Want September 9, 2012
College football is, of course, the greatest sport on earth. The fanfare, the tailgating, the atmosphere on a crisp fall Saturday on campus – it really can’t be beat. And the game is superior too, at least to me. Athleticism, emotion, 22 guys with an individual job to do or it all breaks down. I’ll never get enough of it.
And the absolute best part, to me, is that there’s a want quotient to it all. If you want it, I mean really want it, you can go get it.
Here’s what I mean. Louisiana-Monroe was losing 28-7 to Arkansas today. They score to make it 28-14, and suddenly they want it. Every ULM lineman was lined up across from an Arkansas lineman who was a vastly superior athlete, but the 11 guys on Louisiana-Monroe wanted it more. Suddenly it’s 28-21. And then a 4th down touchdown to make it 28-28. And then a 4th down touchdown in overtime to beat #8 Arkansas. Want.
Look at the Rocky Harvey Michigan game. Down big in the second quarter, and suddenly we start to believe. That team wanted it, and they came all the way back to take it. In fact, Rocky Harvey might’ve wanted it too much, scoring the touchdown and giving Michigan a chance to possibly come back. Someone flipped a switch, and suddenly, after getting run over for a quarter and a half, we wanted it more.
Tonight, our defense was want-less. Uninspired. On their heels. Shell shocked. Todd Graham’s offense started moving the ball at will, and suddenly we look nothing like the defense of the last 15 games. Players haven’t really changed much, scheme is similar, but the defense didn’t really want it tonight. Poor tackling ruled the day. Arizona State barely had to deal with third down situations. We didn’t seem to want it at all.
It made me think about Vic Koenning, and Camp Rantoul 2011. If you’ve been reading this blog since then, you might remember a mini-podcast and an entire post about one moment of one practice. The defense clicked. Everyone started to understand. Practice (a full-hitting scrimmage) got intense. Every player on that defense wanted it. Which made the offense want to punch back. And it was a night and day difference from any scrimmage that week.
It’s a very difficult thing to teach. Vic Koenning, through his “we’re just not very good yet” ways, was great at it. He could teach want. This coaching staff… now has a task on their hands. Can they teach want? Can Tim Banks put this defense back together again? Can Tim Beckman rebuild the psyche of a team that just got destroyed tonight? The Big Ten appears to be headed for their worst season in a long, long time, so there’s hope. Some coach is going to rebuild his team after a devastating loss today and make a serious run in Big Ten play. Can it be us?
I want it to be.
+ While I didn’t see this game going that poorly (511 yards for Arizona State? REALLY?), the season is still in line with my expectations so far. Just went back to check – I had us at a 2-2 start, 3-4 start to the Big Ten leaving us 5-6 heading to Northwestern with a bowl on the line. We looked horrific tonight, which has me praying for 5-6 heading to Northwestern, but the majority of the Big Ten looked just as bad. Which means finding three wins before Northwestern is very possible. Heck, Wisconsin suddenly doesn’t have an offense.
So this will be our first real read on the Tim Beckman era. Can he regroup? In 2005, Zook’s first team started 2-0 and hung with Cal for a while. And then collapsed into one of our worst teams in recent memory. Can we avoid that? The team is probably on the airplane by now. And the plane is probably deathly quiet. Can he take that atmosphere and turn it around into a team that is ready to compete in the Big Ten? Or will it crumble?
+ Speaking of, probably the most disappointing thing about tonight was that these were two identical teams coming in. And I mean identical. Crumbled at the end of last season (they lost four in a row; we lost six), replaced recruiting-but-no-discipline head coaches, changed schemes, and are attempting to build a disciplined program.
And ASU is light years ahead of us after two games. It’s really hard for me to say my “it’s going to take time to install these schemes” when ASU arrived at this game in the same boat. Their installation appears months ahead of ours.
+ OK, this is getting depressing. How about some positives. Yes, positives. No, really – positives.
I was pleasantly surprised with our run blocking tonight. I knew the box would be stacked with Nathan out, so 231 yards rushing was actually very impressive. They knew we weren’t going to throw it, they sent everyone downhill on every snap, and we were still able to gain 231 yards on the ground. Had Nate been in there to keep the defense honest (OK, maybe just to keep the defense from telling boldfaced lies), there would have been even more room to run. That’s a real positive. Best run blocking since the Indiana game.
Josh Ferguson ran hard, too, as did Donovonn Young. Ferguson 7.2 yards per carry, Young 5.4. Those are really impressive numbers for a team that announced every series that they really weren’t going to pass. Granted, the ASU defense had dropped their want by that point, so it remains to be seen if our line can create such holes (and our tailbacks can grind out tough yards) against Penn State or Purdue in a tight ballgame. Those will be tight ballgames, right? Please tell me those will be tight ballgames.
+ Darius Millines looked seriously hurt on that one play – I’m guessing he’ll be out for an extended period of time (similar to his freshman and sophomore seasons). He’s clearly our top receiver in practice, but I’m afraid we just might never get to see it in games. He just can’t seem to stay healthy.
And STEVEHULL spent 9 months rehabbing a shoulder… and then left the game with what appeared to be a fairly serious shoulder injury. Pure speculation, but I’m guessing he’ll be shut down for the season.
Also, Miles Osei seemed to hurt his ankle late in the second quarter, which is why we didn’t see him in the second half, I’m guessing. So if he’s out and Nate can’t go next week, it’s O’Toole and Chase Haslett getting ready for Charleston Southern. Man, if there was ever a time to play an FCS school that has lost 14 games in a row, it’s this week. Banged up team with a shattered psyche. We need to put up 50 points and snap ourselves out of it. Because Louisiana Tech scored 56 points on Houston today.
+ I just can’t understand that defensive performance. It felt like we bit on everything they tried to get us to bite on. Put a man in motion to draw the safety away, send two receivers on immediate slants to clear the area, throw swing pass to empty zone hoping the outside corner bites on the in routes. Worked. Worked again. Hey it worked again. Let’s try it again – yep, worked. And again.
While four fourth downs for Arizona State is crazy, only seven third downs is absolutely stunning. I would have bet thousands against a stat like that. They got a first down on first or second down TWENTY THREE TIMES. Seriously think about that for a second. Twenty three times. Last week, Western Michigan pulled that off six times.
That pushes this defensive performance past Michigan 2010 and makes it our worst defensive performance since… Fresno State 2009? Awful. Just awful awful awful. We give up 10 catches for 131 yards to a junior tight end who came into the game with eight career catches.
+ Louisiana Tech is a really big game in two weeks. Right now, I’m thinking LaTech will be favored. Especially if Nate is still out. It might be our toughest home game. They put up 600 yards of offense on Houston today, and with the way our defense played tonight, I can’t see us holding them under 40. Can we win a shootout? I don’t think we’re there yet.
Which takes us back to Beckman’s task. How is he at putting Humpty back together again? Will we falter against LaTech and Penn State, pushing the season to the brink before October hits? Or can we regroup in our gimme game, come out much better prepared for Louisiana Tech’s offense than we were tonight, and then take down Penn State for a 4-1 start?
Yeah, I don’t think so either. Not unless we learn to want it.