Meh: A Learning Experience
As someone who has worked at any company, ever, in the history of the world, I've had to suffer through my fair share of employee evaluations. Usually I've been the one evaluated, (very) occasionally the evaluator. They will obviously vary between institutions, but most follow a general script. You are asked to either evaluate yourself or your direct superior. Maybe it's on a spreadsheet, maybe it's a form, maybe it's just an email. Then you and your direct superior/HR rep/random person who got lost on the way to the bathroom sit down in a small conference room and stare at each other for a couple minutes while you wait for the WiFi to reconnect and each pull up the appropriate Google Doc, or fumble through a stack of nearly-identical printed-out forms with numbers next to fields like "Integrity" and "Passion for the Customer", as if not stealing and giving a crap about your job are attributes you can power up with Mana after killing ROUSes in swamps.
But whatever, the reviews tend to be full of generalizations and platitudes, because if you were really a bad employee, chances are you wouldn't still be employed there. But inevitably, there has to be a takeaway, an area of improvement, something to build on. It may be something trivial, or something you never even thought of, or the very thing that makes you look up impostor syndrome because you just knew there was a word for that feeling.
But in the end, things mostly go back to the way they were, maybe with incrementally more insight and self-awareness, because at some point you are what you are, and even with conscious effort there may only be a ceiling for what you can do in the near future.
This game felt like one of those meetings. At no point did UM even sniff trouble out of UCF; after punting on their first drive, UM scored on 6 straight possessions (4 TDs, 2 FGs) while UCF scored on one 87-yard drive that was (probably) helped by an uncalled hold or two but that was about it for the half. Scoring was down in the second half, mostly because UCF held onto the ball a bit longer and had 2 10+ play drives that barely went anywhere (42, 40) and ended on downs, but UM's offense just kept humming along.
Speight had a great day passing, going 25/37 for 312 and 4 TDs, and the three big targets (Darboh, Butt, and Chesson) all had at least 80 yards receiving, with Darboh and Butt both pulling in 2 TDs. The defense record 10 TFLs, including the first (of many) sacks by Rashan Gary, hit the QB about 8 times, forced two fumbles, and limited UCF to 2.5 ypa on 22 passes. The team also blocked 2 punts and 2 FGs, recovered a pooch kick following a kickoff that I LOVED when it happened and am even happier about the more I think about it, and Peppers nearly broke a punt for a TD to boot. Over the first two weeks of the season, UM has outscored their opposition by a total of 114 to 17. By any objective metric, this was a clinical ass-kicking, only (slightly) less impressive than the one they dished out last week.
But still, there were sore points that you have to highlight. QB runs continue to be an issue for UM's defense, though at least now it feels a bit like the struggles everyone has with mobile QBs and spread-to-run offensive attacks, as opposed to earlier eras when such plays were deemed "a fad" and "sorcery". But there were a couple of bad breaks in containment, when a LB or S didn't keep his lane or guys were able to get outside for big gains. Before going out with an injury, Justin Holman got a couple of long first-down scrambles on 3rd downs because UM failed to protect against the QB run, and against guys like J.T. Barrett and…well…J.T. Barrett those aren't just first-downs, they're scores. And UCF's two rushing TDs came on long runs where, again, people were out of position.
On the other side of the ball, the running game never really got on track. De'Veon Smith had a couple of runs where he sort of bulldozed over UCF defenders but that was about it for him; Chris Evans failed to follow up his sensational debut with anything memorable here, going for 37 yards on 9 carries. As a team, they didn't come close to cracking 4 ypc even if you excise sacks and whatever that was with Kenny Allen. Part of this was absolutely due to UCF daring UM to beat them in the air by sending 8 or 9 guys to stop the run, but at the same time it seemed like the offensive line and backs failed to pick up blitzers well or hold up their blocks at the edges; a couple of times UM would be close to breaking a run just to see a single LB or end push a blocker back or hold up a cutback just long enough to trip someone up. UCF has athletes on defense and are definitely a better team than they were last season, but the fact UM couldn't "impose its will" at the line of scrimmage offensively was a bit discouraging. I'll be interested to see how the line grades out this week.
