Monday, September 27, 2010
No matter how the rest of the season goes, when we look back on this game there’s only one thought that will likely cross our minds: Thank you, Jeremy Kerley. Seriously, without that kick return after SMU took the lead, we may still win the game, but not by 17 points. Watching a game sober, as most of us likely were by the second half, offers two fascinating viewpoints – one, when rewatching the game on DVR, you actually remember the plays down to the very last detail and it’s kind of fun because you it makes you feel like an expert. Like on the Ed Wesley injury play; I remembered him getting flipped, but I mostly remembered the MAN block Dalton put on his defender when Ed reversed field. Despite his evening, Dalton is the Bill Brasky of our offense.
But the second perspective is far more sobering – sorry – because you really put the game in perspective and in a game like this, experience some of the highs, but reeeeeally experience the lows. And at 17-14, I felt as low as I’ve felt as a TCU fan in a long time; I completely understood how Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio have let football destroy their bodies. It's so stressful without the blurry veil of Jim Beam clouding your perception. Not necessarily because I didn’t have faith that we could come back, but more the fact that this wasn’t the same old SMU and with the way they were playing us during the first half it was going to be far more difficult than in years back. Then Kerley took the kickoff 83 yards, Bart Johnson scored a few plays later, and the SMU crowd was never really back in it. Still, I never really relaxed until it was 35-17, and even then it took TeJay’s pick seis to really put the game away when SMU creeped back within 11. The good guys won, but hats off to the Ponies who are far better than most of us probably assumed they were and who are going to give us all a few more heart attacks as long as June Jones is still on campus.
Offense – C+. Let’s start off with the biggest asterisk here, and that was the loss of Ed Wesley in the second quarter. Watching the replays it was hard to determine exactly what happened to him – I haven’t had a chance to scour the message boards for a more concrete explanation, so if there is one please let me know – but the way his body stiffened up when he hit the ground, it had to have been some sort of concussion related injury despite the fact that I never saw him directly hit his head. Even though he never came back, the fact that he was wandering the sidelines for the rest of the game has to be considered a good sign, although he mind may still have been a little loopy as I saw him hanging out with the kickers for a bit. I don’t imagine the kickers and running backs hang out in the same social circles often. A shame because before he went out, he looked like he might be getting something going, but the silver lining was we got our first real look at Waymon James and the results were extremely positive. He only had 8 touches, but averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored twice and looks like he could be the bulldozing back we’ve been missing with the graduation of Joseph Turner. He’s listed at 5”8”, 208 but he plays a LOT bigger than he looks and even when Wesley returns, with the way Tucker hasn’t exactly lit things up, you have to think James will get some more opportunities going forward. Speaking of Tucker, he had 19 carries for 74 yards and a score, but only averaged 3.3 yards per. I’m not sure why he hasn’t had the impact that he had last season, but he looks like he runs a little straight up and stiff and is perhaps trying to run through guys more than around them. Luke Shivers also scored a touchdown late in the game to essentially ice it for the Frogs. Shivers now has 10 touches and 6 TDs in his career. That’s what you call “efficiency.”
So you may have noticed that I’ve now gone over 600 words with much of a mention of our esteemed quarterback, and there’s a reason for that – the Rooster really flew the coop Friday night. This isn’t to discredit his post second half interception performance, because he helped bring the team back from the dead, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going wrong with him for most of the night. That first interception was regrettable but was probably a risk worth taking that late in the half, although Skye Dawson was clearly double covered and Andy, despite having a stronger arm than people give him credit for, simply let it float on him. Regardless, thanks to your Sportscenter #3 play of the day by SMU, it eventually led to points right before the half that SMU had no business scoring and made the second interception all the worse.
