The game was not a disaster, that’s a start, right? I guess if your team is at the bottom of the well of total disfunction that maybe keeping it glued together for 3/4ths of a major divisional contest against an old rival is salvation of some sort. This one isn’t going to be a tome, because there isn’t much new to go over. We are seeing many of the same things that we have seen in prior games. How they affect the trajectory of the remainder of the season and the lead-in to 2023 (with no divisions and no hope of winning much more than a shot at a bowl).
Let’s Get Some Good News First
Malachi Thomas is back! Well, at least he was back most of the time. He proved, once again, that he’s the #1 running back on the depth chart for a reason. He’s a quick reading, fast cutting strong runner who makes the first contact miss, and often sheds second contact as well. He’s the guy who turns a 2-yard dive into a 4-yarder. The benefit is that it allows his immediate #2 backup to be used for what he’s good at which is outside runs, and receiving out of the backfield out in space. Keshawn King can make his greatest contribution in that set of roles.
Grant Wells had his best game of the season, even in the loss. He only threw 1 pick and that was an all-luck lob that was up for grabs… the old “arm punt”. Wells was 25 of 47 for 277 and 1 touchdown. He was on the mark for most throws, and 9 receptions for 152 yards of that went to the other step-up player, Kaleb Smith. The list of targets is still a bit small though, but Dae’Quan Wright did grab five along with Thomas and King (5 and 2, respectively) out of the backfield. There seems to be just a bit of decent rhythm beginning to show with the offense. The running game didn’t last into the second half, and that’s unfortunate, but if Tyler Bowen can find it within himself to stick with some balance between the run and the pass that doesn’t put Wells in a guaranteed passing situation this situation is improving.
Now, We Have to Address the Bad Stuff… Yeesh
I wanted to put the problems with Special Teams in the Bad category because they are truly beginning to show some really bad traits, but they will have to wait for the next section. Suffice it to say that lots of the problems are coaching and scheme, yes – more about that in a second.
The tackling… lord what we could do with some fingers and functioning hands. There are three basic functions in tackling; approach, engagement, and finish. The approach is the angle and body position of the defender as they set up to attempt the tackle. Too many of our interior linemen and sometimes the linebackers are taking bad approaches to the runner. The engagement is the classic methods of tackling given the situation at the point of contact. These defenders are not using their hands when wrapping up the tackles. There are still far too many “alligator arms” going on where wrap-ups aren’t completed because there is no grip on the runner. This allows the runner to shed first contact and potentially break into the second level. The finish to every tackle is the not-so-simple act of putting a runner on the turf once contact/engagement has been made. The ‘box’ is where the opponents’ run games are stopped, and preferably in negative territory. The hits are happening at -2 yards, but without proper engagement there is no finish. This is middle school and high school fundamental stuff that is just not being carried on to the collegiate gridiron.
The next bad is not horrid, but it is a serious problem. Grant Wells is getting better incrementally, but he’s still not good at reading the field. He’s locked into one receiver on each passing play, and is having extreme difficulty spotting open receivers on plays that he should be checking down (or up - depending on the 2nd or 3rd choice route). This is making him very vulnerable to interceptions, knock-downs, and sacks. His release can be timed with a calendar because he’s slow in spotting the best receiver, and then slow in getting the pass off once the receiver is seen. This is a coaching issue, and if Wells is going to continue to be the starter for the remainder of his eligibility, Brad Glenn is going to have to get those pieces working.
Pitt had no passing game to speak of in the contest so there is little to point out about the coverage, but there are some issues in the defensive backfield that a nearly all-pass offense like Miami’s is going to pose serious threats. There needs to be a real “soul searching” about who is the best player to be on the field and who has been struggling. Struggling defensive backs are identified and picked on very quickly. Loose zones are also targets for destruction. We saw that in the Carolina game, and it will show its head again for the Miami game. Fixing it is not a one-week effort, but you have to start somewhere.
DIRTY LAUNDRY! That dirty yellow laundry kept killing momentum and turning promising situations into impossible low percentage efforts. This team’s biggest and most persistent “ugly” for the 2022 season is penalties. The major errors like holding, facemasks, blocks in the back, pass interference, etc. are bad enough, but this team is suffering from a major case of the mental and physical sloppies before the ball is even snapped. Two times five-yard procedural penalties knocked us out of longish but makeable field goal range. That also includes the potential of completing the promising drive at the end of the 1st half that not only wrecked the FG attempt but ultimately could have stopped a potential touchdown drive since the Wells to Smith connection was hot, and with a few seconds more in the pocket could have resulted in six at the end of 2 quarters. You can blame the coaches all you want, but it all comes down to players taking personal responsibility and accountability for their actions. Coach Pry seems to be addressing this, behind the scenes, but progress is in fits and starts – with the Pitt game being a prime example in how 70+ yards of penalties at the right moments in the game can stop progress.
Special Teams – Maybe someone should have paid James Shibest to stick around. His special teams actually worked, and had some serious Beamer Ball creds. The current situation is in the “nozzomush” category. Saturday the punt team was terrible. There are just no two ways to say something guarded about it. Peter Moore was rushed heavily. He had one partially blocked on a low trajectory emergency hack. He was so rushed that he actually shanked kicks, and Moore just never shanked a punt in a game. No one in any book on blocking formations ever saw the mess on the field, and how many whiffed chips did we see on blocking assignments? I saw at least one on the partial block. Of course, that was a live ball and a Tech gunner with some knowledge could have recovered it, but there was no effort to do that, either. Beamer’s “Pride and Joy” might need a touch or two from the old master because the current situation has gone beyond bad and into seriously ugly territory.
Wrapping it up and Heading to Lane to Face the ‘Canes
Miami is up next. The smack will be that Tyler van Dyke was good and passed for hundreds of yards in Saturday’s loss. Well, gee, wow, now isn’t that special? Miami fumbled once and TvD threw a pick in the red-zone to crush two drives. They passed a whole lot between the 20’s but only scored 24 points. All those yards in the air and no points on the board are like having a supercharged 900hp muscle car that makes a whole bunch of loud noise, but the driver just burns up the tires and never gets down the track.
Let’s hope we start making the turn, here. Fixing these repeated “Bads” and “Uglies” would go a long way to doing that.