The Hoos did a lot of things right this week. The offense piled up over 600 yards and scored 5 TDs. The defense held a very potent offense to just 385 yards. Still, they lost. Why? Because they also did a lot of things wrong.
The things they did wrong have been plaguing them this entire season. Three turnovers. Sixteen penalties. Missing tackles.
The Hoos are currently tied for 116th in the nation in turnover margin. They are ahead of just one team (Arkansas). In sacks and Tackles for Loss, the Hoos are 110th and 118th respectively. The defense, despite playing well at times, simply isn't making game changing plays. Some of that is bad luck. Opponents have fumbled 8 times, and the Hoos have only recovered 2 (and even that is misleading, as one of those went through the endzone for a touchback). The Hoos, meanwhile, have fumbled 6 times and lost 5. Fumble recoveries are, in large part, luck. So the Hoos have been unlucky. But interceptions are skill, and the Hoos have 1 all season. One. And they've thrown 8. Some of this was expected, due to the youth on defense. But the truth is, the Hoos defense isn't making plays because there aren't enough playmakers. (All ranks are courtesy of ncaa.org.)
The offense is also troubling. The ground game that this offense is supposed to be built on is ranked 98th in the country. Against Louisiana Tech, with an early lead, the Hoos couldn't move the ball on the ground consistently enough, and were forced to keep throwing. This led to the 3 interceptions that helped turn the game around for the Bulldogs. For the season, the Hoos average just 3.8 yards per carry. Senior captain Perry Jones, starting RB and leading returning rusher, is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. Kevin Parks is averaging just 4.1 ypc, which is better, but still not good enough. Again, some of this was expected due to a couple of new OLs, but they are struggling more than anybody could've expected.
The passing offense has proven to be even more explosive than expected. Granted, some of this has come late in games against softer defense. But, the Hoos rank 25th in the nation in passing yards and 56th in passing efficiency. When you can't run the ball, being able to throw the ball successfully is even more difficult. This week, the Hoos threw for 480 yards and 5 TDs. Even with the 3 INTs thrown by starting QB Michael Rocco, that is a heck of day. They averaged nearly 12 yards per passing attempt, which is a tremendous number.
Last week, I wrote that I thought it was time to give sophomore transfer QB Phillip Sims his chance at starting. I thought the offense (and the team as a whole) needed a spark, and a change at QB could provide that. Well, Rocco started and was very good. Until he wasn't. His first interception was not his fault, as the pass deflected off the hands of WR Dominique Terrell. His 2nd two interceptions were his fault, especially the one that was returned for a TD. He also threw one other pass that was dropped by the defender, which should've been a pick. Sims came in and led the team to a couple of TDs and a missed FG in his three drives. Was Sims great? No, far from it. Was he better than Rocco? I don't know. Should he start on Saturday in Durham? Absolutely.
As always, some notes:
- The offensive line problems are becoming glaring. A team built on a power rushing offense that averages under 4 yards per carry is simply not a good team. This cannot continue. Maybe a personnel change is in order. Maybe a change is philosophy is in order. Maybe both. This must get fixed, and soon.
- The Hoos have been rotating a number of players on the DL. Some of the younger guys have looked in limited action, and some of the older guys are still playing well. But, as a unit, this group is underwhelming. This is the main reason behind the lack of game-changing plays. We are generating zero pressure on opposing QBs, and we aren't getting in the backfield on rushing plays either. This is forcing Jim Reid to call even more blitz packages, which is leaving guys uncovered on far too many plays.
- The loss of LaRoy Reynolds hurts, but D.J. Hill is impressing with his play. He has made a couple of plays in coverage that I'm not sure Reynolds makes. He isn't as good against the run as Reynolds is, but he's a plus in coverage right now.
- Anthony Harris is a safety. His team leading 22 solo tackles prove that. Brandon Phelps isn't a safety. He's a CB. He's a good CB. But that doesn't make him a safety. He misses far too many tackles, and he doesn't even appear to be an asset with help coverage in the passing game. Rijo Walker was better this week, and I think he's going to start getting a lot more snaps at S.
- Darius Jennings is the best receiver on this team right now. Tim Smith is still very good, but every time Jennings touches the ball, he makes plays. Every time I see him running a route, I expect him to be open. Dominique Terrell, right now, might be the anti-Darius Jennings. Every time he touches the ball, or is thrown the ball, I am afraid something bad is going to happen. Terrell has probably been passed on the depth chart by E.J. Scott already, and he's in danger of being passed by Adrian Gamble as well.
- I couldn't figure out where to discuss this above, so I'm taking it here. The penalty at the end for the illegal substitution that essentially ended the game is 100% on the coaching staff. I was standing in the crown, and I'd had a fair amount of bourbon and I wasn't the least bit surprised that Louisiana Tech would line up to go for it. So why would the coaching staff be surprised. Why not send Demetrious Nicholson out as the returner, knowing he could come up on defense if needed? I could maybe understand it if we were good at punt returns or if Shepherd was far and away the best we've got. But the team is 111th in punt returns. We've returned 6 out of 22 punts for a grand total of 14 yards. And considering we had over 600 yards of offense, the return was completely meaningless. Getting the ball back was all that mattered. Give the offense a chance to go win it. I would've been fine with nobody back. Honestly, what we needed was a blocked punt, so why not bring all 11 guys up to the line and try to block it. London argued that the call was made too soon and the officials made the mistake. No way coach, that one's on you. And you should be ashamed of yourself. I'm ashamed of you.