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WMD's Armchair QB: Slaying Smaug Edition

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Dawgs Slay the Blazers

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Peeps, a win is a win. 2-0 is better than 1-1. And coaches will all say they'd rather teach after a win than after a loss. Also, allow me to give UAB some credit. They are a MUCH improved team. They've got some athletes that can flat play, particularly on offense. I'll be very surprised if they aren't in the hunt for the CUSA Championship at the end of the season. The bad news for us: Dan Mullen and his staff have plenty to teach during practice this week. Now, to the observations:

Defense:

1. In this week's Keys to Victory, I said we needed to tackle well to win. I was not happy with our tackling against UAB. Lots of broken and missed tackles. We need work on this front.

2. The other Key to Victory: Generate pressure with the front 4. Likewise, I was disappointed with the front 4 for most of the day. I thought they didn't get as much push as they could have. But the good news is they were disruptive when we needed them to be. Gotta be more consistent, though.

3. We wound up with 12 TFLs, I think. That's outstanding. We also held UAB to 113 yards rushing. They rushed for 300+ last week. Heckuva job by our front 7 in the run game to be disciplined in their fits and gap responsibilities.

4. Preston Smith is a bad, bad, full grown man. His INT was sick. He looked like a TE with that 1 handed grab and then......FAT GUY TD!!!!!! He WILL be playing in the NFL next year.

5. Benardrick McKinney was a beast. 12 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 QBH.

6. Zach Jackson caught my eye. He was very active all day and seemed to almost always be around the tackle.

7. I could probably single out every LB on the team. They were very, very good.

8. Time to address the elephant in the room: Our pass D was bad. Gave up 4 huge plays for TDs. UAB got more than half of their yards on those 4 plays. But give UAB credit, they've got some serious playmakers at WR. Those guys, especially #1, can FLY. And there were a couple of times where we were in position, but just didn't get the play made. Redmond mistimed his jump, and another deflected right off us into the hands of the UAB WR.

9. I'd bet the house DeShea Townsend and Tony Hughes will have the DBs working on covering the skinny post in man-to-man all week. UAB must've seen something on film, because they absolutely ate our lunch with that play.

10. Other than the big plays, we were solid. Taking out the yardage from the 5 big plays, we only gave up about 300-350 yards. That's very solid. Unfortunately, we DID give up the big plays. To paraphrase a certain former MSU baseball coach, "That's football."

11. Nick James looked good again. He played more this week and continued his solid play. One play that stood out was in the 2nd half. UAB ran off tackle to the corner. Nick blew up the OL trying to block him, but the OL grabbed his jersey and held like crazy. Despite that, James shook him off, then chased down the RB from behind to make the tackle for virtually no gain. I don't think any of us know just how good he could be.

12. We clearly made a decision during the week to play man on the corners, stop the run, and force UAB to beat us deep. Give UAB some credit in hitting the 5 big passes. I kept expecting Collins to adjust, but he clearly had a plan of attack he felt would win.

Special Teams:

1. Is it bad that I want to strangle every one of our KR guys? Love what one of my buddies said: "The end zone is lava, gotta run out of the lava as fast as possible." Seriously, when you catch it in the end zone......DOWN IT!!!!! You get the ball on the 25, there is no reason to run it out unless the other team just didn't move after the kick. And why is Tubby so irreplaceable on KR?

2. Jamoral Graham had a redshirt burning party. I liked what I saw from him. First and foremost, he's sure-handed. No more holding my breath that we'll actually catch it. And he makes good decisions about whether to fair catch or return. Most importantly, if he can get to it, he's going to field it. No more losing field position just because we'd rather let it hit the ground and watch it roll. "Smokey" also displayed good moves to make the first guy miss. Still needs to learn to get North-South a little more quickly, but that's fixable. Made a freshman mistake trying to juke instead of continuing to come to the outside. Overall, extremely pleased with the decision to pull his shirt. He'll help us over the course of the season.

3. Devon Bell was outstanding. His punts really changed the field position today.

4. For the second week in a row, we got a punt/kick block. Good job by the block units. That was a huge play to swing momentum and essentially salt the game away early in the 3rd.

5. I know I've said it before, and I know it probably doesn't do any good. But I have absolutely, entirely HAD IT with our kickers. These guys are awful. As bad as I've ever seen. Can't make a FG. Struggle to make XPs. At this point, it's so mental that there is literally no fixing them. And honestly, I don't even blame the players. They're clearly trying, but they have NO confidence. And that falls squarely on Mullen. He should never have let it become so mental. He allowed their confidence to erode, then kept sending them out there to fail. He should have stopped letting them kick a long time ago. But now you can see in their body language every time they step on the field they expect to miss.

