Last week we faced the high scoring Bulldogs of Samford. After a slow start and several injuries, we dominated on both sides of the ball from the 2nd qtr thru the middle of the 4th qtr. We outscored Samford 27-3 in this stretch (after holding them scoreless in the 1st qtr). We dominated in TOP for 28:08 to 10:48. We out yardaged the Bulldogs over this span 309 to 110.
I tip my hat to the Bulldogs for baffling us the whole first qtr. Cam Miller in the post game press conference said he watched film three hours a day in prep for the game and they didn’t show one thing he saw on film. They deployed their secondary and LB’s in totally different coverage’s and fits. He also said they played as hard as any team we have faced this year.
The bad defense Samford had shown in previous games disappeared in part. Losing Cole Payton on a 10 yard first down run on the 2nd play of the game took away a lot of our QB run game options, which they couldn’t contain the week before against SELA. We sustained a drive into 4 down territory only to have Kobe “fumble” (why no review?). With them slamming all hands on board into the A & B gaps, we ran a sweep with three pulling blockers. They cleared the corner and the contain defender (unblocked) from the other side of the formation, sprinted and barely tripped up TaMerik. If the defender stayed home and did his job it’s a TD. We later burned them three times on reverses because of this type of over pursuit.
Game script went from potential blowout to methodical Bison win. Minus the injuries, I’ll take it.
Some FCS pundits called the 66-63 victory over Sac St. the best FCS playoff game ever. However: the game of football is made up of three phases; offense, defense and special teams. When only the offensive phase shows up for both teams, in my opinion, it’s a substandard game. It’s certainly not a formula for championship football. Adjectives such as exciting, but frustrating make more sense. If we won 66-63 Friday night while giving up 729 total yards, 333 rushing yards, 49 first downs and not forcing UIW to punt even once (all of which UIW’s D accomplished), best game ever wouldn’t be our take away. Fear of what might happen in Frisco would be a bigger issue.
To finish this thought off, let’s compare it to a MLB playoff game. If we see the pitchers give up hit after hit, when they aren’t walking batters and both the infield and outfield are kicking the ball around like its soccer. The pitcher/catchers are letting base runners steal bases with abandon and the final score ends up 22-21, I don’t think best game would enter the conversation.
After watching UIW & Sac State to midway thru the 4th qtr, I felt I was watching football porn. I figured there wasn’t much to gain in watching more orgasmic offense only football in making meaningful observations for this week’s matchup in the Dome. I will tip my hat and give both offenses their due in producing such offensive fireworks, but I will not hide my disdain for either defense not showing up!
I think the task defensively for Friday Night is the same we faced January 2016 in Frisco when we squared off against Jacksonville State. Much of the FCS football world thought the Gamecocks could be the team to end our streak at four straight Natty’s, including most of our local print media beat writers. In 2015 JSU took Auburn to OT, before losing 27-20. They then ran the FCS table 10-0.
In the first three playoff games they averaged 53.7 PPG, while racking up 625 YPG with great balance of 432.7 rushing yards and 192.7 yards passing. This came against three foes who were only giving up versus all other opponents 330 YPG, 152 rushing yards and 21 PPG.
In 2015 RB, T. Pope, ran for 1788 yards, with QB Eli Jenkins at 1161 yards and two back up RB’s at 717 & 405 yards. They had stud WR’s, Josh Barge had 1145 yards (12.5 YPC) and then two field stretchers with 655 yards (14.9 YPC) pairing up with 388 yards (14.4 YPC). Folks, that’s over 2,000 receiving yards between these three WR’s.
Another back drop that is similar to this year is we started 2015 replacing seven long term starters on Code Green. We opened and lost at Montana (38 points) and were in total disarray. Wentz went down versus the Coyotes. At mid season we had 2 losses and were giving up 20+ PPG.
The 2nd half of the season, with Easton as the redshirt frosh QB placeholder until the finals (8-0 is a pretty good placeholder), the Herd matured. Code Green stiffened, giving up only 12.5 PPG down the stretch to the Natty.
What was the formula that stopped this Gamecock’s juggernaut? Complimentary football, we controlled the ball for 40:51 to 19:09, won the TO battle at +1, played clean with 2 penalties for 10 yards compared to JSU’s 5-53, allowed no big special team plays. In other words typical boring Bison football (if you can call winning at the greatest playoff pace in football history, boring). Final Code Green stats, we reduced this prolific offense averaging the 53.7 PPG and 625 total yards in the first three playoff games to 204 total yards and 10 points.
What does this have to do with UIW? I wasn’t writing a weekly blog back in 2015, but I had been tearing apart the Herd’s stats for three years trying to put my finger on what was propelling this Bison greatness. Simply put, the Bison teams didn’t see much drop off against the tougher opponents on their schedule (teams under 150 Sagarin). Other teams were playing in much weaker conferences than the Missouri Valley and their stats fell, often greatly, when playing tougher teams.
JSU played in the weak OVC and when they got to the playoffs their really tough D didn’t look as tough. They gave up 27.5 PPG in first three playoff victories and over 200 YPG rushing. My sounding board back then was my older brother Sam, an ardent Bison fan. With him and God as my witness, I said I thought we could run the ball, control the clock and come out with a two to three TD victory.
Personally, I don’t think UIW’s offense is any better or dynamic than the 2015 JSU team, in fact I think Eli Jenkins was even quicker twitch (much like Tre Roberson of IL State in 2014) than Lindsey Scott. I also believe JSU’s defense was vastly superior to UIW’s. Those of you who follow my weekly analysis and previews know the stock I put into analyzing how teams fare against the good teams. So how does UIW look?
This year they have played five under 150 Sagarin teams. Southern IL, FBS Nevada (a 2-10 team) and conference foe SELA during the regular season and Furman and Sac State in the playoffs. SELA beat UIW 41 -35. SELA lost to Samford in the quarter finals 48-42 after beating Big Sky Idaho in the first round 45-42. The only team to put a stop to this shoot out nonsense was Code Green when Samford who scored 42.8 PPG versus the good teams on its schedule (49 PPG the last two games) was held to 9 by the Herd.
Do you notice all the shoot outs? UIW’s only loss is a shoot out to a team that lost a shoot out after winning a shoot out. Against these five good teams, the Cardinals have averaged 52 points and given up 42.4. These opponents have averaged 469.2 YPG, 199 rushing and 270.2 passing. The last four games versus good teams got even worse. They gave up 46 PPG, 505 YPG and 219 YPG rushing. This isn’t average defense, it is downright awful defense!
What’s my take for Friday? I am more concerned about how many able bodies we will have back. We have to have Cole Payton to facilitate the big QB package run game. I also want to see Eli back on the field for 12-15 snaps. I don’t think UIW can run rough shot over Code Green. I think they will have some procedure and holding penalties and that we will be +1 or +2 in TO’s. On offense I think we will control the line of scrimmage and thus the clock. On to Frisco. Go Bison!