Editor's Note: The Goche put together one of the greatest rants this website has ever seen in the comments section of the USC/Vandy recap. It immediately became one of our better football critiques, mostly because it wasn't drafted in crayon, so we asked him (her? SBNation user names aren't great for gender specification) to put it in a FanPost so we could front page it, and we were treated to some awesome analysis to share with the AoG faithful. Enjoy!
Who knows if we really had much of a shot to beat LSU or South Carolina. Even at its best, our offense really shouldn't be expected to score that many points against defenses like these, but it sure is tough to watch our offense sputter knowing the difference just a few extended drives could make. Would suggestions like these fix the offense? I can't say, but what we are doing isn't just not working. We continually play into our biggest weaknesses. Here are my common sense suggestions for actually scoring some points.
1. Scrap the No Huddle
This really doesn't seem to be too novel an idea. We are one of the best schools in the country at wearing our defense out. Our TOP is 25:24 per game good for 118th in the FBS. Certainly to some extent, it us up to the defense to get themselves off the field, but even our 12 play, 83 yard scoring drive lasted only 3:45. For reference SC had 4 drives that went fewer than 40 yards that lasted longer. We have got to give our defense time. It's not as if the no huddle is bothering our opponents, so just scrap it. It hurts the defense and doesn't have any noticeable help for the offense. Why fool with it? Instead take the time and think about our playcalling, which certainly doesn't appear to have a surplus of thought going into it.
2. Don't give up on the run
Sure, some teams are just fine going all pass when opposing defenses stack up players against their run games. However, one characteristic that these teams seem to share is this: they are actually good at passing and catching!
We cannot allow opposing teams to force us out of utilizing our strongest position (RB) and instead depend on our weakest offensive position (WR). Yes, I realize that running the ball is hard when bigger, stronger, faster teams stack up in the box, but it is not any harder than passing to WR who are never open, with a QB who isn't very accurate.
In the SC game, Warren Norman and Zac Stacy had 6 carries each. Larry Smith had 15 carries and 31 passing attempts. I think we can win with Larry, but I don't think anyone thinks we can win with ONLY Larry. On second down in the SC game, we called only 2 runs to Stacy or Warren in 19 chances. In our four 2nd and middle/short situations we tried to pass every time (gaining the 1st down just once).
We almost entirely gave up on our 2 best offensive players outside of 1st down. That just won't do.
We have got to have a mix of run plays and simple pass plays that keep us moving forward, keep the clock moving, wear out the defense, and hopefully lead to make-able 3rd downs. Instead of grinding the run, and mixing in passes, we tend to go all pass, thinking that only 1 in 3 has to be completed to get a 1st down. But this doesn't work, which brings me to my next point.
3. Get into make-able 2nd and 3rd downs
The one stat that, to me, most explains our loss is this. We reached 3rd down 16 times in the game. Of those 16 3rd downs, only one was less than 3rd and 5. It gets even worse, as this was actually the 3rd and goal that we scored on from the 3 after starting with 1st and goal at the 5. So we did not once go from 1st and 10 and to a make-able 3rd down.
Not surprisingly we were only 2 for 15 in those 3rd and long situations. On 9 pass attempts, we failed to make the 1st down even once. On 6 runs (all by Larry, including several on scrambles) we were 2-6.
This goes along with grinding the run. Stacy and Warren gained at least some yardage on 10 of 12 carries. Not much, but they made progress. Meanwhile, passing on 1st down, we were only 3-9 with 2 first downs.
This also affects the time of possession. We have to keep the clock running.
The worst example of this was our 1st drive of the 4th quarter. With over 12 minutes left on the clock, down only 7 after the blocked FG. At this point, it was clear our defense was tired, yet they had rallied to stop the drive and keep us in the game.
So what is the first thing we do? Pass! Go deep! Try for a 1st down right away! Sure if it works that sounds great, but we had no reason to think it would work. It doesn't work, so the clock stops and we are stuck in 2nd and 10. For the game we converted a first down once in 10 2nd and 10 or more situations.
So we pass again, and fail. 3rd and 10 and one more incompletion. After 35 seconds of possession, our defense is back out on the field.
The worst part is, it's common sense to run on 1st down there, just to give the defense a chance to rest (like when the umpire sweeps the plate after a catcher gets hit by a foul-tip). Respect the effort your defense put in and give them a chance to rest. Instead, we risk the whole drive on the ability to hit a 10 yard pass, something that happened only 6 times all night in 31 attempts.
What is worse is that we are extremely easy to cover on 3rd and long. When there is little likelihood of a run call, defenses need only spy the QB and can still easily man cover all of our WRs and have safety help over the top. It's no wonder we didn't complete a 3rd down with a pass all game.
Instead we have to use mixture of varied runs and a few short passes to keep the option of using the run game open. A one-dimensional team is easy to beat, and as predictable as our playcalling is, we are very one dimensional after 1st down. This leads to my final point.
4. Be creative in the run (and mix up the short passing)
Why is it that the only time we attempt to be creative, we are finding ways to get the ball to John Cole or Udom Umoh on reverses or end-arounds?
Why with 2 great starting RBs, 2 more valuable (and rarely used) RBs, and a QB who can run, do we almost never use a 2 RB set? If we have trouble run blocking, why not use a 2 TE set instead of sending out 3 mediocre WR each play?
Why does it seem like when we do run we only ever run a zone read option (which Larry keeps too much anyway)? It's no wonder the run game never seems to work, it's horribly predictable.
Try 2 RB sets. How about a split-back triple option? We have used this play and it has worked in the past, yet we rarely ever use it. Why not try a straight up outside option? What about the wildcat? What about a misdirection?
(Furthermore, why do we apparently only have 1 short pass. The roll-out to the right and pass to the out route. Everyone knows we are doing this, and the play leaves only one real option to pass to, making it easy to cover. Mix it up!)
I can't say these things will work, but against a good defense, running the same plays over and over again will almost never work. In the end, the biggest problem with this team has been, when our game plan isn't working, we don't try to adapt. Regardless of the outcome (especially as the next 2 weeks will be tough), fans will appreciate if the staff shows a willingness to give up what doesn't work and to try new things that might.
It does sound like we may be moving towards dropping the no huddle and that is great. It also sounds like the main reason we chose Des Kitchings to be the new offensive coordinator is to get the ball to our RBs more.
Here are some things I'd love to see next week (assuming the no-huddle is gone):
- 2 RB sets
- 2 TE sets (this is less creativity than just trying to work with what we have, the line would benefit from the help and Mason Johnston blocking might free up Brandon Barden to receive more often out of the TE position, plus Barden can motion out to a WR spot).
- Continue to run the ball on 2nd down, even 2nd and long. (In general, quit basing the entire offense on the ability to make 10 yard passes.)
- Keep their defense off balance in pursuit of the run, with misdirection and options.
- Make progress against the down and distance markers.