These guys are defeated before they even begin to kick.

But what really chaps my hide is that Mullen apparently doesn't care. Frankly, it's so bad he deserves to be fired. I was listening to his interview with Jim Ellis immediately after the game. When Jim asked about it being mental with the kickers, Mullen just laughed and said "You think?" Then he went on to say what we've heard 1,000 times in the last 5+ years from him: "What I don't understand is these guys make the kicks in practice in warmups. They split the uprights down the middle from 35 yards with plenty of air." Meanwhile, I'm losing my mind screaming at the radio: "IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT THEY DO IN PRACTICE!!!!"

There is absolutely no urgency or sense of frustration from Mullen. And to me, that's the most egregious part of this situation. His lack of "give a damn", for lack of a better description, in regards to our kicking situation is completely, totally unforgivable. Mike Leach had a similar situation when he was at Texas Tech several years ago. Unlike Mullen, the Pirate Cap'n swallowed his pride, held open tryouts, and found a new K who actually got the job done for him. Leach realized that it doesn't matter how many a kid makes in practice if that doesn't translate to the actual game. So he went and found someone capable of making it in a game. Meanwhile, Mullen keeps trotting the same kids out there to fail, further erode whatever smidgen of confidence they might have, and turn a fan base against them when it is no longer their fault for being so bad. No, Dan is content for STs, and the kicking game in particular, to just not lose us games regularly. And that is so unacceptable I don't have a word for it. It's a mentally handicapped way to view the game, in all honesty.

What makes it even worse is that Mullen named Greg Knox ST Coach in the offseason. I think we can all agree that wound up being nothing more than an empty move designed to shift blame and fan ire away from Mullen and onto Knox. That isn't fair to Knox, quite frankly.

Make no mistake, unless we make some drastic changes with our kickers it WILL cost us at least 1 win this season, probably more. We're fortunate it didn't cost us today, as the 2 missed XPs were the reason UAB had a lead. It's time for Stricklin to have an in-season sit down with Mullen and make it clear he & we the fans expect Mullen to make drastic changes to get us through the season. And make it even more clear he is expected to hire a real ST Coach in the offseason. This absolutely cannot continue.

Offense:

1. Offense was "herky jerky" as Mullen likes to say. Came out of the gate hot, hitting the big play to RoJo for a TD. Then went cold for most of the first half. Managed a couple of scores when we needed them to take a lead into half. Came out and ripped off 21 unanswered to salt away the game, then went back into hibernation for the 4th.

2. Key to Victory #1 - Run the Football. The Dawgs ran 89 offensive plays and rushed it 58 times. That's a 65/35 pass run ratio, which is what I was hoping to see. Mission accomplished.

3. Key to Victory #2 - More Explosive Plays in the Passing Game. We hit the 80+ yard TD to RoJo, but that was about it.

4. Was a bit disappointed in our OL, but we still wound up rushing for 292 yards. They just took over the game in the second half. Still want to see more of Jamaal Clayborn, though - he just mauls people.

5. As mentioned we were a bit "herky jerky" offensively, but we still scored 6 offensive TDs. Don't know whether to be excited or aggravated. Some of both, if I'm being honest. I know we won't score every time we touch the ball, but just some simple cleanup would make the offense that much more potent.

6. Bad news: We only converted 2 or 3 3rd downs all day. That HAS to improve if we want to win in the SEC. Gotta be able to move the chains, sustain drives, and stay on the field.

7. Good news: We were 5/5 in the redzone with 5 TDs. Doesn't get any better than that. Need to keep it going moving ahead.

8. Josh Robinson is a man. 124 yards on 20 carries, averaged 6.2 YPC. It took more than one defender to bring him down all day. He made one particularly ankle breaking move on one run to turn a no gain rush into a 10+ yard rush. Feed the Beast!

9. Dak didn't have his best day passing, but it wasn't all his fault. He had numerous drops, but he also made some bad decisions. His legs, as usual, proved to be the difference. He wound up going over the century mark rushing. If he was hurt, I want to be hurt. No sign at all of injury, despite the internet panic late in the week.

10. De'Runnya Wilson is going to be the steal of the 2013 signing class. He had one really bad drop on 3rd down that would've moved the chains. But he made up for it later with a really good TD catch. You can see him improving every week. He's really learning how to use his size and strength to his advantage and be physical. The way he shielded off the DB on his TD catch was an outstanding example.

