I rewatched Saturday's game this morning and had a few things I wanted to throw out there. Observations, notes and an interesting set of stats. I don't know that they deserve their own FanPost, but I figured it'd be too long for a comment, and others might want to add/detract/correct me.
First off, some notes about Montana State.
1) Denarius McGhee is good. He threw a catchable ball, and threw really well on the run. He always kept his eyes down field when he was pushed out of the pocket and his decision-making was solid when he had time. Impressive for a true freshman.
2) They're well coached, particularly on D. Their players were pretty consistently in position to make a play. They read their keys well and got where they needed to. Their tackling was solid for the most part.
3) Their linebackers are SOLID. They were flying all over the field and making plays. They struck me as the type of players who, during recruiting were a half step slow for FBS safeties, and just a shade small for FBS linebackers. But they played with a chip on their shoulder the whole time. Especially Clay Bignell.
Okay, now for our boys...
There were several dropped passes in the first half that would have allowed us to keep drives alive. There were also balls that sailed on an open receiver. Jeff Tuel and Paul Wulff each mentioned nerves, or pressure, or whatever, which would definitely factor in here. Had more of those plays been made, I think the complexion of the game would have changed dramatically.
Three turnovers leading to only 9 points. Could have been SO much worse.
I thought the offense was almost executing okay, but definitely not good enough (in the first half, especially). There were lots of dropped balls and sailing passes, and few running lanes. Miscues came at inopportune times and ended up killing drives.
I like that the offense tries to be balanced in running and passing, but it's clear that running the ball is the weaker of the two for this team (due to aforementioned lack of running lanes). Why are we acting like a running team that also throws the ball, rather than playing to our relative strength (passing) to set up the run? I thought the play calling was bland, and didn't play to our strengths. If you take out Monty's 70 yard run, we averaged 1.2 ypc, and we seem to run from all the obvious formations (under center, FB and TB w/1 or 2 TEs).
In the first half, I counted only 6 blitzes in 40 plays (though I missed MSU last possession due to FSN's "technical difficulties") or 15% of defensive plays. All of them were on 3rd down. 1 flushed McGhee out of the pocket, but he ran for 8 yards and a 1st down, 1 was a completed pass to a TE and a first down, 1 was a designed QB run play that resulted in a 4th down, and 3 resulted in no gain or an incomplete pass, 1 of which was nearly intercepted. So 6 blitzes, 2 conversions.
In the second half, I counted 14 blitzes on 37 plays, or 38%. 7 on 1st down, 4 on 2nd, 2 on 3rd and 1 on 4th. They resulted in 3 completed passes for 1st down, 1 8 yd pass, 1 8 yd run, 1 2 yd run, 1 tackle for no gain, 2 incompletions, 1 TFL, 1 sack, and 3 interceptions. That's 14 blitzes, 3 1st down conversions, 3 interceptions, 2 plays for 8 yds, 1 play for 2 yds, 3 plays for no gain and 2 plays for a loss.
Tyree Toomer wearing LeAndre Daniels' number was awesome. The living room was a little dusty both times I watched that.
The D line did well at creating pressure even without blitzes. There was GREAT push up the middle from Justin Clayton and Brandon Rankin. McGhee was just REALLY good at avoiding the pressure. Travis Long was an absolute destroyer of screens.
CJ Mizell got a lot of playing time. I saw him show up about half way through the 2nd quarter, and I think he was on the field the rest of the game. And he inserted himself into a LOT of plays.
Myron Beck was a monster. Dude's become my favorite Coug of this squad. He was rip-snortin' all over the place and at or near the ballcarrier when he went down 2/3 of the time.
Deonne Buchanon might have the special teams tackle of the year, so far. He BLEW UP a blocker before absolutely STICKING the kick returner on the 17.
As mentioned elsewhere, I thought clock management was an issue, particularly at the end of the first half, but also at the end of the game, even with the official's clock error.
I still think the pieces are there for this team to become competitive over the course of this season. I told myself I wouldn't set any expectations or make any hard evaluations until after SMU, and I'm going to stick by that.
That said, I hope, I hope, I hope, that two adjustments are made going forward: 1) that the playcalling strategy is switched from a "run to set up the pass" mentality, to a "pass to set up the run" with more of a spread type system; and 2) that the coaches mix more blitzes in (closer to the 38% than the 15%).
I'm nervous and excited about SMU next week. Excited, because I think when the team "clicks", it'll put a much better product on the field, and I don't think it's all that far off. Nervous, because I think this team is better than it's shown, but I haven't seen anything definitive to make me take that on anything but faith.