I’ve held off writing my review of the Mizzou game because I wanted to get away from it emotionally and try to figure out where the blame existed. After thinking about it, I think the blame can be placed equally at the feet of the coaching staff and the players. Once again, we had a double digit point lead at half and once again we choked it away. At least we had a chance with overtime but we choked that away even winning the coin toss in OT.
I think the coaching staff did a bad job making adjustments to what Mizzou was doing and the players didn’t quite execute as well as they should have. The lack of execution resulted in dropped passes, turnovers, false starts, and allowing Mizzou to shred the defense due to the lack of wrapping up and bringing Mizzou guys down by the initial defender making contact. Now, I’m not in the locker room at half, on the sidelines, or in the booth to know exactly what adjustments are made but it’s pretty clear Sherm and Co. don’t really anticipate adjustments and continue to run their game plan because it obviously worked in the first half. It’s pretty clear the other team often makes adjustments and we fail to react because the first half went so well. You’ll see those adjustments by the opponent and lack of adjustments by us in this piece.
I read somewhere this week that in Sherm’s almost four years of coaching he’s only come back in 2 games we were down at half and that was Colorado in 2008 and Baylor last year. We all remember Baylor last year and I honestly don’t remember Colorado in 2008 but that was Sherm’s first year and we had CU at home and they were pretty bad. I remember winning but I missed the game thanks to a sick dog and it not being on TV. That means I relied on Dave South. No wonder I don’t remember. Whatever, but that’s a pretty interesting stat that he’s only ever had two comebacks after half considering he’s 2 games above .500 in his tenure at A&M. That tells me he’s not a second half coach because in just this season alone he has lost more games where he’s lead at half than he’s come back from his entire career at A&M. At barely above .500 I’d say he’s had just as many chances to come back as he’s had to blow I’d guess. Without doing further research I’d wager there’s at least 2-3 if not more games he’s blown after half as I know we choked OSU last year and seem to remember blowing Colorado in 2009 in Boulder. I think it’s safe to say Sherm is not a second half coach. I’ll get to more Sherm later when I opine on what to do with him.
Before I get to the unit performances let me just say I do think our defense played well enough to win. Mike Sherman is an offensive coach and he prides himself on having an offensive unit that can move the ball. DeRuyter is a solid defensive mind but all of the playmakers are on the offensive side of the ball. If you don’t believe me just look at the number of defensive linemen we’ve moved to the defensive side of the ball after they couldn’t crack the offensive two deep. I firmly believe it’s the offense’s job to score more points than the defense gives up. Basically the reverse of the R.C. years where it was the defense’s job to allow 1 less point than the offense scored. There’s nothing wrong with it but when you have a coach that focuses on one side of the ball that’s what happens. Perfectly fine but the unit you focus on must perform better than the other team or you’ll lose. We ain’t the Wrecking Crew so it’s up to the Gulf Coast Offense to get it done. Oh, it would also help if special teams helped out from time to time.
I’m not really sure where to begin on the offensive side of the ball. We moved the ball but we shot ourselves in the foot too many times to win the game. Turnovers and stalled drives simply killed us. You look at this unit and it has all the talent in the world to be a VERY high powered offense to the tune of a Top 10 team. However, it’s just not working week in and week out. Some of it on playcalling and some of it on execution by players.
Before I talk about individual units there’s one thing I want to point out that I tracked to start the game and went back and reviewed the play chart to write this. During the game I noted that in both initial series to start the game the play call was pass, run, pass. In each of the series the initial pass was incomplete giving us second and 10. On those two initial series we went three and out. For the remaining series in the half each initial play was a run and we scored on each of these four other series. Now, in the first half there were 1st and 10s within the series that we passed on first down but the point being that when we start a series running the ball we scored. Not a coincidence because I think Sherm has shown if he stalls on the first play with an incomplete pass he’s running the ball which puts us in another 3rd down passing situation to which the DC is a better position to call a play to defend a pass.
