Saturday, October 11, 2008

Week #7 - Utter Calamity in Champaign - Ugh!

At least Sherwood beat Hillsboro Friday night (34-13). Yes. Go Bowmen! Not totally sure where this is going to go or how deep into the depths of despair I'll plunge this week. So, before I pen this column in all of its tragedy, think of me in your thoughts and prayers this week. I'm a damaged man right now. Hopefully, we'll find a way to right the ship after today's meltdown. We better if we have any chance at making a marginal bowl - game this year.

Chief on the Tribe - What is very clear to me right now is we're a long way from last year's success in so many subtle ways. Looking back, maybe it was too much / too fast. After all, it's hard to follow a 9-3 season which earned us a Rose Bowl opportunity. And I did say this would be a step back year, before we arrive on the national scene in a big way next season. But today's performance was totally unexpected. and extremely disappointing. Just when you think things are going well ... a big whack of reality like a sack of frozen potatoes in a ragged burlap sack.

Sure, Benn and Williams are putting up huge numbers early this year. The defense is looking better to me each and every week. And don't think that it's all doom and gloom. My team is doing many things right on both sides of the ball (special teams excluded). But, when it's all said and done we're just 3-3 (1-2 in conference) and reeling after today's homecoming loss to a surprisingly good and extremely well-coached Minnesta Gopher squad in front of a capacity crowd, who went home very dissatisfied today (27-20 defeat). Ugh! Did I mention it was homecoming? What's with that?

WHAT HAPPENED? Maybe we lost focus with all of the distractions associated with Homecoming? Maybe it was the distraction of mid-terms? We all know preparing for exams and papers in GENERAL STUDIES is a tall order. Maybe the guys didn't get enough sleep last night? I'm sure the water is at least partially to blame. Or maybe we just didn't bring IT today, expecting to win instead of executing to win? It's like I've been saying all year and forever, it's a different game each week. You have to come to the show prepared and motivated. Every week matters. It's a 3-month playoff in order to determine the grid-iron pecking order. Good teams win games they're expected to win. Great teams always get it done. This just in, we're neither. Actually, after today's crushing home loss, I would put us in the bottom-half of the BIG-10 right now (bottom - dweller territory).

3 key turnovers and mistakes in the kicking game will ALWAYS get you beat. Playing 3.5 quarters of lethargic football will ALWAYS get you beat. I didn't see any urgency on the offensive side of the ball until we were down 20-6. Granted, we moved the ball well all day long up and down the field OUTSIDE of the red zone. But when we broke into that place, we were denied almost every time by a gutty Gopher defense and/or our own crutial mistakes.

Instead of leading 28-14 or 31-14 in the 4th quarter, we trailed most of the game - as much as by 14 points until a sense of urgency finally set in. But in the end it was too little too late. There were so many problems I'm not sure I'll be able to expose them all. The biggest of them all is that this year's team lacks discipline and respect: respect for the team, respect for protecting the rock, respect for the fans, and respect for the game. How else do you explain 3 turnovers, 5 key penalties, missed field goals, kick-offs out of bounds, muffed punts, and blown coverages in the secondary at key moments in the game? Sure, we're loaded with young talent to burn at most positions. But that comes with a prices of foolish mistakes and inconsist performance game to game, quarter to quarter, and drive to drive.


With winning comes higher expectations. It's been several years since we've had that winning spirit in Champaign which arrived with last-year's club. It's no longer good enough to win one or two big games each year. We need to put a string of consistent performances together and take care of bidness. Until I see more of that, this year's team will remain a bunch of one-hit wonders and more disappointments. I agree coach, we have a long way to go.

Starting with our 'special teams' play today, grade = F-. I've already alluded to the missed field goal, the kick-offs out of bounds, muffed punts, and terrible kick coverage. The 'kicking game' has now significantly contributed to our three losses this year. In each of them, the kicking game has had major meltdowns allowing either outstanding field position or points. Ugh! We have to have the worst special teams' play in the nation. Ugh! And with so many other parts of our play today, this group failed to play with intensity and urgency.

A quick look t the box score shows that we dominated most statistical categories, except for the final score. You might ask yourself how we lost this game and just scored 20 points. Ugh!

  • We had 25 first downs to their 16.

  • Our 550 total yards on offense exceeded theirs by more than 200.

  • Juice had another monster day throwing the ball for over 460 with 2TDs, and one killer pick late in the game.

  • Time of possession was about equal, 30 minutes per team.

  • 3 costly turnovers (2 fumbles and 1 pick). Ugh!

  • 5 sacks allowed, including the forced fumble leading to their scoop and score.

  • Only 88 rushing yards, down from our season average of 210.

