The last few weeks, I've spent a great deal of time complaining about the coaching staff. Steve Fairchild, Jon Tenuta and Mike London have taken the brunt of the criticism, but Larry Lewis has also been taken to task for the repeated failures of the special teams. It has been pointed out in comments that perhaps we are too easy on the players. After all, the RBs need to run, the QBs need to throw and the OL needs to block. The defenders need to cover their man and make tackles. Etc, etc.
For this week's game, I could take Mike London back behind the woodshed again. I could complain about the useless challenge he wasted on the 5th play of the game, which did not seem even close to being overturnable. I could complain about his incessant arguing with the officials, while the game is going on. I mean, sometimes he's not even paying attention to what it happened because he so concerned with the officials!
But I'm not going to do that. Not this week. This week, it's on the players. After all, for all of Steve Fairchild's faults, I'm certain he does not coach his QB to toss the ball blindly in the air as he's about the take a sack on the first play of the game. If he doesn't do that, Boise State doesn't take a 7-0 lead just 16 seconds into the game. The entire game changed because of that one play. From the get-go the Hoos were playing catchup.
In the season opener, Johns was solid in the first half before the Bruins took a big lead. In the 2nd half, when the Hoos were trying to rally, the Bruins knew were able to pin their ears back and get after him. He struggled in that situation, and the struggles were not entirely his fault. He was constantly under pressure. No QB is going to succeed in those circumstances. This week, Johns was basically under pressure all game. Yes, Johns was terrible this week. But anybody who thinks Greyson Lambert would've been any better is delusional. Johnny Unitas would've struggled in these conditions.
You would think that if the QB is struggling, you would bring in extra blockers to help out against the pass rush. But that didn't happen against UCLA and it didn't happen this week. Oops, I said I wasn't going to complain about the coaching this week. Sorry. Back to the players.
The defense didn't blitz nearly as much this week as in weeks past. And yet they generated 4 sacks, and shut down Boise State's run game. Save for a 47 yard run early in the game, Jeremy McNichols rushed for just 22 yards on 8 carries. And the rest of the BSU rushers didn't fare much better. That 47 yard run was on 3rd and 1, and was largely the result of a great play call and some poor edge contain. The Hoos sold out in the middle of the field to stop the dive play. And the Broncos play call went off tackle. Once McNichols was past the line of scrimmage, there was nobody in his way.
For the 2nd time this year, the Hoos were dominated by a true freshman QB making his first start. Brett Rypien wasn't quite as good as Josh Rosen was, but he was pretty darn good. What is disappointing is that, as mentioned already, the Hoos did far less blitzing than they had been in previous weeks. And yet Boise State receivers were open all game as Rypien completed 24/35 for 321 yards and 3 TDs. And, of course, the Hoos have still yet to force a TO this season. So the constant blitzing didn't work. But not blitzing didn't work very well either. Maybe the Hoos defense is just bad this year.
Boise State's defense is very good. It isn't a surprise that the Hoos couldn't run the ball, especially considering the deficit they faced for nearly the entire game. The Hoos offensive struggles are frustrating, after they played so well against Notre Dame. However, there isn't another defense on the Hoos schedule that is nearly as good as Boise State's.
But the Broncos offense had struggled this year. They looked much better against Idaho State a week ago, but that was Idaho State. The Hoos, at home, need to be better. If they can't slow down William and Mary, and they can't slow down Boise State, they aren't going to be able to slow down anybody else either.
The worst part of this game wasn't the final score. It wasn't the 5 turnovers. It wasn't the missed tackles and missed assignments. It was that the players didn't really seem to care. At home, on a Friday night ESPN game, with a high-profile team coming into Scott Stadium, the players were flat. This does not bode well for the Hoos traveling to Pittsburgh. Or, really, for any of their games.
Again, I said I wouldn't complain about the coaches, but I'll leave you with this...Mike London's calling card is that he is a player's guy. The kids love him, they want to play for him. He's supposed to be a motivator. But if he can't get the players hyped for this game, if he can't make them care about this game, then what is he doing?
Is it possible that the players have seen the writing on the wall? Or, perhaps, the writing on Beta Bridge? Playing for a lame-duck coach isn't easy. A new coach comes in with a whole new scheme and maybe you no longer have a job. Maybe he covets a different type of player, so you've fallen off the depth chart. It happens. If you don't know who your coach is going to be next year (or next week), then who are you trying to impress? This is true for games, but also for practices. Obviously, we're not seeing practices. But if that game is the kind of effort the players are putting out for games, I can't even imagine what is going on at practice.
As always, a few notes.
- It didn't take very long for T.J. Thorpe to live up to the pre-season hype. That was one of the best individual plays I can recall from a UVA WR. Severin's one-handed catches are quite impressive, but a catch and run like that is something I expect to see from other teams. I didn't see a throat slash. And Thorpe says he did not make a throat slash gesture. I'm going to trust him. It's a stupid rule anyway.
- Canaan Severin, on the other hand, had 4 receptions for 34 yards. Are teams paying him more attention after his huge game against Notre Dame? Or are the Hoos simply not going to him often enough? Hard to know for sure, but he is being underutilized for some reason.
- Speaking of underutilized, one of the problems I've had with Steve Fairchild is the failure to consistently get the TEs involved. Wahoo TEs have totaled 88 receptions for 854 yards and 5 TDs since 2013. Half of that is from Jake McGee in 2013, and he was used almost exclusively split out. In other words, he was a WR more than a TE. Other than McGee, Wahoo TEs have averaged less than 2 catches per game. If the Hoos had dominant WRs, maybe that would be ok. But they don't. Zach Swanson proved to be a capable receiver who wasn't used often enough. Evan Butts looks to be the same. Butts still has 3 years remaining after this one to change that.
- The power running game has certainly been a bust. Yes, once again, Boise State has a phenomenal rush defense. But through 4 games, the Hoos have rushed for 403 yards (after removing sacks and scrambles). The 4 RBs have totaled 311 yards on 95 carries. That's 3.2 yards per carry. It doesn't take a whole lot of football knowledge to realize that number is too low.
- Though things clearly got out of control, the Wahoo defense did a solid job early on. The Broncos recorded 2 big plays in the first quarter, for 94 yards. Other than that, they totaled 38 yards on 19 plays. Obviously the big plays count, and big plays have been a huge problem this year, but the Hoos were in this game early on despite two Matt Johns' interceptions in the first quarter.
- Man, Maurice Canady looks really dangerous on punt returns. I want to know how we spent 3+ years with him sitting on the bench for punt returns while RBs and WRs looked completely lost out there. How is it that we stuck with a guy like Dominique Terrell on punt returns for so long? How is it that nobody noticed Canady was a natural punt returner? Oops, I said I wasn't going to go after the coaches this week. Sorry.