So it wasn't a perfect weekend; UM has some things to work on. And at least for me, those areas are a bit more alarming because they are the areas people were most worried about coming into the year; namely, offensive line play and the ability for the defense to handle spread offenses with a focus on running. The defense I'm actually less worried about; it's still a bunch of guys breaking in a new system, and with so many guys shuttling in and out of the lineup it's not surprising an assignment or two might be busted when the score is so lopsided. But the offensive line is sort of what it's going to be this year. The younger guys like Newsome, Bredeson, Kugler, and Cole might improve a bit, but the rest of that line is sort of what it's going to be this year. Harbaugh said during the press conference he thought the line played fine, so it might just be a situation where UM didn't try to make UCF pay for their aggressiveness because of the score and situation. But you look at the upcoming schedule and you wonder how they'll hold up against Wisconsin, PSU, OSU, MSU, Iowa, and some of the other solid defensive clubs on the schedule. They may just be what they are in that aspect of the game, and the defense and passing attack will have to compensate a bit more.
So yeah, again, I'm not sure how much we can glean from a game that UM won by 37 , was up by 27 at the half, and showed basically nothing in the playbook on either side of the ball. But this week at least shows potential areas for concern and improvement.
Worst: Predicting Competiveness
Though it's hard to complain about getting a couple easy wins under your belt, I have seen fans lament the OOC schedule quality both at UM specifically and college football generally. The opening week of the season was pretty amazing considering you had maybe the best top-to-bottom collection of games in recent memory featuring some of the more storied programs in the country AND many of those games had memorable moments. The second week…not so much; the marquee game was a football game played in the middle of a NASCAR track between Virginia Tech and Tennessee, and to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, if that's your big football game, you might be a redneck (and out of ideas). And to make matters worse, the matchup itself isn't all that appealing; VT is breaking in a new coach after the great Frank Beamer returned to the mountains and Popeyes Chicken from whence he was birthed, while UT barely escaped Appalachian State and thought hiring the guy who was the offensive mastermind behind this made sense.
But yeah, quite a hangover after last week's festivities. But the thing is, you oftentimes schedule these games a couple years in the future; UCF was scheduled back in 2013. At that time, The Knights had gone 11-3, 5-7, and 10-4 (including 2 bowl wins) the previous 3 years, and then went 12-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl in 2013. This was a legitimate top G5 program; hell, half the teams in the Big 10 would have killed to have that level of consistency. By comparison, Colorado hasn't finished with a winning record since 2002, and haven't won 10+ games since 2001. And yet, a mere 3 years later UCF just suffered through a winless season and are breaking in a new coaching staff and having to pick through the wreckage for anything salvageable. And Colorado looks like a pretty decent Pac-12 team with a shot at being competitive in the South division as long as USC continues to not be vintage USC.
Now, some of you might construe this as a defense for Dave Brandon, who oversaw this scheduling. Please, put down your pitchworks. No, really, the fire, it burn…..
But no, this felt like an attempt to make a semi-competitive OOC schedule with a couple of "name" programs. And because Brandon loves to dump salt in wounds AND thinks getting revenge is beating teams during games ESPN broadcasters blabber on about a game that happened 22 years ago, he brought CU into the mix as well. That's right: 22 years ago. THE MEMORY OF THIS GAME I HAVE IS OLD ENOUGH TO DRINK WITH ME IN A BAR AND SCREAM "KNOCK IT DOWN!"
So yeah, watching UM demolish two teams by a combined eleventy billion points doesn't make for compelling television, but these games are always hard to predict years in the future; in 2007, I doubt anyone would have expected playing UM would hurt your overall SOS, and yet we've had a couple of years where UM was a below-average BCS team.
And going forward, there will be more marquee games against top-notch programs. But I think both UCF and CU will be good teams this year in their conferences, and it's been nice to see UM get more of a challenge than I expected going into the year. The fact UM is, again, going to blow the doors off everyone in the process is more a positive for the team and less an indictment of the opposition.
