that way and beat a pretty good team. 

Also troubling however was the fact that Duke tackled much better than we did.  Some of that is technique, some of it may have been effort, some of it is taking better angles and being in better position.  Most of that is coaching related.  As I said, I just don't think Duke has better talent than we do.  We rarely broke a tackle last Saturday and we rarely seemed to get their ballcarrier down with the first guy.  Thats not good football.  We haven't been a particularly good tackling team all year, which is a concern, but Saturday might have been the worst.  And I have no explanation for why we couldn't break any tackles.  

Duke deserves some credit.  Probably more than I've given them so far.  I still wonder if they haven't benefitted from luck over the past 10 games or so, dating back to last season.  They seem to have been on the right side of the bounces for a few games and I wonder if that will last.  But even so it may be time to admit they are better than I thought they were.  We'll see as the season progresses.  I still think they may lose 3 or 4 games, and frankly, its probably better for us to have beaten Miami and VT and lost to Duke, than to be 2-1 but have a loss to VT or Miami.  

But enough about the Duke game.  I don't think it needs to be analyzed much.  The bottom line is you can make that many self inflicted mistakes and win unless you are playing somebody much worse than you.  

So we arrive at the midpoint of the season 5-1.  Most GT fans probably would have taken that and been happy at this point, if we are being honest.  All of our goals are still within reach, up to and including the national title if you are so inclined to fantasize.  I think we have somewhere between a 0% and a 1% chance at that (closer to zero?) but technically, I think a 12-1 ACC champ who just beat Clemson, UGA and FSU would get in to the playoff.  Obviously, we can still win the ACC and beat UGA, although beating UGA is looking less and less likely with each game.  At present Massey gives us a 16% chance and projects a 14 point loss.  Not terrible, but not very good.  Sadly I think thats right, and the game probably looks a lot like 2011.  We have a good offense, good enough to score and keep it close for a while, but UGA's defense is better than last year.  Good enough to slow us down some, and I wonder if our defense will get any stops.  

Which obviously is our main problem.  The defense just has to get more stops.  As the Duke game showed, if we don't force turnovers, we just aren't very good.  If you follow the stats that track efficiency (which is better for us since our games tend to have fewer possessions than most and thus totals stats are misleading), our defense may be the worst we've had under CPJ.  At present it ranks as low as 80th.  

On the plus side, UNC's defense ranks around 100th by the same metrics, so this game won't feature much defense.  however, our offense ranks as high as top 10 nationally, depending on where you look, and UNC's is well above average (in the 30's generally) so this game should be high scoring.  Nothing terribly insightful there.  Sadly, even though I think we are the better team, our defense is bad enough and their offense good enough that they could realistically score nearly every drive.  Meaning, turnovers will likely decide the outcome again.  This is the problem when your defense is as bad as ours.  Nothing else really matters.  When you can't reliably stop anybody, every game is going to be close (or else you are getting blown out) and turnovers tend to decide things.  We were +2 against VT and Miami and -3 against Duke.  Win, Win, Loss.  Against UNC, hopefully, if the margin is zero, we should win, but it'll be in doubt.  

We are in for a wild ride the rest of the way.  The defense just doesn't appear to have any strengths.  We don't stop the run well, we don't rush the passer, we aren't great in pass coverage, we don't tackle well in space, we aren't powerful up front.  We are left to the mercy of the play calls.  If Roof can dial up a series of calls that matchup well with what they are doing, AND we tackle well, then maybe we get a stop.  But that is asking a lot.  Good defenses are able to get good results with conservative base defenses fairly often.  They don't have to gamble as much.  And pretty much all good defenses have an area or areas of strength.  Maybe its a good pass rushing D-Line who can generate pressure so you don't have to blitz and can drop into coverage.  Maybe its two great cornerbacks who can play man coverage and let the safeties play more run support.  Etc.  

We don't appear to have an area of strength.  So its hard to blame Roof for his scheme and play calling.  There's no area he can rely upon.  You can sometimes protect a poor pass rushing D Line with a blitz.  You can protect a bad corner with safety help.  But you can't protect everyone.  We can't blitz, and give the corner safety help.  So we have to defend probabilities and hope the offense doesn't call the right type of play.  

Given that, it isn't surprising that we rely upon turnovers.  Its a lot easier to force a turnover on 1 play than to get a stop on 3 straight plays, with the above constraints.  We should probably gamble even more than we are and focus on attacking the ball, trying to cause fumbles or baiting the QB and gambling on INTs.  Its not like we get many stops as is.  

But the offense is just going to have to play well for us to win.  Thats true for most every game we have left.  I don't see a big change coming on defense anytime this year, so we just have to score most every time we have the ball.  Like we did against Miami.  Fortunately, UNC's defense looks to be truly awful.  So we should be able to score.  I hope thats enough to get back on track and get to 6-1.  

As always, Go Jackets!  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Duke Preview

Well that was a thoroughly satisfying game.  I don't think its really sunk in for me yet that we beat both Virginia Tech and Miami.  I had really gotten tired of losing to both, especially in the incredibly heartbreaking ways we kept doing it.  2012 was comically bad for both games, but there were others.  Anyway, really an impressive performance, especially offensively.  Crisp, clean execution, and Justin Thomas continues to impress.  We didn't ask him to throw much, but when needed, he mostly delivered, including a very nice pass on the 3rd and 15 or so in the 4th quarter.  He also did not run the ball much, but I think that was by design from Miami's scheme.  The secret is out - Justin Thomas is our best runner.  They focused on him and he calmly directed the ball to the right read.  