To be fair, the interception looked a lot worse in person than it did on replay – Dalton rolled out and thought he had Josh Boyce on an out route with the SMU corner dropping back in coverage, but the throw wasn’t perfect and the corner jumped the route and the Ponies scored two plays later to briefly take the lead. I’ve already gone over how that felt. Fortunately he was able to redeem himself a few plays later, but the fact remains – in the past three big games we’ve played, Dalton hasn’t looked like his normal, steady self and I think he’s still trying to be too many things at once. To call Dalton a “game manager” is an insult because, regardless of how you feel about him, he’s still the winningest current QB in college football, a title he didn’t gain by simply dumping the ball off in the flats 20 times a game. But, in certain situations – such as in a 4 point game against your major rival on national television when you just threw an interception and the crowd is more enthusiastic than they’ve been in 25 years – there’s no need to force anything. Dalton’s 14 completions are deceiving; all night he was throwing behind receivers and a lot of the catches were a result of a great play by the guy catching the ball. It wasn’t all bad – Dalton tied Max Knake with his 49th career TD – but if we are to have any chance at all to keep this undefeated season going, Dalton will have to improve these accuracy issues.
In that vein, you have to place some blame on Coach Fuenderson. Why we didn’t let Dalton run the read option until crunch time is absolutely beyond me. To me it looked like they were wired up pretty tight and, not being used to playing in a game this close since the Fiesta Bowl – overlooking the OSU game because it never felt like the Beavers were going to take it from us, although the aforementioned “in game alcohol corollary” could apply there – were trying to bust the big play and take an insurmountable lead. Fortunately, we escaped this week and have a couple of should be tune up games to get back on track, but that October 23rd Air Force game could be kind of terrifying should we get in a situation similar to Friday night.
Catching the ball, Misters Reliable Jeremy Kerley and Bart Johnson led the team again with 7 catches between them with Bart scoring a TD. For the second ESPN game in a row, Johnson made a grab on an underthrown ball that he had no business catching, so check that out America. However, the Antoine Hicks 41-yard catch and run in the third quarter that eventually set up the Shivers score was play 1A of the game to go along with Kerley’s return. Our offense hasn’t been as vertical this year as it was last year – the only BIG play I can think of was the Dawson bomb at Jerryworld – so that has taken some of Hicks’ touches away. Plus, Kerley and Wesley have been so effective, there’s no reason to go away from them until you need to. But, watching that play had to have sent a bit of a jolt through the coaching staff along the lines of “Holy crap, why haven’t we been getting this guy the ball?” Rewatch it – Dalton hits him on a short sideline route and he gets bottled up by the SMU defender for a short gain until he spins out, takes off, breaks another tackle and goes down at the SMU 36. This play came immediately after SMU had been forced to punt, with said punt taking a bad bounce and eventually being kicked out of bounds illegally by Szymanski, and were the second and third biggest turn of events in this one. So thanks, ‘Toine, you’ve earned yourself a shimmy.
The most disappointing player on offense Friday, to me at least, had to have been the normally sure handed Curtis Clay who had a couple of bad drops and only finished with one reception for 8 yards. Jimmy Young also had himself a case of the drops, and only had one catch. Luxury Tax may have been the top dog two years ago, but Dalton has been looking away from him more often than not this year which should hopefully be a wake up call. Same goes for Clay.
Rounding the offensive performance out, we did control the ball for 32 minutes and only allowed one sack, but we also had two fumbles although neither were lost. The official stat sheets show we only had 3 penalties for 35 yards, but I’m pretty sure that is extremely inaccurate as we likely had double that. Easily the ugliest offensive performance this season to date, but a lot of credit has to be given to the SMU defense who was as good as advertised. There’s no way they shouldn’t be able to win CUSA with that group, and for that I salute them.
A C+ is probably a bit harsh for a team that scored 41 point, rolled up 375 total yards and had a phenomenal 70 yard scoring drive where they converted two fourth downs, but I’m fickle and demand satisfaction.
Defense – B-.
To open, an admission of a mistake – Zach Line, I was wrong about you. WAY wrong. I suggested that Line was slow, fat and wouldn’t have a chance of coming close to a new career high, but 139 yards and an 8.2 average later, he did exactly that. I have to hand it to the SMU offensive coordinator – they utilize him PERFECTLY for that offense, mostly letting the defense collapse on the pocket and handing it to him on draw plays. Besides that, as a converted linebacker, he LOVES contact and runs as hard as anyone I’ve watched this year. Whereas we’ve had pretty good luck with bottling up elusive running backs, SMU simply lined up, ran Line straight at the defense and invited us to tackle him which we were rarely able to do at the first point of contact. His touchdown went 29 yards and involved the majority of our defense playfully slapping at him with arm tackles as he took it to the house. You can bet Tanner Brock heard about this play later from GP.
