Now that we are one game (3/4 of a game?) into the new season, I thought I would share some thoughts on what we may be able to devine from our opener to pass some time on a slow post-labor day Tuesday. My observations on the game:
1. Denard is going to be fine in the "new offense."
Al Borges did, in fact, tailer the offense to Denard, as we saw plenty of looks out of the gun, and even some read option. AS for the "new stuff," while Denard was a bit off on some throws, it was the first game and he and the receivers will improve their timing over the season. Denard is never going to be a Tom Brady / Chad Henne type of QB - his long ball, while nice on occasion, will always cause me to skip a heart beat or three, and his reads may always be questionable (although, again, this will likely improve as his comfort level improves - but his legs are such an awesome weapon that he is going to be deadly once he gets a bit more comfortable.
Also, I highly doubt that we saw much of what our actual offense is going to look like, since this was a cupcake game and we stayed pretty vanilla. For example, I suspect that we will see the much-discussed speed option deployed, along with a whole host of reverses, slants, designed runs (there was only 1 or 2), etc. when we play ND next week. Good call by Borges and Co. to keep the offense hidden. Also smart call to
2. Running backs who run the ball.
One aspect of the old offense that I didn't love was the lack of involvement from the RBs. Sure, V. Smith would run on first and pick up 1-2 yards with frustrating regularity, and every so often a RB would factor in, but aside from Denard, we never established the RBs in the run game. So, I was thrilled to see the emergence of Fitz and Shaw as viable (and for Fitz, more than viable) B10 running backs. Both looked good, with Fitz looking like the hype may have been justified. I am excited to see these guys establish a ground and pound aspect of our multi-faceted attack. Having solid WRs who can stretch the field (both vertically and horizontally), and strong RBs will not allow defenses to focus so heavily on Denard, making him all the more effective.
3. That first D outing that took half of the first quarter . . . gulp?
So, I am probably one of the earlies and most enthusiastic member of the Hoke/Mattison/Borges-hey-these-guys-are-not-RR-so-they-are-awesome club, but during that first series, even I found myself saying "wow, looks just like last year." WMU marched down the field on one of the soul-crushing, clock-crunching drives that we became accustomed to last year. They exploited our weaknesses perfectly.
Then a funny thing happened. We adjusted. Not used to us doing that on D. But we did, and the game turned around. That's a good thing, right?
The thing that is not so good is that unless we learn to get pressure from our front four, other teams will be able to replicate this pattern of short, effective, high-percentage passes to march down the field. I know, White is going to be an NFL receiver, and WMU's QB was a deadly-accurate senior of the type that we make look like Peyton Manning, but if WMU was able to do this, then many of the better teams on our schedule will, as well.
I am still holding out hope that Mattison will be able to work with our D players and scheme to minimize this weakness.
4. So, the defense after the adjustment was pretty cool, right?
Yes, it was. I loved the fact that Mattison essentially went blitz crazy as an adjustment. I also loved that the guys seemed to hit harder, swarm to the ball better and generally but themselves in a position to make good things happen. Coverage is still dodgy, but the hitting, energy and overall feel of the defense (after the first drive) was much better. I like our potential.
5. T-Wolf on Special Teams
I know, unpopular on this blog. I like it. As Hoke said, special teams are a third of the game. And kick return is apparently a big weakness for us that gifted WMU 20+ free yards of field position on every posession. We need our best guys out there to help that unit. Also, while I love T-Wolf and think that he brings an emotional, experienced, senior presence to our secondary, we were no better with him in there than we were when he went down. I am totally ok with risking leaving him out there on special teams.
6. Special teams
Yuck. Kick return coverage absolutely needs to improve. Protection on field goals (see our blocked extra point) absolutely must improve. Decision making in our return game must improve. And, it would be nice to see our guys return kicks past the 25.
7. ND - not so good?
I don't get ND. They are stacked with 4-5 star talent on both sides of the ball. By all accounts, Kelly is a good coach. How did they look so crappy? Regardless, this game scares the hell out of me. If we couldn't stop WMU's White, how do we stop Floyd? And if we couldn't get through a MAC o-line featurning JUCO transfers in two spots, how will get pressure ND's QB when he is protected by a fairly elite line? These things scare me.
Sorry for the length of the post - I would be curious to get everyone's take on these and any other WMU game observations.