There were some bad plays of course, including a poor throw on 3rd and 5 to a fairly wide open Smelter on an out route.  This play immediately preceded the fake punt (which was a great call by the way).  But 28 points on essentially 8 possessions is pretty good offense.  

In related news, I'm starting to think maybe we've got the old CPJ back.  Not the guy who punted on 4th and 1 from midfield leading Miami 36-29 in 2012.  He faked a punt at a crucial juncture, I think primarily to make sure Miami didn't get the ball back again in the first half, so we'd have a chance to drive for the lead to open the 3rd quarter.  He went for it on 4th and 2 from inside Miami's 10 yard line in the 4th quarter, leading 21-17.  That was of course the touchdown, and also a great call.  But CPJ didn't want to leave Miami within 1 possession.  That was a gamble.  I think I like the gambling, aggressive CPJ more than the sometimes careful guy we've seen the past couple of years.  Maybe I'm making that up, but it felt to me he lost some of his aggression for a while.  

I'm still concerned about the defense.  Specifically, whether we can get stops without turnovers.  We are tied for next to last in the country at fewest punts forced per game.  Turnovers are nice, but they tend to be unreliable and inconsistent.  Here, Miami only had the ball 7 times, and they scored 17 points with 2 red zone turnovers.  Easily could have been 31 points on 7 possessions, which would have been atrocious defense, and also might have meant we lost.  

The defense deserves some credit for getting the turnovers, but you can also argue Miami's QB Kaaya just made some poor decisions.  I'd also argue that Miami's play caller made some poor decisions.  I'm not sure why Duke Johnson didn't get the ball more.  They seemed to think, if we stopped him once, they had to throw a couple times.  If I'm Miami, I might have run him 3 times in a row no matter what happens on first down.  Three Duke Johnson runs against our defense are going to total more than 10 yards most of the time, at least I would think.  Especially down in the red zone, I think I would have kept the ball on the ground.  

I do like the way Roof has been managing games and making adjustments.  I like some of our defensive players, but overall I don't think our talent scares anybody.  So Roof has to take some chances and play the percentages.  And I think he's done a good job with that so far.  But going forward, our inability to get stops means we aren't going to win very many games easily.  As we've already seen, even with Tulane and Ga. Southern, when the other team can score, the game tends to stay interesting.  

Here is a fun stat from this game though - and I bring it up because every game the commentators can't stop talking about how important it is for Georgia Tech's offense to stay "on schedule", and how if you can get us into 2nd and 3rd and long, you can stop us.  This stuff really is nonsense.  Our offense is better at 3rd and short than most offenses, but believe it or not, we are actually above average (usually) at 3rd and long.  3rd and long is how you stop any offense.  This talking point is tired and really incorrect.  Maybe I'll do a formal chart for the blog soon so you guys can see what I mean.  

Anyway, for this game, here is a list of Miami's third downs:

3rd down and 8 - failed conversion - punt
3rd down and 2 - failed conversion - convert on 4th down.
3rd down and 7 - failed conversion - FG
3rd down and 6 - failed conversion - punt
3rd down and 2 - conversion

And here is GT:

3rd down and 1 - convert
3rd down and 1 - convert
3rd down and 5 - failed conversion - punt
3rd down and 6 - conversion pass interference
3rd down and 5 - failed conversion, fake punt
3rd down and 5 - convert
3rd down and 16 - failed conversion
3rd down and 7 - conversion
3rd down and 4 - conversion
3rd down and 2 - conversion
3rd down and 16 - conversion
3rd down and 4 - failed conversion - convert 4th down
3rd down and 3 - convert
3rd down and 2 - convert
3rd down and 8 - failed conversion punt.

So Miami's big bad passing offense went 0 for 3 on 3rd down and 6 or longer.  Meanwhile, GT's offense that "has to stay on schedule" went 3 for 5 on 3rd and 6 or longer, including a conversion on 3rd and 16.  

The bottom line is that nobody converts 3rd and long much, but really, our offense isn't bad at it.  Getting us in 3rd and long isn't some weakness or achilles heel.  At least, not anymore than it is for NC State, Boston College, Miami, Texas, Stanford or pretty much whoever you want to talk about.  

Anyway, overall I thought a really good game and a satisfying win.  I still think we can play better, but this group plays as a team and seems to have what it takes to make plays in the clutch.

On to Duke.  I was terrified about this game.  Everything was set up perfectly for a big let down.  We just got ranked.  We are 5-0.  We are getting some respect.  Fresh off two huge wins against teams that have beaten us every year that every player on the current roster has been here.  We are back at home, and are favored, against a team we beat easily last year.  

I know, I know, they are the reigning Coastal division champs and they aren't a pushover anymore.  But, I think there is still the "it's Duke" factor.  