Now here’s where it gets good. In the second half we had two series go three and out without a first down. Care to guess the first play? That’s right! A pass. EVERY time against Mizzou when we started a series with a pass, we went three and out. EVERY TIME! Four times we started a series with a pass and we DID NOT move the chains. Now, to defend Sherm somewhat, each of the series where we went three and out in the second half did have a false start so we needed 15 yards for a first down instead of 10 but I don’t think it’s pure coincidence that every series we started with a pass resulted in a three and out. Ironically enough, EVERY series we started with a run at MINIMUM resulted in at least one first down to move the chains. More time off the clock and more rest for your defense.
We had 5 other series in the second half where we started with a run. The end result of those 5 respective series were a fumble by Swope, “pass out” where we passed on first down within the series and couldn’t get the first down on two more tries, interception (which I’ll get to later), field goal, and fumble by Tanny due to pass pressure. Three of those stalled drives where on player execution in my mind, one field goal, and one set of play calling on first down that didn’t result in a first down.
Do you see a trend? Our play calling in this game was WAY more effective when we ran the ball the first play of a series. I’m perfectly fine with passing on first down within a series but I bet this turn of events is pretty similar in most of our games. WHEN WE GET THE BALL FOR WHATEVER REASON RUN THE DAMN BALL ON THE FIRST PLAY!!! To me, this gives our kick ass offensive line a chance to fire off on the defense let ting them take notice we can exert our will. I think it also gives a DC a little more to think about because all of a sudden it’s not 2nd and 10. Maybe it’s not this simple but the drive chart in this game REALLY bears it out. Look, if your kids fail to execute then that’s on them to a certain degree but don’t let play calling put you in a deeper hole.
Another trend I noticed in looking at the play charts is that we only ran the ball on 3rd and 2 or shorter outside of goal line situations. We had a 3rd and 2 on the goal line and that’s where we ran the play action where Tanny hit Lamothe. Great play call but when we’re not in goal line we ran the ball 4 times on 3rd down only getting stopped once when Cyrus couldn’t convert a 3rd and 1. Each of those situations was less than 2 yards to a first down. Christine converted two and Tanny converted the other. Anything longer than 3rd and 2 we passed each time. Not necessarily bad but a trend. And a trend that cost us because on the interception by Tannehill. We had 3rd and 5 and Christine was in the game. He had backside help with the tackle and went over and “brother-in-lawed” the defensive end as the tackle released him outside thinking Christine was there to help. Christine was technically there to help but he didn’t put up much of a fight and the defensive end got to Tanny’s arm or hand resulting in an errant throw which got picked. Christine has gotten better at pass blocking but he still needs help as he brain farts from time to time.
Something tells me that we have a trend of passing on 3rd and 3 or longer and especially on 3rd and 5 or longer. If this is the case, either get Cyrus in there to pass block or release Christine to the flat or down the field so both the tackle and Tanny don’t rely on him on the backside. Let him be an outlet but DO NOT rely on him to block in 3rd down passing situations. Like I said, if I picked this up in this drive chart I bet it holds true throughout the season. Christine being in the backfield is not fooling anyone it’s a run by any stretch. If this trend is true then get your best personnel in there to handle it on 3rd down if you want the back to block. There’s no more crucial down on any drive than a third down. No ifs, ands, or buts. I’m fine with Christine pass blocking on non-third downs because there should be an element of surprise that it could be a run but for the love of all things holy don’t let him in the backfield when we know we’re going to pass on 3rd down. To me that interception is half on coaching and half on execution. Sure, it’s possible Christine could have made the block but he’s shown to be iffy on pass protection so don’t put him in there on obvious third down passing situations. It’s that simple.
As for units some looked good and some looked bad. I thought Tanny had a decent game. He was 35 of 53 passing so he completed about 2/3rds of his passes. The incompletions seemed to be equally split between drops and bad passes. If I have one bad thing to say about Tanny it’s that he locks into Swope WAY too much. Now, I don’t blame him to a certain degree because Swope is head and shoulders our best receiver right now but sometimes Swope is not open and other times he misses a guy running down the field wide open. Playing QB is hard as hell. If you don’t believe me go play QB in a flag football game with at least 7 guys on each side. It’s hard as hell to read the entire field with 7 guys with no pressure so I have to imagine it’s infinitely harder with 4 more guys and people trying to knock the snot out of you. With that though I think he’d really improve his game if he’d scan the field more.