Worst: How is This So Hard?
In my preseason preview, I noted that UM hadn't had a thousand-yard rusher since the days of Denard, and that teams like Indiana, PSU, Northwestern, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Wisconsin had done it multiple times in the interim. I hoped that this year UM would finally have a back break out and establish, if not a dominant rushing attack, at least a dangerous one.
And yet, two weeks into the season I am still left wondering if the running game is going to be better that middling. Yes, UCF game planned extensively to stop the run, and my layman's view at times showed UM blocking the guys they could but simply being overwhelmed. And yes, UM was never going to show much against UCF in terms of wrinkles offensively, especially when simple play-action was working so well because, again, UCF decided that they were at least going to get blown out in the air, not in the air and on the ground.
The raw numbers, though, aren't all that inspiring. UCF recorded 6 TFLs for 22 yards (by comparison, Hawaii had 4 for 9), and UM averaged under 3 ypc on 41 carries. Yes, they didn't really need to run the ball much to dominate this game, but you still want to see a team with a bunch of seniors roll over a team that went 0-12 last year, and they simply didn't. The defensive gameplan was obviously to make UM a passing team (with disastrous results for the Knights), but still, lots of teams want to make Alabama, OSU, MSU, LS…okay, that last one's a bad example. But there are lots of teams that have to deal with the opposition trying to make them fight left-handed, and sometimes I just wish UM would smash defenses anyway. And for full disclosure, I have a vested interest in seeing Smith being the hammer, as he's one of the RBs on my fantasy football team (ha look, you just listened to a guy complain about his fantasy football team! Welcome to the sports internet, sponsored by Fan Kings, or Draft Duel, or whatever those DFF sites are called).
But still, it remains a run-first team with questions in the RB corps and the offensive line, and I'm still wondering if this is the ceiling for this club until they get more kids into the system. This may just be it, and that's fine, but for a team with huge goals they need to be able to move the ball on the ground effectively and (somewhat) opponent agnostically, and so this week was a bit of a disappointment. Again, I get that UM shredded UCF in the air and won the game by 37, and that they could come out next week and demolish CU on the ground for 350 yards and I'd be proven wrong. And this (in part) a complaint because there isn't that much to talk about this week, but it remains an issue I'll at least keep a cocked-eye on for the next couple of weeks, especially since PSU and Wisconsin await.
Meh: Day and Knight
And, now, where a contradict myself a bit from 1 section earlier. So, yeah, UCF picked up 275 yards on the ground and averaged 6.0 ypc in the process, including a huge 87-yard TD run where the aptly named Adrian Killins just ran away from everyone (that wasn't being held) down the sideline. It wasn't a great performance by any means, and I know I'm supposed to get that bombed-out feeling in the bit of my stomach like I did after IU and OSU last year. And yet…
Against both the Hoosier and the Buckeyes, Michigan was repeatedly gashed for big gains and really didn't have an answer. Against IU Jordan Howard seemed to be able to bounce off linebackers at will, while against OSU UM's insistence (or inability) to alter their safety play led to numerous "odd-man rushes" for Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett. Those games epitomized the ongoing problems UM has had with certain rushing attacks.
But against UCF, the damage was basically inflicted in three plays: the aforementioned 87-yard TD run and two scrambles by Justin Holman of 30 and 35 yards. Throw those 3 runs out, and UCF mustered around 3 ypc even with sacks excised. Now, I know yards count regardless of how you got them, but this game featured a couple of breakdowns, not a wholesale inability to adjust to the opposition. Add in the fact that UM was leading by 34 at the time of the long TD run, and it's hard for me to get overly concerned about this being a fissure in the run defense.
Of course, there are issues. Containment was lost on those two Holman runs, one in which Peppers came in way too deep and didn't get Holman in the backfield, which opened up the field for his run. And that Killins run featured a couple of players in the secondary taking less-than-optimal angles to the ball carrier.
