Peeps, Homecoming is always a blast. WMD reunited with his old Crew and it was epic. And State destroyed LA Tech. Got to admit, I didn't expect us to beat them that badly. Jeff Driskel is a good QB who's played a lot of SEC football and they're a talented team in general. But once we got going, it was a beatdown. So what did we learn? Here's what I saw:
1. Manny Diaz might be one of the best coaches I've ever seen at making in-game adjustments. Unfortunately, he might be just as bad at actually developing a gameplan and/or motivating his D to play early. For the 85th game in a row, the D failed to show up until the 3rd possession. And predictably, we were down two scores at 14-0 before you could catch a breath. It's becoming a trend this season, and I for one, am sick of it. Manny needs to get his crap together and figure out how to stop teams from the first possession. We lost to LSU & aTm because a 14-0, 17-3 hole is too deep to climb out of against a legitimate SEC team. FIX IT.
2. This D drives me crazy. We're 4th in the SEC in scoring D and 9th in Total D. The soft bend but don't break approach has worked ok overall, but the amount of yardage we're giving up is hard to watch. Especially when we're playing deep on third downs and letting the other team convert, keeping drives alive, just to keep from giving up a big play.
3. Tackling has improved over the course of the season. Maybe we're finally adjusting to the new techniques and Manny's scheme, resulting in less thinking and more reacting. Whatever it is, it's about time. We still have too many arm tackle attempts and knockdown attempts, but it's hard to argue when you're only giving up about 18 points a game.
4. DL brought it for the second week in a row. They didn't get a lot of sacks or TFLs, but they were constantly getting pressure on Driskel and hitting him right after he released the ball. You could see it really begin affecting him as the game went on, eventually leading to the late pick six. Kudos to those guys.
5. Chris Jones actually showed up for a change yesterday. 4 total tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack. Constantly blowing up the OL or occupying double teams. Wish he'd bring that effort every week. As it stands now, he's played himself into needing to come back for a senior year.
6. Brandon Bryant is our best safety. The way he's improved in these first few games is remarkable. He's always had the tools, but he's played enough that he knows what's going on and can anticipate. He's reacting instead of thinking, letting his athleticism take over. His 73 yard pick six was a thing of beauty. Leaped up and high pointed the ball, then wove his way back through traffic for the score. You could really see his speed towards the end of the return and definitely could tell he's legitimately the fastest player on the team. WOW. He looked like a natural with the ball in his hands. Maybe we should think about letting him return kicks or punts.
7. I bet we dropped 4 or 5 INTs before Bryant finally got one. Taveze Calhoun dropped two or three. Gotta start coming up with those. The more times Dak and the offense have the ball, the better.
8. JT Gray had a big day and led the team in tackles. Why he isn't starting over Zach Jackson is one of the great mysteries of the season, but par for the course in the Mullen Era.
9. I don't understand why Tolando Cleveland is so entrenched as the nickel CB. LA Tech picked on him almost every play of their first TD drive. Where is Cedric Jiles or Smokey Graham? I feel bad for Cleveland with the way he's getting beaten.
10. After giving up the two early TDs, the D actually played well and only gave up 6 the rest of the way. Worth noting, LA Tech was 14th nationally in Scoring Offense headed into the game. This was never a game where I expected a shutout. They're a really good offense and were going to put up some points.
1. Ok, time for me to say it: Props to Dan Mullen. I've rightfully given him hell the last several seasons for the disaster that's been our ST units. But he apparently did some soul searching in this area and gotten the problems fixed. This is far and away the best STs we've had under Mullen. Everything is working and working well.
2. Westin Graves continues to be awesome. He came into the game perfect on the season and left the same way. Why didn't Mullen let him take the FG against LSU?!
3. Logan Cooke had another big day punting. He punted 4 times for 186, 46.5 YPP, long of 55, and 2 punts inside the 20. The hang time he gets, even on the long punts, is just ridiculous.
4. Devon Bell has found his niche on KO. He's killing the ball and driving it into the endzone with regularity.
5. The punt block by Donald Gray was where the game swung completely in our favor. Great play design and execution. Perfect time to call it, especially after almost blocking LA Tech's previous punt. Love seeing the aggressiveness on STs for a change.