So, had we been flat, Duke really is pretty good.  I would have expected them to score and maybe score a lot.  Not really sure what to make of their defense, but playing flat usually means poor blocking, which can mean poor offense against most anybody (see Middle Tenn. State 2012, Ga. Southern 2nd half this year).  And of course we could always have a couple turnovers as well.  A flat performance here would probably mean a loss.

So why did I say I WAS terrified?  

Anybody seen the press conferences this week?  

Cutcliffe made some... what I would call shocking comments.  I mean it was mostly coach speak, the usual complimentary stuff.  But he also took a couple shots to the effect of "I don't know why recruits would go play in that offense if they want to go pro", and similarly why defenders would want to go there.  He did the Frank Beamer thing where he claims we "chop block" when he knows full well the difference in a cut block and a chop block.  And when asked how GT always seems to have a stud WR, he scoffed at the notion that Smelter is in the same category as Thomas or Calvin.  

In fairness, Smelter probably isn't (who is?) but that still smacks of taking a direct shot at a current student-athlete.  Something I'm not sure I've ever heard a coach do.  

When asked about these comments, Coach Johnson was pretty short but took the rather obvious argument - basically saying maybe they should worry about who they are (or aren't) putting in the NFL from their scheme and leave us alone.  Which makes sense, given that Coach Johnson is 6-0 against Duke and has put considerably more players in the NFL than Cutcliffe has.  

Boy that was an odd move from Cutcliffe.  

Well, I could analyze how the teams matchup but I think the bottom line is this - we have more talent, more depth, we are at home, and NOW... I think we are focused.  Thanks Cutcliffe!  I have a sneaking suspicion that GT is a very solid bet this weekend.  The spread is about 5, and I think we might just have a chip on our shoulder this week.  

The matchups are interesting.  I don't think Duke's defense is very good, but they have put up decent stats although mostly against poor opposition.  They aren't a very good rush defense, although we've seen in the past that doesn't necessarily mean much with us.  Our rushing attack is defended more like a passing attack than a traditional running attack - meaning sometimes we do very well against good rushing defenses and poorly against bad ones.  Duke's offense should be good, led by a good QB, but their passing hasn't been as sharp as last year.  And again, they've played nobodies, except for Miami.  They have run the ball better, but I think our defense is better against the run than the pass (at least when not facing a huge O-Line and Duke Johnson).  In other words I'm more afraid of Duke's passing attack than their rushing attack.  So I'm not sure what to make of their lackluster passing so far (compared to what they did last year).  

I do think we'll be able to score and score a lot.  I just don't think Duke has the athletes on defense to stop us.  And as a general rule, if you don't out-talent us, you don't have a chance to stop this offense.  Especially true if we are up for the game, which we should be now.

That last sentence is really what I think controls everything.  I like GT big.  42-21 or 38-17.  Something like that.  Don't think it'll be all that close.  

As always, Go Jackets!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Miami Preview

Man it sure felt good to do to VT what they usually do to us, didn't it?  Make plays down the stretch (really, in all phases) and pull out a close win that really could have gone either way.  I think its clear that VT is at least a pretty good team, but I think its equally clear that both teams played poorly last Saturday.  A lot of unforced errors.  Some errors were forced to varying degrees but both teams have a lot to clean up.

Nevertheless, it was still a quality road win against one of our nemeses.  Let's start with the positives.  I really liked the way the defense battled.  Gave up a lot of 3rd down conversions and a lot of good plays, but just sorta kept chopping and eventually got some results.  The final interception that sealed the game was HUGE, and I thought a really good play by DJ White.  (I think it was him).  They had run the same route combination on us several times that game.  The outside WR runs a short out, about 5 yards, and the slot WR runs a little deeper and cuts to the sideline.  The QB reads the corner and throws where he isn't.  Usually that had been the underneath route.  Roof spent most of the day playing relatively soft zones.  Well this time White faked like he was jumping the short route and baited the QB into throwing behind him, but then jumped back to the deeper route right before the throw.  I'm sure the VT fans thought it was a stupid play by the QB, but in my opinion White made a great play and put a lot of pressure on the VT QB.  

Obviously Justin Thomas was a huge positive, for the most part.  Made some huge plays in the Fourth quarter.  And I love watching him run.  The 80 yard TD run was awesome, even though it was called back.  I think we are going to see a few more of those this year.  

I thought the offensive line looked pretty good, for the most part.  

The linebackers looked good and the entire defense was fairly consistent against the run.  

Now for the bad stuff.  Our perimeter blocking on offense really wasn't very good.  Watching it live I thought VT outschemed us and just played their assignments, but actually there were some option pitches that failed, but would have been good gains if the outside block wasn't putrid.  We have got to get that cleaned up.  

We left a lot of points on the field otherwise as well.  The silly penalty to call back Thomas' long TD run, for example.  I call it silly because there wasn't really a need to try to cut the guy (the penalty was an illegal block below the waist because it came from the side, sort of - it was debateable).  He could have blocked him high pretty easily, as it wasn't that close to the play.  Or really, he could have done nothing.  The guy wasn't going to tackle Thomas, but maybe the blocker couldn't have known that.

There was the 4th and 2 should-have-been-an-easy-TD-pass.  Play action and I LOVED the call.  Totally fooled the defense and he was WIDE open.  Laskey completely whiffed his pass protection block, which threw off Thomas' timing, although I thought he still should have completed the pass.  A lot of bad on that play.  Laskey also missed a similar block later, on the play immediately before Smelter's game tying 4th quarter TD.  That allowed Thomas' pass to be deflected and it should have been picked off.  We were that close from getting beat.  

