Witnessing Game One

We all tuned in to the same game but what each of us witnessed and what it means to us are probably pretty different animals.

Here's what I saw in the first game and what it meant to me. Feel free to violently agree with me. Or not.

Run Play Design
What I saw:
Obviously watching live you can miss a lot on the line, so some of this may need a revisit later in the week. That said... Yes we are lining up in a three point stance but we are still very much a work in progress and I am now skeptical about where that progress will lead. "Firing out" would be misleading to describe our inside line play. We ran a lot of inside zone today and our linemen are moving at about a 45 degree at the snap of the ball. I see our linemen coming off the line low but I see them getting way too high as they engage defenders. I didn't see many wiffs (which is good) but most of our blocks are stagnating with a defender stood up but not driven (against Rice). The result is that we are still moving primarily laterally, although it is an improved lateral movement when compared to our shotgun runs (which are still an unmitigated disaster).

What I didn't see:
I didn't see very many different plays in the running game. We didn't attack the backside. I didn't see us trap. I didn't see a fundamentally reformed offensive line. I didn't see any reason to expect to draw more than 7 defenders from Rice into the run game (which means Oklahoma and Nebraska could likely get away with 6).

What it means:
This is tough for me to watch for a couple reasons. First, I think that some of the run blocking technique will improve. We have not completely broken the habits that were formed in the running game the last two years. It's a muscle memory issue in part... muscle memory bad habits will always show themselves at game speed. I also wish that we would include a little more variety from the start. I am a fan of putting at least three complementing running plays in each package and running them all right from the beginning. Look I understand that we treat the Rice game as a scrimmage. However, this is an offensive unit and coaching staff that has commitment issues when it comes to the running game. Why put your offensive line in a position where they have to execute against a stacked deck? I saw a lot more looks from our offense in the two open practices I went to. Do they have to earn more running plays by proving they can execute one play to perfection?

Running Backs
What I saw:
I saw an up and down performance from Cody Johnson. There were a few plays early where Cody really showed great pad level into contact and showed why he is worth building a running game around. I also saw a player who took tentative steps when he didn't see a lane. If our plan is to pound the ball with the inside zone all year we are going to face a lot of 3rd and 8s. Trey did the best job of working with the blocking that was there and Fozzy showed that he is still the closest thing we have to a big play back on the roster.

What I didn't see:
I didn't see Cody step up an assert himself as the starter. Cody never looked like a guy who could take over a football game today.

What it means:
I personally believe that the ceiling is pretty high for Cody as a runner. In part, I may be hyper critical of him because of those expectations. The underlying concern for me is how this coaching staff makes decisions. If Cody doesn't make believers of them very soon, it gives them an out to take offense in another direction.

Passing Game
What I saw:
Garrett Gilbert showed that he is ready to be a starter at this level. His showed off his arm strength on several very well thrown deep comeback routes. The bombs he threw were very well placed passes (even though Kirkendoll managed to make one of them look bad). He also overthrew several underneath passes that resulted in skipped balls. I expected him to force the ball more than he did in his first start. I also saw too many comeback routes for my taste.

What I didn't see:
I didn't see us incorporate the tight end into the passing game in a way that will challenge 2-deep coverage.

What it means:
I don't want to over-reach on this. We didn't have a whole lot of our offense in the game plan today, so it's unwise to draw far-reaching conclusions. I will say that it's crucial for both the running game and the passing game that we use the tight end and h-back in multiple roles so that they don't become easy defensive keys or threats that can be ignored. If teams are able to defend our running game from 2-deep coverage then our offense will struggle every bit as much as last years.

Overall on Offense
I witnessed game plan that featured a few running plays, not a running game. I also saw an offense that has made a decision but not necessarily a commitment. I think that our decision to retain our shotgun stuff and run it only with a tight end could prove troublesome. Garrett Gilbert is certainly a tantalizing toy in the passing game and I could see us backsliding after a few games and going into a shotgun/passing first mindset very easily. This palpable straddling of two offenses also cannot be good at helping the offensive linemen break bad habits. All of the problems we had from the shotgun last year are still there and there is not a Jordan Shipley on this team. If we are going to run a very small set of running plays are first and second down and then go to a shotgun pass offense on third down we are going to put a ton of pressure on our defense from week to week. Here's hoping that we see a much more well rounded playbook in the next two weeks.

