I'm noticing that the amount of time required for me to acquire the proper emotional distance from our football games in order to compose these Thumbs posts is increasing each week. Partially this is a result of increasing workload - a more likely culprit, however, is my increasing frustration and perplexity with this football team. So much potential for greatness exists, and yet Tennessee, and Miami, and Maryland. This past week has left me especially drained, considering the nature of the road woes under Tom O'Brien. Had we not already imploded twice this season, I might have been willing to accept a lucky win in College Park as simply the yearly result of playing what has become a truly fickle opponent for the O'Brien Wolfpack. Having lost to Tennessee, Miami, and now Maryland (yeah, yeah, I know the final score - still, you can't say we played well enough to deserve to win) in thoroughly disgusting fashion, however, I find myself excited for the possibilities of this season at the very same time that I am dreading the likely result like never before. The inability of Tom O'Brien's staff to get his team consistently motivated, especially on the road, is becoming glaringly obvious in light of the departures of field generals like Russell Wilson and Audie Cole. How the rest of the season plays out will go very far in determining my estimation of this coaching staff, especially with very tough roadgames against U?NC and Clemson remaining.
With that said, on to your thumbs.
1) Crushing the hell out of Perry Hills and the conventional Maryland offense: State's blitz packages are damn good at getting to the QB in a traditional style offense, something that led to a dominating defense in the first half of the game Saturday. Looking to the rest of the schedule, pressure will be crucial against teams that get the ball out FAST to speedy receivers that can separate downfield after initial coverage breaks down.
2) Brian Underwood: How about this kid? Touchdown catches in every single one of our games this season, and all of them have been clutch big plays. Underwood has soft hands and deceptive speed that seems to get him open at least once or twice every game guaranteed. With Underwood providing the big plays and Payton bringing the consistent workhorse ethic to the party, our passing attack has managed to allow us to survive our schedule so far.
3) Niklas Sade: With clutch kick number two of the year. This time it got to be the game winner, though, and somehow I'm more reassured watching Sade trot on the field than I ever was seeing Josh Czajkowski.
1) Inability to adapt the defense to a new style: Let's face it, we looked damn silly. Sure, our defense didn't practice for a running QB this week - still, having played teams like The Citadel and Miami, you would think our guys wouldn't be COMPLETELY clueless as to how to defend a mobile QB run scheme. The real issue here is with the coaches - Maryland's offensive staff did a damn fine job of executing a run-style offense with a third string QB on the fly (although between the in-game commentary and my own research on Maryland I suspect they had been planning on trying to use that scheme at some point in the season anyway). The fact that our defensive staff could not adapt and help our defensive players remember some of their previous coaching, is truly disappointing to me. Indeed, the inconsistency of the defense as a whole this season has been strange, considering the customary tough performances it has turned in. Had you told me before the season that Clemson would be so woeful on defense this year, I would have said I liked our chances, because I think our defense is pretty damn good. Now, though...I just don't know.
2) Abandonment of the run game: Dana Bible continues to perplex me. Games against The Citadel and Miami had me convinced that the offense had finally developed a run scheme that worked decently well - against Florida State we tended to abandon it, understandably. Against Maryland State was quick to abandon the run again, all to easily in my opinion. Certainly, Maryland's defensive front has proven to be monsters at limiting rushing yardage, but until you try it you can't throw it out, which is exactly what Bible did. Yeah you've got a pro quarterback in Mike Glennon, but given the season he is having you would think we would at least TRY to rush the ball before throwing out every play in the book that isn't DEEP PASS.
3) Slow starts by Mike Glennon; Tobias Palmer: What a difference a season can make. Sure, there's no TJ Graham, but Payton has proven to be a workhorse and Underwood is reliable for a big play at least once a game. Glennon is gunning from behind the best offensive line we've had in five years, and yet in the first half his stats are woeful, as Omega highlighted in his earlier work here. The lack of production out of Tobias Palmer is similarly frustrating - the first drive of the Maryland game comes to mind, with a short gain first down run, an incomplete pass to Tobias Palmer who slipped down on the play, and a pass to Tobias Palmer that bounced off his hands - as he slipped on the play. In a year where regression seems the key word, Palmer and Glennon are among the biggest offenders, and will have to step it up if we are to get through the rest of the season unscathed.