Not the biggest fan of the defense's third down conversion rate.  For a while it seemed like we couldn't get them into third and long enough.  They'd convert anything.  

So there were plenty of good takeaways and plenty of bad takeaways from this game.  I really like the fact that we played only mediocre but still found a way to win.  Let's focus on that.

On to Miami.  The most notable thing about Miami may be the lack of speed on defense.  I mean for a Miami team.  You expect tons of talent just flying all over the place.  Even some of the more mediocre Miami teams of the last 6-7 years had that.  This year's version is oddly mediocre in this regard.  They do, however, have a phenomenal middle linebacker - Denzel Perryman.  Reminds me a little of NC State's Nate Irving who gave us fits in 2010.  We need to get him blocked, but if we do that consistently, and execute just OK everywhere else, there should be some running room.  We will need the perimeter blocking to be much better than it was against VT.  

Offensively, Miami is interesting.  Lot of talent.  Duke Johnson is excellent.  Their WR Philip Dorsett is one of the fastest players in the country.  I think the QB, Kaaya, while extremely inexperienced, is pretty talented too.  Miami scares me a little bit because they have been an inconsistent, mistake prone (poorly coached?) team.  But I think they have more talent than they've shown.  Its a lot easier for a talented, inefficient team to "play smart" one game than for a smart, efficient team to "play athletic" one game.  

Nevertheless, offensively this year they've mostly relied on big plays.  They are in the top 30 nationally in plays of 10+, 20+ and 30+ yards.  But they are 75th in total yards and 96th in first downs.  So they don't sustain drives much.  They hit big plays or else they make mistakes and punt.  

Meanwhile, our defense hasn't been the greatest at getting people off the field.  So can Miami sustain drives for a change, or do we get a lot of stops for a change?  This will be like the resistible force against the movable object.  Something has to give.  What is a pretty safe bet is that Miami will hit some big plays.  GT is in the 60's and the 80's respectively in plays allowed of 20+ or 30+ yards.  And we haven't exactly played a bunch of teams known for their offensive prowess.  

So you'd expect Miami to score.  I'm hopeful that with the home night crowd, and the energy in the stadium, our defense can get some stops.  Miami has been a little mistake prone.  If we can also shorten the game with sustained successful drives on offense, then maybe we can hold them in the 24-30 range.  I think they score at least that much.  But we might well be able to beat that.  I would think we should score in the 30's.  

The game probably comes down to who makes the plays in the 4th quarter.  Its supposed to be close.  If either team wins the turnover battle by 2 or 3 or more, they could win comfortably, but barring something like that, I look for a very good game, and I hope the good guys can pull out another one by stepping up in crunch time.  

As always, Go Jackets!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Virginia Tech Preview

Ok.  Its getting harder and harder to argue we might be a good team.  One close win against a should-be-overmatched team... maybe we were flat.  Sluggish first game.  Whatever.  Two games?  Well the second was on the road and we turned the ball over a bunch and Tulane maybe isn’t that bad.  Three?  Maybe these “lesser” teams aren’t actually overmatched.  


We’ll find out soon.  

I don’t really want to re-watch the Ga. Southern game.  Nothing against Georgia Southern.  They are a good team for the FCS level.  Of course they are FBS now but they were good enough to upset Florida last year - even if that game may have an asterisk due to Florida’s... situation ... at the end of the year.  They probably should have beaten NC State, although State may be terrible.  

The first half was exactly what I wanted to see.  We looked like the much more talented team and built a 25 point lead.  It appeared to me we thought the game was over and got flat at halftime.  And once you lose your intensity its hard to get it back.  I don’t really understand how that happens.  There are only 13 or 14 games a year.  These kids spend a lot of hours practicing pretty close to year around.  I would think it would be easy to play 100% for ALL of EVERY game.  But clearly that is tough as most every team every year has a flat game or two.  

Anyway the second half was awful.  Looked like an effort issue to me.  I hope thats what it was.  It still remains to be seen if we can play with intensity and focus for an entire game.  I’m not sure we can.  

But like I said we’ll find out soon.  

Virginia Tech appears to be a Jekyll and Hyde kind of team.  They won at Ohio St. and then lost at home to East Carolina.  Of course, we don’t know that much about either of those teams yet.  I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that Ohio State, without Braxton Miller, may not be that much better than East Carolina, who actually may be pretty good.  Anyway, I think we know what we are going to get from Virginia Tech.  Really good defense, serviceable if less-than-stellar offense.  Tough team to beat in the end.  

I expect a close game, per usual.  I am anxious to see what new kitchen sink sort of defense Bud Foster has cooked up this time.  But in general these games tend to be limited in terms of possessions - making every possession critical.  VT doesn’t give up many big plays but we usually move the ball pretty well.  That eats clock.  And then our defense hasn’t been the best at getting teams off the field the past few years.  That is typical for us but tends to be magnified versus VT.  

In 2008 we only had 9 possessions, plus the final last gasp with about 30 seconds left.  (our 17 points were 1.7 points per possession counting the final drive).

