Ed. Note: Apologies for tardiness. I spent Sunday driving back from New Orleans and then re-watching the game. Hopefully my analysis is better for it.
Justin Thomas was really a mixed bag in this game. The first play from scrimmage saw him flailing the ball around and lose it on a passing attempt gone very, very wrong. He made some good reads and had some pretty impressive displays of speed, but also had some rough pitches and was pretty poor throwing the ball -- though he didn't have much time to throw in a lot of cases. I can't really decide if it was progress from last week or a regression in the running game, but the passing game was clearly a regression. How much of that falls on him and how much falls on a lack of protection, I'm not really sure. But he has to be better if this team is going to reach the heights it aspires to reach.
Tim Byerly was fantastic in the action he saw. We could see some more of him in the coming weeks.
Zach Laskey again failed to go for 100 yards, but that had a lot to do with Tulane's front 7 being focused on stopping him (similar to last week). He did get close, though, with 12 carries for 86 yards (7.7 ypc). I love the B-Back speed option being back in the playbook for the first time in a few years -- it's a great wrinkle that's going to pay some dividends. Synjyn Days had a single carry for 3 yards. Overall not a very big day for the B-Backs, but not a bad one. It's going to be interesting to see how this group develops as the competition becomes more difficult.
Tony Zenon was back home and playing absolutely out of his mind and it was fantastic. 8 carries for 72 yards and 2 TD's were all career highs for the recently dubbed #TouchdownTony. Deon Hill and Charles Perkins also had some nice carries, which was great to see from two guys we weren't sure would play at all this year, much less at a high level. Maybe the best part of the afternoon for this group was the blocking. Yes, it was Tulane. No, they're not the Seattle Seahawks on defense. What was the case though was fundamental blocking, the likes of which we haven't seen from this group in a long time. All day long, you saw defenders either on the ground, or at the very least having to reset their feet, and unable to make plays. It's similar to what we saw last week against Wofford, and if it remains the case it's going to be a big deal against some of the better defensive teams we'll play. Overall, this group had a few moments they'll be able to learn from, but a very strong performance on the whole.
Entirely nonexistent the entire game. Not a single one recorded a catch, and only a couple of Thomas's 8 attempts were even targeted at them. Part of this is that Tulane didn't do much loading the box, meaning the passing game was hardly necessary, and the other part of this is that there were no "kick pass" play calls, as I call them. (Referring to the plays where the QB takes the snap, sets his feet, and immediately "kicks" the ball out to the WR for a one-on-one matchup with the DB, and usually solid yardage.) I thought this group blocked pretty well too, particularly on this play where Antonio Messick absolutely assaults a Tulane player. Generally, I was a bit uncomfortable with the lack of their involvement in the game plan, but with the rushing attack running as well as it did for most of the game (6.04 yards per carry) there wasn't much need to get them involved. Meh.
I thought this group was a pretty mixed bag too. They blocked pretty well in the rushing game, but were fairly poor in pass protection. There was a play early on that saw even Shaq Mason completely miss someone, apparently confused about the protection given the lack of attention he payed to an oncoming lineman. Freddie Burden missed a major chunk of the game with some sort of injury (but returned), and true freshman Andrew Marshall did a pretty fantastic job in his absence. I could see fatigue playing some issue here, because it seemed like there was very minimal rotation among the group -- problematic given the heat along with the general principle of playing the same 6-7 guys the entire game. Kelly Quinlan pointed out that neither O'Reilly nor Shamire Devine came in to relieve Mason or Trey Braun late in the game, even in garbage time. What that means is unclear, but it either wasn't very smart or isn't very good. Again, a mixed bag overall, but they've got to be better in pass protection if we expect Thomas (or anyone) to set up and throw decently.
Overall the unit was pretty effective today. They took what Tulane was giving them and racked up a lot of yards and scored 38 points. There were a couple of bad turnovers deep in their own territory that would have been absolutely devastating if we were playing a tougher opponent. They had the ball 12 times, scored 6 times, was in position for another (but saw a missed FG) and saw the game end before they could finish a drive that would've also been a scoring drive. Of the other 4 drives, 3 ended in turnovers (twice on the first play of a drive). That's alarming.