With that said, now I’ll stop slurping new Craig James and move onto our dudes.
Tank Carder, as he likely will most games this year, led the team in tackles with 8 and broke up a pass. Colin Jones also had a big night, with 7 tackles and Wayne Daniels had 5. Stansly Maponga also had 5 tackles, but also almost had a murder warrant after his forced fumble on Kyle Padron in the second half. Some might say that Padron was playing it up a little bit – and, to be honest, with the way that he looked walking off the field vs. the fact that he came back on the next series suggests there may be truth to this – but HOLY CRAP did he get crunched. It was the full meal deal – scrambling, never saw it coming, direct hit, neck completely snapped sideways, fumbled, driven into ground. It was the personification of the reason that most mothers refuse to sign the permission slip for their kids to play football. He had to be helped off by two trainers and looked like WWHD* after a post game trip to the Oui. And that was kind of the theme of the night. Later in the game, with Maponga out nursing some sort of injury, Braylon Broughton finally did what we’ve come to expect of him and replaced the void left unfilled by Henson’s graduation as the defensive soul devourer. On his first play from scrimmage he came around the edge and blasted Padron and I believe drew a penalty for it. No matter as, rather than holding up on the next play, he stood up in his stance and came around the edge once again for the same result. He may never knock out TWO quarterbacks in a game like his predecessor, but he’s going to seriously haunt some dreams going forward.
*So when brainstorming our in week material, it was delegated to someone to name the fan of the game. As you can tell, this obviously has not played out as planned. But for this week I want to give a particular shout out to WWHD as he spent almost the entirety of the game on the grassy part of the end zone standing behind the SMU mascot blowing a dog whistle via an iPhone app hoping to spook the equine spirit enablers. Well played, sir, well played.
Tejay Johnson will be remembered for two interceptions in this game; unfortunately one of them was an interception that wasn’t actually intercepted. Again, perception is in the eye of the beholder, so early in the game when Tejay swatted down a pass that LOOKED to be a surefire interception, we all went a little nuts at his playing it safe. In fairness, on the replay it would’ve been a TOUGH catch, and we ended up forcing SMU to punt and scored on the ensuing drive anyway. But, the INT he DID have, was play 1B of the game and effectively ended it for SMU. Early in the fourth quarter, we had given the ball back to SMU after they had scored to cut the lead to 35-24 and the crowd, or what still remained of it, was back into it…until Tejay picked off an errant Padron pass and returned it for six. Tejay ended his evening with 2 tackles, but that play will stand out.
Rounding it out, Tanner Brock finished with four tackles and our only sack on the evening, and Alex Ibiloye also had 4 although he left the game late with an injury. Malcolm Williams, seeing some game action, made the most of it with 3 tackles and was joined at that number by DJ Yendrey, Braylon and Jason Teague.
Much like the offensive grade, when I recap these things the homerism takes over a bit and makes it sound a lot better than it was, but this was the worst performance our run defense has had in quite some time as we were actually outgained 192 to 190. However, the passing defense did a pretty solid job of bottling up Padron as he finished 14/35 with an INT, but still threw two TDs, although that first one was broken up and happened to deflect right into Aldrick Robinson’s hands. Speaking of Robinson, he only finished with 5 receptions for 60 yards. We only sacked Padron once, but anyone watching the game will notice that he got knocked around quite a bit, although this was entirely his own fault as his offensive line gave him pretty ample time a good part of the night. SMU fans are going to bitch about how rough and dirty TCU played, to which I’ll offer this advice: A football offense is based on timing. When you hold the ball too long, the timing gets thrown off. When the timing gets thrown off, three things can happen : The QB panics and holds the ball too long, the QB panics and tries to run with the ball, or the QB panics and throws a bad pass. But one thing always happens – the offensive line lets someone get by them because they can only hold their blocks for so long without getting penalized. So in other words, fix the timing if you don’t want your quarterback to be reduced to a bloody stain at midfield. That was a really convoluted explanation, but I don’t think those guys understand how the game of football works. Then again, in all fairness, they aren’t used to watching much football of interest of late.