6. Went back and watched the replay, and the holding call on Dear's KO return TD was absolute garbage. It definitely cost us points. Dez Harris got a clean block, a LA Tech guy tripped over his own man, and Darrion Hutcherson pancaked his guy clean. JT Gray got a clean block, then Dear stiff armed his guy and was into the clear. It wasn't even close to a hold or block in the back. I don't even have words for how bad that call is. More on the officiating later.
1. The first two series were absolute garbage. Mullen came out with the Air Mullen gameplan and of course we wind up punting both series after quick possessions. The good news is we actually ran over 70 plays for a change - 73 to be exact. We ran it 30 times and threw it 43 times.
2. The OL is getting better, but it's time for a couple of changes. First and foremost, Elgton Jenkins needs to replace Rufus Warren at LT. Deion Calhoun needs to start ahead of Devon Desper, too. They're both more physical and are ready. Let's put them on the field and get nastier. This group is very good at pass blocking. Dak had all day to throw and the sacks he took were because he held it too long instead of throwing it away. They aren't great at run blocking, but they do well enough. The real problem lies elsewhere.
3. Speaking of real problems, our RB situation is a disaster. With Concrete Shoes out, Lee and Williams got all of 9 carries between them. Holloway got 8 carries. Dak got 10 carries and Fitz 2. For those counting that's 29 rushes as a team. The 30th carry was the Dak's mishandled snap on the first possession. The run game looked pretty freaking good when Lee & Williams touched the ball yesterday. It was horrible when Holloway had it.
It's not even debatable that Lee is our best pure runner right now. He got 21 yards on 3 carries for 7 yards a pop. Yeah, he had the fumble. Big deal, every one of our RBs have fumbled. But Mullen being Mullen, he'll hold it against Lee for eternity, even though we recovered it. It's like Mullen is intentionally trying to not play him to avoid what's already a RB controversy. #FreeLee
Williams is really good too, but he's not quite as good as Lee. He got 26 yards on 6 carries, 4.3 YPC. And he punched in the TD to get us going offensively. His first carry between Clayborne and Malone for 6 yards and a first down was a breath of fresh air. Would've been more if a LA Tech guy hadn't managed to grab his jersey and slow him down enough for the pursuit to catch up.
Holloway is a specialty back. Period. This experiment of working him as a feature back needs to end yesterday. He had 14 yards on his 8 carries, but he had a long carry of 12. In other words, he got 2 yards on his other 7 carries combined. He finished with 1.8 YPC, but it was really worse than that. And his "pass blocking" is going to get Dak killed. After Mullen's talk this week about not playing Lee & Williams because of their supposed failures in pass pro, watching Holloway either whiff or get completely trucked "blocking" rings a bit hollow.
And for those who may argue our OL hurts Shump disproportionately because he's a North-South power guy, stop. Just stop. Lee and Williams are both one cut, downhill power backs too. If they're getting all their runs by bouncing outside, why did Lee's carry behind Clayborne and a guard go for 10 yards? Why does Dak get long runs on carries inside? Why did Williams first carry right up the gut go for 6? Why did Williams manage to run it right up the gut for TD? Second, legit SEC RBs have the ability to pop it outside for gains. It's called "talent." Either you have it or you don't. Fournette, Chubb, Collins, Henry, Hurd, etc....pick your legit SEC power RB the last 10 years and all of them also had the ability to bounce outside when they needed to. So this idea that Shump can only be successful going straight downhill is actually an indictment against him. No, the biggest problem with our running game begins and ends with the RB position.
4. Dak continues his assault on the record books. He became just the 3rd QB in SEC history with 50 career passing TDs and 30 rush TDs. The other two are some guys named Timothy Tebow and Johnny Manziel. Dak had a big day passing, going for nearly 350 yards and 3 TDs. He rushed for 34 and a TD, too. There were a couple of times he should've pulled it down and run for big gains instead of hanging on to throw it. And I already mentioned the unnecessary sacks because he was holding the football. Throw it away and save the yards if no one is open, or better yet, do what you do best and use your legs to pick up extra yards in those situations.
