Sunday, September 6, 2015

College Football Notes - Week 1

It's my favorite time of the year.  College football season.  I've always enjoyed college football, but over the last few years it's become my favorite pastime.

As part of my obsession I have become an absolute expert.  My superior football knowledge and intellect allows me greater insight into the football future than anyone else. That is sarcasm, which is important to point out in the online sports arena because often people fail to recognize or acknowledge it.

Since I've become an obsessive fan and am now an expert, I'm required by the laws of addiction and the twelve step program to begin blogging about it.  I'll eventually graduate to a witty twitter account where I defend my obvious bias and homerism until I accidentally make public all of my direct messages and disappear into the oblivion, disgraced and hated.  Until then, enjoy my random observations and notes.

1. Ole Miss - I went to the game and had a great first hand look at this year's team.  Going into the game, the major questions were:

  1. Is Laquon Treadwell still awesome?
  2. Are any of the three QB's good and which one will start?
  3. How bad is the defense after losing so many impact players?
Well, Treadwell is of course still awesome.  He missed a couple of balls that he probably should have caught, one leading to an interception but he also demonstrated he can still gain inexplicable yards after the catch.  It's like watching a water spider dance around leaves on a pond. He just steps over and dodges defenders gaining yards that he should have never gotten.  Of course he's also an incredible person.  After the game one of the assistants was trying to herd all of the players back into the locker room.  Treadwell was one of the last to go because he stopped for every fan on the way in.  You can tell he does this because for the fans, not for his own ego.  Nothing but love for Treadwell and I expect a great year from him.

It turns out that all three quarterbacks look pretty capable, but by far Chad Kelly looked the most talented.  His passes were spot on and if they weren't completed it was often because the receiver just dropped the ball.  He checked the whole field before throwing and was able to find the open receiver instead of forcing passes. Hell he even ran for a touchdown which was an excellent read and showed you can't just leave him with a wide open field.

Now, the reality is this was against UT Martin.  I need to go back and check how much time he had, but it didn't feel like they were ever bringing a lot of pressure.  The good news was there was very little hesitation in his throws, but it's definitely easier when you're not getting pounded by 300 lb lineman every other play.  

The other odd thing I noticed was that he doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the team. Being a new player, a yankee and edging out a third year player I'm sure has caused some division between himself and the rest of the team.  He's definitely an outsider. There were two separate occasions where he was trying to celebrate a TD and the teammates were less than enthusiastic to celebrate with him.  On one occasion he ran out on to the field with no helmet on to celebrate a receiver catching a TD.  This is great, but he wasn't the QB that threw it and it makes me wonder how hard it is for him to keep his emotions in check.  The nice way of saying it is he's clearly passionate about the game.  But emotion unchecked means instability and that makes me nervous.  In big time games or down situations, that emotion can often be an extremely destructive force.  

DeVante Kincade looked good although I'm upset he wasn't throwing more.  I don't know if that's because Hugh wouldn't let him or he was making the read and deciding to hand off to the RB.  Dear Hugh Freeze, take advantage of this upcoming practice game and let Kincade go crazy.  Let's see how good he is calling all of the shots.  The passes I did see he completed, although they weren't as well placed as the Kelly throws.  I think he ran a couple of times, but none of the plays stood out as spectacular. 

Kincade's biggest strength is the support of the team.  Being Treadwell's roommate for the last three years means they're clearly bonded and you could tell the team strongly supports him.  This is great for teamwork, but clearly hurts Kelly's ability to work his way into that spot if Kincade is already there.  I always suspected this was one of the major issues for Bo Wallace.  Some people will argue that none of this matters much, but I would say it is a factor.  We're talking about 18-23 yr. olds not NFL players trying to collect that paycheck.  Emotion and teamwork is an important part of the formula that separates a good team from a great team.  I hope they figure it out.

Ryan Buchanan looked pretty decent as well.  Again, not as accurate as Kelly, but definitely capable. If Kelly is the outsider and Kincade is the team favorite than Buchanan is probably squarely in between.  He's not the favorite, but he's still part of that same influential recruiting class so he's not anywhere near an outsider.  I read he was telegraphing his passes, but I didn't really notice.  I'll have to go back and really look at the game but nothing obviously bad or good stood out to me.

Which brings us to the last question, how is the defense.  I was at the game, so I haven't seen Freeze's half time analysis, but it sounds like he noticed what I was noticing.  The defense did well in terms of points and numbers, but not much else.  There wasn't a lot of pressure on the UT Martin QB and during the second half the pass defense seemed to completely break down.  I believe there was a zone defense and UT Martin seemed to have found the hole in it.  It was about seven yards out to the right.  UT Martin exploited that hole multiple times passing into it causing one defender having to turn around and defend while the safety/corner tried to get over in time to prevent giving up too many yards. Against UT Martin, it wasn't a big deal but against Alabama it'll kill us.  Especially if there's no real pressure on the QB and he has time to make an accurate throw.  Someone said this may be because CJ Johnson wasn't there.  I don't know.  But if so we need him back soon or we need to teach the new guy how to play that position properly.  So a non pressuring defensive line or lack of called blitzes and a secondary that seemed to struggle with the defensive scheme.  Neither of these things bode well.  