In the second half I continually saw him lock into Swope on 3rd downs from the moment the ball was snapped. On SEVEN of NINE third down passing situations in the second half he went Swopes way with a potential for a completed pass. One of the others was a first down to Malcome Kennedy and the other was the interception but I’d wager money it was intended for Swope. Four of those resulted in a first down including the fumble by Swope. Two were incompletions and one was a completion on 3rd and 15 that was two yards short of the chain. Look, I love Swope and converting 4 of 7 ain’t bad but defenses are going to start taking your binky away and you better be ready. If I’m Bob Stoops and Brent Venables, Ryan Swope is getting pressed at the line of scrimmage on 3rd downs this Saturday. Tanny’s binky might not be there. Now, in Tanny’s defense the rest of this receiving corps is suspect so I don’t necessarily blame him but it’s something he and Sherm need to talk about and adjust. All in all Tanny is doing as good of a job considering the play calling and suspect receiving corps.
The offensive line looked dominant as always save for the five false starts which I just don’t get. How in the world can a line that’s been so solid brain lock so many times in one game at home? I don’t get it. I just don’t and make no mistake it hurt us on Saturday. Four were by guards and one by Joeckel. The thing I don’t get is that Brian Thomas had the first one and immediately got pulled for Ogbuehi. I’m perfectly fine with that as you’ve got competition for the guard spots right now so you want incentive to not screw up. When Thomas came off the field he was REALLY upset. He ran off the field and stood by himself for a play where he was visibly upset. Now, I don’t know if he was upset at himself for making the mistake or because the coaches pulled him but he was clearly upset. What confuses me is that Jarvis had a false start and he didn’t get pulled and then Thomas’ replacement in Ogbuehi had two false starts himself but didn’t get pulled. Now, I don’t pretend to know what goes on in practice so not sure if Thomas was on thin ice to begin with at the starting spot but just find it odd that his replacement made two of the same mistakes and didn’t get pulled.
I’m all for offensive line brain farts (false starts and holds) resulting in severe sanctions. I played offensive line/tight end in high school and we had one rule – More than two penalties by anyone and the entire offensive line paid for it. What we had to do was drive the blocking sleds backwards for 30 seconds and enough reps until our coach felt we learned our lesson. You think those things suck driving them forward try doing a backward bear crawl driving it. We had to do it after our first game and needless to say we never did it again all season long. We did get close one time as the guy I split time with at tight end false started twice in the first quarter. Our coach grabbed me and hollered, “Get your ass in there and don’t let the other guy back in there the rest of the game!” After the series I went to other guy and told him coach didn’t want him in the rest of the game and his response was, “I don’t plan on going back in because we’re not doing back backs due to me. It’s all on you, bro.” Of course he was half joking but I sure as hell didn’t screw up the rest of the game and luckily no one else did either. What sucked was on the post game high school TV show in my hometown of Victoria our coach went on air and talked about the game. He talked about what great tight end play we had that night and mentioned the other guy’s name. I always thought that coach was an asshole and that confirmed it. Anyway, enough of my stories but I hope Sherm and Turner know what they’re doing punishing one guy for a mistake and not the others. I’m perfectly fine not punishing Lewis , Matthews, and Joeckel because their backups aren’t on the same level but if there’s a competition at guard then be fair to everyone.
The one thing that did impress me about the line was other than the CMike brain fart, they made awesome pockets all day long. My favorite was when Joeckel and Matthews ran their defender into each other behind Tannehill. It was beautiful to watch our two tackles just create the perfect pocket and take their defender right where they wanted them to go which was into each other behind our QB who barely stepped up. It doesn’t get better than that. The other thing I love watching is seeing Matthews pull and get to the second level. To see a guy that big move that well is just breathtaking if you love offensive line play and you should. If this is not the best offensive line in the country next year I want to see who is. Despite the brain farts this unit performed at a high level as always.