In 2009 we only had 9 possessions not counting the final take a knee to end the game possession.  (3.1 points per possession).

In 2010 we had 10 possessions, for 2.1 points per possession.

In 2011 we had 10 possessions for 2.6 points per possession.

In 2012 we had 12 possessions, counting overtime, for 1.4 points per possession.  

In 2013 we had 11 possessions, or 0.9 points per possession.

Remember that 2.2 or so tends to be the national average for points per possession.  Given that VT is usually a much better than average defense, we did OK in 2008 and really well from 2009 to 2011.  Even though our total points weren’t that impressive, the Frank Beamer Paul Johnson GT VT games tend to be very short on possessions.  So our offense was actually pretty good.  The past two years though we’ve been largely shut down.  

In 6 years we’ve scored 119 points on 62 possessions.  Very close to 2.0 per possession.  Not bad, all things considered.  

We’ll need to do better than the last two years though to get the win here.  Especially given how our defense has looked so far.  I figure we need at least 1 touchdown on the first 3 drives or else we’ll already be down two scores.  On the road, in a game likely to have limited possessions, against VT’s defense, we don’t want to get down two scores.  We don’t want to invite them to start working the clock and working field position and managing the game.  

We need Justin Thomas to play well.  He has been starting to look more comfortable, but Lane Stadium and Virginia Tech’s defense, especially combined, are a whole different ball game.  In years past we have had success against VT with the standard triple option.  I suspect our struggles in 2012 and 2013 were related to getting away from that.  In 2012, we played the first game of the year.  Both offenses struggled.  I suspect due to normal timing and rhythm issues that many teams experience in week 1.  That also was the first year we put in some shotgun stuff and I wonder if the practice time we sacrificed from the base offense to put that in further hurt our execution in that game.  But the option always works better as the year progresses - so week 1 was a bad draw for us in 2012.  And of course last year it was well documented that Vad wasn’t very good at running the triple option, and we had installed the diamond and all sorts of wrinkles specifically for Vad.  Coach has explained several times that we weren’t very good at our base stuff last year and we were going to get back to our roots this year.  

On the other hand we haven’t really looked very good at the triple option so far this year.  We haven’t run it much, despite the alleged renewed focus.  I think we will need it Saturday.  Hopefully, we are ready.  I don’t expect to see too much trick stuff.  Just good old fashioned Paul Johnson standard offense.  We will probably have a bunch of blocking variations that may even be tweaked a little for what Foster has done the past two years, but from the TV’s perspective if you don’t watch closely you may not even notice.  We just need to execute.  Consistently.  Probably for the entire game.  

The defense needs to step up and play well.  We aren’t going to score 30+, I don’t think, so if we are to win, the defense needs to hold them to something reasonably.  21, maybe 24.  

In semi-related useless trivia (unless you are superstitious) all 3 of our career wins against VT have come on a saturday.  Here is the full record:

1990 - GT win on a Saturday.
2004 - GT loss on a Thursday.
2005 - GT loss on a Saturday.
2006 - GT win on a Saturday.
2007 - GT loss on a Thursday.
2008 - GT loss on a Saturday.
2009 - GT win on a Saturday.
2010 - GT loss on a Thursday.
2011 - GT loss on a Thursday.
2012 - GT loss on a Monday.
2013 - GT loss on a Thursday.  

So we are 3-2 on Saturdays and 0-6 on other days.  Finally, after 4 years, we are back on a Saturday for the first time since 2009.  Good omen?  Maybe.  

Unfortunately, I think we have enough to keep it close but that is all.  I predict a 7 point loss.  24-17 or 28-21.  Close all the way as always.  Good X and O battle as always.  But just not enough for us to get it done.  I hope I am pleasantly surprised.

As always, Go Jackets!!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Georgia Southern Preview

So that was ugly.  Or at least parts of it were.  Let's start with the good stuff.  The offense, when it gets out of its own way, looks pretty good.  Tulane didn't stop us much.  Outside of the turnovers, we looked good.  The turnovers were all caused in large part by unforced errors.  I mean, the first fumble was a good play by Tulane, but made possible by Thomas holding the ball carelessly.  The second fumble was just poor execution and the interception was a horrible decision to throw off the back foot under pressure.  That stuff is all correctable.  Scoring 31 points on only 11 possessions isn't bad (7 came from the defense, although in fairness 7 were set also set up by special teams so maybe this should be 24).  Especially when 3 of those ended with turnovers and another 1 was a missed FG.  The make or miss status of the FG isn't on the offense.  And the 11th possession was a successful run out the clock possession that ended the game at the Tulane 12 yard line.  

After the adjustments necessary to get down to our "real" possessions, we had 6 possessions on which we scored 3 TD's, had 2 FG attempts and 1 punt.  Thats 3.5 points per possession even if you assume misses on both FG's.  Note that I removed the 3 turnovers because they were caused by self inflicted issues we can fix.  I removed the last possession because we were merely running out the clock.  And I didn't count the interception we returned for a TD or the touchdown "drive" set up by the blocked punt at the Tulane 1 yard line.  

