Hello Followers. Hope your week is off to a good start.
Don’t know if you all saw this, but on Sunday, a bunch of fans cheered when an injured Texans quarterback Matt Schaub left the game during a blow-out loss to St. Louis. My first reaction to the incident: How classless. My second reaction: Its starting to feel like Cougar nation might be nearing the same type of posture toward our very own Connor Halliday.
And, as I noted a few weeks ago, it’s high time that all Cougar fans SIMMER DOWN not only with respect to Mr. Halliday, but to this team overall…:
Continue reading for why I still have lots of faith that this season is going to turn out just fine, as well as my weekly Pac-12 rankings.
Followers, like most of you, I was pretty bummed out about what I saw on Saturday night. And here were the sources of my sorrow:
1) Our fans
Mind you, I think that we have some of the best fans in all of college sports. But the way that our fan base has reacted in each loss—especially toward our starting quarterback—has been pretty over the top. To be sure, there are lots of issues with our quarterback play—issues that I will get to later in this post. But for now, I’d encourage you all to keep a couple of major points in perspective.
First and foremost, the play that we’ve seen so far from this group represents the EXACT same type of performance that we tend to see from teams that finish 6-6 or 7-5.
Want recent proof? Well, take last year’s Husky team as an example: That team beat a couple of really good teams in Stanford and Oregon State but did so in really ugly fashion (sound like the USC game to you?).
But, on top of those really nice wins, there were also some mind numbing losses. Take the 52-17 pounding that they experienced against a 7-5 Arizona team as one example. The other: Losing a game to a 2-9 Washington State team that had yet to win a conference game.
Now, think for a second about how you would feel if those same results were experienced by our Cougars. If you do, you might start to realize that the type of meltdown that we saw on Saturday night is part and parcel of what you get from a mediocre football team.
Of course, for us, it’s been so long since we’ve sniffed .500 that we’ve forgotten what being average feels like. And because no one ever pays attention to an average team outside of its own fan base, it’s easy to lose perspective of the fact that average teams earn that moniker for the precise reason that about half the time, they just aren't very good.
2) The Future
Following Saturday’s meltdown, there were lots of folks on my timeline that felt like our bowl aspirations had just been flushed down the toilet. And that really bummed them out. But, out of that group, a few of them still had solid aspirations for next year.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure I agree with that. To be sure, we have a bunch of guys back that figure to be one year better and stronger. But, after watching Saturday’s game, I was struck by how well some of our Seniors on the offensive line played. I thought about what that secondary is going to look like without Horton and especially Buchannon. And while I thought Sagote played one of his worst games as a Coug (I thought all of our LB’s played horribly, to be honest), I think we’re losing A LOT with him and Junior on defense.
So, count me in as a guy that will be doing his bestest to try to figure out how to enjoy this ride. And I encourage you to joing me because no matter what happens over the next three games, we’ll still be in bowl contention when Utah comes to town at the end of November.
3) Our Playmakers
I noted this in comments yesterday. But, I think that a good case can be made that Connor Halliday is NOT our offenses’ biggest problem. Instead, I would like you to consider that the biggest problem facing our offense might be the inconsistent play of our receivers, and to a certain extent, Caldwell.
For instance, on Saturday, with the game tied 10-10 in the second quarter, Anthony Carpenter picked off Mannion in the endzone. One play later, Caldwell rushed up the middle for 15 yards and fumbles. The result: A lost opportunity to go up 17-10 to end the half. Instead, Oregon State scores and we’re down a touch heading into halftime. Last I checked, that wasn’t Connor’s fault.
Fast forward to the end of the third quarter. Game is tied 24-24 all. On second down, Ratliff drops what would have been a first down. Two plays later, we screw up a punt, Oregon State takes a 31-24 lead and the rest is history. Again, none of those two plays were Connor's fault or doing.
Now, this is not to minimize what we saw from Connor et al. after that. At the same time, it’s important to remember that the mistakes made by those players are turnovers (both directly in Caldwell’s case and indirectly in Ratliff’s case). And those are the same types of mistakes that we saw in the Stanford game as well as the USC game that cost us drives, and the case of Stanford, a chance to stay in the ballgame.
And of course, none of the above even broaches the seemingly clueless game plan that Breske and all put together on Saturday….Was Connor responsible for that too?
Needs for Improvement
Connor Halliday. Many of you are under the impression that meltdowns like we saw in the 4th quarter can’t be “coached down.” I disagree. While some of you might learn simply by watching the actions of others or doing what you're told, some folks like me learn best by making mistakes–its what we call "mistake-driven learning." And so it seems to be with our Connor.
