Sunday, October 4, 2009

Surveying the Carnage

Ole Miss is a good team, but their D ain't that good. In an effort to figure out what we can take away from yesterday's embarrassment at the hands of Ole Miss, I've been doing a little masochistic research. The most fitting -- if depressing -- characterization I could find comes from David Rutz on Bleacher Report:

We've got novices at two of the game's most scrutinized positions (Smith at quarterback, Fowler at kicker), who appear to be needing the entire season to find themselves, we've got an offensive line that is badly underachieving, we've got a staff that's getting out-schemed by every conference staff.

We've got problems. Where are the solutions?

David Boclair recaps the thrashing by highlighting the ridiculous 11 false start penalties for a team that has historically been the least penalized in the SEC (our 12 penalties last night were the most since 2003), and sums up the passing and penalty woes on offense with the following:

The Commodores had more penalties (12) than completions (10) and lost more yards to penalties (74) than it gained through the air (69).

Amazing. Jeff Lockridge argues that while Vanderbilt's first two SEC losses could be blamed on the offense, there was "enough blame for everyone to share" this time. I couldn't disagree more. The defense snagged 3 picks and put the offense in position to take advantage, but Larry & Co. came up short every time. We got into the red zone 5 times and scored on only 1 of those opportunities, and that was after the game was basically decided. For the third time in three SEC losses, the D was on the field for over 35 minutes.

Even after yesterday's bludgeoning, Vanderbilt still has the #3 pass defense IN THE NATION. Here's a few more stats to chew on: Vandy's got the 25th total defense nationally, is 23rd in scoring defense, is 26th in sacks and 21st in tackles for loss, is 5th in pass efficiency defense, and is tied for 8th in the nation in turnover margin. Now let's take a look at the offense: 120th in passing efficiency (that's dead last in America, just behind Rice and -- you guessed it -- upcoming foe Army). 114th in passing offense, 99th in total offense, 93rd in sacks allowed... The numbers don't lie: Vanderbilt is the most lopsided college football team in America.

What's really troubling (by which I don't mean to imply that there's just one thing) is that the coaching staff doesn't seem to have a clue what to do. Here's CBJ after the game:

Maybe we're trying to do too much on offense trying to set up things. We may need to simplify it and take advantage of the players we do have and execute.

A few problems with that statement. (1) He basically paraphrased the Donald Rumsfeld quote (about going to war with the army you have, not the one you wish you had) but, unlike me two weeks ago in this space, failed to properly attribute. (2) Seriously, CBJ didn't wake up yesterday and realize that he has a young, inexperienced, and not-very-talented corps of receivers, yet the coaches inexplicably refuse to put the best and biggest targets we have -- tight ends Austin Monahan and Brandon Barden -- in positions to make plays. Last night Barden and Monahan combined for 1 catch and 5 yards. Simply inexcusable. (3) What is the substantive meaning of that remark? If he's talking about simplifying the passing game to give Larry easier, higher-percentage throws, that's one thing. But it sounds like he's saying we're getting too clever by half in the play-calling that sets up the unsuccessful pass plays, in which case I have to imagine this is a joke. Ted Cain, Jimmy Kiser, Charlie Fisher, Robbie Caldwell, and CBJ (buck's gotta stop somewhere) have collectively put together the most unimaginative and uninspired game plans, in terms of calling plays that take advantage of what defenses are giving and making it cohesive, that I can recall ever seeing from a "no-huddle" "spread" offense.

Bottom line: CBJ's comment has little if any meaning. It's the dejected but obligatory press-conference response of a coach who is befuddled by a lack of talent and execution on both his team and his staff.

I hope Larry Smith can pull it together and start making some throws, but also feel more comfortable using his feet to get yards (he ran for more first downs than he threw for). With John Coles' injury depleting an already-thin group of wideouts, he might not have a choice in the matter. We've seen LS do it before against Top-25 competition. I think he can bounce back and regain some confidence against Army, so I would not support a decision to bench him in favor of Mackenzi Adams -- not yet anyway. That said, at this point a 4-8 record to finish the season has to be the most we can expect. That means beating Army and Kentucky at home. 5-7 would mean we pulled a serious upset. Six wins would be borderline miraculous given our remaining schedule.

Sorry for the long, self-indulgent MMQ rant. For anyone who somehow had the stomach to continue reading to this point, I'm going to finish on a positive note: freshman Warren Norman is a stud who has quietly become the #26 all-purpose rusher in the country, averaging 150 yards per game. War Damn Norman.

Frustrations, lamentations, constructive comments and thoughts on the upcoming basketball season are warmly welcome.


Anonymous said...

I disagree on the performance of the defense in only one area. On 3rd downs Ole Miss must have averaged ten yards. Time after time it was third and long and then a twenty yard gain. If every down had been a third down Ole Miss would have scored 80 points.

I don't think the receivers are that bad but I do agree the tight ends should be used more. I'm not sure LS is better at short passes than long ones tho.

Unknown said...

I was at the game Saturday. The best part of the evening was sitting a few rows behind the basketball team (including Jeff Jenkins) and snapping a couple of paparazzi like pictures. I can't wait to see these guys play.

Anonymous said...

what about UT? aren't they just as bad? our pass defense snagged 3 on sneed. we can get 5 on crompton.

Anonymous said...

of course, hardesty will probably run all over us and crompton won't ever have to throw the ball. exna on that

Stanimal said...

I couldn't be more pissed about our "no huddle" "spread" offense. What a bunch of gimmicky hogwash. To quote Dan Hawkins "THIS AIN'T INTRAMURALS!"

Let's do this. Let's put both Barden and Monahan in the game at the same time in big sets. Maybe even a third TE. Overload the line on one side. Stick Warren Norman back behind Larry and just run the football down some teams throats. Good, old-fashioned, clock control football. THAT would make effective use of our defense, which right now is left in the trenches taking grenades.

But it doesn't matter what we say, this garbage is going to continue all season long and there's nothing we can do about it. 3-9 you heard it here.