That, ladies and gentlemen, was fun. Watching the o-line MOVE somebody, regardless of who that somebody was, was satisfying. The Citadel is only an FCS team - but State beat them like we SHOULD beat an FCS team, outpacing them physically and athletically at the line of scrimmage. While it's virtually impossible to compare performances of a team week to week and extrapolate from those performances, I think nearly everyone can be in agreement that the team took a big step forward this week.
Which brings me to my point.
I, dear readers, was right. I counseled patience with the line after the UConn and Salabamer (wins?). I felt that the line simply needed time to work together and get on the same page, and that this gap, between weeks 3 and 4, was the moment at which they would Figure It All Out. They did, as evidenced by our owning of the line of scrimmage against a very physical LOS-type team, allowing Mr. Thornton to rack up the most rushing yards in a game by a freshman since a fellow named Andre Brown.
Or was I?
The Citadel is not, as we have mentioned, Florida State. Nor are they even Miami. State beat a good team Saturday, but for it to pay off (and for me to turn out to have been right, after all) they will have to continue to show improvement and build on the seeming breakthroughs they made this week. It gets real this week at Miami, and the league is tough this year. We will soon see whether the Oracle of SOtW was right or whether La Ciudadela just showed up on the wrong night.
On to the Thumbs:
1) O-line/Shadrach Thornton: It's okay, TOB, I'm not going to give him the Heisman. Still, Thornton impressed in his debut. We have already talked about the line and how they finally seemed to get it clicking, a huge part of any run game. Playcalling also worked to our favor, something I will get into in a bit. But Thornton still was a huge part of his 145 yards and 2 touchdowns. Showing great running instincts, in nearly every situation (when should I follow my blockers and when should I cut it back?), Thornton's only drawback were a few plays on which he wasn't quite up to speed on pass protecting. Again, The Citadel does not have a top notch defense - both of their big wins coming into this game came because the offense was able to score, not because the defense was able to hold teams. But the emergence of a playmaker when he was needed was a huge plus for the Pack, both on Saturday and looking to the future.
2) Playcalling/Glennon/Hurry up offense: We moved the ball FAST. The offense didn't huddle much, snapping the ball on average around the 25 second mark on the play clock throughout much of the first half. While it's not quite Oregon speed, it did seem to be massively effective: State scored touchdowns on all but one of its first half drives. I atribute this sucess to two issues on our part: firstly, Glennon and the offense were able to get in a rhythm against a not-so-good defense. Secondly, Glennon appeared to be running the offense almost entirely on his own, without input from above. This second factor is biggest to me because I noticed a shift in our playcalling - I think because Glennon, not Bible, was running the show (even if plays were coming in from the sideline, Glennon was in charge) - and I LOVED it. Keeping it simple, the Pack was able to run downhill, using a lot of power running out of an I (instead of that godawful shotgun counter thing). Play action built off of these power runs, rolling Glennon out and giving him quick underneath passes. Glennon looks better to me when he drops from under center than he does standing in the shotgun - I can't place my finger on why, exactly, but he seems more poised when his feet are moving as he surveys the field (strange for a QB as un-Russell-Wilsonian as you can get). With one exception, Glennon was in command, ran the offense fast, effiecently, and powerfully, and kept the pressure up until the game was well out of hand.
3) Linebacker play: There was one instance in which mike linebacker Sterling Lucas got sucked into the blocking scheme and the fullback sprang free - for a touchdown, as it turned out - but otherwise the linebackers had the triple option locked down. For a unit as inexperienced as this, the strides this group have made have been massive. You can thank Jon Tenuta for that - a great linebacker now and again is normal, but having created talents like Nate Irving, Audie Cole and Terrell Manning from middle-of-the-road stock, Tenuta has shown his ability to coach. This batch may turn out to be his most amazing feat yet, not through full-body-suplexes or ridiculous tackle numbers, but through their ability to make the necessary plays and not be a weak point in a very strong defense.
1) Injuries? The feeling circulating is that the Creecy/Washington absences were because of minor "bang-up" injuries which the coaching staff didn't want to exacerbate against a lowly foe. Still, for a very conventional TOB to go with a freshman 4th string back something had to be wrong enough that neither Creecy nor Washington could play at all. This wasn't a major concern this week, thanks largely to the emergence of Thornton as a talent - still, it is reminiscent of last year's Tobias Palmer concussion in warmups. Should we be worried when our two (already back up) running backs are too injured to play because of PRACTICE?
2)Speaking of Tobias Palmer: What the heck is up with the kid? The coaching staff seems to have noticed that he has been nonexistent as a receiver this year - they incorporated his speed into the offense through a couple of end around and screens, playcalling that gets your playmakers involved in some way and which I highly approve of. Despite being involved in the offense through these devices, however, Palmer didn't impress. He slipped down multiple times, fumbled once through the endzone and again on a bubble screen in NC State territory. It's tough to call out an individual, because anybody can have a bad week - still, it would be nice to see Tobias get things figured out soon, because we will need all the weapons we can get heading into ACC play.
3) Clock management, end of the first half: At the end of the first half, with about 10 seconds remaining on a rolling clock, Mike Glennon recived a snap about four yards from the goal line. Not seeing anyone open, Glennon tucked the ball and scrambled halfheartedly, not really attempting to gain the goal line against a gang of Citadel defenders. Thanks to the gutsy, play-to-the-whistle effort of State's linemen, Glennon and the pile were unceremoniously shoved into the endzone for a clock-expired touchdown. It all went well and we went into the half with a commanding lead. But the management by Glennon was a little worrisome - he didn't seem to recognize that with ten seconds left, if no receivers are immediately open, the ball belongs in the fifth row behind the endzone. Glennon is not a physical scrambler - everyone knows it, including Mike - and had not the line been there to turn the tide the half would have ended with a wasted scoring opportunity for the Pack. Tom O'Brien was sitting on a timeout, so perhaps the thinking was that if Glennon was sacked/tackled they might still have time for a field goal - regardless, the leadership needs to be aware in such situations of what the steps should be to make the most of your opportunities. It isn't a big deal, and Glennon will no doubt be seeing this exact situation on film this afternoon as you all read this. But in a game where State did nearly everything well, it was enough to make the thumbs down.