This one's for you, Mark!
If the Buffs' performance in the CU-CSU game was a food, it would be vanilla cake. Good, but pretty plain. Or at least the play calling was. Not bad, but they didn't open up the playbook on either offense or defense. I was thinking about this more and more Saturday night, and then reviewed the tape Sunday, and that's exactly what the tape showed.
Also, I hope we never EVER have to appear on "The Mountain" again. It was pathetic. Their coverage was bad, the announcing was bad, the picture was bad and that stupid dactyl-cam is the worst thing to happen to football. The Mountain West Conference will have a hard time getting BCS automatic qualifying status with a TV network like that.
I took a few notes on the game, and they appear after the jump.
K Aric Goodman was great on all but one of his kickoffs. One of the people I was watching the game with said he slipped, but I didn't see it on Saturday. But lo and behold, it was right there on the tape. We should be at the top of the Big 12 again in kickoff coverage this season, only because opposing teams won't get too many chances to return the ball.
We rushed three or four linemen most of the game, sending the nickelback twice and an inside linebacker a few times. Both times the nickelback blitzed, he was able to apply pressure and cause an incompletion. Parker Orms on their first drive, and Tyler Sandersfeld later in the game. Despite the limited rush, we did a great job of shutting down the run. Chalk it up to good recognition by our linemen and our linebackers. We didn't really have to stack the box to do it, either.
We had three false starts. The first was on that first drive by OT Nate Solder. He can't have too many more of those if he wants to be an All-American this year. The second was by OT David Bakhtiari, but I give him a pass. He's a Redshirt Freshman, so he will have some growing pains. Also, I blame the CU fans. The team was down near our endzone, and the fans got excited that we were close to scoring, so they started to get loud. Someone needs to teach my peers how to watch football. Don't you know you're supposed to get loud when the OTHER team is on Offense? Silly. The third one was by OG Ethan Adkins, and I couldn't see any reason for it.
We also had two too-many-men-in-the-backfield calls. I have a feeling WR coach Ron Prince will get that fixed immediately. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who will put up with that.
The wide receivers were getting downfield and blocking on running plays and on the WR screens. They might not all be great blockers, but they were trying. It was encouraging seeing a guy like Paul Richardson mixing it up downfield as a true freshman. Those are the kinds of attitudes I like to see.
Notes on the Offensive Line:
- Nate Solder is good both in pass protection, and in-line blocking and pulling. He's becoming the total package. I'm interested to see how well he anchors against bigger and stronger Defensive Ends, but I think his footwork and hand placement is catching up to his athletic ability. We'll know for sure after the Cal game, and then again after the Georgia game. But damn is he agile out in open space. There were a couple of adjustments he made while pulling that were SPECTACULAR. Holy cow. He wasn't perfect, but he's getting there.
- I see why Johnson was rotating guys at Left Guard and at Center. Both Adkins and Keenan Stevens had some issues out there. Stevens had some mis-calls in protection and he got thrown around a bit by the Rams DTs. As did Adkins. Adkins was the culprit on the 2nd half sack of Hansen. The DE twisted around the DT and as Adkins tried to shift and pick him up, he fell down, giving the DE a clear shot at Hansen. Ryan Miller got back there and tried to help, but it was too late by then. Their backups got plenty of snaps, so we'll see if Iltis or Daniels can help to improve play at those two positions this week. Cal's D-line is solid and deep, and they will exploit those weaknesses if they can.
- Ryan Miller was good. If he gets his hands on you while he's pulling, you've got no chance. He looks a little lighter on his feet this year, which will be good in pass protection. And he was solid in-line. I think the CSU D-line will prove that they are pretty good as the season goes on, and Miller was a big part of knocking them around in the running game.
- David Bakhtiari: I think he played very well. This was a great team for him to get his feet wet against. They have smaller Defensive Ends, so he could focus on his technique without trying to over-extend or do too much because he was afraid of getting knocked on his butt. He looked better in pass protection than he did pulling, but he looked proficient in both. They gave him some TE help occasionally, and that may continue as he gets used to playing at the College level. But I believe RT will be solid with him at the helm. Also, Givens looked solid playing there in the 4th quarter. I don't know if it's still a battle, but I like where we are at the moment there.
The Linebackers looked solid in coverage. Both Michael Sipili and Jon Major looked good, and Tyler Ahles looked fine. They all looked fast, and were quick to react. None of the CSU receivers had much room to run on the short passes. We'll see how they do defending passes to backs out in the flat. The CSU running backs had some room receiving in the flats.
On that 4th down stop we had early, Major and Perkins knifed in to make the play. But it wasn't all on them. The CSU offensive line got stood up by our D-line. That stop was thanks to Curtis Cunningham and B.J. Beatty stuffing their blockers at the LOS.
Some of the RalphieReport readers were commenting on Brian Lockdrige and his lackluster pass protection. I went back to the tape because I didn't remember him missing any blocks. The team didn't actually use him as a blocker in pass protection. Rodney Stewart stayed in to block a few times. On the first sack of Hansen, Stewart threw a solid block, but Mike Orakpo (I am NOT excited to play him again, let alone every year for a while) did a great job of getting over Stewart. Hansen held onto the ball too long on that play as well. Later, Stewart threw another solid block, but the LB was able to disengage in time to pressure the passer again. I won't put those on Stewart, rather on our QB holding onto the ball too long. Those are All-Conference LBs, and Stewart is only 5-6. That's a tough matchup for him. There was another play later in the game where Ryan Deehan and Stewart had a mis-communication which allowed a Rams LB to get some pressure on Hansen. That one was on us.
