Injuries And Coaching Concerns September 24, 2012
I’m in a Chicago hotel room right now. Participating in a blogger program tomorrow. More on that later this week.
And I’m without the ability to Check The Tape right now, so more on that later this week.
AND, I’m anxious to get to a post about the event I attended Saturday for the Special Spectators organization. More on that later this week.
Tonight, I feel the need to look at where we stand four games into the season. I’ve seen lots of chatter about (and received emails about) Tim Beckman being in over his head. So what have we learned about Beckman and his staff after four games?
And I can only evaluate this using my own preseason expectations. I thought we’d be 2-2 at this point, and I SOC predicted us to lose both the ASU and LaTech games. Given that, I’m probably less alarmed than many of you are. But that might not be a good thing. Maybe my “yep, thought we’d lose that one” is preventing me from seeing glaring holes.
So what sticks out after four games? Two things, mostly: Injuries, and a coaching staff struggling to assemble the pieces.
Northwestern puts out an official injury report each week. After three weeks of only one player on the list, this week they had three players listed (two backups and a wide receiver with no stats):
S Jimmy Hall – out
WR Mike Jensen – out
CB Daniel Jones – doubtful
Had we done the same for this game, here’s our list:
OL Graham Pocic – out
WR Devin Church – out
S Supo Sanni – out
S Steve Hull – out
OL Corey Lewis – out
LB Houston Bates – out
LB TaJarvis Fuller – out
TE Evan Wilson – out
LB Henry Dickinson – out
WR Darius Millines – out
K Nick Immekus – out
QB Nathan Scheelhaase – questionable
OL Jake Feldmeyer – probable
TE Jon Davis – probable
And then, during the game, Hugh Thornton leaves in the second quarter and Terry Hawthorne is limping around. I’ve always hated the injury excuse. There’s 85 scholarship guys – go find someone else who can fill in. But when you’re missing 10 players who would have played in this game, it’s a real issue.
Here’s where it falls for me: I thought we’d lose to ASU and LaTech. I didn’t think we’d get embarrassed. So how much of that embarrassment is a failure of our coaching staff and how much is injuries? I’m probably still leaning coaching, but when Hugh Thornton left the game, leaving us with what had to be our least experienced offensive line in the last 40 years, the two columns were almost equal.
Yeah, I don’t get the defensive implosion either. Our starting safeties are out, and Bates and Hawthorne are hobbled, but to see a Keith Gilmore defensive line get pushed around like last night was extremely disconcerting. Arizona State could be chalked up as an aberration – 9:30 pm in the desert, first road game, etc. But when we let Louisiana Tech run and pass all over us in Memorial Stadium, well, we’re in big trouble.
Is it missing key guys like Whitney Mercilus and Tavon Wilson? Is it the loss of Koenning? How could we get this bad this quickly?
I tend to lean towards the loss of Koenning here. But only partly because of the game-planning and play-calling. The biggest thing it feels like we’re missing is Vic’s negativity.
More than any other coach I’ve watched, Vic knew how to keep his players humble. Whether it was up-downs after practice or “we’re just not very good” quotes to the media, Vic knew how to handle the mentality of his players. Keep them humble, don’t let them dance after tackles, stay true to the scheme, don’t try to be a hero, eleven playing as one – all of that. Vic was the master of that.
I haven’t seen (or heard) any of that from this new defensive staff. We’re getting destroyed out there, and everything seems to be falling under the “we have some things to fix” category. I want to hear a coach come out and say that we’re awful, and until we realize just how awful we are and take steps to correct it, we’re going to continue to be awful. You know, like Vic.
As for the offensive coaching staff, I thought Gerry DiNardo made a good point about the Illini staff on their preview show back in August. He noted how many of these coaches had never worked together before. How this wasn’t Beckman bringing his Toledo staff – it was him assembling coaches from all over. DiNardo said it might take a year before the staff was comfortable with each other, or until Beckman was comfortable with his coordinators.
It feels like that’s what we’re seeing on the offensive side of the ball. There’s no real rhythm or flow. If feels like we’re still experimenting and implementing. Which makes sense, given that neither Chris Beatty nor Billy Gonzales have every called plays before. And, to be fair, with injuries, we haven’t been able to run with one quarterback nor assemble a formidable offensive line.
But even with all of that, we shouldn’t turn the ball over six times against an awful defense like LaTech. I’m giving plenty of leeway for scheme implementation and coaching staff adjustments in Beckman’s first year. And I’m allowing room for injury excuses as well. But even with all of that, it feels like they’ve done a really poor job preparing these players for success. This team does not appear to be in the proper state of mind. Which is a giant flashing warning light.
What we need is a prepared football team against Penn State on Saturday. This is game five. It’s time for this coaching staff to show us they can take a disgusting showing like last night, flip it in one week, and come out Saturday morning fully prepared to attack Penn State.
In other words, but… can they coach?