The good news is the numbers don't lie.  The defense only allowed 3 points, even if it was just UT Martin.  I guess it's because of the last two years, but I have a lot of confidence in our defense.  If there are issues, I think they can work them out.  The fact that the offense has improved so much will relieve some of the pressure on the defense.  Last year we probably would have beat LSU and Auburn if we had this same offense.  So that's good news as well. 

Overall, I'm really excited about the potential of this team.  I think we could go 10-2 and 11-1 if the defense is near as good as last year.  The schedule is about the best you could help for with most of our hard foes having to face off against Arkansas or Alabama or both prior to meeting us.  This could be the year we win an SEC championship.

2. Alabama.  Since Alabama is the first real test for Ole Miss and Alabama has passed their first test with flying colors, I'll address what I saw.  Alabama played a tough Wisconsin team on a national stage and they ran right through them.  It was a little shaky at first, but then they gave the ball to Derrick Henry and that's all she wrote.  Stopping Henry is going to take at least two players and I feel sorry for the player that gets to him first.  Clearly he's going to be the key to Bama's offense going forward.  

The QB battle at Bama gained a lot of attention and it looks like the reason there was a battle was because no one really rose to the top.  Jake Coker started and he played about as well as Blake Sims did last year.  That's not encouraging if you're an Alabama fan.  It's incredible to me that Bama pulls in a top five recruiting class every year but still can't find a consistent QB or a kicker.  It's like Nick Saban's only blind spot.  Coker was inconsistent and inaccurate.  Hopefully they'll decide to throw against us, but I'm guessing that won't be the game plan.

J Scott, my favorite punter last year looked like he spent the off season playing basketball instead of working on his kicks.  I wouldn't think a punter could regress, but clearly he did.  I'm sure he'll work it out, but I was disappointed I didn't see any of the 75 yard punts like last year.

Overall Bama looked about like they did last year.  They have the same level of weapons on offense, but the same problem of an inconsistent quarterback.  Their defense is strong and their only real weakness is pass coverage.  If you can protect the QB long enough to get a good throw, you can cut them up.  The problem is it's really hard to protect him.  So stop the run and throw.  Yeah, Ole Miss will need to work on stopping the run, in Tuscaloosa, at night in front of 100,000 screaming fans. Not promising.

3.  Auburn.  Auburn also played on the big stage against an always worrisome Louisville.  Louisville isn't on the same level as Wisconsin, but they can always beat you if you're not playing well. Auburn also seems to suffer from an inconsistent quarterback and I'm not sure why people thought Jeremy Johnson was so great.  3 interceptions against better teams will be cost you the game.  I think Auburn is going to have about the same season they had last year.  They'll rely on running while occasionally taking risky long shots down field.  It's a strategy that works well enough but probably won't win you any championships.  I didn't get to watch all of the game, so I don't have a great assessment but I think they're very beatable.   

4.  Texas A&M.  Texas A&M played against a tough Arizona State team.  I honestly didn't expect them to win this game and they did, handily.  Texas A&M also suffers from inconsistent quarterbacks.  To their credit they tried two of them, although I'm not sure why.  Kyle Allen led TAM last year and started again this year.  Same QB, same problems.  One throw is great, the next one is not and the next one never happens because he's on his back and the ball is rolling toward your endzone.  So they switched to true freshman Kyler Murray.  Murray can run.  There is no doubting he's fast and hard to tackle.  But he's small and doesn't have the strength to make the throws you need.  I'm not sure why Kevin Sumlin thought it was a good idea to burn his redshirt but he did, so expect to see him every time TAM is unable to get anything going offensively.  

TAM has a new defensive coordinator and it shows.  They have definitely improved on defense and are putting a lot more pressure on the quarterback.  The combination of the crowd noise and fast defensive linemen really caused Arizona State a lot of problems.  The line looked a little tired a little early, but clearly the have improved.  I think A&M will be tougher than last year, but still very beatable. 

5. LSU. They had a never ending rain delay.  I'm pretty sure Les Miles spent that time telling Bobby Petrino how to manage a game clock.  Their game not happening is supposed to be a real advantage to MSU, their next opponent.  I'm not sure, but I guess we'll know soon enough.  

6. MSU. I didn't get to watch this game, only follow the gamecast, so I need to watch to really get a feel for this team.  My guess along with just about everyone but MSU fans was that losing a lot of lineman and star players was going to have an impact.  It sounded like that was the case as MSU had a tough time with USM.  USM has improved, there is no doubt, but their improving doesn't change mistakes made by MSU.  Saving Dak until you really need him is smart on Dan's part.  Keeping Dak healthy should be priority number one this year.  Has Manny Diaz improved the defense?  From the sound of it, on the line he did but the pass coverage is still their weak spot. Oh and kicking.  Coaches please learn that kickers are important and it's worth the time and trouble to find good ones.

7.  Vanderbilt. Bad.  Derrick Mason is probably the nicest guy in the world, but is not a head coach.  The sooner Vandy can get rid of him and move on the better for this program.  Since they're Ole Miss's SEC East foe, I hope they keep him forever.

That's all I can think of for now. I watch a lot of football, so generally I have some sort of off the wall observation on every team.  If you have a question about someone I didn't cover, ask it in the comments.

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