As for running backs they did what they usually do. Christine got the lion’s share and would have likely gotten more had he not gotten hurt on the interception return but Cyrus didn’t look bad. I really do wonder if Cyrus would have scored when he got horse collared but it’s hard to say. Where Christine has two speeds which are fast and a little bit faster, Cyrus has about six gears he has to go through to get to top speed and he was going through most of them when he was horse collared. It looked like he was about to hit his full stride and no one had an angle on him but they might have been able to cut him off. Hard to say. Had he scored, the game might have been a win for us but you just never know. I do like that Sherm recognizes Christine brings a little more to the table even though Cyrus is a senior. God just blessed Christine a little more for a between the tackle runner and there’s no shame in that for Cyrus.
Now the bad part – The Receiving Corps. I have no idea what the hell is wrong with this unit other than Swope. I don’t even know where to start but I think I’ll start with Fuller. What the hell is wrong with this guy I have no idea. I really don’t. His routes are less than stellar and he dropped 4-5 passes he has to catch if he wants to be drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Sherm says he’s hurt and he’s a rep guy but that’s complete BS. Even if you can’t run routes due to an injury you can still work on catching the ball. For great receivers, catching a pass becomes second nature. It really does. The ONLY reason for a great receiver to drop a well thrown ball is because you have self doubt in your mind when it comes your way. THE ONLY REASON. You can get reps catching a ball even if you can’t run. I just don’t understand how he used to be so sure handed but is dropping balls left and right all season. His route running is suspect and his 12 yard comeback route is no longer surprising anyone. DBs are right on his hip even if the ball is there and he catches it. Even catching it though seems like a 50/50 proposition right now. He can’t go deep and he and Swope even got crossed up on a route in the second half. Someone wasn’t disciplined on their route and I’d wager it was Fuller but it obviously could have been Swope. I just don’t get it. If he’s playing through pain then that’s great but is it hurting the team? Is a 60% Fuller better than our other options? I don’t know but something is not right. It’s clear defenses aren’t respecting him as much as they used to as DBs aren’t afraid to stick on his hip.
EZ has looked decent but he’s not a playmaker. There’s not one receiver on this team that can stretch a defense. I don’t know if that’s by design because Tanny is weak with the deep ball or if the talent isn’t there. I mean seriously, if you’re a defensive coach preparing for this receiving corps is there one receiver that you worry about other than Swope? It’s why I don’t get the five wide receiver set. Who stands out in that set other than Swope? As a defensive coach do you really worry about scheming for multiple guys? Hell no. I just run my base coverage whether it be zone or man and let the chips fall where they may. There’s no real receiving threat on this team to scare a safety deep or not do press coverage on the line. We don’t run any draws to cheat LBs and safeties and we run play action very rarely and when we do it’s usually a quick pass to the tight end or someone within 10 yards. The next time we run a play action on second and within 5 for a deep ball will be the first time since I think the SMU game. I just don’t get why we go 5 wide with no back and utilize the element of surprise with our running backs since we don’t have 3 receivers that scare a secondary. Why put 2 more out there and take the threat of your best part of the offense in your running game off the field? Maybe I’m wrong but I’d love to see the completion percentage and average yards of gain on the five wide set. It can’t be good. I’ve only seen it effective against Baylor and it’s becoming more and more apparent that Baylor’s defense might be the worst in the Big 12.
The other thing I haven’t seen this receiving corps do well is block. I think they’re the main reason why we haven’t continually busted long runs or plays this season. Do these guys even block or just run around the field? It seems the five wide set would be perfect for some down field blocking but I don’t think they even do that. Just seems the whole receiving corps is lacking big time in all facets of the game including catching, route running, and downfield blocking. Watch OU’s receivers this weekend. If they’re not catching the ball you can bet your ass they’re engaging a defender until the whistle. I’ve never seen better prepared receivers than OU’s. They’re all talented but they do all facets of the receiving game really well and that’s not just because they’re talented. It’s because they work at it. I really do think this unit has dropped off big time since Cromwell left.
