For one half we did a pretty good job of stopping the option, but we were still giving up too much yardage. We were saved by the fact that UNM coughed up the ball and we were fortunate to pounce on the ball. I credit our defense with the wits to jump on the loose balls when the situation presented itself. But there were red flags in the first half that led to a disastrous 2nd half. For the devotees that read my material, I am sure there were a few that wondered if the option offense was so easy to stop, why would a team run it? The 2nd half is the answer.
We built a comfortable 1st half lead by executing our offensive playbook pretty well. We noticed much more play action than the previous games. Not only was the play calling much better, but it used Shane Williams-Rhodes as a decoy on some plays, and that opened up plenty of room for our receivers to catch the ball in open space. I like what I saw from Coach Prince, and Southwick managed the game very well, especially in the 4th quarter. There were many times we were in 3rd and long and Southwick came through. That showed a lot of guts by an inexperienced quarterback. There were problems however with some aspects of our offensive game. We had four dropped passes. That is four too many. Miller dropped one, Kirby dropped one, Mitch Burroughs dropped one, and Gabe Linehan dropped one. We will be in much tougher games this year, and this dropping passes business will sink us. Dropping passes stems from a lack of focus. Our running game was solid. Keep in mind we played New Mexico, and some of those big holes that our lined opened up will not be there every week, but credit the banged up offensive line and credit the hard running of Harper and Ajayi.
If fans wonder why winning the turnover battle is so crucial to a game, keep this in mind. We got 18 points off turnovers yesterday, UNM got 15 points off of their turnovers, and we won the game by 3 points. And that is why we cannot turn the ball over. Shane Williams-Rhodes showed how explosive he can be by juking the UNM defender and getting a touchdown, but he also showed that he is a true freshman, and true freshman are known to make mistakes like that... Its just part of the growing pains true freshman go through as part of their maturation process.
Okay. In the first half we did an okay job of stopping the option at times, but we were vulnerable to it, and we were fortunate to recover fumbles left on the ground as a result of the option offense. One thing I said in my keys to the game was the option offense puts the ball on the ground for a variety reasons. The mesh points, the ride, the pitches and the quarterbacks running with the ball, are all reasons the option can be a turnover prone offense. Luckily that reared its ugly head and we benefited from it. One thing we failed to do in defense of the option was hit the quarterback every play. Too many times our defensive ends crashed in to help tackle the full back and that left no person to hit the quarterback, and when he pitched the ball to the running back, there was absolutely no one there to stop the runner. Our corner backs were caught in no mans land and when the pitchman finally came to them they would not fight off the block. A safety or weak side defender had to come and make the tackle. That must be a major coaching point for our team this week. We can't be way down field playing patty cake with the wide receiver, and we can't let a quarterback run free. In the 2nd half we failed to plug the holes and tackle the fullback, we failed to hit the quarterback on any plays, and we were not stopping the pitch man. We need to get some serious things done on defense. I think the cat is out of the bag in regards to what our defense can't stop. And we have plenty of teams on our schedule that can and will run a zone read/option attack. We must tidy some things up.
I was impressed with our offense's ability to get things done in the clutch. We have yet to play a full game on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. We are fortunate to have escaped New Mexico with a win. Our kicking game still has issues, but watching college football yesterday, we are not the only team with kicking issues. Almost every major game I watched yesterday had teams miss field goals. MSU's kicker has missed a field goal in every game so far. Southern Miss will run some zone read, and this week will be a good time for our guys to focus on the basics.... tackling, assignment football, and catching passes.