The pre-holiday doldrums have hit the football reporting slate like a ton of stuff. The latest news of any note was the departure of Travon McMillian, who is graduating in a week and a half, so will not be participating in the TaxSlayer Bowl game. We'll keep up to date on where Travon lands and hopefully we don't have to face him next season. There are still a few schools that could use a one cut and go for the hole sort of back.
In the spirit of the wrap up of the season, and before the Bowl Preview articles are due, let's look back and see what sorts of surprises and disappointments made the most impressions from the sideline.
Surprises (both Pleasant and Exasperating)
Pleasant - Josh Jackson before the Clemson game. He was consistent, not flashy, but kept the ball out of trouble, and generally made decent enough choices behind center to merit some attention for a rookie. If he was answering questions on one of those "subjective" multiple choice questions where there is one 10 point "excellent" answer, one 5 point "very good" answer and one 1 point "okay you survived" gimme; young Mr. Jackson got mostly 5 pointers. He'd hit a few 10 point shots and balance that with some survival choices, but he seemed to avoid the big goose egg "nope-a-pus" errors that can really hurt a team.
Exasperating - Josh Jackson after the Clemson game. He was hurt (kept quiet). He seemed to lose focus down field and as it became obvious that his confidence in the line diminished so did his progressions. He spent too much time trying to run, and not enough handing the ball off to someone who could do it better. His key reads were frustratingly off. He'd hand the ball off when he needed to keep it, and keep it when he needed to hand it off. He also ended up telegraphing throws, and using Cam Phillips as a target when the situation dictated a better choice.
Pleasant - The defensive line managed to hang tough the entire season, and the new core of Tim Settle and Ricky Walker ended up a dominant factor. It was nice to see both Houshun Gaines and Trevon Hill step up. The Vinny Mihota pass rush disappearing act wasn't really his doing. Vinny became a critical run stopper and critical containment for mobile QBs.
Pleasant - The pass defense kept its poise and continued to improve even with the injury to Divine Deablo and spotty nature of Adonis Alexander's contribution. Stroman stepped up to a lock down Corner, and Facyson overcame some early problems to be a reliable stopper.
Exasperating - The pass defense was still susceptible to getting burned on the big plays. Some of that is the defensive line rush scheme where not enough pressure was put on the Quarterback to disrupt the reads, and some of it was on the secondary. No matter how things slice up, we had too many strong safeties and not enough free safeties. Terrell Edmunds (season over due to injury and surgery) is a natural at Rover/Strong Safety. He's too slow and not maneuverable enough to not get burned at Free Safety. Mook Reynolds was not really a Rover. He's more of a Whip and his inconsistency seemed to stem from those technique flips where he ended up playing a Strong Safety when he'd have been a better Will Linebacker. The Swiss cheese showed during the Georgia Tech game. The overall play is great. The unfortunate tendency to have a critical spirit crushing breakdown is frustrating.
Pleasant - Special Teams got better, especially the punting game. Oscar Bradburn stirred up lots of pins inside the 20, even a bunch inside the 10. Good returns from Stroman, peppered with a couple of first class rips made for critical momentum and field position shifts. There even some blocks, both partial and full, and some heavy pressures that cause the shank-o-potamus reaction from opposing punters.
Exasperating - Joey Slye's accuracy problems. He kept slicing the ball, and anything outside the 30 yard line was an iffy proposition, especially from the right hash mark. Slye went from "Toe-phy" (Lou Groza Award) candidate to nursing a pulled hammy and watching next season's kicker, Brian Johnson exercise his right leg. Johnson did miss one that he should have hit, but we'll see how he progresses for next season.
There were some disappointments for the season, some obvious and others technical, but they were minor and already noted. There was just one that really stood out, though, and weighed heavily on every single game after the first 1/3rd of the season wrapped.
The Offense just never really happened after the Clemson game. The play calling, offensive game planning, and offensive in-game adjustments just were not there this season. The game plans and schemes just didn’t match the talent on the field. Jackson is not, and will never be a running quarterback. He’s just too small and too slow (an admittedly relative term, but he’s just not fast enough to get away from pursuing players. There can be a fair amount of grease layered on the effort for the first five games, but eventually there had to be some sort of functional strategic adjustment to the realities on the field.
We had no experienced receivers that could go up and fight for the ball. We had a QB who just didn’t have the deep ball arm, or timing down. We had an offensive line that was eventually hurt, and patched together with miracle glue; and we had a running back corps that really only had two experienced backs. One was ill suited for the offensive scheme, and the other ended up hurt for a good portion of the season. The real turning point was the Clemson game, when even the coaches admitted that Clemson had completely changed their defensive strategy and the Hokies made absolutely no adjustments in their game plan to attack the change. That may have been an experience deficit on the part of the players, yes. However, the lion’s share of the disappointment sits on the doorstep of the coaches.
The sad feeling on offense continued through the season and culminated with a very hard to take 10 point “triumph” over the Hoos. We know the story on that one. The Triumph was on the defense because 7 of those 10 points were because of the lights out performance on their part. The offense was handed a “you better score 7” on that huge defensive play. Other than that quick flash the O maintained its “nomentum” right up to the final whistle.
Good Things Ahead, Though
Anyone who is going to hang their head and walk off with a general feeling of malaise, after the bowl wraps, (no matter the score) is mistaken. This team is actually truly rebuilding. We are losing a large number of Seniors, that is true, but there were a slew of new faces, all stepping up and all performing in a season where there were several “guaranteed” loss games that were contested right to the bitter end. The Clemson game was much closer than the impression from the score board at the end. If Kelly Bryant hadn’t been so dominant on the ground, Tech was very much in that football game for almost the entire time. The Miami game was very much the same sort of event, though the team did look flat, and the offense just never got off the turf. That was another game that could have been won if three or four plays on either side of the ball had gone the other way. We’ll have to figure out how to beat Georgia Tech, next season. Maybe not getting suckered on deep passes, by recognizing that the Safety creeping in past a point on the field generated an audible to the ambush seam pass.
But those are correctable things. We have new receivers who look like they are going to step right in, and there will be a Quarterback competition in the Spring and the Summer. More on that as things develop.
Nine wins and three losses in Rebuilding Year 2, is not to be sneezed at. Next season we have a revitalized Notre Dame coming to Lane. I’m especially going to be ready for that one, and I can’t wait to get those pictures. It’s going to be a great 2018.