This weekend, in my boredom and in my thirst for college football of any kind, I ended up watching the 2007 SEC Championship Game again. It always amazes me how quickly my football memory will fade. In less than 2 years, I remembered virtually nothing about this game except for Jonathan Zenon's interception returned for a touchdown. To illustrate how bad my memory of football glories past can be, not only did I forget that Ryan Perrilloux cut his finger late in the game, I actually forgot that Ryan Perrilloux was our starter in this game.
I was struck, in watching this game with the memories of the 2008 season still in my mind, of how much more effective our offense was in this game than it was in 2008. We completely dominated the game. We outgained Tennessee by 464 yards to 343. For some reason, it did not translate to points on the board, as we only scored 13 offensive points, but our offense hummed for most of this game, even with a backup quarterback in the game.
But what really struck me is that our offensive coaching staff adjusted to having a backup QB in the game. Until Perrilloux got comfortable, they protected him by not asking him to do anything really complicated. He ran a lot of draws early, and some easy dump-off passes. As he got more and more into the game, they asked him to do more and more things. It was effective (in all but putting points on the board). Perrilloux threw an interception that really wasn't his fault, and otherwise played very well.
What's striking about this is that we were unable to set up a safe offense for an uncomfortable QB in 2008. One of the big complaints people had about the offense last year was that we never adjusted to Lee's struggles. No matter how many interceptions he threw, we kept asking him to throw and throw and throw. Why is that? We showed we could do it in 2007. Why didn't we do it in 2008? I have a few possible answers to the question of why we couldn't do for Jarrett Lee in 2008 what we did for Ryan Perrilloux, and other thoughts, after the jump:
- On the one hand, the offense hummed with Perrilloux in the game, piling up yards, but then again we didn't score much. Drives got yards, but then stalled. It is possible that the conservative approach led to this.
- Perrilloux was a runner, while Lee was not. Gary Crowton never had the option of protecting Lee from mistakes by running QB draws or options. Lee does not have the mobility at this point in his career to run them. Lee's inability to run the ball effectively is actually something of a surprise to me. In high school, Lee was reasonably mobile. He was not a "dual threat" or "running quarterback", but he could move his feet and escape pressure to a competent degree. This has not been true of his college career so far. When we finally had to turn to Jordan Jefferson, we ran draw after draw, probably to a excessive degree.
- While we had a good running game last year, I don't think we had a running game that could be effective without a changeup passing game. Charles Scott was ineffective against Ole Miss and Arkansas, and generally wore down as the year went on. With Keiland Williams having a rough start to the season, and Richard Murphy never quite getting untracked, we were forced to lean heavily on Charles Scott. It is likely that had we leaned even more heavily on him, he would have just worn down faster.
- Screens were actually Lee's least competent throw last year. For whatever reason, and I don't know if we will ever quite be able to explain it, Lee struggled terribly with screen passes. Famously, the bad interception against Auburn came on a screen pass, but there were other bad moments on screens. One of my indelible memories from 2008 will be Lee throwing screen after screen into the ground because he didn't think he could get the ball to the receiver. It's hard to play it safe when your quarterback inexplicably struggles the most with the safe throws. He did much better when going to receivers down the field and outside of the hashes.
- We sure would have been a lot better with Perrilloux at the helm in 2008. Perrilloux would have joined the small number of really good QBs in the conference and we would have won more games. He had a strong arm and was mobile, and despite his off-the-field brain cramps he seemed to have a pretty good head for the game when he was on the field. Yes, we still would have had a putrid pass defense, and in fact that putrescence may have been disguised by a good quarterback, meaning we might still be burdened by it to this day, but it sure would have been nice to pick up another couple wins in 2008.
- Keiland Williams had a disastrous run in which the blocking collapsed and the defense converged on Keiland for a substantial loss, but instead of just moving forward as far as possible and taking the 4 or 5 yard loss, he tried to reverse the field and ended up taking an even bigger loss, which effectively killed that particular drive. In retrospect, we may be able to trace Keiland Williams struggles in 2008 to this play. Keiland was actually doing very well in the game. He had broken off a 27 yard run and a 12 yard run. If you take out the 14 yard loss, he ran 4 times for 48 yards. He got hurt on the play and didn't play again on the night. Then last year he ran timidly and ineffectively at the start of the season, earning the ire of fans. He played a lot better towards the end of the year though, and this gives me hope that he will have a better 2009.
- Richard Murphy looked more comfortable on the field in this game than he did at any time in 2008.
- With good personnel on the field, Gary Crowton had a lot of success when he dialed up a creative play. Crowton's offense did not have a lot of success last year, but if Jefferson can run and pass effectively, and with quality skill position players everywhere else and hopefully a good offensive line, our offense could be extremely dangerous in 2009.