At the beginning of the season I was hoping to attend this game since we’ll never play up here in Boston ever again, but alas, Massachusetts’ coronavirus policies spared me the pain.
For the second week in a row, I don’t really feel like doing the segments before the longer piece. It’s too hard to come up with lighthearted jokes about the game when the game is pretty much just 60 minutes of getting embarrassed. I’ll bring them back when a game provides an opportunity to name just 3 things that were Above The Line.
Anyway, we’re now halfway done with the season. Let’s take this opportunity to check in on how we’re doing and how I’m feeling about it.
Record: 2-4 (2-3 ACC)
ACC Standing: 9th
Wins: Florida State, Louisville
Losses: UCF, Syracuse, Clemson, Boston College
Points per game: 22.8 (79th of 98)
Yards per game: 396.3 (52nd of 98)
Passing YPG: 215.7 (59th of 98)
Rushing YPG: 180.7 (34th of 98)
Completion %: 54.1% (80th of 98)
Turnovers per game: 3.0 (91st of 98)
First Downs per game: 19.2 (68th of 98)
Top Passer: Jeff Sims - 55.6%, 1196 yards, 8 TD, 10 INT
Top Rusher: Jahmyr Gibbs - 69 attempts, 308 yards, 2 TDs
Note: some of the rankings might be off by 1 or 2 spots; there are some inconsistencies in how sites are compiling weird 2020 things.
Let’s talk positives first: there’s a good amount of improvement over last year. In 2019 we scored 16.7 ppg (124th of 130) and averaged 286.5 ypg (127th of 130). The offense is clearly moving the ball a lot better and scoring about a touchdown more per game. I don’t want to understate how good that bump is. The difference is probably most notable in the passing game where we’re averaging nearly 100 more yards per game over 2019. Of everything though, I think Gibbs is the biggest catalyst. As a true freshman he’s emerged as the leading guy, and a dangerous one at that. He’s shifty, fast, and strong, and getting him involved in the passing game has been a huge boon for the offense. He’s accounted for 22% of our yardage as well as 25% of our touchdowns. Alongside Gibbs, Sims has shown some strong promise as well. He’s made good throws, but he’s probably most dangerous with his legs. He’s the second leading rusher with 275 yards and 4 TDs.
Still though, the offense is quite far from where it needs to be and there’s one big thing to point to: we just cannot score. 400 yards per game is a great start, but we’ve been brutally bad at getting in the endzone, particularly in the red zone. Of our 21 red zone trips we’ve only scored on 14 of them, a 67% rate that is near the bottom of all teams in the country. Adjacent to (and partially responsible for) this is a MASSIVE turnover problem. Three turnovers per game is beyond unacceptable and actually a huge regression from last year’s already-high 1.7 per game. Nothing else matters if you give the ball away that many times. That has to stop ASAP if we expect to be competitive in any of our remaining games.
Overall I’d label the offense as raw. Sims is clearly talented, but he’s going to need to work through the freshman mistakes. The receivers have mostly all looked good in turns but no one has really emerged as the dominant force. Highest on my wishlist is vastly improved offensive line play. It’s tough for Sims to stand in the pocket and confidently make throws when he’s constantly running for his life and it’s tough for Gibbs to get in the open field when he’s consistently met in the backfield by multiple defenders. If we want to be competitive in the second half of this season we need much more out of the o-line.
Points per game allowed: 41.2 (91st of 101)
Yards per game allowed: 479.7 (85th of 101)
Passing YPG allowed: 280.5 (82nd of 101)
Rushing YPG allowed: 199.2 (79th of 101)
Turnovers forced per game: 1.8 (37th of 101)
First Downs per game allowed: 23.7 (78th of 101)
Again note: some of the rankings might be off by 1 or 2 spots.
I’m struggling to come up with some positives about the defense; there’s not much good to say here. I said a lot about the defense last week and giving up 48 to Boston College has not made me feel any better. Unlike the offense, the defense hasn’t really improved from 2019 to 2020. In fact it’s regressed; we’re giving up ~60 more yards and almost 10 points more than last season. Three of our opponents this season have scored their season high against us.
I’ve said it before, but the defense is honestly really disappointing. I expected a lot more out of this unit with this staff and so far everything has been pretty depressing. Tackling has been abysmal, assignments are consistently being missed, and we seem content to let offenses control the game at will. I’m not sure we can expect to win any more games this season as long as the defense continues to look like this.
If it’s possible to be more disappointing than the defense, special teams have somehow managed to do it. Three missed XPs and a stunning 1-of-5 on field goals is about as bad as you can be. Routinely getting kicks blocked is not what you want to see every time you trot the kicking unit on the field.
Of course, there’s always Pressley Harvin. Our anointed one has been outdoing himself this season, averaging 48.5 yards per punt (4th in the country) and consistently helping us win field position battles. So that’s something.
All in all, I’d say we’re in about the same position that we were at the halfway point last season and I don’t think that’s a good thing. Improvements in the offense are being neutralized by turnovers and a regression in the defense. And no, I didn’t have what I would call “high” expectations for this season. But I certainly didn’t expect to be blown out by Syracuse and Boston College either. I predicted we’d be 3-3 at this point (with wins against Cuse, Louisville, and BC) and it’s true that 2-4 isn’t far off, but it feels like a pretty shaky 2-4. Our next three are Notre Dame, Pitt, and Miami; it wouldn’t shock me if 2-4 quickly becomes 2-7. Duke and NC State still grade as below us according to SP+ but I’m not particularly confident at the moment. In a word I’d call the season so far “disappointing”.
While I did predict only 4 wins, I thought we’d at least be competitive in the others. None of our four losses so far have been competitive. Things need to change and they need to change now. I’m not calling for any firings or anything, but finishing 2020 with 2 wins would sound some alarm bells. 3 wins would leave me pretty nonplussed. If we can at least be competitive in our final 5 games then I can excuse some final results but we’ll see.