Tuesday, October 21, 2014

International Centre for Special Teams Research



This was a weird one...as I was watching the game, I kept thinking, huh, it sure seems like there are a lot of neutral plays out there.  And there were.  The only play BG had that was not neutral was a 50 yard net punt--that's the 70 yard blast that was 50 even with the touchback.  So, BG ends +1.

WMU had a nice day punting and kicking off and ended up +5 for the game.

BG Pos (+1)
BG 50 yard net punt

BG Neg

WMU Post (+7)
WMU KO TB
WMU KO TB
WMU punt to BG 17
WMU 56 yard net punt
WMU 47 yard net punt
WMU KO TB
WMU punt to BG 10

WMU Neg (-2)
WMU missed xp
WMU penalty on KO gives BG ball at 48

Benchmarks, Bronco Style



So, here are the benchmarks.  Nothing too surprising here.  BG's offense was subpar all the way down the line.  Per play efficiency was well below average the whole way up and down the line.  BG had two turnovers (against none).  Clearly, BG was struggling to run and pass...note that the runs and passes were pretty much evenly split in BG's play mix.

The defense was pretty good.  WMU made plays on 3rd down, and that really helped them.

Anyway, this is pretty much a "what you see is what you get" situation.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Past and Future Opponent Land

Western Kentucky (2-4) Lost to Florida Atlantic
VMI (1-7) Lost to Gardner-Webb
Indiana (3-4) Lost to MSU
Wisconsin (4-2) Idle Badger
UMass (2-6) Beat EMU
Buffalo (3-4) Idle
Ohio U (4-4) Beat Akron
Akron (4-3) Lost to OU
Kent (1-6) Beat Army
Toledo (4-3) Idle
Ball State (2-5) Beat CMU in Mt. Pleasant

MAC vs. Power 5: 4-22
MAC vs. non-MAC FBS: 3-12
MAC vs. FCS: 11-2
East vs. West: West leads 5-2

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sadness Accrues: Last throughts...

A few last thoughts...


The other controversial call was the Knapke fumble with about 5 minutes left.  Coach said he saw the replay on the board and figured it was not a fumble (and started to call another play)...in which case, he has better eyes than I do.  Anyway, I went back and checked that one.  It is a much closer call than the pick.  It is harder to capture in stills, but Knapke's knee is down and his back is to the camera so you can't tell what the ball is doing.  As he rolls over, the ball comes out.  It is realy close, it certainly looks like he was down but I can't argue with a ruling that you can't see what the ball is doing as his knee hits because you can't.

Special teams....BG did not try a FG, and the punting was a little less effective, with a 37 yard net, which is about average.  WMU had a really good day.  We weren't pressuring their punter so he would just stand there and wait to get his guys down there...with no risk of return, he could kick a line drive ball that could roll.  It was very effective.  BG eventually rushed to force him to kick the ball.

One thing I neglected to mention as it relates to defense.  BG was poor on 3rd and 4th down...combined, WMU was 11 of 18 on those downs.  BG did hold them to 1 TD in 3 red zone trips (the 4th on the stat sheet was where WMU took a knee on the BG 1).

Finally, this was a huge deal for WMU and part of why I was so nervous in the preview.  They did the Gatorade dump, players were jumping into the stands.  WMU viewed this as a message game, beating the defending champs on their field.  I don't begrudge them one bit of their excitement.  They were awful last year and clearly are back in play this year.  They are getting it done and a hat tip is in order.  They were the better team Saturday.

Sadness Accrues: The Defense, with Image from pick play

So, who would have thought we would have been writing this post?

BG's defense is really coming around.  They played well at OU against a poor defensive team and then they played really well against WMU, a much better offensive team.  BG's defense kept the Falcons in the game and played more than well enough to win.

Yes, Franklin had 149 yards, but it took him 37 runs to get there, which nets out to 4 yards per carry, so that's a solid day's work.  WMU had only 4.9 yards per play, below the league average.  They had only 6.9 yards per pass play.  BG made two red zone stops (to FG) early in the game to keep the thing from being a total blowout early, one time on a short field from a INT and forced 3 straight punts in the 2nd half when BG was down one score.

For all you guys who didn't think that it mattered having Lynch and Ward out, I give you the last two weeks.  Big difference.  Ward led the team with 14 tackles and Lynch had a huge game with 8 tackles, 3 TFL and 1 sack.  Gabe Martin also had 13 tackles with 2.5 TFL.  This is a different group of guys with Lynch and Ward out there.

I think the other guys have improved as well, coverage in the secondary has been better.  I thought BG blitzed a little less effectively this week...WMU was good at swallowing them up in the inside of the line.

Again, it has been a crazy season, where we have gone from praying to win a shoot out to praying just to get a couple first downs while our defense more or less gets the job done.

One negative...WMU was turnover free.

Which brings us to the one deadly play WMU ran.  Coach Babers was real strange when talking about this play.  First, he seemed obsessed with the fact that the game was down one referee, and then he would say it didn't matter and it was a "good play" by them.  And then say it was no excuse.

