Can someone please explain to me why we kicked the ball to the fastest player in college football when we were already backed up on the kickoff to begin with? Anyone? Which genius taking part in the post mortem over in the football offices wants to explain to me why rather than a squib kick to some 240 pound fullback, we chose to put a line drive into the hands of a guy who was in the 100 meter semifinals at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials? Why am I hearing crickets?
The Bulldogs amassed 45 yards rushing and averaged 1.9 yards per attempt. That's not bad, or unacceptable. It's downright pathetic. This offensive line was supposed to be one of the strengths of the team. The only shakeup has been the loss of Trinton Sturdivant, who they played the entire 2008 season without. So that's not really an excuse. Bottom line, this group's not living up to its hype or its potential. If they don't get better, we're in for a long stretch. You canot win in the SEC if you cannot run the ball. The safeties are too athletic and the defensive coordinators are too smart to simply drop back and chunk it on every snap. Unless you're playing Arkansas, apparently.
Speaking of defenses, this is one loss that absolutely cannot be blamed on Willie Martinez. LSU finished 8 points below their season average, and mustered only 6 points in the first half despite a massive advantage in time of possession and yardage. The fact that the score could have easily been 21-0 entitles Willie to one week of peace from me. I know his "bend don't break" philosophy can be maddening. But this time it actually worked quite well.
And speaking of coordinators, am I the only one who gets the impression that sometimes Mike Bobo has trouble seeing the trees for the forest? The first half playcalling looked almost scripted, a la Bill Walsh. That works fine when you're winning the field position battle and have some things clicking on offense. But the defense was put in some awful positions by those quick three and outs to start the game, and the offense's inability to claw its way out from the shadow of its own goalpost.
I almost get the impression that Coach Bobo is more concerned with running his system (i.e., getting the proper run/pass balance and getting each of his playmakers the appropriate number of touches) than he is with calling a play that will work in the moment. I also get the impression that our youth and inexperience is preventing us from getting out of bad play calls at the line, just because I haven't seen Joe Cox checking out more than 3-7 times a game. But that's a whole different issue.
Unless I missed one, Washaun Ealey was not in on a single passing play. While he clearly ran the ball better than either Caleb King or Richard Samuel, we cannot afford for the offense to become one dimensional while he's in the game. I also think Ealey's team leading rushing effort (33 yards, typed the blogger, cringing noticably) says a lot more about Caleb King and Richard Samuel than about Ealey himself. How desperate for a spark in the running game must Coach McClendon have been to burn a true freshman fourth stringer's redshirt in the fifth game of the year? How worrisome is it that doing so actually sort of worked?
Speaking of Richard Samuel, he didn't make it in the game during the second half. I'm not sure if he's struggling from a crisis of confidence, or if the coaches have lost confidence in him, but Samuel is perilously close to making the quickest transition from starter to third stringer in recent memory.
I believe that one of the reasons this game has caused such frustration among the Bulldog faithful is that it was a loss of inconsistency. During the 2006 season over at MaconDawg's Blawg I talked about the difference between a bad football team and a young football team. Bad football teams exhibit the same shortcomings over and over again. Because there are things that they simply are not capable of doing well. Young football teams tend to do something new badly from week to week, while also showing flashes of excellence. Previously we thought we had a football team with a rocket fuel powered offense (which scored out the wazoo on South Carolina and Arkansas) and a discernibly bad defense (that gave up tons of points to those same opponents and big play yardage to everyone who wanted it).
On Saturday we played good to excellent defense most of the way, while the offense was putrid for most of the game. I'm becoming more and more convinced that our youth (Brandon Boykin, Branden Smith, Richard Samuel, a cast of others) and inexperience (Joe Cox, largely) are as much a problem as anything else. I'm not saying it's time to start looking forward to 2010. Heaven knows we have enough to worry about in 2009. But I do know that we'll return at least 8 starters on offense and 7 on defense. That doesn't count Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings, Marcus Dowtin and a host of other wet behind the ears players who are becoming more seasoned by the week. Our playmakers on both sides of the ball are almost without exception young 'uns. That's some comfort at least. As Kyle has noted previously, if you're going to lose, don't do it with seniors. Except at the quarterback position (hint, foreshadowing in use) we're not.
Speaking of which, the dread grows stronger and stronger as the weeks go by without Logan Gray seeing any significant playing time at quarterback. This year is starting to look a lot like 2006 would have if Joe Tereshinski,III had held onto his starting job that season. Which means that unless something changes we'll be doing the rookie QB shuffle all over again next season. Yippie. You didn't think I was going to move forward on a positive note did you?
This Tennessee team scares the daylights out of me for a few reasons, including:
1) The Tennessee defense. Monte Kiffin has put food on the table for decades by convincing inexperienced quarterbacks to throw the ball to places that look fine, right up until a safety comes in and snatches it away. If there's a guy in the SEC who can take A.J. Green out of the game, it's Grandpa Kiffin. The fact that he has Eric Berry to help him only worries me more. Tennessee's front four has played excellent football this season, especially against the run. I worry about a reprise of last week's poor rushing effort.
2) The Tennessee Offense. Jonathan Crompton is a mess when he has to stay in the pocket and throw the ball. When he's allowed to roll out and play with a smaller field however, he's looked borderline competent. And the Tennessee rushing attack is more than competent: it's probably the best one we've seen all season. This offense matches up very well to take advantage of our shortcomings on defense. If Tennessee is allowed to play with a lead and not forced to put the ball in the air, things will get really tough for the good guys in a hurry.
3) The letdown factor. We just played a physical, emotional contest that ended in heartbreak. Now we'll go on the road into one of the toughest venues in the SEC, against a team and a fanbase starved for a win. The noonish kickoff helps, but I'm still worried that we could sleepwalk our way into a 3-3 record. Lose this game and 8-4 becomes difficult with Florida, Auburn and Tech still waiting down the road. I'm going to go watch The Poseidon Adventure again. Back Wednesday-ish, but remember to catch Kyle on Rocky Top Talk's podcast. It will be the most fun you can have while still being subjected to that song over and over again. Until later . . .