I think this will become a weekly post here following Gopher games. The intent will be to quickly talk about what went right/wrong and then transition into what this means for next week's game.
What went right?
We won. The fact that we won is getting lost in all of this. It wasn't pretty and a longtime season ticket-holder I was talking with summed it well saying, "it wasn't inspiring." But the fact is we don't know how good we are, we don't know how good Syracuse is and I think we had some odd expectations on this team before we ever kicked off week 1. First of all let's slow down with the notion that Syracuse is terrible and we are just superior and we should have dominated. I know they are going through a coaching change and had 3 wins last year. But they are talented and their 2008 record is a bit deceiving (kind of like our 2007 record was a bit deceiving). It is way too early to be passing judgement on our opponents or on us.
The defense did their job. Great halftime adjustments. In the first half Syracuse scored 20 points and accumulated 170 yards. The second half they did not score and racked up just 58 yards, including OT (I know the 228 does not equal the 257 in the stats, I took my numbers from the drive chart summaries since I can't find stats split out by halves. You get the idea). The Orange was held to less than 100 yards rushing and only 167 yards passing. Great job keeping us in the game when the offense was struggling.
What went wrong?
The offense was out of rhythm and stagnant for most of the game. This was a combination of playcalling that never got into a rhythm and Weber's inaccuracy when throwing to open receivers. There can be a list of excuses. Fisch has never done this before and is learning, the offensive line was better than last year but still struggled, the defenses are just ahead of offenses at this point, Syracuse was blitzing often and kept us from doing what we wanted to do. Whatever the excuse, it needs to be corrected and soon. It was the first game of the year and most of us are not expecting perfection (notice I said most of us), but that was ugly for the first three quarters. Forget the schedule and forget our opponents, offense is supposed to be a strength of ours and we struggled more than we should have.
Where was the run game? After an entire offseason of stressing power running and talk of establishing the run, the run game was effective but not used. A prime example of this was the last play of the 1st quarter and the beginning of the 2nd.
- 1st down - Bennett 9 yard rush
- 2nd down - Hoese 10 yard rush
At this point why abandon the run? ESTABLISH the run, run it until they stop it. Instead?
- 1st down - incomplete pass
- 2nd down - rush for 2 yd loss
- 3rd down - incomplete pass
The first quarter was another example
- 1st and goal at the 5 - Bennett 3 yd rush
- 2nd and goal at the 2 - incomplete pass
- 3rd and goal - penalty
- 3rd and goal at the 7 - Weber to Stoudermire for a TD
I know we got the TD, but 2nd and goal at the 2. A team with a power rushing attitude would run the ball. Bennett had a 4.9 per carry average yet he had 16 carries. Get him the ball and let him establish the run or go back to the spread, at least with that offense we had an identity.
Finally, the penalties. 10 penalties is just plain too many. We struggled with this last year and it seems to be a recurring problem. Just plain needs to stop.
Air Force scored 72 points and racked up 474 yard rushing. I know it was an FCS team but 72 points is hard to do regardless of your opponent. Assuming our defense, especially linebackers, are disciplined I think we'll be OK against the run. But they will exploit us if we get out of position or overpursue, we will get killed on the ground. Offensively it will be a totally different look, but it doesn't matter they just plain have to execute better at all levels. This is a home game and we should be expected to win but please avoid the trap that we are a vastly superior team. I'm not sure we are. We are better and we should win but if we don't clean some things up and get an identity on offense we could be in for a long evening at TCF this weekend.