Here is the scenario.  A ref was injured on the opening kickoff of the second half. Carted off the field.  5 plays later, WMU lined up and BG moved Lynch forward to blitz.  WMU's QB changes the play at the line and then runs a slant to the edge...guys catches the ball and we are in a blitz package so there's fewer numbers back there and off he goes for a 63 yard TD.

I don't understand why BG doesn't counter-check back out of the blitz when WMU changes the play, but what do I know?

Anyway, the only thing I have been figuring out is that Coach Babers is implying that WMU ran a pick play on the slant, knowing there was one fewer official.  He directly implicated one fewer official as a factor, he did not mention the pick play directly, but that's all I can figure he was talking about.

So...let's not pretend like the Internet does not exist...I went to the ESPN3 replay and got this screen grab....



And that, my friends, is a pick play.  Those feet on the sideline at the 38 belong to a ref, but he's a linesman...anyway, Coach had the one right...no excuse, but that's a pick all day long, complete with a wrap up.

Anyway, I do want to say I am proud of our guys on defense.  They have persevered and stuck together and they are doing better.  This season is not lost...BG now needs the same kind of mentality from the offensive players.  If both phases can get it together at the same time this team still has the chance to at least win the East.

Sadness Accrues: The Offense

This season has had a lot of narratives.

We started with the idea we'd have a good defense, a high-powered offense with the MAC's best QB and big talent.

Then, we went to a porous defense but an offense that could outscore the opponent and be "allowed" to win the game.

Now, we are on a decent/good defense propping an offense that can't do anything.

QB has its own narrative.

Matt Johnson injured.
James Knapke comes in, plays great against Indiana and UMass.
Offense has bad game against OU and terrible game against WMU, Knapke (and everyone else) struggling.

Let's hope this is the turning point of the story, because BG is not going to win the division like this.

Here's the litany:

Two turnovers.
274 yards, only 3 more than against Wisconsin.
14 freaking first downs.
139 passing yards.  Read that one again.
135 rushing yards included a couple Knapke runs.  Greene and Coppet were 23-72.
Longest pass play?  22 yards.
After failing on 4th down from the 2, BG had 5 possessions.  1 first down.  1 turnover.  4:43 of possession.
BG had the ball for 1:52 in the 4th Q.

That's not pretty.

And, here's the thing.  It was pretty close to what BG looked like at OU, except that BG was able to spring Lewis free for 61 yards for one TD and then score on a long run and a long screen, bailing themselves out with big plays.  They didn't sustain much in that game or this game.

Coach made the point that you can't put it on one guy, and I think that's 100% correct.  People focus on the QB and that's the price you pay when you play QB, but here is what I see.

The last two teams have been determined to stop us from running and they have succeeded.  And under the scenario, BG has been unable to sustain drives with passing alone.  WMU added a lot of blitzes and pressure, and while they did not get a sack, they were a disruptive force, probably especially so against a young QB.  (The Pressure was the predominant issue on the INT, for example).

The fast offense looks really good when it is building off a successful play, even a five yard gain.  It is not so good when things are going poorly, as it was yesterday.  But, that's the vehicle the coaches have chosen and they need to figure out a way to make it work.

Certainly, Knapke can play better.  But, the entire offense was not good.  I thought Greene and Coppet both took wrong cuts in space on players.  The line and backs have to figure out pass protection better, except Burbrink our WRs were mostly taken out of the game, the line has to open space for the run...there's no facet of the game that worked.

The team still has control of its own destiny, with four games left.  However, the Akron game in 16 days will decide if that continues.  There's a long break for the Falcons to figure things out.  A loss against Akron and the chances of winning the East will remain a matter of math.   The formula appears to be out there.  The Falcons will either adjust or they will end the season in disappointment.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sadness Accrues: Defeat at the Doyt

So, that happened.


I feel like someone who read a lot of science fiction and woke up in 2014 and said:

I was promised flying cars.

That's sort of how I feel tonight.  For all the FalconFast promises made in the off-season, all this team did fast today was get off the field.  We were promised a futuristic, high-tempo offense but what we had was something out of the Blackney era, except with less time of possession.

Make no mistake.  The defense played more than well enough to win.  They have been improving and they had DJ Lynch back on the field and he seemed to make some plays and BG's defense held them off as long as could be expected.  They got almost no support from the offense today, and this loss is on the offense.

Coach Babers was very quiet post-game.  He said the team didn't play very well, was "off" all day and didn't execute on the offensive end.  Said we left plays out on the field.  Also said it would get fixed.  But I was surprised at how quiet and down he sounded.

It seems to me that OU and WMU did two things in particular.  First, they are loading the box to stop the run.  They want to force Knapke to beat them.  Then, when BG was in a passing down, WMU was bringing pressure on every play.  