FINAL NOTES - It's time to get back to the fundamentals like 'kicking', 'tackling', 'blocking', 'catching', and 'holding onto the ball'. While it's true we have too good losses against Penn State and Mizzou, we now have our first 'bad' loss against a decent Gopher club. And with Michigan spiraling downward faster than the stock market these days, we are still in search of our first 'good win' of the season. It's now mid-October. We only have a few more opportunities against quality conferenece opponents. It may take beating Ohio State to set the record straight. It's put up or shut up in my opinion. So, let's get going guys. Let'ts get back to the fundamentals which have cost us our three losses. The time for whining about our problems is over. 90% of the country could care less about our deficiencies. And the other 10% is glad we have them.

We actually 'gave' them 13 points today on offense. The defense didn't give up 27 points today. Good news there at least. The defense is improving each week, I think. But give credit to a very good Minnesota squad. They've turned the corner from last year's campaign and are now 6-0 (bowl eligible). This is going to be a good team with Decker, Eskridge, and Weber. That trio gives them the offense they need to compete in this conference and beyond.

There wasn't much good news, but I did take some comfort in the following:
  • Our receiving core is young, but talented. Bunch of studs in Benn, Duvalt, Judson, Jenkins, Sykes, and Cumberland. They're going to develop even more as the season progresses. A.J. announced his arrival on the scene today as a true freshmen with 3 receptions for a whopping 117 yards and 2 monster TDs. Benn is a true stud (one of the best in the land) who ended up wtih 12 receptions for 181 yards. Nice.

  • Williams had another awesome showing, at least statistically. I already alluded to his 460 passing yards on 26 of 42. He also had 18 rushes, but for just 41 yards. Minnesota bottled him up for most of the afternoon.

  • The DEFENSE played well again today, and forced 1 key fumble late in the game. Sure, they gave up 312 on 61 plays, but only 14 points in all honesty.

  • Up next, Indiana at home. Then we travel to Madison before getting Iowa at home. All games we can win if we play like we did in Ann Arbor. All games we will lose if we play like we did today against the Gophers. Ugh!

MY NEW 10 -

  1. Alabama - didn't play this week. Probably would have lost otherwise. Inherit #1.

  2. Texas - after doing what most thought was unlikely, horns are #2 for now and face a brutal schedule in conference. They get MIZZOU next at home. For now, 6-0.

  3. Penn State - scary team. Dismantled a marginal Wisconsin club. What's happening in Madison.

  4. Oklahoma - no shame in losing to an awesome TEXAS club this year in the Cotton Bowl.

  5. Florida - when you beat LSU that's news. When you lay 51 on that defense, that's special.

  6. USC - defense is stout even if the offense sputters at times. No problems today with ASU.

  7. BYU - only an 18 point win over New Mexico at home. Not overly impressive, but still unblemished on the card. We learn more this Thursday at TCU (nation's best defense). Until then at least, make it 16 in a row, nation's longest.

  8. Oklahoma State - beating Mizzou in Columbia is impressive. Holding them under 50 is amazing. And that's 2 straight against the TIGERS in Columbia. First time the COWBOYS beat a top-10 club since 2001, under Les Miles.

  9. Texas Tech - Red Raiders struggled with Nebraska. Their defense is suspect. Their offense isn't.

  10. Ohio State - don't look now. The Buckeyes are 6-1 (bowl eligible yet again).

And what else did we learn this weekend? Maybe, just maybe, the BIG-12 is the BEST in the LAND. I've been saying all year the the SEC is the best CFB conference in America. Last weekend I had them in a dead sprint with the BIG-12. But, as I think more deeply about this question, I'm leaning more and more towards the BIG-12, at least for now. There's no question they possess the most potent offenses in the country. So, w/o further hesitation, I give you my latest BCS conference rankings:

  1. BIG-12

  2. SEC

  3. BIG-10

  4. ACC

  5. BIG EAST / PAC-10

The Bottomline - Welcome back Alabama, Texas, and Penn State to national prominence. At least for a week, I won't be talking about Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, LSU, or USC. It's like the 1960's all over again. Rece Davis of ESPN had a good observation in that for the 2nd time in three weeks 3 of the TOP-5 all went down. It's just another crazy season of CFB. I do know this; you better bring it each and every week. Not that preparation alone is good enough to win. Not that desire can always overcome mistakes. Not that perfecting your skills is any guarantee of the outcome. But more and more across the landscape of college football, if you expect to win each and every time you take the field you better execute to win. Intentions aren't good enough. There is no room for excuses. The harsh reality (and probably in part what makes it so great) is that when the new rankings come out on Sunday the picture could not be more black and white. Each game is a play-off game. Every week matters.

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