5. WRs had a good day. 9 players caught at least one pass. They also continued to block really well in the run game.
6. Bear Wilson led the way at WR with 7 catches, 85 yards, and 2 TDs. Good to see us get him the ball for a change. Still think he needs 8-10 touches a game, but I can live with 5+. Beats all the days he only gets 3.
7. Malik Dear is a big time playmaker. Whenever he touches the ball, good things happen. Nice to see us using him more and more.
8. Fred Brown is quietly putting together a nice year. He wound up with 3 catches for 63 and 1 TD. And he had the big time catch when he got open for a long play on a Dak scramble, coming back to make the catch.
9. Darrion Hutcherson has stepped up in the absence of Gus Walley. I'd pretty much written him off, then he comes up with 3 catches for 40+ yards and is a solid blocker.
10. Justin Johnson is a beast. He didn't get a catch aGAIN yesterday, which is a shame. But he is a big time blocker who's extremely physical. It's ridiculous we aren't trying to get him the ball. He's a huge mismatch we just aren't exploiting enough. I keep saying it, but I'll repeat it again: He's going to be a special player before he leaves.
1. Already mentioned the horrendous start. No need to rehash. But GET IT FIXED.
2. Officiating was horrendous both ways. I already talked about the botched "holding" to bring back Dear's KOR TD. But they were slow and unsure all day. Lots of no calls or wrong calls. How was the second shot on Gus Walley not targeting? I know it's subjective, but the guy led with his helmet on a "defenseless" player. By the rule, that's targeting. Then they completely screwed up the spot, giving LA Tech 10 extra yards, placing the ball on the wrong 43 after the kid stepped out on the long run. Thankfully we stopped them or I'd have gone ballistic. Seriously, that crew has no business in big time football. Send them back to the high school ranks.
3. We aren't taking enough deep shots on offense. That's part of the reason our WRs are taking so many big shots and there's not as much running room. Teams have started creeping the safeties up because we aren't throwing it vertically. The only time we actually take shots downfield are when Fitz and Staley get into the game.
4. Mullen: Bring back your imagination. Our offense has gotten bland and predictable. Go watch some old tape, call Urban, I don't care. Just do something different instead of being Croom and trying to do it your way regardless of results.
5. This team has to learn how to play 4 quarters and start fast. We start Murderer's Row next Saturday with UK. If we keep getting down two scores before we decide to play, we'll be lucky to finish 7-5. Even bad SEC teams are better than the OOC pansies we've played so far.
6. Gotta give some props to the crowd. After Dear's TD got called back and going down 14-0, I could kinda sense everyone, myself included, going "Oh no. You've gotta be kidding me. Same ol' State." But we hung in there and made a difference. It was a good effort for an OOC, 11 AM game.
We've basically wasted half of the 4 week window we had to make an overhaul. Mullen continues to be a stubborn Mule (see what I did there?) who's scared to death of risk. Then he covers it up with ridiculous excuses that get exposed on the field. I don't see much changing with an SEC game looming, so the best we can hope for is changes over the bye week. But I wouldn't hold my breath. D continues to keep teams out of the endzone but give up yards and stay on the field too much. OL needs to get more physical, but they aren't getting help at RB. Hope Walley can play again soon, but I'm guessing he's concussed, meaning timetable is indefinite. I'll also be interested to hear the injury report on Fred Ross. He didn't come back after getting his shoulder driven into the turf. Hopefully it isn't anything serious, because he's really stepped up with Bear getting doubled so much. If he can't go, it's time for Donald Gray to step up and make the most of the opportunity. Love the enthusiasm of Logan Cooke after he took a shot to get the personal foul. He jumped up celebrating and firing up everyone. Don't see that too often from punters. They're usually busy selling how "hurt" they are. Need a big, rowdy crowd Saturday night. UK is much improved and usually plays us close. Don't expect a blowout or you'll wind up disappointed.
That's what I saw. You all know the drill by now. Fire in the hole!