Here we are already three games into the 2010 football season. Three games is exactly one quarter of the season, so it seems like a natural place to take a look at how the team has performed. We'started with the special teams before moving on to the defense. Now we finish up with offense.
If offense is the engine that drives a college football team, then the best word to describe this unit is "sputtering." There are moments of brilliance -- James Montgomery's 70-yard run against Montana State, Jeff Tuel to Marquess Wilson for 48- and 68-yard TDs -- but those are far outnumbered by moments of ineptitude (hello, 2.76 yards per rushing attempt).
This is a unit that was promised to be vastly improved coming in to the year. I guess in the strictest of terms, yeah ... it's been improved. But not by much. Granted, Tuel isn't needing to run for his life on every play, and that's a positive. But the complete and total lack of a running game -- when you remove the one long run by Montgomery and the sacks, this team is averaging 2.74 yards per attempt. Horrible. They've also given up 10 sacks, and been especially susceptible to blitzes.
Some of this will improve with more time together as a unit -- remember, there are anywhere between three and four guys who are new to the team or playing a new position at any given time -- but color me officially worried.
Like a lot of the skill positions last year, these guys are awful hard to evaluate so far. There frankly have not been much in the way of holes to run through. When there have been some holes, these guys have been able to make a little something happen (Montgomery's run comes to mind, as does Logwone Mitz's 10-yard counter on Saturday), so that's clearly positive. However, in the 10 sacks allowed, I find it hard to believe they've been completely blameless in terms or picking up blitzers. The loss of Rickey Galvin hurt, and it's fairly obvious to me that Montgomery is not yet the back he once was, if he ever will be. Just once, I'd like to see a running back make something out of nothing.
To the naked eye, it's been awful tough to find fault with these guys. When given the opportunity, Wilson has been explosive, Jared Karstetter has been a big target who has been able to exploit mismatches, Jeffrey Solomon has been sure handed, and Isaiah Barton has been a pleasant surprise. Of course, the operative phrase is "when given the opportunity," because frankly, they haven't been given enough of them. Also, without the benefit of the coaches' video, it's impossible to know if poor routes have led to incompletions or if poor blocking has damaged the running game. But when called upon, they've made plays. That's all a fan can ask for.
I won't be as hard on Tuel as some others. He's still a true sophomore, and he'll be making just his 10th start on Saturday. Like you would expect out of any young quarterback, he's inconsistent. He locks on to receivers. He doesn't always deliver a clean ball. And he still seems a little jumpy in the pocket, lowering his eyes too quickly at times. But sometimes he delivers a great ball. And sometimes he makes the perfect read. Such are the vagaries of a young QB. He hasn't been quite as good as I hoped he'd be at this point, but he hasn't fallen that far short. Oh, and major bonus points for just one interception on the year.
How do you grade these guys? Their blocking hasn't been great, but then again, I don't think anyone had any illusions that was the strength of these guys. Yet, that's what they've generally been asked to do -- starting tight ends Skylar Stormo and Andrei Lintz have combined for exactly one catch in three games. Because of that, I'm going to completely cop out.
It all starts up front, and once again, that play has caused problems for everyone else. When you combine poor line pay with vanilla play calling, you've got a recipe for major problems. Because of that, this is one where the sum is actually less than the parts. When one unit isn't doing their job, the rest suffer. Although this unit is improved over last year -- 5.0 yards per play vs. 4.1 -- they've fallen well short of expectations.
However, this offers hope: With what seem to be good pieces in place, if these guys can simply play like the sum of their parts, there could be dramatic improvement in the coming weeks.