11. Hats off to Gus Walley. With rumors swirling that MoJo was banged up, Walley stepped up and made a serious impact. He had 2 catches for 35 and a TD. I wouldn't be surprised to see his role expand moving forward.

12. Thought the WRs as a whole had a rather subpar day. Several drops and a few balls batted away where they just didn't fight very hard. I was extremely disappointed to see that. They also just never quite seemed to be on the same page with Dak. If they read "inside cut" then Dak read "outside cut" and threw it outside. Just miscommunication all day.

13. Credit where it's due: Joe Morrow had his second good game in a row. Made a nice sight adjustment for an 8 yard grab, then ran a good route that resulted in a TD on a free play after a UAB offsides. It would be a very good thing for the WR corps if he's finally had the switch flip.

14. One play that stands out to me was our final TD in the 3rd Quarter. UAB brought some heat, but Ashton Shumpert made a very good block in pass pro to give Dak time to find Bear for the TD. Nice to see Shump doing the little things.

15. No pre-snap penalties that I can remember for the 2nd week in a row. Not giving up free yards is huge.

16. Overall, thought we were pretty vanilla. What we did in the 3rd quarter is closer to our real offense when we put the read back into the zone read option. It was pretty evident that Dan and the staff decided to try to out-athlete UAB and let our depth and physicality wear them down.

Coaching/Miscellaneous:

1. I thought we had a good crowd, especially considering the predictions of rain and the scorching heat. Can't really blame anyone for leaving early today, even I was sorely tempted.

2. I've already said my piece about Mullen and our STs. But seriously, Dan, get it fixed. Yesterday.

3. Another good job of timing pre-game to build up to the team's entrance. That said, using the PA/on-field mic for the Maroon & White Cheer absolutely kills all enthusiasm in the stadium. Just use the maroon & white signs and let the crowd catch on organically. It would be so much more loud and effective. The idea I actually had was to have "Bully" have a Maroon or White sign when he rides out on the dog house, then turn to one side or the other and hold up his sign for them to yell. That would be seamless, effective, and build upon the crowd's natural frenzy.

4. I love the energy our redshirts, the "Juice Boys" bring to the sidelines every week. They're always into the game, cheering, waving towels and generally going nuts. It's fun to watch.

5. I don't understand the criticism of playing so many players. Today was HOT in the stands, so I can't imagine how hot it was on the field. Plus when it comes to our D, we legitimately have 22 that are 1A, 1B. Why not rotate guys through? One of the biggest reasons for our defensive success in '99 was the constant rotation of two D-Lines. Keep rotating guys and staying fresh, so far as I'm concerned.

6. Thought the rotation of Dak & Damian early was odd, but I'm assuming it had to do with Dak's mystery injury.
Some of Dan's "cutesy" decisions make me insane. The pass on 4th and 1 late in the game was utterly ridiculous. We'd been ramming it down UAB's throat the entire half with Dak & J-Rob. So 4th & 1.....WE PASS?! Run. The. Football!!!! Run it down their throat and make them like it.

7. Some of Dan's "cutesy" decisions make me insane. The pass on 4th and 1 late in the game was utterly ridiculous. We'd been ramming it down UAB's throat the entire half with Dak & J-Rob. So 4th & 1.....WE PASS?! Run. The. Football!!!! Run it down their throat and make them like it.

8. I'm also sick of Dan's kickoff strategy. I know he wants to hang it high and try to pin the other team inside the 25. But as we saw today, we're playing with fire by letting other teams have a chance to return it. Kick it out the freaking back and make them drive 75 yards on our D. I'm going to go ballistic aGAIN when an SEC game turns because we tried to sky kick it and Auburn or LSU takes it to the house. Further proof Mullen is pretty much incompetent when it comes to STs.

9. Anxious to hear the injury reports on Justin Cox and Kendrick Market. I know Market suffered a cut after taking a knee to the head, but he never came back. Hopefully he isn't concussed and holding him out was precautionary. I'm much more worried about Cox. He immediately grabbed for his hamstring and was in tremendous pain. Best case scenario is a severe hamstring cramp and he's back next week. Worst case is he tore it and is done for the season. WMD's totally uneducated, entirely speculative guess: Hammy pull, out about a month. Hammy nags him all season. Depending on what we hear, this might have been a very costly victory for our Safety position.

10. If we're going to have a bad game, I'd much rather have it in the non-con than against LSU or Bama.

11. I'd expect to see a similar game next Saturday. USA is a very solid CUSA team. Don't get bent out of shape about anything other than the cluster that is our kicking and return STs.

That's how I saw it. All of you know the drill by now, so get to commenting. Fire in the hole!

In Mullen We Trust,

WMD