Ok…first and foremost, big props to the ECU fans who stuck it out and stayed through Mother Nature’s tantrum on Saturday…those that stayed sounded like the a full house and our boys always play better with you behind them. 2-0 at home and the fans played a big part in making it that way.
I am not going to lie here, I was worried about UTEP’s offense. They were moving the football against all opponents and gave Wisconsin a game and hung a ton of yards on Oklahoma. In knocking them off, our team has positioned themselves wonderfully for the rest of the season. While UTEP did not look like it, I am convinced that they are the only team in the West that can challenge Tulsa so it was a quality win for us.
I will talk about UCF in a separate post, and will focus on this game and what we possibly can learn from it.
Possibly the biggest eye opener for me was in what the coaches did in this game. I was excited to see that Coach Ruff – though he indicated that it would be running back by committee – allowed Tay Cooper to get the lion’s share of the carries and plays. The kid is the only back we have that LOOKS UP when he runs and finds the additional opportunities.
Secondly, I thought Lincoln Riley really mixed it up well. You can truly say that this game was well-managed, well-called, and the things that didn’t come off, were still there. LR can’t ensure that Shane Carden throws the ball high to a 6-8 receiver, that a 6-8 receiver catches a ball that hits him in the hands…you get the point. The players have to execute and this time the game plan and calls gave the players everything they needed to win.
Thirdly, Brian Mitchell’s unit is showing more and more indications of being what we thought they would be. The JUCOs are ball hawks back there and I thought the corners did a much better job. The pressure helped that, but overall BM seems to be hitting a groove now and the defense appears to be trending properly. We’ll know for sure on Thursday.
Good job, IMO, by the coaches.
But there is more, much more we learned from UTEP. So, without further adieu, the Good, Bad, and Ugly from UTEP:
The Good Stuff:
1. Shane Carden – the kid gets better every time out. Yes, he had the INTs (see below), but you can just see his confidence and abilities and think, “wow, this kid can go far here.” He is gritty, he can find the open guy, and he is a leader, the latter point being huge. Re-watch the game and look how many of his teammates are all over him after a play or a TD. Any notion that the players were split on the QBs is pretty much answered now. Credit him, also, in working the pocket much better this week. This is Carden’s team and there is not a game left on the slate that is not winnable. We could be witnessing the start of something special here.
2. Tay Cooper – Anyone who read my last few posts, knows that I have been on the Cooper band wagon from early on. Clearly, he is and should be the feature back. Our backs are odd in that they seem to put their heads down and drive foreward without seeing gaping holes or seems downfield a few yards. Cooper sees the openings and hits them. He runs with his head up and this week showed he is somewhat CJ-esque in his ability to make quick lateral moves in the hole and then hit the gas. He catches well and seemingly has gotten up to speed on pass pro. I think between Dobson and Hunter Furr we have capable backups now. And, I cannot miss the opportunity to give Michael D a big kudos for that huge block he had on one of Carden’s TD runs…fantastic. More of that please!
3. Defensive front – With our secondary’s weaknesses, we have to have pressure. Last week, versus UNC, it seemed that when BM pulled the trigger on pressure it was effective, though he didn’t do it enough. This week, he dialed it up and the boys really shined. They totally dismantled UTEP’s passing game, forcing the Miners to depend on their running game – our strength as a defense. Nice job Brian…well done sir! Oh yeah…is it just me, or does it look like Derrell Johnson has finally become “comfortable” in his new position? Holy Cow! That must be a frightful sight for a QB when he comes clean off the edge. And, man, it was great to see Michael Brooks and Terry Williams on the field together…two big cogs in this D.
4. Turnovers forced – One of the D’s goals this year and this was a big step forward. Three INTs and a forced fumble is a great showing. Happy to see the two JUCOs (Chip and Adonis) leading the way, just what you want in these types. And oh yeah, Lee Pegues shout out on the fumble recovery.
5. Offensive line – I am still worried about this group, but it sure was nice to see a back exploiting the work of their efforts. Tay had room to run and our kids were pretty darn good again in pass protection. Thought that the tackles played better on the edge and the interior was pretty dominant in the run game. They are getting better and now, cross fingers, they stay healthy. Will be very good if Grant Harner can get 100% healthy.
6. 3rd down – Noticeably better job by offense. 50% is a big step forward and one if we maintain will take the offense far.
7. Field position – our special teams and defense did a great job in flipping the field from the first half where we were always inside our 30 to start drives to putting us near midfield most times in the 2nd half.
8. Certain players – Justin Hardy…hard to imagine that he will probably get better. Unbelievably good. Trent Tignor…we have a punter…his average may not be tops in the league, but that is because he often times is killing the ball inside the 20. Jabril Solomon…nice job on the deep pass…confidence is your need and that helps. Derrick Harri…played like a starter and made a couple of Dwayne-like grabs. Chip Thompson…officially is a our D’s big play guy. Magz…laying the wood again and again…kid can hit. Kyle Tudor…it is nice to have a foil for Jeremy Grove. Teams run away from Grove and then realize it just doesn’t matter because Tudor stuff them.
The Bad stuff (bad meaning, could be better):
1. Kickoff Return for TD – Yes, I know that there was a no call on an obvious block in the back that sprung the return, but we cannot allow these types of plays. Someone has to step up in that situation. Our coverage units have been much improved IMO, but this was a bad one. Made the game closer than it really was.
2. Dropped passes – Way too much talent on this receiving corps to have dropped passes. Too many are happening and so perhaps a few guys should be sitting more while others get their reps increased.
3. Sustained drives by offense – We did much better this game, but still had 6 drives with 5 or less plays. Our defense wants to put pressure and run to the ball. To be optimal, we need the offense to hold the ball some. Unless the drives are 1 and 2 play drives resulting in TDs, we need sustained possessions.
4. QB Decision Making, at times – Shane is getting better by the snap, but still, he made some bad decisions that need to be mitigated going forward. Chiefly, his decision making on those INTs. On the first INT, he threw a ball about 3 feet low for his 6-8 receiver and did so in the red zone. Decision flaw: throwing low into double coverage when you had at least 3 points in the bag. Tuck and run, throw it away, or make the high throw. Then, on the next INT, we are facing a 2nd and 1…Decision flaw: while LR’s play call was spot on calling for a go for the endzone toss, the QB has to weight making the pass vs the cost of a miss. Live to play the next down. Once he saw the heat coming, tuck, move out of the tackle box and either run or throw away. Just some examples. Shane has shown that he learns from game to game, so this will be easily remedied, but could have killed us this past weekend.
1. Turnovers – This team cannot win if we turn the ball over…we are not good enough to withstand it. Four turnovers is horrid. We were fortunate that our D generated four itself. One turnover is unacceptable let alone a bucketful of them. Offense must protect the ball. In this game, you can put the lion’s share of the turnovers on Shane Carden. He knows that if he is throwing off his back foot, bad things are going to happen. Coach em up LR…all three of the INTs he was sloppy in his form and paid for it.
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This team appears to be finding its identity offensively and defensively now and at the best time. With UCF up on Thursday night, the Pirates can ill-afford a step backward.
What say you on the UTEP game?