Have we all cooled down now? Is all the doom and gloom out of your system? In the course of a day we’ve transitioned through all the emotions from Inside Out: Joy to Anger to Disgust and then ending on either Sadness or Fear.
Let’s try and look forward now. Insert Coach-speak about how we’re “focusing on next week”, all without melting our keyboards in hot fire takes. We’re going to look at what the team/staff needs to improve on, and what they did well. Let’s all avoid chatter about the AD and whether our head coach should be fired or should have been hired in the first place, ok? It’s a tired argument and unnecessary at this point. The coach is the coach (at least for now).
With those ground rules out of the way, here’s what we liked and disliked about the game.
Let’s get it out of the way, yes, I jinxed the team. Moving on.
DD has put all the pieces in place for success. At this point, there’s nothing left to point to and say, “if only we had this”. Well, except maybe a place kicker. So it’s hard to really find gaps in the roster that did us in.
Finley showed the needed improvement I was looking for. He looked like he was poised and in control, and he made great throws to put his talented receiving corps in position to make plays after the catch. Setting a school record for completions in a game is no small feat at QB U. Keep it up, young man.
However, as well as he played, he did sail a few balls that could have ended in interceptions. It’s playing with fire. Stop that.
‘nuff said. I think we’ll keep you on the team.
Overall, the offensive gameplan was solid. For the most part, Drink dialed up some great plays to keep the ball moving.
Can we just avoid the screen pass on 3rd and long that everyone and their mom knows is coming? Thanks.
Biggest area for improvement: Defensive execution. Generally I hate when coaches absolve themselves from blame and say it’s up to the players to execute, but in this case I don’t blame Dave Huxtable. This group is experienced enough at this point to know how to wrap guys up and make tackles. All day long they just looked like they were trying to use the truck stick to knock guys into the dirt rather than just pressing A for a normal tackle.
We thought the secondary might be an issue, but to the whole defensive unit just, like, dude, I don’t know, live up to your billing. You know you have to play FSU (still tough even without Francois) and Clemson in a few weeks, right? You can’t start the year letting South Carolina come out with more fire than you. SC’s defense had more tackles for loss, and twice as many tackles and sacks. I’m jealous of teams like Alabama being able to come out and just stomp on the team that may win the ACC, without needing a warmup game. No one cares if you can squat 700lbs if you’re just going to bounce off guys. As the kids that school me in Call of Duty like to say, git gud. And fast. Please?
There is a lot I want to say about Saturday’s craptastic debacle that isn’t exactly analysis, but I’ll hold my tongue on all that stuff and try to focus just on actual analysis on the game and what it means going forward.
State has a pretty solid offensive unit. When the offensive comes back together week three and the entire unit is eligible, it will be a pretty daunting offense. The receivers are pretty good. I had high hopes for that group and they’ll be better than even I thought. The running backs will have to come into their own a little but that should be a good tandem and obviously Finley is plenty capable of doing his job. This is a good offense that will get better as the year goes on.
Defensively, Saturday left me with more concerns than before. The secondary is mediocre but will get better with time. The team as a whole just has to tackle better. You can’t miss that many tackles in the backfield.
On special teams, State is pure god awful trash. Not in every aspect of special teams, but in enough of them to make you want to cry.
I feel like this team can still be really good if it can clean up the stupid mistakes, but that’s the same thing we’ve all been saying since forever and it never seems to happen, so who knows how this season ends up.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure what, if anything, we’ll learn over the next two weeks given the opponent (and that’s no intended slight against Marshall and Furman, it’s just the truth when those games are bookended by an SEC opponent and Florida State). That is to say that I believe we’ll see what appears to be vast improvements in all areas of the team, but whether or not that is real improvement or just a façade based on the opponent will not for sure be known until after Week 4. I also feel like I need to say this: things weren’t as bad as they seemed. The loss sucked - geez, it sucked - but it seemed far worse based on the crashing of expectations that accompanied it.
As for which areas the team needs improvement coming out of Week 1:
Offensive Line - Yes, there were some jerseys out there that probably shouldn’t have been, and maybe things are different if the starting five that came out of fall camp were out there the whole game, but the line needs to do a better job of both protecting Ryan Finley (especially a banged up and less mobile Finley) and creating holes in the D-line for the...
Interior Running Game - State was able to find success running on the edges with Nyheim Hines, but the run game between the tackles was essentially non-existent. Blame it on the unplanned changes on the O-line, blame it on too much dancing by Reggie Gallaspy, or whatever you want; the bottom line is that if State cannot find an interior running game over the next couple of weeks, it’s going to take away a significant aspect to the offense that will be highly exploitable come matchups with top end defenses like Florida State and Clemson.
Defensive Pass Rush - It doesn’t matter where it comes from, but there needs to be more of a pass rush generated if the defense is going to be successful, especially with such a green unit currently manning the secondary. Yes, South Carolina got away with some egregious holding penalties which diminished the pass rushing abilities of the State D-line, but even then, how does such an experienced unit manage just two sacks against a South Carolina O-line that struggled so mightily against the pass rush last year? That ain’t gonna cut it... Oh, and the two registered sacks both came from the secondary. Yikes.
Defensive Pass Coverage - Johnathan Alston looked like he got his feet under him in the fourth quarter (which is great news going forward), but he got burned several times over the first three quarters (granted, by an incredibly talented receiver in Deebo Samuel). Still, the secondary (not just Alston) needs to prove that they can prevent the big play and, more importantly, not have any blown coverages. Nobody’s expecting this group to be perfect, but they have to be able to hold their own if State is going to come close to the team that people thought they were going to (and still could) be.