At the same time, UM clearly wasn't rolling with a full defense, and even without seeing the guys on the field I can guess that UM wasn't leaving in all the starters by that point. And more generally, Scott Frost is trying to roll out his version of the Oregon offense at UCF, and those offenses are designed to catch teams in bad position and make them pay with good athletes. For as bad as UCF was last year, they've been recruiting as a top-3 program in the AAC for a couple years now. Their team looks a bit like RR's first year when he came to UM, where they are trying to take stock of what they have and fit it into their systems, but I expect this offense to look really scary in a couple of years.
So ultimately, the takeaway defensively is that these are the (slight) growing pains breaking in Don Brown's system. Boring safety play is gone, and in its stead you'll sometimes see QBs get long runs or get a TD on your face. But then again, if those plays happen in the context of another blowout win, it's hard to get my dander up about it. Colorado will be an interesting challenge simply because they seem fully capable of scoring quickly (an average TD drive of 6 plays in 2:14) and often (a cool 100 points over the first two weeks against admittedly poor competition). UM will be such a massive jump in quality for the Buffs that I doubt they come close to replicating this offensive explosion, but I do expect there to be some breakdowns and a couple of big gains. But again, hard to get too concerned, especially considering how few offenses in conference are designed like the ones they've seen thus far.
Best: Peppers, man
Apparently there was some Twitter battle or beef or something because some local yokel eggs started giving him grief about not having an interception in his career while OSU players have more than 0. Maybe I'm just old, but 35-year-old me has no f*cking idea why you would engage Cro-Magnon fans of any stripe online when you are a fabulous athlete looking at million-dollar NFL paychecks in the near future and they are irrelevant talking heads screaming into a void of 1s and 0s in the hope of impressing other guys (and they are almost always other guys) with how much information you know about a player from another team. I know people are competitive and there is a certain level of abuse online that just becomes oppressive, but just felt like unnecessary effort on his part.
Because man, on the field Peppers has been dynamite. After 2 weeks, Peppers leads the team in tackles with 16, has 4 TFLs including a sack, has 2 QB hits, and continues to erase screens with cruel efficiency. The hype was huge coming into the year, but thus far Peppers has lived up to it. He's a game-changer defensively, and they haven't even really deployed him fully yet. UM has a lot of athletes on that side of the ball, but it's pretty clear how far Peppers stands out because of his rare combination of speed, power, and agility. So even if he doesn't collect a single deflected ball or sailed pass in his career, nobody who watches football is going to think Peppers isn't one of the best defenders in the country right now.
Best: The QB Book According to Harbaugh
In the second week of the 2015 season, against turrible Oregon St., Jake Rudock went 18/26 for 180 (!) yards and 1 (!!) INT, averaging about 7 ypa. That week began a stretch of 7(!!!) straight games wherein Rudock didn't crack 200 yards passing a game, and had a 4:4 TD:INT ratio. That cry you hear are the echoes of many people, including myself, who absolutely 100% thought that Rudock was either injured or just not that good, and believed Harbaugh should try out someone else at the position. We all know how that played out.
Two weeks into the 2016 season, Wilton Speight has completed 70% of his passes for 457 yards, 9.1 ypa, for 7 TDs and 1 INT. He continues to throw the ball into tight windows effectively, leading his receivers and scanning the field like a pro. Yes, the deep ball is still a bit of a work in progress, but in basically a year and a half Speight has gone from a guy Harbaugh bitched out on television to being one of the 2-3 best QBs in the conference. Anyone who still doubts Harbaugh's QB guru-ness, I don't know what to tell you.
And unlike against Hawaii, Speight had a great game while dealing with some pressure. UCF got two sacks and a couple more hits; they brought pressure and Speight had to move around and buy time in order to hit his receivers. He's not a runner but he moves better than you think, and with his height and quick release he can get the ball out under pressure well. He'll definitely be tested by Wisconsin in a couple of weeks, but it's amazing that Speight is basically Rudock at the end of 2015, when he torched a pretty good Florida defense and was basically the whole offense against OSU. I'm not expecting Speight to make an equally-dramatic ascension simply because he's starting from a higher level, but he looks like a completely different player out there than the guy who filled in against Minnesota, and credit goes to him and the staff for making that transformation a reality.