Hansen looked a little jumpy. I think it took him a while to really trust his protection. He took off on a couple of those runs before he had to. He was feeling a little phantom pressure. He missed a few passes (reader Phil Fraser has made a few comments about his footwork) that he shouldn't have missed. His ball placement was funky at times. And I'm not sure calling passes to Luke Walters was a good idea in this game. The Rams LBs are way more athletic than Walters, not to mention that the passes were off.
Michael Sipili and Jon Major are awesome. Sipili is unblockable at times, making great moves in the hole to avoid blockers to make the tackle and absolutely stuffing blockers at the LOS so that Major can make the tackle. They make a pretty good team inside.
Luke Walters also had some trouble in-line blocking. Deehan looked solid (though he had a couple of miscues as well), but we need some better blocking out of our two TE sets.
Our short-yardage package opened withOUT the bang the coaches were hoping for. Scooter Fernandez had some trouble lead-blocking, and Adkins got pushed back on that first play. Of course, I again give some credit to the CSU Linebackers (sensing a theme here?) on those plays.
I couldn't tell if Joe Silipo or Brian Daniels (both #68) was snapping the ball for the Field Goal team, but I would assume it was Silipo. Ryan Iverson (#69) was our Long-Snapper. His velocity improved as the game went on (PHEW!) But it's still not where I'd like it to be. His placement seemed fine, though.
That interception by Jalil Brown (as was the pick by Sandersfeld) was great. He tipped the ball to himself, and managed to hang on as he went down. Thank Beatty for bringing pressure off the edge on that play. He should've had a sack, but he was pretty well wrapped up by the Tackle and the Tight End who were struggling to keep him from crushing Pete Thomas.
That pick by Hansen was bad. Richardson was pretty well covered, not to mention the fact that the ball was nowhere near where it needed to be to give him a chance to make the catch. If that ball is thrown to the outside, I feel like Richardson could have used some of the leaping ability we've been hearing so much about to make a play on it. Another note, I believe that was the only deep pass we attempted. I think they were keeping most of the field-stretching plays under wraps so that Cal won't have any tape of them.
Same with the Defense. We managed to get solid pressure (not great, I know, but we had a bunch of near-sacks and should-have-been sacks) with just three guys some of the time, and four guys the rest of the time. Not only that, but the Rams were keeping six plus guys to block for much of the game, and we still pushed the pocket a bit. That could be a good sign.
Jon Major looks very good covering Tight Ends, and was even able to cover a Wide Receiver on a couple of plays. That gives us some excellent flexibility. He is fast. I can't wait to see how he progresses.
Patrick Mahnke got a few snaps in the second half, and he looked pretty darn good at LB. He held his ground on the running plays he was out there for, and he has coverage skills.
On passing downs, we went to a "small" Defensive line, with 3 or four Defensive Ends. I saw Forrest West and Josh Hartigan play inside a few times, and they were pretty stout against the run, and were able to generate a little pressure. Also, Kasa got a bunch of playing time inside. He got doubled on quite a few of those plays, and he was able to get a little pressure on the other ones. West was inside on one running play, and did a great job of recognizing it as a run, and gumming up the Offensive Line.
One play that was indicative of our should-have-been sacks was Jimmy Smith's hit on Pete Thomas. If he had bothered to try to wrap him up, it would've been an easy sack. Instead, Smith went for the big hit (against a guy who is 230 lbs) and couldn't bring him down. I think Ashley Ambrose will be in Smith's ear about that this week, and I expect a much better game from Mr. Smith next week.
Half of our penalties came against the Special Teams units. Aside from that, we showed improvement in almost every area on ST (FGs got a pass this week because he only attempted a short one in a no-pressure situation. It was right up the middle, though), but that was a glaring weakness. Some of them should never happen again, like the delay of game, the early contact by Vigo and the personal foul by Smith. But the other ones are things we definitely need to work on this week.
Zach Grossnickle wasn't great today, but he did have a better average than DiLallo did in most games last year. And this was his first College game ever. I think he shakes it off and shows us what he can do. Also, I hope they retire the Rugby punt. Riddle clearly doesn't know when or how to use it.
Some notes on the playcalling:
- On Offense, they only attempted the one pass downfield. It was Hansen's one pick, but the thing to take away from that is the fact that we didn't open up the playbook. They practiced a bunch of downfield passes all fall, so I think they're keeping a little bit of the passing game a mystery for Cal. They also didn't get the ball to Deehan, who I think can be a weapon in the passing game, especially against inexperienced Linebackers (again, credit to CSU's LBs here).
- On Defense, they also played a pretty simple scheme. They rushed three and four guys most of the time, with only about six blitzes. We sent the Nickel Back twice, we sent a corner at least once, and we sent an Inside Linebacker at least twice.
And finally, I think Travis Sandersfeld did a VERY GOOD job playing in place of the injured Orms. That pick was an impressive play, and he was very good in coverage. He also filled very well against the run. He's instinctive and has good technique. We'll see what happens against teams with better passing attacks than CSU.
BUT I'd always like the first game to give the team some things to work on. Looking perfect in the first game always makes me nervous, so I'm pretty happy with where we are. In the end, we held them to FG, didn't allow them to score in the first half, and we beat them by 21 points. GO BUFFS!