Special Teams – B+. Jeremy Kerley, again, was the big star of the special teams finishing with 172 kick return yards and 23 punt. For the evening, he had 245 total yards. You have to hand it to them Mustangs, they wanted to show that they weren’t afraid of him by never kicking to Greg McCoy, but sometimes that approach gets you burned and while it may not have officially cost them the game, it certainly didn’t help them win the field position battle. Nay sayers may talk about how Kerley couldn’t beat the punter, but most nay sayers couldn’t run a 40 yard sprint, let alone almost 100.
Kicking, Ross Evans clearly took a dive late in the game when he pushed the last PAT directly left of the goal posts and contributed to SMU covering the spread. Since Ross likely won’t be kicking past his career at TCU, I hope he pocketed some serious lunch money to get by on for a while. Of course I’m kidding, but when your team misses covering by half a point due to a pulled PAT, it makes you wonder. Anson Kelton had 3 punts for a 36.7 yard average, but he left 2 of those inside the 20 and didn’t give SMU any help on that front. And Kevin Sharples has finally come into his own, putting 2 of his 7 kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks and a third one that could have been the same had Daryl Fields not run it out for his longest return of the evening.
Coverage wise, everyone is going to remember that fake punt that the Mustangs perfectly executed more than the fact that the defense then forced them into another punt which resulted in the illegal kick and Hicks reception. But, the fact remains – perhaps when we’re playing a big time night game on national television we should keep an eye out for the fake punt from time to time. Hell, Tennessee Tech converted one as well, so perhaps we should ALWAYS keep an eye out for a fake punt. Brutal. Without any real evidence, with the way the game was going, SMU just seemed like they were waiting in ambush for a fake punt or onside kick and I just held my breath until it happened. Fortunately we’ve won three of the four games where this has happened, but we’re aobvoiusly susceptible and need to be more aware.
Overall. As I said before, SMU is a much, much better team that any of us wanted to give them credit for. Reading comments from SMU fans, they were basically all saying that TCU is good, but they aren’t Top 5 good, but that’s being over pessimistic to their team because SMU is really not bad by any stretch and with Houston effectively being done should have no trouble winning CUSA west. Heck, SMU smashed UAB and the same Blazers team took Tennessee to OT this weekend. Unfortunately, the rest of the country doesn’t see it this way either as we dropped to 5th in the rankings behind Oregon this week. It’s disheartening that a 17 point win against your biggest rival on their home field will do this, but I think it’s more a reflection of the current expectations the country has for TCU. Style points definitely matter and it’s a good thing our schedule gives us what should be two softies the next two weeks.
On the bright side, I found something out about myself that really goes against everything I’ve ever said in my life to this point- I don’t really hate SMU all that much. On the contrary, I had a pretty good time Friday afternoon. I fully expected, with the Ponies genuinely believing they had a chance, that trying to set up shop on the blvd. on Friday afternoon would be a hail of obscenities, smack talk and be a completely inhospitable environment, but I was proven entirely wrong. Everyone was in good spirits and seemed, if not happy about, at least tolerable of our presence. Right now they’re officially fourth on my list behind Texas, Tech and Baylor, but not to worry, SMU hate lessons will be forthcoming and just as vitriolic as always. No matter the reality, some things never change.
While Friday night may have left a somewhat bitter taste in our mouths no matter how we try and spin it, we’re 4-0 and exactly where we should be. Losing a spot in the rankings hurts, especially with the ground we lost to Boise with their win over Oregon State, but there is still plenty of season to go around and with Air Force and Utah continuing to win, if we pull out both of those games it will be a huge perceptual boost. Glad we won and, now that I’m officially over 3500 words, I’ll let that simple expression end it.