After watching and re-watching and re-watching, I keep returning to the same word: agony. To be honest, quotes from Joe Alleva keep popping up in my head: "We still won nine games, but I think it was how we won. There were games that we could've lost easily, like Mississippi State (5-7 in 2009). We held them down on the 1-yard line for four plays (to win 30-26). How many times is that going to happen? When you're 112 in offense in the nation, that's not very good. I'd like to see us minimize the amount of mental mistakes we make in a game. I'm talking delay of games, pre-snap penalties. I can't stand those things."
Well, with Game 1 in the books, we didn't exactly do anything to soothe those concerns. So what exactly happened? What's with the bi-polar performance? Who's to blame (because there's always someone to blame, right?)? Why is Gary Crowton still employed? Hell, why is Les Miles still employed? Who are these guys and what did they do with our football team? Let's see what the tape says after the jump.
The Big Points:
-I think Patrick Peterson is still running on the UNC special teams. Jeebus he's special.
-I've remained confident in JJ all along and his performance Saturday only furthers that (sans one or two plays). JJ looked decisive, veteran, and in control. I love seeing him approach the line on a 3rd and 5 in an power running set, taking the snap and hitting Toliver for an easy 1st down due to the coverage being off. That shows maturity.
-Derrick Bryant played A LOT. Comes as a major surprise to me, considering Bryant's name was rarely (probably not ever) mentioned throughout the course of Spring practices, Summer workouts/camps nor the most recent practices. Yet, there he was, probably on the field 50% of the time or more. And he looked pretty good, particularly coming off the edge as a blitzer.
-Speaking of coming off the edge, did LSU ever yield 4 sacks in a single game last season? Considering we only registered 21 as a team, I'll take our current pace of going for 48 on the season (that would have been no. 1 in the nation last year, btw).
-Speaking of sacks, Chavis rolled quite a few new fronts out in this game, including one I don't remember seeing all of last season. We'd trot out 3 down linemen (they alternated) and 4 LBs/DBs standing in the gaps and on the edges. From there, players would drop or come, sometimes one or two at a time, sometime the whole mother load. This alignment got Sam Montgomery his first ever college sack. He also tinkered with some 3 down linemen while having either Montgomery or Adams stand up on the end.
-You can immediately see the differences in last year's D. Last year we had a solid, capable defense. This year, we have the potential to be a dominating unit (I knowz, I knowz 400 yardz!?!?!?!). Chavis rolled a significant number of faces into the game, something which can be used to keep us fresh and dangerous. Stopping a well-designed blitz can be tough. Stopping a well-designed blitz coming from a guy with fresh legs is near impossible. I applaud Chavis for giving different looks.
-This defense has speed, but can't tackle well (yet). The team can get there, now they just need to finish the job off.
-Speaking of, since Chavis is baring the criticism right now, take away a couple blown coverages (I put both of these on the players) and we're coming out of this one with a dominating defensive performance.
-Why do UNC fans hate T.J. Yates? For the life of me, he looks like an entirely serviceable QB, who plays heady, safe football. What am I missing here?
-If this game is any indication, we're going to be rolling with a heavy dose of Ridley, some sprinkled in Shep and very little Murphy as our RB trio.
-Jheraine Boyd can fucking play.
-Watching Boyd burn us was painful, but seeing Pianalto pick apart the middle of our D was just twisting a knife in the wound. Our LBs have a long, long ways to go coverage wise. UNC spent most of their day picking apart underneath holes in the zone or getting a TE matched up one and one and beating us.
-T-Bob played most of the game at RG, but I hope we don't just "give" him the nod. Frankly, he's just not strong enough. T-Bob plays with a lot of heart, but he just doesn't have the power to drive people off the football. I'd love to see Greg Shaw or even Chris Faulk get a look there. The rest of the OL looked fairly stout. We consistently got a much better initial push in this game than any game I remember last year. Hurst struggled a bit, particularly with super quickly Coples coming on the inside. Coples also bitch-slapped Josh Williford in the one series I saw him in at RG, so that was short lived.
-Shep is going to be a lot of fun to watch all year.