In short this was a weird game to judge the offense, but the bottom line is that Tulane did not stop us much.   I know we only had 357 total yards, which seems like a very low (embarassing?) total for a game like this.  However, the low number of possessions and short field we often enjoyed meant there weren't many yards to get.  In fact we only failed to gain 307 yards.  Had we scored a TD every time we had the ball we only would have had 664 yards.  Thats a low number for 100% of your yards.  Gaining over 50% of the yards available isn't terrible.  And again, 206 of the yards we missed came on drives ended prematurely by turnovers.  Remove those and the 12 yards from the end of the game, and really we only left 89 yards on the field on drives Tulane stopped us and forced 4th down.  

I know thats a lot of adjusting, but an early season sloppy game sometimes requires a lot.  I’m adjusting because, right now, I don’t care too much about our mistakes.  I would care a lot more if Tulane had the manpower to just beat our blocks and stop the offense.  

While we are discussing the good, special teams deserves a mention.  For the most part it was pretty good.  The blocked punt stands out.  Butker made a long FG to end the half, although he missed an easier one earlier.  Overall not bad.  

As has become customary, the defense has me worried.  We forced 3 turnovers but I don't like relying on turnovers to stop Tulane, and anyway they could say the same thing we did.  Their QB made a lot of unforced errors.  The interception for a TD was comically bad, for example.  Just a stupid throw.  We allowed them to move the ball too easily.  We gave up a long TD drive.  We gave up a big play TD.  The defense did get a stop after a turnover set up Tulane at our 10 yard line, and almost got a stop the other time that happened.  

Overall 21 points on 11 possessions isn't a total disaster.  And the run defense was pretty good.  I still get the feeling this unit is vulnerable and will cause us problems down the road.  But maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

As for Georgia Southern, this game should be interesting.  I'm still waiting for our first solid performance, without a lot of asterisks and "well except for this and that we looked good" type rationalizing.  Maybe we are good team who has played sloppy for two early games.  That isn't uncommon.  But we might just not be very good.  It remains to be seen.  Georgia Southern is a team that might be pretty good and certainly won't be scared.  They went into the Swamp and beat Florida last year.  They nearly (should have) beat NC State earlier this year.  Hard to say if NC State is any better though.  They don't really look like they are, so far.  Unfortunately Georgia Southern's other game was Savannah St, which doesn't tell us much.  And our games don't tell us much.

Just like Tulane, we have better talent and so we ought to win.  Probably by 20 points or more.  And we are at home.  But they are a decent team.  They have a new  coach and no longer run the same offense as us, having installed a new offense, similar to what Nevada used to run, although it still incorporates a lot of option.  All of it will be from the pistol formation, and they'll pass a little more, but probably still run 2/3 of the time.  Not sure how much has really changed with their “new” offense.  

What I’m hoping to see tomorrow is a consistent offense and an aggressive defense.  Limited mistakes and much cleaner execution.  While this game is losable, we should win, and its the last chance to work the kinks out before we go to Blacksburg for a game that looks increasingly tough all of a sudden.  I want us to score early and often with consistent execution.  They are a good offense that will likely move the ball, but we need to keep them from scoring touchdowns.  Force field goals when they get close and hopefully get some outright stops.  We’ll see how it goes.  

As always, go Jackets!  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tulane Preview

So, the Wofford game obviously wasn’t what I wanted.  However, I don’t think it was as bad as it appeared.  Yeah, I know, it was 24-19 at one point in the 4th quarter.  First, I’d point out that we should wait and see if Wofford is pretty good at the FCS level.  In the past 3 years, they have lost 35-27 to a Clemson team that won 10 games, and then 24-7 to a South Carolina team that won 11.  Their yardage stats in both were better for Wofford than in the game Saturday as well.

Those Wofford teams were FCS playoff contenders, and this one isn’t supposed to be, but still, let’s see how good this one is.

Secondly, with two teams running option, it was a weird game.  A short game.  Only 9 possessions for us.  Offensively, I’m ok with 38 points on 9 possession (with a missed FG).  Thats not incredibly good offense against an FCS team, but not awful and could easily be indicative of normal first game sloppiness.  

The defense wasn’t good but at the same time, but for 1 busted assignment (the 92 yard TD run) it really wasn’t that bad.  Stop that one play, and its only 12 points.   Make the tackle on 4th and 6 and they score only 6 points.  And if Butker made his kick, it would have been 27-12 instead of 24-19, before becoming 34-12.  

I know thats a lot of “ifs” but it just shows the effect of such a short game.  Both teams ran the ball well and that leads to a lot of clock running.  Both teams ran only about 60 plays.  If we ran an offense like Oregon or Auburn, 24-19 may have happened in the 2nd quarter and maybe we win the game 63-26 and nobody really bats an eye.  

In true CPJ diction - “it is what it is”. 

I’m not too worried.  I still expect us to beat Tulane, although we’ll need to play at least average.  A bad game here and we could get beat.  Still don’t know too much of what to expect from them.  They should be a decent offense.  Obviously they’ll pass more, and better, than Wofford.  But Roof defenses are generally pretty good against the run - at least “regular” rushing offenses (ie not the option).  Hopefully we can stuff the run and make them one dimensional.  

Tulane’s defense is probably a bigger question mark.  They were pretty good last year, and particularly undersized and fast.  However, they lost over half their starters.  And in any case they didn’t play a terribly difficult schedule last year, to compile the defensive numbers they did.  So its hard to say.  I would expect, if we execute, we’d be able to score.  

