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The Hoos season is now officially lost. A bowl game is a pipe dream, and even a 3rd win looks unlikely at this point. Let's take a look at what happened in this latest debacle of a game.
What can I say that hasn't already been said? Another loss, another disaster, and another lost season. Certainly, coming into the season there was reason to be concerned. But there was also reason for optimism. Much of what went right last year has fallen apart this year.
The theme of this year has been turnovers and penalties. One of the recurring themes of theera has been struggling special teams. I am pretty sure that we have the worst special teams in the nation.
The game began with Maryland's Stefon Diggs returning the opening kickoff for a TD. I think the Hoos coverage team thought Diggs was going to take a knee in the endzone, then was caught off guard when he didn't. He ran right up the middle untouched and then outraced the gunners down the sideline. Diggs is a special player, but this was simply too easy.
Later in the game, Diggs had another big KO return. He also had a 60 yard pass reception that was a simple in route, which he turned into a big gain by making a couple of defenders miss. These are the types of plays that the Hoos are not making.
I thought that Phillip Sims was the answer at QB. I thought that even though he might lack some of Michael Rocco's knowledge, his physical gifts were too good to keep off the field, considering the team's struggles. I'm not sure if that is accurate or not. Sims simply isn't making good reads or good passes. The coaching staff isn't helping by putting him in good situations. Sims threw an interception on the first drive of the game, which was a horrendous decision and a poor throw. He made some nice throws as well and was clearly hurt by several drops, but Sims had a day to forget. Hopefully, he will have better days ahead. I thought Rocco should've been brought in earlier.
The defense was terrible early on, and then much better later. Early on, it seemed as though the defense had quit. Actually, it seemed as though the entire team had quit. I saw no intensity and no energy. I saw players with their heads down and their hands on their hips. Later in the game, that changed and guys were playing harder. I attribute this to the leadership of guys like LaRoy Reynolds and Tim Smith. I saw Smith going around in the offensive huddles talking guys up, even though he was out with an injury. Reynolds was simply a beast all day, all over the field and getting the defense hyped.
This entire game was tiring.
As always, some notes:
- Sims' interception came on a pass over the middle to TE Jake McGee. For the rest of the game, Sims did not throw another pass over the middle of the field. Everything he threw was either short or to the outside. He was gunshy. Can't have that out of your QB, and that is why I think Rocco should've entered the game sooner. That said, the TD he threw to E.J. Scott was a great throw, and probably not one Rocco can make.
- Our best and most consistent player this season has probably been punter Alex Vozenilek. He's averaged over 43 yards per kick, and he has downed over 1/3 of his kicks inside the 20.
- I have said this a number of times, but Kevin Parks is a better RB than Perry Jones. Clifton Richardson is as well (or Clinton, as the Scott Stadium announcer calls him). Jones has his place as a third down back, change of pace guy. But he shouldn't be starting. I'm not trying to disparage Jones, who I think is a great football player. But Parks is simply a better runner.
- Does it seem like we sub 3 or 4 guys in and out on every offensive snap? Justin discussed this a bit in his game recap. I understand the need to get young players enough snaps. And I understand that certain players have different skillsets. But when you change RBs, WRs and TEs on every snap, there is no offensive flow. And it becomes easy to predict what the offensive play will be based on the personnel. If Miles Gooch comes in, it's a run. If Darius Jennings comes in, it's a pass. Bill Lazor, you are better than this.
- Chris Brathwaite is the best DT we have. Right now. Better than Brent Urban and better than Will Hill. He should be starting. He was an absolute beast this week, in the backfield on every play. Along the same lines, this game was Eli Harold's coming out party. I'm not sure he should be starting, simply because he needs to gain strength to consistently play against the run, but as a pass rusher, he is the best on the team. Jake Snyder and Ausar Walcott were solid though.
- Our safety play continues to be horrendous. I don't know if Rijo Walker would be better than Brandon Phelps, but I can't imagine he'd be worse. Let's see him get a shot.
- Every single one of Ian Frye's KOs goes to the left side. Every. Single. One. This makes it even harder on a coverage team that isn't great to begin with. Is he not capable of kicking it to the right side?
- The OL has been much better. Rushing for 170 yards against Maryland is something to be proud of. Maryland had 5 sacks, but they mostly came on blitzes when the OL was outnumbered. There was also at least one coverage sack. But the rushing game was very good. If only we'd stuck with it more.
- Maryland called TO with 2 seconds remaining in the first half, with the Hoos facing 4th and 8 from their own 41 yard line. Presumably, they thought we'd punt. Mike London did the right thing by sending the offense out, but then we ran the ball. What? One play. Has to be a Hail Mary. Maybe you get a penalty call. Maybe you get lucky and you get a catch. Maybe the referee completely misses a blatant offensive pass interference and then your WR rips the ball out of the hands of a defender and the officials mistakenly give you a gift TD. Regardless, you have to take the chance.
- A worse decision, I think, was punting on 4th and 1 from our 42 yard line with about 10 minutes remaining in the game. We were down 11 at this point, and were playing much better. The defense had completely shut down the Terps for the last 30 minutes of game time. This was a no-brainer in my opinion.
- But the absolute worst coaching decision was not calling our final TO after we sacked Maryland on 3rd down with 2:41 remaining in the game. We let 40 seconds run off the clock for no reason. That timeout ended up being really useful when we called it while Maryland was in victory formation. I don't see how London missed this one, it was a no-brainer.
- The final bad coaching decision I want to discuss came right before Drew Jarrett's blocked FG. Down 17-0 and facing 3rd and 6 from the 18 yard line, we called a misdirection run to the left and picked up 4 yards. Then on 4th and 2, we tried for a FG. I think that if you call the run play on 3rd, you need to go for it on 4th. Getting in the endzone there was the best way to turn around the game momentum and the crowd back into it. At least if you don't get it, the Terps get terrible field position. The FG being blocked didn't help, but I'm not sure the FG would've helped that much anyway.
- I don't even know what to say about the 2 TOs in a row that Phillip Sims called. I've seen that happen before, and every time I've been confused. If you don't like what you see once, ok call TO. But the 2nd time, trust the play.
- I feel like the last 4 or 5 comments I've made are all a case of Mike London either "playing not to lose" or "playing to control the margin of victory". This, as opposed to playing to win. When you fall behind 17-0 in the first quarter, you can't play not to lose. You simply have to start being aggressive and taking some chances. London, it seems, is aggressive at the wrong times and passive at the wrong times. He's a great recruiter and a very good man, and I am still happy we have him as a coach. But he either needs to hire somebody who can handle these key game management decisions, such as clock management and gambling instincts, or he needs to learn it himself. He could start by playing Madden with some of his players in the offseason.
- Beyond the few examples I've already mentioned, I'm not going to really question the playcalling. It is too easy to do that in hindsight. I thought it was a bit predictable at times, but then there were times when it was unpredictable didn't work. Calling a quick out to the fair side on 3rd and 1 seems odd, but it looks great if it works. Calling a run up the middle on 3rd and 1 is predictable, but probably doesn't work much more often than the pass would.
- My final comment goes back to special teams. Our longest punt return is 7 yards. There are 77 schools that average more than that. It is clear, at this point, that we need a real special teams coach. Somebody who has done it at the highest levels. Every school in the country does it, so there is no reason for us to be so bad at it. Anthony Poindexter was a great safety, and is a good recruiter and probably a good safeties coach. But he has underperformed as special teams coach.