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THUMBS - I HAS THEM: Game 3, Salabamer versus Wulfpax

Hey there guys, it's the middle of Week 4 and I can already hear the thunderous clamoring of State fans ready to behead Tom O'Brien should the unthinkable occur this weekend against The Citadel. I have fan-interests in Appalachian State, and while I have not watched that game yet I plan to do so sometime this week with an eye to analyzing the Bulldogs. Obviously, it will be triple option galore, but I am interested to look at their defense and see if it really is as good as it seems - having played two pass-happy teams and soundly defeated both, I'm a bit concerned heading into Saturday.

But, that is not the topic here. Let's look back to the Thumbs for last weekend, South Alabama:

Thumbs Up:

1)Scoring: So it wasn't a blowout by any means, but winning the game convincingly was a much needed result this past week, both for the fan base and for the psyche of a team that has already faced a lot of adversity. Being able to score convincingly on the first two drives of the game was huge for the course of the game and for the season in-totem - it convinced Salabama they couldn't win early and gave our guys the boost they needed to finish strong. Although the second half was slow and frustratingly apathetic, the fact that we owned a four score lead for nearly all of the game still meant that we Did What We Had To Do - and in football, each week is so different that DWYHTD is a big deal each week, regardless of who you're playing.

2)Defense: Again, not a stellar opponent, and the last scoring drive by South Alabama was frustrating - and yet, the unit as a whole was dominant for the second and three-quarters week in a row (throw out turnover points and the defense really only allowed big points in the first quarter of the Tennessee game). The thing that really made me happy on defense this week was the competition between the linebackers - both Brandon Pittman, who led the team in tackles against the Jaguars, and Rodman Noel, who has played well and is now listed over Pittman on the depth chart, have show that they understand where to be and what times and how to make tackles inside. The better these guys get the less the secondary has to worry about keeping an eye on the box, freeing up Bishop and Wulff to fly around and make picks deep. Furthermore, defeating any triple-option foe is largely dependent on the ability of linebackers to know their responsibilities and stick to them, so the competition at LB is pleasing to me in that we know both of these guys will be working hard to vie for starting roles.

3)Pressure: Again, a defense thing, but I felt this warranted its own section. Archer/Tenuta love to zone blitz on third down, complicated, stunting zone blitzes that drop guys you're expecting to rush and rush guys you're expecting to drop. Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill inside combined with some fancy LB blitzes, particularly from Sterling Lucas, continued to impress from the UConn game, and while not at the level of a Nate Irving bum rush from back in the day, I am confident that this group will be able to get pressure when it needs to against all but the very best offensive lines.

Thumbs Down

1) Foot off the pedal: I know, I know, I just got through talking about how we DWYHTD and got out with a convincing win. Still, it frustrates the fanbase and I'm sure the team as well when playcalling dries up and relaxes in the second half just because of a large lead. Many fans look enviously at Florida State's drubbing of its Blood Money teams and do a subconscious who-has-the-bigger-schwartz-thing, which I'm not giving any credence to - but still, it makes the fans and players happy to run roughshod all over a team at least once a year. I know I get tired of constantly stressing out close wins, so the players must too. When you have a chance to win big, win big - and don't give up garbage time touchdowns.

2) Run Game/O-line: Everybody's tired of hearing about the weakness that is State's o-line, especially in a year in which TOB has his "best line yet". I have counted myself among the positivists on this issue - there is still time, and lines have to learn to work together no matter how experienced they are individually. There is still certainly time, but the big jump I'm looking for needs to occur either during this week or next, or it won't happen at all. Rob Crisp is still missing from the depth chart, but, as a matter of National Security, we may never see him again at all, so I think it's safe to assume that the personnel we have now are who we will be playing come Miami.

3) Mustafa Greene: I am rapidly running out of patience with Greene. While a sensation his freshman season (ah the glory days of Wilson, Spencer, Graham, Greene, Bryan and Irving) Greene has rapidly become more of a nuisance to the team than anything else. First sidelined with an injury, then getting into legal troubles (and STUPID legal troubles at that - cmon, man, go to your court dates!) proponents of Greene, including Tom O'Brien, claimed that he had recommitted and turned his life around coming into the season. Greene showed spurts of his freshman explosiveness in the UConn game, but has disappeared from the depth chart again for unspecified reasons - O'Brien simply says that Greene has "forfeited his right to step up and claim that starting job". Greene is a valuable player, but he also happens to be a valuable player at a position where there is plenty of depth to get the job done, especially in the pass-first offense that State is unfortunately becoming. Moose is quickly becoming more trouble than he is worth - if need be, TOB should cut him loose rather than allow him to become a locker room cancer.