I happen to think that he’ll learn from Saturday and will be better because of it. I also think he's going to wind up being a good QB for us.
That said, here are two critical improvement areas that need to be fixed if we’re going bowling:
A. The Tempo of Connor’s Decision Making.
Last year, we all criticized Tuel for holding onto the ball too long. This year, Connor’s appears to have the opposite issue: At times, he gets rid of it too quickly. I mean, take the first pick Connor threw in the fourth quarter. For me, that throw to Mayle was reminiscent of the pick he threw at the end of the Auburn game. In both cases, it seemed to let it rip before he even made a read.
Now to me, there are two possible reasons why he’s so quick to pull the trigger. The first is that he still doesn’t trust his offensive line as much as he needs to. The second probably has to do with his hip injury—He’s probably getting rid of the thing quickly in order to minimize the amount of shots he’s taking, especially if he sees a blitz coming.,
The good news is that after this Saturday, we start a stretch in which we will only play 2 games in about a month. So, there’s plenty of time for Connor to get healthy and to continue to work on the mental side of his game. But to avoid at least some of those costly turnovers, he’s going to have to slow down the game down a bit. And yes, the game slows down for those who are experienced. Ask Keith Price.
B.Hit the “Short” Deep Ball
We saw it three times in the CAL game and another three times against Oregon State where someone like Myers or Dom. Williams got behind the defense on a straight “go” route and Connor overshot him by about 15 yards. If we convert on 66% of those throws, we score at least 58 against CAL and score 38 against Oregon State.
Sadly, we have yet to convert one of those throws. And until such time that we do, the Air Raid is going to represent a hallow shell because the whole premise of Leach’s system is to make teams defend the entire field. And we’re still not doing that.
So, Connor’s going to have to figure out that one throw. If he can, his improved passing to the outside promises to make our offense pretty hard to stop. And frankly, I think we can all live with a pick here and there as long as that stat line is accompanied by 5 touchdown passes.
And I happen to believe that we’re not that far off from seeing that.
Over the past two games, I have been pretty impressed by what we’ve seen from RG5. And although I think that Cracraft and Ratliff are super talented guys, our play from that group overall has been lacking.
I mentioned this during camp, but I am really hoping that we move some of our outside guys inside over the next few weeks. Because, it seems nearly criminal for us to have guys like Marks, Mayle, Kristoff, and Dominique Williams on our team and not have them on the field at the same time.
Again, for a team that has a limited amount of playmakers—don’t you need to get them on the field as much as possible? Wasn’t that the whole reason why RG5 got moved to receiver to begin with?
My Pac-12 Rankings (Week 7)
1. Oregon. WSU becomes the second team from “Warshington State” to bow down to them,
2. UCLA. A win over Stanford this weekend puts them in the National Title chase. The speed and talent of their linebackers may enable them to hang around with Oregon into the 4th quarter.
3. Washington. I think the Huskies would win a rematch against Stanford. I also think Sankey and company are going to run over Arizona State. But if they don’t, remaining road tilts against UCLA and Oregon State carry the potential to send the 2013 Dawgs toward another 7 win season.
4. Stanford. Can get healthy in a hurry with a win over UCLA. But with a loss, Stanford could also experience difficulty moving forward, especially with a road contest @Oregon State looming right around the corner.
5. Oregon State. To be sure, their defense is not very good. But, with Mannion on pace to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, the Beavs are now officially back as contenders. Had they found a way to sneak out a win against Eastern, the Beavs might have been in the top 10 this week.
6. Utah. Their two wins over Stanford and BYU might be the two most impressive wins of anyone in the conference. Des Anderson looks just as good as Cooks—which doesn’t bode well for our tilt against them in a month or so.
7. Arizona State. Season on the brink time for the Sun Devils. While I still think it would take our best game to beat them in Pullman, a loss to the Dawgs next week could really send them into a tailspin. Which begs the question: Is participating on “The Drive” a kin to the Madden curse?
8. Washington State. Still a bowl team in my book.
9. USC. Memo the rest of the conference: If SC can beat Notre Dame this weekend, then look out for the Trojans!
10. Arizona. Can’t throw and not very good on defense. That’s a bad combination.
11. CAL. Showed more fight this past week and is starting to adjust schematically on defense. If they played Colorado tomorrow, they’d win.
12. Colorado. Already gone to the younger QB in preparation for seasons after this one. Outside of their remaining non-conference cupcake, they won’t win another game this year.
That’s all the time I have for today. I’ll be back Friday to tell you if the Cougs will cover that 40 point line.
All for now. Go Cougs.