I did think the tight ends looked really good in the first half but we seemed to go away from them in the second half. Why I don’t know but Hicks didn’t see a pass thrown his way in the second half after catching 2 passes for 47 yards with each pass going for more than 22 yards each in the first half. Maybe it wasn’t there in the second half but if it wasn’t surely there was something else there because that means Mizzou adjusted to take that seam route away. My point is that there should RARELY be a situation where we don’t have a running back in the backfield and a tight end lined up outside the tackle. It just seems we’re more productive in that base set than anything else. I get the numbers spreading the field with five guys but you have to trust your offensive line to be better than what this receiving corps is showing right now.
Something I’d like to see more out of this offense is straight runs up the middle. It seems we really focus on the zone blocking looking to stretch out the defense and make the one cut and get up the field. I get the zone blocking scheme but I would think this offensive line is good enough to handle straight drive blocking and zone blocking. It seems the defense begins to anticipate the gaps in the second half and shoots defenders eliminating those gaps when we try and stretch those defenses out as wide as we can.
So what does all this mean? I’m not really sure. We can move the ball when we start with runs but we tend to stall out due to execution errors. When evenly matched teams match up they’re usually won due to special teams and/or turnovers. On Saturday we lost the game due to turnovers by our offense. Some of that is on Sherm and some of that is on the players. Ironically it was the passing game and not the running game that produced those 3 turnovers. Sure, one was on a running back’s suspect blocking but it was a pass none the less.
This offense is good enough to score points on anyone including Bama and LSU (probably not good enough to beat but look better than most teams they play) but Sherm just needs to recognize the weaknesses and adjust accordingly going forward. I also think he needs to save some wrinkles for the second half. And I’m not talking about the pitch to Swope on 3rd down in overtime. I actually LOVE that play on a 2nd and short as it could really bust loose but don’t get why Sherm called it at that time. Just seems Sherm gets lost in his playsheet rather than realizing how the plays he calls effect the flow of the game. Where was the reverses that we so effective against Baylor? Start with a 3-5 yard run on first down and then run some play action, reverses, draws, and creative plays on second down. Just doesn’t seem we do that and puts us into a predictable situation on third down. Just too methodical and college football is not about that. It’s about creativity and the element of surprise.
DEFENSE – I won’t go into too much depth on the defense like I did with the offense. Plain and simple the defense played good enough to win. We don’t have enough playmakers on the defensive side of the ball to truly be disruptive so our defense’s main focus is to limit points rather than shut down an offense. That means limiting 3rd down conversions and converting drives into field goals instead of touchdowns. If I’m DeRuyter I make sure my guys know they have to up their effort on third downs and in the red zone. Sure, it seems like a defeatist attitude not giving 100% on every play but it’s the reality of the situation. Teach those guys to dig deeper in those two scenarios and let them celebrate those achievements.
I will say one thing I was disappointed with DeRuyter was running the second string subs towards the end of the first quarter. Mizzou got a first down on our 42 yard line and there was about a minute left in the quarter. Mizzou had been pretty methodical for most of the 1st quarter so I don’t think they were going hurry up due to the end of the 1st quarter. With a minute left DR made one of his wholesale substitutions putting about five to six of his second string DL and LB out there. In all likelihood the defense had two more plays but DR decided to sub. Why sub them when they’re two plays away from a long TV break between quarters. What happened? On the second play Mizzou scored on a 42 yard pass with :02 seconds left on the clock. Now, would the first team have been scored on? It’s very possible but if you’re not watching the clock to know the flow of the game or don’t believe your starters have two more plays in them before a long break there’s something wrong. Shouldn’t someone on the defensive staff be aware of the clock and be in DR’s ear? Did the Mizzou OC adjust knowing the pressure would be less with the second team DL in there? Who knows but it seems suspect to me to make that move at that time.
In the first half, Mizzou passed a lot more than I thought they would. They were doing more of a zone read pass keying on our OLB to the wide side. What they did a lot is put two guys out wide in a bubble screen set with a single back. The Mizzou QB would read our OLB. If the OLB crashed the Mizzou QB would pull the ball back and throw to one of the guys lined up outside. This was their bread and butter play for most of the first half and it worked decently but we did a decent job of defending it. We had great pressure in the first half getting 3 sacks total with two on the first series and almost getting a 4th by Sean Porter but Franklin got rid of the ball right before his knee hit. Caleb Russell did have his most productive play of the year when he got held pursuing Franklin which turned a touchdown into a 3rd and 20 at the 21 yard line. The result of the series was 3 points instead of 7 which was a pretty big boost. Way to go Caleb!