Defensive Front
What I saw:
On the line Kheeston Randall is crucial to everything we are doing. He took this game over. Vacarro has to be the second name mentioned because he showed today that he is going to be an impact player in our front. There is absolutely no hesitation in his game and he is obviously going to be a force behind line of scrimmage when we are in the big nickel. Acho's inside out pass rush that forced a fumble was outstanding. E Acho and Robinson showed that they can come up and fill a gap (albeit against Rice). Obviously I'm also excited about what I saw from Eddie Jones, Jeffcoat and Wilson. We were extremely vanilla with our front and we only brought a few blitzes. Shedding blocks quickly against the run and getting a lot of pressure on the passer are what's expected from this group... but if we hadn't see those things it would be concerning. Obviously Dravannti Johnson got rope-a-doped a few times against the zone-read. We also struggled some in the second half against the draw play.

What I didn't see:
A lot that I expect we will have to wait until Tech to see. Not a whole lot of pre-snap shifts... a few blitzes but very little twisting.

What it means:
I think that this front is going to be nasty by november but they have some vulnerability right now. One thing is that we are a different front without Randall in the game and being that dependent on any one player is nerve racking. We aren't a bad defense without Randall by any stretch but his ability to dominate a gap allows the speed in our front an opportunity to tee off against the run and that really sets up a lot of what makes our front great. The main areas that concern me are containment and over-penetration. We played the outside options really well today but we got over aggressive at times versus the inside options. I think that UCLA could give us some trouble with QB runs and I could see OU presenting problems with the draw and HB screens. To be continued...

Defensive Coverage
What I saw:
I saw Chykie Brown lose his brain in mid stride and give away perfectly good coverage then later drop a pick six. He's a head scratcher for sure. Overall our secondary wasn't really tested much in this game. The tipped TD was obviously not a bad play by the defense (although you could make the point that if someone intercepts that ball then the tip scenario doesn't happen). I saw Keenan Robinson make the defensive play of the game on his interception.

What I didn't see:
I didn't see the same sort of lockdown ability that I saw from our man defense on 3rd downs last year. Aaron Williams gave up a first down from the slot where I thought he gave up an inside release with way too much real estate.

What it means:
Not a whole lot. Maybe I'll see more on tape but there were only a few plays in the passing game that held much significance to me. The big one was the Robinson interception. Texas is going to be absolutely a nightmare on 3rd and long. When you add those deep drops from the linebacker position to the pass rushing skills we have on the defensive line and the ability we have at corner back you put the offense is a very low percentage situation. It's just extremely difficult for the QB to account for that underneath defender dropping into the deeper zone. That means that they either have to try to make a living on the outside against very good corners with deep help or they have to settle for dumping the ball off underneath the coverage and hope for a run after catch.

Special Teams
What I saw:
Some over aggressive decisions from our punt returners and way too much of Eddie Jones. A lot of good plays by the coverage units.

What I didn't see:
Vaccaro kill himself or someone else on a kickoff. But I think I will before the end of the season.

What it means:
I would think that Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown will both be encouraged to either field the punt cleanly or get the fuck away from the ball. I also think that while Rice basically waved a white flag against our kick return unit, we will see plenty of Goodwin and Monroe this year.

Final Thoughts
What I saw:
About what I should have expected. I saw a team that may have it's hand in a few too many pots on offense. I saw a defense that made a few mental errors but also created and converted on big play opportunities. I saw correctable errors on special teams.

What I didn't see:
A feeding frenzy. I didn't see a team that was aggressive from top to bottom. I didn't see an offense that believes in itself yet.

What it might mean:
I think that I need to temper expectations somewhat. I came into this game thinking that the offense was going to really punch Rice in the face based on what I saw at the open practices (and my own crazy excitement). It's not crucial that we have an explosive offense... it's crucial that we have an offense that can avoid being completely shut down. For that to happen I believe we need to fully commit to the under center packages and we need to include a lot more in those packages sooner rather than later. We need to put our offensive line in a better position by attacking both sides of the play and by actually having them "fire out" not having them fire outish. They need to respond by staying low and driving defenders back. This defense will be very good (maybe scary good by the end of the season), but it will not be able to bail us out of every big game because it has to take some risks to be great against good offenses. What I fear is that we will continue to try to be two different offenses at once and consequently our running game will not develop enough to be an asset. At which point we will either run the ball to no effect or discard the running game altogether... both outcomes unacceptable. This fear is not just based on what I saw in the first game... it's based on what I saw in the first game in the context of how this coaching staff has handled the running game since Mack arrived.

What did you see?

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