Being on the road, especially opening a brand new stadium, makes things interesting.  I wonder if the crowd is going to be packed, with a loud and crazy crowd.  

Basically there are a lot of factors that are unknown, but bottom line, we have more talent and if we play like we should, we ought to win this game by at least 10-14 points. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Season Preview

I wish I had a great feeling about this year and could try to sell you guys on a 10 win season and an ACC championship.  We might actually win the Coastal, but thats just a reflection of the fact that the Coastal appears to be a bunch of mediocre teams (yes... again).  Even if we manage to pull that off, FSU will likely be waiting in the ACC Championship and that... well.... might not be as competitive as the 2012 version.  To put it mildly.  

I fear that 7 wins would be a really good year for this group.  Just too many question marks and not enough areas of obvious strength.  

But, let’s start with the optimistic stuff.  And by that I mean Justin Thomas.  The kid has talent.  Of course, Vad Lee has talent.  Talent doesn’t guarantee anything.  But I have been saying pretty much since year one of the Paul Johnson era that this offense really is tailored for speed at QB.  And to date, we’ve never really had it.

Nesbitt showed that power can be useful.  Vad, at least in 2012, showed that being good, but not great, in all attributes as a runner could work as well.  Tevin probably had underrated quickness and power, but still wasn’t terribly fast.  Honestly I don’t know which of those three wins a race, or has the quickest first step.  Probably Vad on both but its close.  

Put Justin Thomas in the race and it isn’t close.  He’ll be the fastest player on the field some weeks, and close to it pretty much every week.  With the personnel we had in 2011 and 2012, teams generally preferred the QB to keep.  This year,  QB could easily be the runner the opponent fears the most.  Laskey is consistent if not spectacular, and we have some talent at the A-back spot, but Thomas is the guy who can score on any play.  

The changes Paul Johnson made to the old triple option are all speed based.  The system we run is designed to hit as quickly as possible.  We certainly aren’t trying to recruit 330 pound O-Linemen and just over power people.  A guy like Thomas just makes it that much faster.  

Of course, if he can’t make the reads and do the ball handling moves properly, the offense will be slow anyway and nothing will work.  As we saw last year, the offense is still primarily mental even for a QB with great physical ability.  But, if Thomas gets the execution figured out, he could be really, really good.  Of course, it should be noted that we struggled with the triple option as a team last year, and Coach Johnson has made it pretty clear he feels that was because we were trying to do too much on offense.  Read: the diamond, and the other Vad adjustments.  So now we are going back to the basics and drilling the base plays.  For what its worth, preseason indications are that we have gotten a lot better at that stuff.  

The second, and arguably last... thing to be excited about is the second year in Roof’s scheme.  I really liked what I saw last year from the defense.  Overall, I would rate the unit about the same as 2012, but we had to replace almost the entire defensive line last year.  Combine that with changing to a new scheme, and just staying the same (mediocre) was a pretty good result.  Year 2 of the scheme should mean everybody executes better and faster.  

Unfortunately, there are plenty of concerns for this year.  Starting with both lines.  The D-Line only returns one starter from a unit that was mediocre anyway (outside of Attaochu and sometimes Gotsis - thankfully Gotsis is the lone returning starter).  The O-Line returns a decent number of starters (three out of five), but didn’t perform up to expectations last year.  If you had to pick two areas to be question marks on a football team, the offensive and defensive lines are two of the worst.  The only other “unit” that might be worse to have as a question mark is QB, and guess what - we do.  I know I just got through singing Thomas’ praises, but for all his potential, he is still a question mark.  He could be great.  More likely, at least this year, he’ll show some growing pains.  Hopefully the physical talent proves great enough to make plays even when the inevitable poor decisions happen.  

Elsewhere, the A-backs and WRs need to develop playmakers.  Godhigh will be missed.  There are several A-backs who have flashed clear potential - I’m looking at you Snoddy, Andrews, Perkins and Zenon - actually thats just about the whole group.  But they need to play more consistently.  The WR’s may be a little better off.  Smelter is probably our best skill position playmaker and I have a sneaking suspicion Waller may be about to break out - at least after his suspension finishes.  The linebackers and secondary should be solid.  

Upon final analysis, this team just feels like a team without enough weapons.  On paper there is no reason to suspect the defense would be any better than mediocre.  You figure a Paul Johnson offense is going to be at least pretty good.  But good enough to carry this defense to 9 or 10 wins?  If the O-Line plays like we thought it would last year, and Thomas learns quickly, maybe...  

We haven’t had a season where we overachieved in several years.  Lately we’ve been finding ways to lose winnable games and turn seemingly could-have-been really good years into bland ones.  Maybe we are due.  I’m just intrigued enough about Justin Thomas to be genuinely excited.  But the bottom line remains that 7 wins probably means this team was pretty well coached.  

Here is how I see the season unfolding, game by game.

Wofford - They have given Clemson and South Carolina reasonably tough games in the recent past, losing by only 10-17 points in both.  But those Wofford teams were FCS national contenders.  I don’t think this team is quite as good, and thus this should be the type of easy FCS win we have every year.