-I thought Crowton called a pretty good game. Mostly mental errors killed our drives. We were in position in just about every drive we had to really do some work, unfortunately we struggled to close nearly all of them off. Even still, I saw an explosive, big play potential from this offense that I never saw last year. GC really does design some beautiful plays. My favorite are his running plays where he gets the traffic moving one way, opening a cut back lane for the RB to hit and rip off a nice one.
-This was one of the weirdest games I've ever watched. The game was never in doubt until literally the last 3 minutes. Such an odd thing. I remember in real time thinking they don't have a chance in hell, only to 2 minutes later be agonizing over a potential go-ahead score. Shit, even on their drive to cut the lead to 6, they were making penalties, fumbling snaps, getting stuffed etc. It's not like they ever really generated a consistent offensive attack... they just made a play here and there to move the ball.
-We dominated 3 3/4 of a game in my eyes. But that's not 4 quarters, so there's a lot of room to grow.
1st TD: Step 1 in the JJ Maturation Process: "The Red Zone." He stood tall in the pocket, stepped into the pressure and delivered a dart to a tightly covered Shep for 6. Shep made a nice hands grab, particularly after dropping an earlier ball.
2nd TD: As I mentioned above, Crowton can really design up some sexy plays. On this TD, take a look at it again and notice the LT and LG. Both are pulling to the right. For a DE, your read there is to collapse down the line, assuming the play is going to the right. Instead, we're bringing Shep back across the formation with some misdirection. The combination of Shep's speed and the flow of the defense going the opposite way left a wide open field to exploit. Untouched. Beauty.
3rd TD: Patrick Peterson. Amen.
4th TD: Step 2 in the JJ maturation process: "The Deep Ball." Another one of those moments where JJ steps up into the pocket, buying just enough time for Randle to get into his route before launching a near perfect pass, hitting Randle in stride for 6. JJ has struggled with his deep ball for as long as we all can remember, but this was truly a beautiful toss.
JJ: Good game. Made a couple horrible decisions, retreating away from the pocket rather than stepping up through it, both of which ultimately cost us (once with a meaningless INT and the other time with a grounding penalty that cost us a shot at a FG). Overall though, I'm encouraged. He generally looked confident, assertive and aware. We got in and out of huddles in a timely fashion. He took little things the defense gave him.
Ridley: First of all, putting the ball on the deck twice is unacceptable. In my eye, I bench him next week in lieu of a younger guy just to let him know that you don't ever drop my fucking football, much less when the game is on the line. His first fumble was an effort fumble, the second was purely sloppy and at a crucial moment. He should have had a TD, which came back on a blown holding call against T-Bob. But for just straight up running it, Ridley looked very good. Quicker than last year, more explosive and running with attitude. You can see the hard work he put in.
Murphy: 3 touches, 2 yards, 1 fumble. I'm rooting for the kid, but you can't help but believe his return won't be as triumphant as he hopes. I won't give up on him after one game, but that type of performance does little to give coach's confidence.
Stamp: Saw him a couple times absorbing rather than initiating. Little disappointed considering his MO for wrecking facemasks. However, running game was better, so he must have been doing some damage when in.
Shep: Solid game. Dropped an early pass that should have kept the drive alive. Wasn't a great throw, but it was catch-able and he just didn't reel it in. Dropped another where he was dominated by Bruce Carter. This was a tougher catch, but one he needs to make if he wants to be a great one. Otherwise, looked great with the ball in his hands and served as an efficient decoy, including on Randle's long TD.
Randle: Looks like our best WR easily. He's just so smooth. Plucks the ball out of the sky effortlessly. Gets deep on the secondary. Great use of head fakes to get open. He recorded more than a third of his season's catch output from last year... on Saturday. The term "scary good" comes to mind.
Toliver: Wasn't a major factor. Caught one first down. Never really asserted himself in this game.
Joseph: Surprisingly finishes as the the no. 2 receiver on the night. Joseph played well and looked good running his routes. No slight on him, but I can't wait to watch DLO Peterson do what he did, because it will be even bigger gains.
Clement: Played quite a bit. Nothing stood out. Looked sloppy on a block and release that JJ ended up having to scramble for a minor gain.
Barksdale: The best news you can hear about your LT is no news. Didn't hear his name called once all night, which tells me he had it locked down. Pressure for JJ rarely came from his side. Took some time to watch him a few times and he looked great. Major upgrade from last year.