There are some good signs here and some points for improvement. Needless to say, also, that they need to be very effective next week against a Georgia Southern team that scored 83 this week and lost to NC State 24-23 a week ago.
I try not to be overly critical on this blog, but this unit is the weak link of the team right now, and I think the source of the defensive struggles that we've seen at times. It makes sense, too -- we're replacing three graduated starters and lost something like half a dozen players in the off season, so depth is lacking and true freshmen are being counted on in the trenches far earlier than they should be. That said, the pass rush is really lacking from this group, even with the 3 sacks they recorded in this game. (3 is a good number by itself, but less impressive on nearly 40 dropbacks and considering they're now on pace to finish the year with 18 sacks, as compared to last year's 34.) The inability to get much of any pressure with 4 linemen is causing a lot of problems in the passing game. Adding linebackers really helps, but is also risky, giving the QB a lot of room to throw if they don't get to him immediately. This is a group that needs to grow up, and quickly, or else we'll continue seeing these issues down the road.
Now that we've bashed on a group, it's time to praise one. The linebackers played an outstanding game in New Orleans. Quayshawn Nealy was all over the field, complementing a pick-six with a few quarterback pressures, a few tackles, and a few nice assorted plays in the passing game. Paul Davis was great too, applying pressure on blitzes and really flying around after ball carriers. Tyler Marcordes and Anthony Harrell had really nice days too. I have no reservations with how the linebackers played in this game and may have been most encouraged by this group over any other.
Even with the success that Tulane had at times passing, I don't think the blame falls too much on the secondary. As I mentioned before, I think that the struggles on defense are more related to what's happening up front. That said, the secondary wasn't perfect at all on Saturday. They gave up a 60-yard touchdown pass that wasn't helped by the pass rush, but was also a result of the safeties playing it poorly. There were also a lot of opportunities for interceptions that were missed on. They did pull down two interceptions though, including one from Demond Smith and the first of Lawrence Austin's career on a really nice play. I would also point out that Tulane's first touchdown pass was tipped by Nealy, and that if it hadn't been, Jamal Golden was in perfect position to knock it down. I was happy about a play late too that saw Step Durham called for pass interference. Yes, I liked that, because Tulane got 15 yards and a first down, which is way better than the at least 30 yards and possible 6 points they would have gotten had Durham let the pass go. A veteran move there by a true freshman. Some good moments here as well as some trying ones. This group is talented but still developing. I'm not particularly worried about them.
This is tough. Yes, we gave up 21 points prior to halftime, but the first touchdown was an 8-yard drive, though another came on a very teachable moment that gave up a long play. Then they pitched a shutout in the second half, only allowing the Green Wave 4 possessions after the break. They also created 3 turnovers, which I would take any day. Ted Roof is adjusting his schemes to account for his personnel groupings. It's paying off in certain places and costing in others. It's going to be a necessary evil though until some of these younger starters develop enough to no longer warrant those adjustments.
Continuing with the theme of the game, it was really a mixed bag. Harrison Butker missed another field goal (33 yards) and is now 2-for-4 on the year, but made one from 46 yards before the half. Kickoffs were great, offering little opportunity for a return. Ryan Rodwell only punted once and saw it fair caught at the 10 yard line, which is great. Jamal Golden ran back two kicks for 51 total yards and Broderick Snoddy ran back another for only 18 yards. I think that was all that happened EXCEPT FOR WHEN MATT CONNORS BLOCKED A PUNT! I had a bit of a moment in the stands, for the record.
LOOK AT YOU MATT CONNORS— Joey Weaver (@FTRSLilBroey) September 6, 2014
Not particularly good or bad, and Butker missed another chip shot field goal. This team will need every point it can get as the competition gets tougher, and we can't be leaving those high-percentage field goals on the table.
Grade: B (upgraded from a C for the blocked punt)
From a high level, this was another game where the Jackets took a while to get the thing in gear. It was hot, it was as hostile an environment as Tulane will ever be, and it was a crappy turf field that caused a lot of slipping. Some things were improved from the Wofford game, others were regressions. The team is 2-0 after two games, which is great, but still has plenty of work to do if they're to keep that same number in the loss column for much longer. Here's to hoping it stays there.
What are your grades for this game? Was I too hard? Too soft? Did I forget about anyone?