Monday, April 23, 2007

What you see is what you get?

In my last post, I had this to say about Blue-Gold games in general:

Well, to me it looks like what you see is what you get. If a player has a big Blue-Gold game, he's a pretty decent player and he's likely to have a pretty good Fall season. If the offense is prodigious in the Spring, you'll probably be able to move the ball in the Fall. If the defense dominates the Blue-Gold, the defense will likely be the better unit come September. So, while you're tempted to say that the Blue-Gold is fairly meaningless, I would have to disagree. Looking back a few years tells me that teams don't change drastically over the summer. Warning signs in April are serious weaknesses in October. Strengths now will likely be the team identity in five months. Not to put any pressure on anyone, or add to the anxiety already in the air. Should be an interesting scrimmage tomorrow. Hope the weather cooperates.
So, after last Saturday, a day on which the weather did cooperate, what do we have? We have a quarterback derby that is still very much in the air. Before the game, Zach Frazer was pretty vocal about being #1 in the race, at least in his own mind. Then he went 0 for 4 with a pick. Demetrius Jones was only 3 of 6 with an INT, but also threw the only TD pass of the day, and had a very nice 31 yard run in a key spot. Evan Sharpley was 5 for 7 for only 31 yards, and got "sacked" 4 times. Wonderkid Jimmy Clausen was 3 of 7 for 23 yards. As a group, the four quarterbacks were 11 of 24 attempts for a whopping 77 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. You'd have to say nobody set Rock's House on fire from the quarterback spot.

On the ground, contrasted with just 24 passing plays (by the QBs), the Blue & Gold squads ran the ball 44 times for a net 211 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per rush (excluding QB runs and sacks). The combined squads had 12 first downs via the ground, only 2 converted through the air. The offensive surprise of the day was Junior Jabbie, who had more than twice as many yards as any other rusher (net 87 yards on 13 carries). Travis Thomas, James Aldridge, Asaph Schwapp, and Armando Allen were all within spitting distance of 30 yards gained and 4.0 per carry.

All offense taken together averaged just 3.2 yards per play. (3.0 for the Gold, 3.5 for the Blue).

The defenses, aside from holding the offense to just 3.2 yards per play, had 2 interceptions (one returned for a TD), 9 two-handed "sacks", and 8 other tackles for loss. Longest pass completion was just 15 yards.

The offensive MVP was an unknown running back (Jabbie), not a QB or receiver. The defensive MVP was a defensive back (Bruton), which is a good sign.

So, if I'm right, if "what you see is what you get" in the Spring game, what do we get from the Irish this year? Well, it looks like the coaching staff would very much like to take the pressure off the quarterback and rely much more heavily on the run to move the ball and control the clock. Judging from the performances of the running backs, I think we're going to see the carries get spread around to a lot of very fresh running backs, at least until a true #1 emerges. Travis Thomas was expected to be the lead dog in this pack, but he didn't separate himself from the younger guys at all. The passing game was almost entirely a short, ball control game. The tight ends were heavily involved, the wide receivers were not.

From all reports, the defense appeared to be improved. More big plays (sacks, INTs, tackles for loss), more aggression. Guys weren't caught out of position. Play against the power run game (judging by the stats) was respectable. From this brief glimpse, Corwin Brown's new scheme seems to be a big improvement over the past two seasons. And we need a big improvement to compete this year. When we had Brady Quinn, we didn't need a great defense, just a competent one. We didn't get even that, as the D got scorched for big plays time after time in big games. Breaking in a new quarterback, with a very young O-line and young wide receivers, we need a defense that is stout. Our offense needs to get the ball on a short field. We need to be dominant in the field position game, and we need scores from the defense and special teams.

So, it appears that we have a young, conservative offense relying on the running game to move the ball and control the clock. It looks like we have an improved defense that will have to shoulder more of the load next year. It looks like we have no idea who the quarterback or even the top running back will be.

The $64,000 question is: How much of what we saw was reality, and how much of what we saw was Coach Weis being coy? The new defense was not really tested by a deep passing game, and the quarterbacks were not throwing the ball down field. So those of us sitting (figuratively) in the stands don't really know how conservative the offense will be, or how well the QBs are progressing. But Coach Weis (like his mentor Bill Parcells) is very fond of saying "All I can go by is what I see." What did you see on Saturday?

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