Sunday, November 8, 2009

how bad are we? this bad

So, in the middle of watching our putrid offense fumblefuck its way to another big loss, I had two minor epiphanies. I watched a ton of Jeopardy growing up and still enjoy it, so they came to me in the form of questions. The second I'll get to in a bit. The first was this:

- When's the last time we put together a real, honest-to-Jebus, actual drive? I mean actually drove down the field for a real live touchdown?

Both of our TDs against Miami were the result of a blocked punt, and the field goal was because we couldn't advance the ball after gettting nice field position on an interception. We didn't put the ball in the end zone against Georgia Tech at all, and our offense's one touchdown against Maryland was the result of a one-yard drive.

So I decided to go back and find out. Criteria for a drive in this instance:

- Has to start inside our own 35. In other words, we can't be handed gift-wrapped field position thanks to a turnover or a long return (which itself is pretty rare.)
- Has to result in a touchdown. Settling for field goals all the time is why we lose.
- Can't include a play that goes for longer than half the drive. So no heaving it down the field and making a lucky grab. We have to actually march the distance. Get positive yards, positive yards, positive yards, and keep doing it consistently and sustainably.

It turns out that we have exactly six such drives all season. Six! In nine games. The count is: one against William & Mary, two against Southern Miss, two against Indiana, and one against Duke. (There's a third one against IU that started on our own 36, just outside my arbitrary line, but it's balanced by the fact that one that I counted was basically just three long plays interspersed with incomplete passes. Besides, the Duke one started on the 34.) So they've all come in four games this season, which means that in the five other games, we've completely failed to mount a drive on offense and have either relied on the defense to put us in good position to score, or settled for field goals. Or just not scored.

It's kind of a useless number without a comparison, and they don't keep stats on that number, so I can't tell you that we're like 115th out of 120 or something. (We probably are.) I did look at two other teams though: UNC and Georgia Tech. UNC, because they're the next-sorriest offense after ours, and GT, because I figured they were probably the kings of long-ass drives.

UNC has seven such drives all season. Only one more than our six, but they have one in each of seven games. So they can actually depend on their offense to produce such a drive. GT has (hang on, lemme count up my tally marks) fifteen. Not only can they count on their offense to produce a long, clock-chewing drive, they can usually expect more than one such drive in a game.

So in the last four games, we've mounted one halfway decent drive for a touchdown, that being against, y'know, Duke. Two of the other five came against Southern Miss, whose coach admitted to being completely fooled that we'd scrapped the super-spread look of the first two games, so chalk those up to a surprise that works exactly once. Two more were against Indiana. I don't know where the 536 yards of offense came from, but I figure it's just our yearly "rochambeau some unsuspecting poor bastard at random" game that we can't ever duplicate. (Last year it was Maryland and the year before, Miami.) The other was against a I-AA opponent that we still couldn't beat.

So I've changed my outlook a tad, not that it much matters with three games left on the docket. I used to think if we were going to win a game, we needed to catch a bad defense. That's why I thought we could knock off Georgia Tech. Silly me: it doesn't matter what defense we play. Whether it's the Pittsburgh Steelers or Sisters of the Poor, the offense can't gain yards against it. If we're going to snag a win somewhere, our defense has to consistently be able to fuck someone up and hand us short fields or score themselves. It's no coincidence we have two ACC wins and they're against the other two worst offenses in the league, and two of the four with a negative turnover margin. (We don't play the other two.)

The next worst after those two is Clemson at 5.1 yards per play and a middling turnover margin. BC likewise is not great, with 5.4 yards and a dead-even turnover margin. We weren't ever going to actually beat a good offense like Miami and GT, because no defense in the world can overcome the massive talent gap that exists between our offense and a good one.

Which leads to epiphany #2:

- Has Latrell Scott torpedoed our entire offense?

The more I watch the offense, the more I'm disgusted with the wide receiver play. They had another brutal day against Miami, catching four of Verica's 11 completions. 5 of 13 against Duke. Our top wide receiver is Kris Burd, and he's 31st in receptions and 32nd in yardage in the conference.

I know we've never really been a receiver-heavy offense under Groh, but this is ridiculous. And I'm not letting the tight ends off the hook, either. Burd has outstripped all our WRs' production in 2007, but we had Tom Santi and Jon Stupar to pick us up. Joe Torchia hasn't stepped up.

Whether Scott is at fault for the putrid receiver play, though, is a lot harder to tease out of the numbers. He was only at Tennessee for one year, during which his charges showed neither marked improvement nor marked decline. And there are a lot of contributing factors here. The receivers are young and we lost our two best ones in the offseason. The offense has never emphasized the receivers and lives and dies by the short play. And so on.

It could be that this bunch just isn't supremely talented and is young to boot. If this is the case, then we were sold a bill of goods last summer. Jared Green had a good freshman season and is ready to step up. Matt Snyder has made a major impression in camp. Javaris Brown has tremendous speed. Tim Smith is an electric talent. None have made a dent in anything. Snyder has been glued to the bench all season. Green has regressed. Brown had two good games early in the season (in which two catches qualify as "good games" and has been totally invisible otherwise. Smith has been OK, but has suffered through all the freshman ups and downs.

You could blame the offense, but this is basically the same offense in which Ogletree and Covington combined for 90-odd catches last year. Al Groh's offense, despite the heavy use of tight ends and running backs in the receiving game, has never precluded us from having good receivers. You could claim the quarterback just isn't finding the receivers, but we've used three quarterbacks this year and none of them are finding the receivers.

All I know is that it's Scott's job to fix this mess and it ain't happening. I don't know whether that's because he has nothing to work with or because he's not a good coach. He's supposed to be this dynamic recruiter, but I'd sure like to see him teach our receivers to get open at some point - that being his primary job. Right now if I had to point to the number one cause of this rotten season, it's the inability of our receivers to get themselves open.


Not many thoughts on the actual game. Not when we get beat by five touchdowns. However:

- Miami has got to be the worst sports town in the country. The Hurricanes were the only show in town yesterday. The Heat weren't playing. The Panthers were on the road (not that anyone in Miami knows what hockey is.) Even FIU was out of town. And the paid - not actual - attendance? 48,000. That stadium was sad-looking. There actually couldn't have been more than 35,000 in it. We can get 41,000 (paid not actual) customers to come watch our crap team play Duke, almost all of whom have to make at least an hour's drive to the middle of nowhere, relatively speaking, and a metropolitan area of five and a half million can't even come close to filling up a stadium with tarps over one-fourth of the seats to watch the #16 team in the land? Weak.

- There is one bit of comfort to yesterday's game. Miami players were talking afterwards about how it felt good to get some revenge for 2007. That game must have really stung if it takes two years' worth of wins to get revenge for it.

- After Littlepage's vote of no confidence this week (yes, that's what it was) if this isn't what the end of a coaching tenure looks like, I don't want to find out what does.


HoosFootball said...

With the possible exception of Jackson, do we have a single guy you'd consider to be a "playmaker"?

Brendan said...

No. And I was just thinking about that earlier. Whose hands do I want the ball in when we need yardage? Jackson was the only name I could come up with. Simpson won't learn to be a one-cut runner.

BCMike said...

Shame the game isn't at BC, I imagine that since you're in Newport this would have been a game you could have driven to!

Appreciate the candid take on the 'Hoos...enjoyable reading.