What I was surprised by in the first half was that Mizzou didn’t run the ball more and didn’t attack the middle seams like they did last year and like Arkansas exposed in our game earlier this year. They threw down the middle seams but not as much as I thought they would. Looked like 4 times in the first half and 4 times in the second half. Enter the second half. They didn’t attack the middle seams more with the pass but boy did they adjust on the ground. Mizzou adjusted and never ran the same zone read where they keyed our OLB but instead ran a more horizontal read giving the Mizzou QB a little more time to read the defense before making the decision to keep or hand off. This gave the play a little more time to develop since they weren’t passing outside giving both the running back and quarterback more time to see the hole develop. Make no mistake that Franklin is a very good running quarterback and it’s like Mizzou purposefully held that back to spring it on the defense in the second half. Just a simple adjustment.
Don’ believe me? Check this out. In the first half Mizzou ran 19 passing plays and 17 running plays. About as balanced as you can get. Second half? Mizzou ran 27 running plays and 8 passing plays in the second half including overtime. 77% of their plays in the second half were runs while only 47% of their plays in the first half were runs. Now you tell me if they made an adjustment at half. Wondering what Mike Sherman did before and after the half? Good thing you ask. In the first half we ran 24 passing plays to 22 running plays. Pretty much like Mizzou. Second half? 30 pass plays to 28 running plays. That’s right. The team up by 11 at half made NO adjustments in play calling in the second half while the team down by 11 committed WAY more to the run in the second half and won the game. Quite the head scratcher isn’t it? Maybe we don’t have the personnel to defend the run but I think at the same time DeRuyter was clearly not ready for it and got exposed.
Personnel wise we’re about where we’ve always been. No one stood out any differently in a positive or negative light in my mind. They are who we think they are. I think at this point DR should have a really good idea of what each player is capable of and can call games and adjust accordingly. What I was most disappointed with was the lack of wrapping up in this game. We looked really good early in the year wrapping up and gang tackling but against Mizzou there was very little gang tackling and most of that was due to not wrapping up. Gang tackling is not the result of everyone being around the ball but a result of the first defender holding up the offensive player if he can’t take him down so help can arrive. For some reason this defense wasn’t wrapping up on Saturday. I don’t have the stat but I bet there were at least 20 tackles that weren’t made despite contact by the defender on the ball carrier. Not sure if these guys were looking for highlight hits or just not wrapping up. Whatever it was I hope DR gets that corrected this week. Our defense improving begins with the technique of wrapping up.
The defense did have two VERY big stops on 4th and 1. The first one was a flat out stop where they gave Franklin no room to run but the second stop on 4th and 1 was a slight gift because a Mizzou player held a defender after the running back had gotten the first down but it goes down in the books as a 4th down stop so credit to the defense. Your offense HAS to reward those stops. Has to. Those 4th down stops are as good as turnovers in my book. What did the offense do with both of those stops? Gave the ball back to Mizzou on an interception and Tanny fumble. Poor defense. Just good enough to win but this vaunted offense gave it right back. Still, it’s a team game but that’s just frustrating as a defender.
I will say that second 4th and 1 attempt by Mizzou was the best 4th and short play design I’ve ever seen. The Mizzou QB snapped the ball and attempted to go forward. The running back just hung out in the backfield. When the Mizzou QB realized there was nothing there for him he did a quick pitch to the running back who had green grass to run to a first down. It was an awesome play design. Too bad Sherman doesn’t like attempting 4th and shorts but it’s something I’d look to implement assuming Swope is not in the backfield.
