Wow. I mean...WOW! That really happened?
The Hoos and Hurricanes played a tremendous football game this weekend. Honestly, both teams played very well, with the Hoos coming out on top due to some well-timed defensive stops and some gutsy plays from QB Michael Rocco and his receivers. The result of this game is that the Hoos are still alive for a bowl game, needing to win out against UNC and Virginia Tech the next two weeks.
Both teams put everything on the field. We saw WR reverses and HB option passes. We saw over 900 yards of offense to go along with 11 TDs and only 7 punts. We also saw the Hoos convert 64% of their 3rd down conversions, plus two 4th down conversions. The Hoos were also 6-6 in the red zone, with 6 TDs.
That is how you win football games. Convert your third downs and convert your scoring chances into TDs. Stopping the other team helps too, and while the Hoos didn't do that very well, they did come through when it counted.
When the Hoos fell behind by 10 points with just 11:38 remaining in the game, things looked bleak. Rocco led them down the field in 12 plays, taking over 6 minutes off the clock and cutting the lead to 3 points. The Hoos kicked off deep and Duke Johnson returned it 59 yards to the Virginia 41 yard line. (Maybe we should've tried a squib kick, considering how much damage Johnson had done up til this point. More on this later.) The Hoos desperately needed a stop. Two incomplete passes sandwiched a short Johnson rush, and the Hoos were getting the ball back.
OK, now the Hoos are in business. Four and a half minutes remaining, Hoos have the ball down 3. And then Rocco gets sacked in the endzone for the safety. Or not. Rocco was clearly throwing the ball when he was hit, and wasn't in the endzone, but the call made was a safety and was somehow upheld on replay. I believe the call was incorrect, but whatever.
Now the Hoos are down 5 and have to kick off. Not good. Again, the defense desperately needs a stop. (This time, Johnson "only" gains 33 on the return.) Now 4:19 remaining, the Hoos stop Miami on 3 rushing plays to get the ball back.
On either of these two drives, if Miami picks up a first down, the Hoos' comeback very likely runs out of time. The defense gave up 420 yards, including 233 yards rushing, but really stepped up when it mattered. The offense's 480 yards and 6 TDs obviously won the game, but the defense really deserves kudos for making some plays down the stretch to give the offense a chance.
Let's take a closer look at that 64% 3rd-down conversion rate. The Hoos were 9/14 on third downs. Two of those missed conversions came on the Hoos final drive, and both resulted in 4th down conversions. The Hoos were 3-3 in converting short yardage 3rd downs on the ground, with Perry Jones, Kevin Parks and even Rocco each converting. Darius Jennings converted 2 third downs, including a goal to go TD. Dominique Terrell converted 3 (out of 3). Perry Jones had a conversion receiving along with the rush. Jones also picked up 8 yards on 3rd and 15 on the final drive, setting up a 4th down conversion (via a defensive holding penalty drawn by Terrell).
The play-calling on 3rd down deserves some kudos. Miami ran a lot of man-to-man defense, and the Hoos used crossing routes and seam routes to consistently attack the weak middle of Miami's defense.
Hopefully, the Hoos can use the emotion from this win on Thursday night against the Tar Heels. The quick turnaround won't be easy, especially considering how much energy the Hoos used in this game.
As always, some notes:
- When I said that I thought it was time for Phillip Sims to start at QB, it wasn't because I thought he was a better QB than Rocco. It was mostly because the team was playing poorly, and needed a wakeup call. Neither Sims nor Rocco played particularly well over the first 8 weeks of the season, but they've both picked it up bigtime over the past 2 weeks. Rocco, in particular, has really stepped up his game. He's looked to run the ball more, showing his athleticism. This week, he picked up 2 key first downs with his legs.
- I think, considering how well Rocco's played of late, it is fair to wonder if we might've beaten Maryland or Wake Forest with him at QB. Oh well.
- For much of this season, I was asking for Kevin Parks to start getting the bulk of the carries. He's simply a better runner than Jones. Jones is a great weapon as a receiver and a blocker, which makes him a great 3rd down back. He's such a good receiver that he has been used a lot as a slot receiver. He has 13 receptions the past 2 weeks. He also has 21 carries, for just 73 yards. Parks, meanwhile has 37 carries for 157 yards. Parks really needs to be getting even more of the carries.
- By now, everybody knows what a great game Dominique Terrell had this week. Nine receptions for a game-high 127 yards. Terrell looked quick and he looked dangerous. He missed some opportunities to tack on even more yards. Hopefully Terrell is turning a corner. The Terrell we saw this week, combined with what we've seen from Darius Jennings would give us a heck of a duo of WRs for the next two years. And let's not forget E.J. Scott. In fact, of the top 8 receivers for the Hoos, only Perry Jones and Tim Smith aren't sophomores. (Jennings, Jones, Terrell, Scott, Jake McGee, Parks, Smith and Zach Swanson are the top 8.)
- Our special teams continue to be awful. Football Outsiders has a metric called Special Teams Efficiency (STE), which they define as "the composite efficiency of the given team's Field Goal Efficiency (FGE), Punt Return Efficiency (PRE), Kickoff Return Efficiency (KRE), Punt Efficiency (PE), and Kickoff Efficiency (KE), measured in terms of points per game." Oregon leads the nation, with a gain of nearly 4.5 points per game on special teams. The Hoos are dead last in the nation. The Hoos lose over 4.6 points per game on special teams, nearly a point more than the 2nd to last team. Changes simply must be made to our special teams before next season.
- One particular problem I've noticed, and I've mentioned before in this space, is that Ian Frye kicks off to his left every single time. This makes it far too easy for the return team to set up their blocks. If he can't kick it to the right, then he needs to do something else to upset the return teams' timing. Maybe changing the depth of kickoffs. Duke Johnson averaged over 50 yards per return. At that rate, a squib kick or a pooch kick makes a lot of sense. We need to make it more difficult for return teams to get set up. Last week, against NC State, Drew Jarrett handled KO duty, and NC State averaged 16 yards per return. Maybe that is the answer.
- Last week, Eli Harold started at DE, and the defense shut down NC State. This week, Harold was returned to a backup position, and the defense was shredded. Obviously there is more going on than just Harold, but along with Chris Brathwaite and Maurice Canady, this is not just the future of our defense, it is the present. All 3 of those guys should be starting.
- Canady, in particular, has looked much better over the past couple of games. We may have a couple of shutdown corners by next season. His play, forcing and recovering a fumble, was a big play and may have turned the game around.
- I renew my call for Rijo Walker to get more playing time. I still just do not see enough from Brandon Phelps to keep Walker off the field. Walker needs a shot.