Worst: Salted Frost
This'll be quick, but it seems like everyone wants to get up-in-arms over Scott Frost Present and Scott Frost Past. See, back in 1997, when a decent number of the current UM fans were either not alive or barely aware of football, Frost was the QB for the undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers, arguably the last time that program was considered a "true" national power. At the end of the year, there were 2 undefeated teams: Nebraska and UM. UM beat a pretty good Washington St. team, while Nebraska pantsed Peyton Manning's Tennessee Volunteers. Frost, as any rational person would do, petitioned for his team to be awarded at least a share of the national title, and (shockingly) his mother agreed. This is considered the words of the devil to some, though, and so a segment of the fanbase spent this week getting really upset about it. In fact, there are three parties I DO have anger toward regarding 1997, and they are (1) the refs in the Missouri game that failed to call an obvious kicked ball, (2) the coaches who voted in the final poll that thought it was a good idea to let Nebraska jump UM for no good reason after having UM ahead for most of the year, and (3) Peyton Manning for once again barely showing up in a meaningful game. Guy never beat Florida, won 2 SBs despite throwing more INTs (5) than TDs (3), and has an unhealthy man-crush on Pape John.
And then after the game, Frost told reporters that he thought his team, which (again) lost to UM by 37 points, "outhit these guys" and that he was proud of them. Yes, I get that Frost arguing the appearance of collisions was a relevant metric is a bit insane, but he's a head coach for a team that went 0-12 last year. He's not going to say "yeah, these young guys got the crap beaten out of them." And again, they averaged 6 ypc and held UM to under 3 ypc on the ground. His team came in and didn't roll over, and that's a credit to them and their coaches. But again, how am I supposed to feel?
The only anger I have toward Scott Frost is because I think him and Tyra should stand trial for the (justifiable) homicide of that one creep.
Best: So Much Special Teams
There are good days for special teams, and then there are days like Saturday. Kenny Allen went 3/3 on FGs, was perfect on extra points (as a Lions fan, NEVER TAKE THAT FOR GRANTED), and outside of one bad punt did a great job. On the other side, UM was getting hands on kicks all day, including a rather emphatic FG rejection. Plus, and this may have been my favorite play of the weekend, they forced a UCF fumble by high-kicking a ball after a penalty set the kickoff on the 50-yard line. So often, you see a team just boot that out of the endzone, but nope, UM forced UCF to at least return the ball and, as a result, were able to catch the Knights off-guard a bit and pick up an extra possession. Losing John Baxter back to USC will have an effect on the special teams, but at least thus far his one-year legacy is still bearing fruit. And in a season with such high expectations, having these types of plays might make all the difference.
Best: Bring on the Buffs
I thought CU would be a better team than some expected coming into the year, and thus far they've been impressive. Yes, that doesn't make me think they'll even come close to beating UM, but this is a program that (finally) seems to be figuring stuff out and competing in the Pac-12, and football is better than Colorado is competitive. Their offense is explosive, and they have a couple of playmakers on defense, chief amongst them Chidobe Awuzie, who should pose a tough matchup for whichever WR he lines up against. UM has quite a bit more talent, but I'm excited to see how both teams look this weekend. Plus, it'll continue to general upward trajectory of opponents just in time for the start of conference play.
UM vs UCF full game.
Let's Go Blue part 2
If you'd like to check out our Week 2 opponent, here's the full game film of UCF's 38-0 win over South Carolina State last Saturday.
Interesting article from espn about Ken Caldwell who has been steering basketball and football recruits to UCF. I had to post because I had always thought that the recruitment of Leilon Willingham was a bit odd. I'm not saying that he is involved with Ken Caldwell, but who knows.
Short interview by Greg at MVictors. You should read it. On tickets expected attendance:
It could be upwards of 4,000. The chairback seats sold out in about two hours and I’ve had a lot of requests for tickets. I went out and bought 50 tickets and..I’m out, I’m out! [laughs].
Read it. Live it. Beat the hated UCF Knights.