Dworaczyk: Much like JB, didn't hear much from him. He looks bigger and better. Left side of the line held it down all night, with several of the best runs coming off that side.
PJ: Played pretty well. Had a bad holding penalty late in the game. Snaps were all good. Anchored pretty well in the run game. Generated push up the middle to pick up some short yardage situations. Nothing else stands out as particularly bad.
T-Bob: Eh. Didn't exactly light the world on fire. He plays hard and you love that, but he just doesn't have the power to get it done. The holding penalty against him was a crime though.
Williford: Only other player I saw cycle in at RG. He looked good for 2 plays and then got absolutely blown up by Coples, dropping Ridley for a loss and ending a drive. He didn't go back in after that.
Hurst: Up and down game. He struggled with the speedy Coples a few times (albeit, he won't face many interior guys that quick). Anchored pretty well in pass pro. Struggled with some of the run blocking, which shocked me as I thought he was a true road grader.
Montgomery: Got a sack. Recorded a couple other tackles. His speed on the edge will make him a consistent threat, even if he's not getting sacks.
Adams: Didn't notice him much. Got some good pressure on a couple plays.
Levingston: No stats recorded. Saw him at the bottom of a few piles. Does a good job of eating up blockers and collapsing the hole.
Nevis: Wreaked havoc all night. Caused bad C play resulting in a safety. Got a sack. Got another TFL. This guy was a thorn in their side all night long and even when he didn't make a play, he was influencing a play.
Edwards/Ag: Nothing notable.
Downs: Got a nice sack on a stunt, flashing his explosiveness coming around wide and making the play. Well designed blitz from Chavis.
Brockers: I wish he would start next to Nevis, because he's our 2nd best DT. I saw him toss their Guard and Center backward multiple times, and even blow by them once for a beautiful TFL. This kid is gonna be a good one.
Mingo: Got good pressure on a few plays. Made a nice TFL on a running play that had no chance. Speed, speed, speed.
Sheppard: Up and down game. Missed a handful of tackles. Seemed to get beat in coverage a couple of times. Not his best game, but still finished with 10 tackles.
Minter: Looks great coming up as a run defender but struggles in coverage, looking lost on more than one occasion.
Francois: Okay game. Much like Minter, struggled in coverage. Needs to learn how to take on a block aggressively rather than just doing hand fighting. Flashed speed and coverage some, including the final play of the game.
Barrow: Got the late hit for being a little over aggressive, but I don't mind that much. Make mistakes playing fast and physical and I still think calls like that are stupid (even if technically correct). Also recovered the 2nd fumble of the game.
Peterson: Looked okay. Great as a returner, obviously. Battled cramping all night. Showed flashes of dynamic covering ability. Great coverage late but still got beat. Good coverage in end zone. (Why do we play 8 yards off with corners like this?) /rantover
Claiborne: Not his best game. Missed several tackles. Did force the first fumble. Burned deep by Boyd for that 97 yard TD (it may be that he was supposed to have safety help over the top, but I'm not sure that's on Tharold Simon as Simon comes at a weird angle, completely out of position).
Simon/Reid: Didn't notice either much. But they both played.
Taylor: Up and down game. He plays the game with a lot of aggressiveness and energy. Love the way he stalks the line and comes up in run support. Looked great in one-on-one coverage down the sideline, almost nabbing a pick. Got burned in the red zone by a simple wheel route. At times looked like an enforcer, but needs to put it together with better coverage next time.
Eugene/Loston: Jai made the big hit that knocked Boyd out of the game, which had to have aided our chances of coming out on top. Looked solid but not spectacular. The one time I remember seeing Loston he looked lost in coverage. Check that, I saw him lay some wood on the RB once, but other than that, quiet.
Mathieu: This kid played a lot and you can see why. He's gonna be a good one. Throws his body around fearlessly in run support, looked great on the blitz to cause the fumble that "should have sealed the game." He's got great speed and getting these early reps only means he can be a force later in the season.
Bryant: As mentioned above, he played more than I expected and looked pretty good. Aggressive on blitzes and solid in coverage. Need to see more to make a better judgment.
Brooks: Made a very nice kick return after they finally gave up on PP. Also made a nice read and tackle on a short passing play where he pulled off the LOS at the last second, disguising his blitz well, tracked down the short pass and stopped the WR in his tracks.