Tulane - Intriguing road matchup.  They were an undersized but quick and tough defense a year ago.  That type of defense has given us problems in the past.  However, they only return 5 starters from this defense.  Tulane’s talent has improved recently but still, this should be a comfortable win.  However, a loss here would be less of an upset than 2010 Kansas or 2012 MTSU.  So... this game is losable.  

Georgia Southern - This game is less losable.  I know they beat Florida.  But that team was a dumpster fire by that point.   And Ga. Southern only returns 9 starters anyway.  Plus they have a new coach and will be putting in a new offense.  I don’t expect them to be a bad team or a total pushover, but at home this should be a comfortable win.

Virginia Tech - Pretty much the same Hokie team we all know and love.  Will be a great defense, and probably tailor made to stop what we do (see my post from last fall discussing Foster’s “GT defense”).  Offensively, not much there to scare you.  They were really bad last year and I don’t see much reason to think they’ll be any better.  I wonder if what happened to Bobby Bowden his last few years isn’t happening to Beamer.  Virginia Tech has still been good, but just not quite the same level the last couple years, although you wouldn’t know it from how we’ve played against them.  But gone are the 10 win seasons.  They’ve only won 15 the past two years combined.  Still Blacksburg is always tough.  Probably a loss although should be close, and we certainly have a chance at the upset.  

Miami - Back at home, but against another team that has had our number recently.  Miami returns 7 starters to a defense that really wasn’t that good.  But the only real question mark on offense is at QB.  The O-line was good and returns 3 starters.  Everyone knows about Duke Johnson.  The WR’s are excellent.  But the QB is a freshman.  Hopefully he’ll be inconsistent enough to make the offense one dimensional, and we can score 30+ again as we’ve done the past couple of years.  That might be enough to get the win.  Probably a toss up or maybe we are a slight underdog.

Duke - I know this isn’t fair to Duke, but really, they weren’t that good last year.  A lot of smoke and mirrors.  I expect no better than 4-4 in conference from them, and maybe worse.  At home this should be a win.  Cutcliffe deserves a lot of credit for making them relevant.  They certainly aren’t the pushover they used to be, but we should be 10+ point favorites here.

UNC - Stop me if you’ve heard this before.  UNC is supposed to be good this year.  No really.  Has there ever been a program with more advantages, that cheated this much, and had less to show for it.  Trivia question - what have we done more since 1998, beat UNC or lose to UGA?  Believe it or not, the answer is beat UNC.  We’ve only lost to UNC twice.  We’ve beaten UGA 4 times in that span.  (Remarkably in 2008 somehow both happened, we lost to UNC and beat UGA).  Truly shocking.  You would think the law of averages should catch up to us at some point, because we haven’t been THAT much better than the Heels over that span.  Not enough to justify a 14-2 record.  Maybe this is the year.  I’m still not sold on Fedora.  Feels a lot like Tommy Bowden to me.  Had 1 great year at a lower level school (Bowden unbeaten at Tulane, Fedora unbeaten at Southern Miss), came in with a lot of fanfare and hype, but ended up not being all that good.  At any rate, the game is on the road and they are supposed to have talent.  Surely they can’t take all that talent and be mediocre... right?  Stop laughing.  I guess this one is 50/50.

Pitt - Interesting road game, and probably a tough challenge.  They only return five starters on defense, and thankfully one of them is not Aaron Donald.  Did we even try to block that guy last year?  Didn’t look like it.  We should be able to move the ball, but supposedly they will have a good offense.  Solid offensive line and one of the best WR’s in the country.  Question marks at QB and running back though.  Somehow that adds up to a good offense and makes them a “Coastal contender”.  We are probably slight underdogs here, given that its on the road.  But basically a toss up.  

UVA - Last year we had a -4 turnover margin in the first half and still, somehow, led the game at half time.  Supposedly they have recruited well and have better talent.  I’ll believe Mike London can turn whatever talent they have into a good team when I see it.  At home this should be a comfortable win.

NC State - I actually think Doeren may be a good coach.  They were awful last year, but year two of a major rebuild is often a big step in the right direction.  We will be catching a very young team late in the year when they might be finding their rhythm.  Right now, even on the road, you have to figure we should be favored, but a lot can change in 8 or 9 games.  

Clemson - I actually think Clemson’s offense will be pretty good still.  Even without Watkins and Boyd.  They could be very good.  But the ACC has a wheel of destiny, and Atlanta has been Clemson’s Bermuda Triangle (unbeaten, highly ranked and favored Clemson teams came down I-85 and caught a smack in 2007 and 2011).  So I won’t rule out an upset, but Clemson should be a clear favorite.

UGA - I’d love to try to conjure up some good reason we could pull an upset here.  If everything I said above about how we might be better than I think ends up being true, then maybe.  Even so we’d probably need Gurley to be injured and miss that game.  I think next year we might have a shot, with a new QB for them, Gurley should be gone, who knows what their defense will be like in two years.  This year odds are not in our favor.

So we ought to start 3-0 and then beat Duke, UVA and NC State.  UNC and Pitt are probably toss ups.  Miami maybe too, at home.  VT is a probable loss on the road.  Clemson and UGA are worse odds.  I see 8-4 if we win all the ones we should and get an upset or two.