I hate saying one player makes a huge difference but this defense is missing a healthy Coryell Judie. I don’t think he would have made a real difference in the second half because Mizzou ran so much but he could have altered the overtime results. When Mizzou got the ball in OT they ran the ball 4 straight times setting up a 3rd and 8 from the 11. Their play call on 3rd and 8 was beautiful. They were on the right hash and had a one back set with a three bunch formation to the right which is the short side of the field. That really doesn’t make much sense until you realize they put their best wide receiver in Marcus Lucas wide left. We left Dustin Harris on an island with no safety or linebacker help inside or up top. Harris lined up 5 yards off and inside of the receiver. Franklin and the receiver read it perfectly knowing it was man on man with the defense giving the wide side. Lucas runs a fade to the left side and Franklin immediately puts the ball up where only Lucas can see it because Harris has turned to run. Lucas adjusts his route to the ball and poor Harris never had a chance to turn and adjust himself. Just a perfectly executed play by t he Mizzou players and a perfect play call to exploit man coverage on 3rd and 8 where the receiver was not getting disrupted coming off the line. Look, I like Dustin Harris but he’s clearly our 3rd best cover corner behind Judie and TFred. Does Judie or TFred defend that play? I don’t know but it was pretty clear to me the Mizzou OC exploited our weakness with a perfect playcall.
Hats off to the Mizzou offense as they made a half time adjustment that exploited us throughout the second half and when we clamped down in OT they called the perfect play to exploit us yet again. I’d love to know if the plan all along was to be balanced in the first half and then exploit the run in the second half or if that adjustment to run more was made at half because the balanced attack wasn’t working. Either way, it worked and Mizzou won the game.
Special Teams – I won’t harp on these guys too much but just mention a couple of things. First off, Kyle Mangan had a gorgeous hit on a punt that was timed perfectly. Sadly, that was the only real highlight of the special teams. We didn’t get many punt returns as most of our punt returns were either fair caught or downed because we weren’t in position to catch the ball. Now don’t get me wrong in that I’d rather have a fair catch or downed ball compared to a fumble but it just seems that’s as good as our special teams aspire to be. Malcome Kennedy did have a catch interference on a punt which is just frustrating. The funniest and disappoint thing was on a kickoff by Missouri. We have two guys around the goal line and three guys around the 20 yard line. Well, Mizzou sky kicked to the middle 20. Our guy standing at the middle 20 was the great Spencer Nealy. What does he do? He runs away from the ball forcing the guys in the back to run up 20 yards and pick up the ball off the ground. Now, I don’t expect Nealy to return the ball but I sure as hell don’t expect him to run away from a live ball. One crazy bounce and that’s a Mizzou ball. If the guys you have lined up on the 20 have ZERO confidence in catching the ball then they don’t need to be back there. Worst case is they call for a fair catch and the other two guys on the 20 and the guys on the goal line run up to either protect him or be ready for a loose ball. Whatever you do, don’t run from the ball because it’s live. I just don’t get why Sherm doesn’t appear to really care about special teams execution. I don’t expect him to be Frank Beamer but average is what our special teams execution aspires to be and we can’t even really get there. It’s just disheartening because special teams and turnovers often decide the game for evenly matched teams and we don’t even seem to care about gaining a special teams advantage. The only exception is Randy Bullock who has become flat out nails. Damn shame he didn’t get a shot to win the game at the end of the 4th quarter before we fumbled that chance away.
WHAT TO DO WITH MIKE SHERMAN – For anyone still reading, my thoughts on Mike Sherman are about what I thought when we hired him. I said he’d stabilize the program to the point we wouldn’t get blown out but we’d go between 8-4 and 10-2 every year. He’s a very solid coach but he’s not a great college coach. He’s too methodical and gets caught up in his playsheet rather than watching what’s going on throughout the whole game. It just doesn’t appear he has a solid grasp on the entire game.
He also doesn’t appear to have a great grasp of the college game. If I hear him mention the NFL one more time I’m going to pull my hair out. For some reason he doesn’t want people to forget that he has NFL experience. I don’t get it. Note to coach – The college game has NOTHING to do with the NFL. It’s great you can put guys in the NFL but that doesn’t really matter if we’re not winning ball games. Winning ball games comes first and putting guys in the NFL comes a VERY distant second if even there. Don’t get the two confused. What goes on in the NFL has NO bearing on what you do as a college coach. You get ZERO credit for losing a game but called a really good NFL game. It doesn’t matter that those bubble screens OSU destroyed us with in the second half won’t work in the NFL because we’re NOT in the NFL. We’re in college. The hashes are wider, the clock stops to set the chain, and the players aren’t motivated by a paycheck and are more motivated by getting lucky after a game. Give them a chance to get lucky week in and week out by winning football games! They’ll thank you for it on and off the field.
