We played like we were here on Saturday......Well, at least we didn't lose to James Madison......But let's not kid ourselves, Saturday sucked. It sucked because under CPJ we're not supposed to play like that. It sucked for a multitude of reasons, the biggest being we simply beat ourselves. Multiple times on Saturday we had a chance to make a play that would have turned the game in our favor and multiple times we failed. Give Kansas some credit, they played hard & certainly wanted to win more than we did. They deserve some credit. And along the way they made plays when it counted; it's not like Steven Sylvester can defend the guy any better, he simply picked it off his shoe tops for a first down reception. But in the end we not only failed to execute but compounded our errors with dumb penalties and further mistakes, digging ourselves a hole we simply couldn't climb out of. Is it disappointing? Very. Is it the end of the world? Hardly. We've got ten games left including our entire conference slate. So before we bury Saturday in the annals of suckitude, lets look at all three phases of the game & see where we played well & poorly.
Offensively, Saturday was simply a game of missed opportunities. Kansas DC Carl Torbush played the exact same 4-4 "umbrella" he did against us last season when he was at Mississippi State. The difference was this year we simply didn't take advantage of the weaknesses in the defense & failed to make plays when we needed to. Some thoughts:
- the passing game is in disarray. It's easy to throw this all on Nesbitt as he missed multiple wide open receivers on Saturday; some he saw & simply made an errant throw, others he missed the read & failed to see them. Either way, we have to get better. But to throw it all on Joshua is hardly fair. WE HAVE TO CATCH THE DAMN BALL! How many balls can hit guys in the hands & get dropped? Melton, Peeples, & Roddy all dropped balls that hit them square in the hands. And Stephen Hill, our nominal "go to" guy, has to make that TD catch at the end of the first half. He just has to. Sure he's going to the turf, but the ball hits him right in the "bread basket". I'm not slamming these guys, simply pointing out the obvious: when a ball hits you in the hands, you have to make the play. The fact of the matter is that we'll face eight & nine man fronts until we prove to teams that we can at least hurt them with the pass. We must improve.
- We have to block better. Specifically on the edge & at the second level. Too many whiffs, too many blocks that aren't completed. If we can't get people to the ground on the edge, we'll be in trouble. Same goes for the linebackers. We've got to get the backside LB on the ground. As well as the playside safety. Anyone else notice that we haven't had as many plays of 15+ yards this year as last? Our lack of effective downfield & perimeter blocking is the reason.
- Let's Get Physical is more than an Olivia Newton-John song. It needs to be the mantra of our offensive line. Have to get more push up front.
- On a positive note, I thought Orwin Smith (although he did fumble the one pitch) played a good game. He was certainly the best of our perimeter players on Saturday. And Anthony Allen had some success. But highlights were too few & squandered opportunities too many on Saturday for anyone on the offensive side of the ball to feel good.
- As bad as our hands were on offense our tackling was more atrocious on Saturday. Multiple times defenders failed to break down, sink their hips, & wrap-up, instead opting for lunging attempts that simply left them grasping at air. And what is it with all this "shoulder tackle," pushing stuff? Breakdown, hit through your guy, & for Dodd's sake WRAP UP! There's just no excuse for the poor tackling.
- We're outmanned up front. Izaan Cross played well & appears to be our best defensive lineman at this point. But we're consistently being moved off the ball on run plays & we can't bring pressure on passing plays. The only time we got to Webb other than once early in the first quarter was when we created an odd man situation by committing numbers on the blitz. While it's fine to do that, if you do so consistently you will get burned (see Tenuta, John).
- The linebackers must play better. If they can't read & react faster, along with fighting through traffic, it will be a long year. Other than Steven Sylvester, who had a great game on Saturday, our linebacker play was very forgettable. While they might not have command of the defense yet, the athleticism of Brandon Watts on the inside & true freshman Jeremiah Attaochu at Will LB may outweigh their limited knowledge. Against a team running a spread like Kansas, who tries to stretch you laterally, our lack of speed at LB (Sylvester is the exception) really hurts us.
- The secondary actually played okay on Saturday, with the exception of the aforementioned tackling. They were rarely out of position & overall did a nice job defensing a team who really worked to spread us laterally and challenge us with smoke & bubble screens.
- We're simply not good enough defensively to overcome dumb penalties. Brad Jefferson's roughing the passer was simply that, uncalled for & frankly dumb. As a senior captain whose been through the battles before, Jefferson has to know better......
- We've got to substitute more liberally. Guys are simply getting gassed out there. I know Groh wants continuity but if continuity means the other team is scoring touchdowns you need to change what you are doing......
CPJ, in his Sunday teleconference, said his biggest disappointment on Saturday was poor special teams play, where we simply imploded. First, with the wind at our back, we kick the ball out of bounds. They we get a block in the back penalty on a return, costing us great field position. The 12 yard punt, giving them the ball on our 29 to start the second half didn't help. Neither did the pointless roughing the kicker penalty, however ticky-tack it may have been. Special teams is often an afterthought but on Saturday we saw how costly it can be if you play poorly......
Saturday was hugely disappointing, of that there's no doubt. But it's over, & we must move on. Contrary to some message board postings, the season is not lost. I won't lie, I'm not as optimistic as before we went to Lawrence. But there's plenty to play for. My high school coach used to say "you're never as good as your best win or as bad as your worst loss." I'll reserve judgement & simply say it's far too early to give up, there's plenty to play for......and improve on.