Outside of losing out there’s ZERO chance Sherman gets fired so get used to him. I’m torn on the guy because the team is in a much better place than it’s been in the last 10 years but there’s no National Championship on the horizon for Mike Sherman. Even conference or division championships in the SEC with Sherman at the helm will be hard to come by. Greatness is just not him because he’s not a gambler. He’s a VERY good coach but he’s too methodical to step out from his black and white world of Xs and Os and make something out of the ordinary happen. Make fun of Les Miles all you want but he knows you have to have luck to win more than you lose and he continually gives his team a chance to get lucky. I’m talking about on the field luck which coincidentally likely translates into off the field luck for the players.
I read this week that since 1975 only two national championship coaches did not win 10 games by year 4. Those 2 coaches were Bobby Bowden who took over an abysmal FSU program and Lavell Edwards who caught lightening in a bottle with a BYU team in 1984. EVERY other coach who has won a national championship has had a 10 win season by year 4. Many of these guys did it back when 11 game seasons and no conference championships game were the norm. Does that mean Sherman can never win a national championship? Not at all but it’s a pretty clear indicator the great ones continually improve through year 4 and unless Sherm wins out he’s going to at absolute best equal to last year which will be questionable because he’ll either be 8-4 in conference play with a lesser bowl win or 9-3 in conference play with another Cotton Bowl loss at best. Certainly not incremental improvement with what is as a whole a better prepared team for an improved season. Sure, we lost some guys on defense but this whole team should be better than last year especially with our schedule this year. Make no mistake that it appears Mike Sherman spit the bit this season when he had a chance to be better.
If you want more research on what works against Mike Sherman winning a national championship here’s the analysis I did after year 1.
The compelling data in that analysis is those national championship coaches didn’t lose the first game at home against an inferior opponent, they won more than they lost at home, and didn’t get blown out by more than 7 points in most of their games. Sadly, none of that works in Mike Sherman’s favor and as the sample set gets bigger. His 4-8 first season with multiple blowouts including big losses at home is standing out as par for the course of where he’s ascending to.
So do we fire Sherman? All depends on who we’re going to go get. My personal belief is Sherm will follow the Fran plan of being gone after year 5. This season will be seen as a disappointment and we’ll walk into the SEC with no excitement hurting ticket sales. We’ll go 8-4 in our first year in the SEC at best creating a lethargic fan base and we’ll have a new coach going into the 2013 season. It sucks, but it’s pretty clear who we were getting when we hired him and it’s playing out like many predicted. If we fire him we better be damn certain on who his replacement is before we pull the trigger. No firing him and figuring it out. Someone better be in the bag and we better have done our homework.
The one wild card in all of this is Dr. Loftin. I spoke with Dr. Loftin after the Kansas game last year and he was surprisingly candid. That was my fist interaction with him but since then I’ve found him to be very candid which is refreshing. Even after the Kansas beat down last year he told me he had concerns for the football team. He said his biggest concern was Sherman calling all the plays and not having an OC. He feels it’s too much for a head coach to prepare an entire team in general while preparing the offense in such great detail that he’s creating and calling the plays. Loftin told me he actually sat Sherm down before the 2010 season and expressed his concern but Sherm told him he could handle it. Now, will a move to the SEC force Loftin to make the move sooner than later? I don’t know but always thought it was an interesting nugget Loftin was critical of Sherm for trying to be the head coach and the offensive coordinator at the same time. This is the same guy that forcefully pushed us into the SEC so maybe he doesn’t sit on his hands depending on how this thing plays out. I don’t see it happening though. I watched a special on Arkansas this week and even the great Bobby Petrino has an offensive coordinator that prepares the offense during the week despite Petrino being all over the play calling on game day. It can be done. Fortunately for us our foundation should be MUCH more solid for the next coach assuming it’s done in the next two years. At least we’ve got that…