The Falcons had no answer for this.  BG did not seem to pick up blitzes well, and Knapke was not effective or accurate throwing under duress.  This is, for whatever it is worth, the style of defense that eventually seemed to bring down the spread the first time we ran it and why I thought the spread was getting out of favor in collegiate programs.

With the accuracy and protection issues, BG was increasingly unwilling to take long drops, which just left a diet of short passes against a jammed up WMU defense.

And the big plays--both downfield and on screens--that bailed the offense out in Athens did not materialize at the Doyt.

It wasn't all that.  I also felt like BG's playcalling was often bizarre.  There was a bomb on 4th and 1 where BG was bailed out by a PI call, but which was just inexplainable.  There was a 4th down fade that failed in the end zone...Coach defended the call by saying it was the same play that beat Indiana, except that in that game it was thrown to Roger Lewis and in this game it was thrown to Heath Jackson.  And yes, he was probably interfered with, but you need to be able to win that battle on a fade pass.

And, there was a bizarre 4th quarter option play on 2nd down to the short side of the field.  No one thinks Knapke is going to run, so it isn't really an option play and it got blown up.

All that combined together to form an offensive performance that was not good enough to win.

More on the stats tomorrow, but for now here is one....BG had 1:52 of possession in the 4th Quarter.  You can look far and wide before you find a team with that number that wins the game.

So, beset by poor execution on all fronts, BG's offense did not give the team a chance to win the game.

A lot of people are going to focus on the QB.  Coach was asked about it and he said that he was the same QB who beat Indiana and he will bring it around.  I would agree that the chances that a change makes things better are not very good.  

First, all the issues are not on Knapke.  I don't think he is playing as well as he did earlier, but he is not getting protection and the running game is not as effective as it was either.

Second, there's no reason to think that his backup would do any better under the same circumstances.

I think Knapke seems to be losing some confidence.  After the fumble, his body language seemed really bad.  I think it is understandable.  He stepped into a really difficult situation and the offense is struggling and everyone looks at him.

WR has been an issue.  Teams are taking Lewis out of the game, Ronnie Moore was injured, and I think they asked Heath Jackson to play a role he isn't right for.  Gehrig Dieter was hurt and has yet to make a contribution, and the only WR who was consistently available was Burbrink.  BG's throws to the backs were also well-defended.

The good thing is, the team gets a 16-day break.  Everyone can clear their head.  The practitioners of the Falcon Fast approach can figure out how to attack the way they are being defended.  

Here's the thing.  Akron lost today, so BG is still in a position to win on 11/4 and be in control of its own destiny.  But under the offense that we saw much of the day in Athens and most of the day today, BG is not going to win the East.  We have seen the offense succeed, but once you get into conference play you find out who you really are, and in the last two games BG's offense has lost to our opponent's defense.  

And, it feels like it is more than having a couple of bad days.  We'll find out because Akron will play good D and that is a road game.  BG needs to adjust and figure out what it can do and get the ball moving.  When this offense works, it is a beautiful thing.  When it doesn't work, it makes it really hard for the defense to win the game.

Friday, October 17, 2014

25 Questions that Row the Boat


What is their body of work?


This is an improving team.  The is the 2nd year of PJ Fleck and the "Row The Boat" cult at WMU.  Last year was bad...the kind of bad where you are 1-11 and lose your FCS game.  In the meantime, they brought in the highest rated recruiting class ever in the MAC and they are 3-3 this year...beating Idaho, Murray State and winning @ Ball State.  They took UT to OT and battled Purdue tough...other loss is to Va Tech.  Will talk at the end about what we might see, but this team is much improved and perfectly capable of winning Saturday.

How many seniors and juniors on the two-deep?

25, which is a normal number.  They have 11 true freshman on their 2-deep...which is quite a lot.

Who are their returning statistical leaders?

Jarvion Franklin leads the nation in rushing TDs and scoring, is #6 in rushing yardage and is #14 in in all-purpose yardage.
Zach Terrell is #22 in the nation in passing efficiency and #1 in the MAC.
Rom Zamort is #3

What is their turnover ratio?

They are even.

Offense:

How is their QB play?

Very good.  Terrell has completed 66% of his passes, with 10/4 and 13 yards per completion, all of which are really good.  He is pretty much a drop-back passer, but he is very productive.

What is their scoring and yards per play?

They are 3rd in the MAC with 33.7 PPG.  They are efficient...6.8 yards per play is tied for 1st in the MAC and almost a yard better than BG.

Can they run the ball?

The previously mentioned Mr. Franklin--a true freshman--is tearing it up.  He was unranked coming in, but has been averaging 6 yards per carry on 23 carries a game.  A lock for FR of the year, he is also a legit threat for MAC OPOY.

Do they pass the ball?

As mentioned, they have the best passing efficiency in the MAC.  Their big threat is Corey Davis, who is averaging 18 yards per reception and Daniel Braverman with 42 grabs.  Davis leads the MAC in yards and Braverman in receptions.

How is their run/pass balance?

They run the ball 52% of the time, which in today's game is a mild commitment to the run.

Do they convert on 3rd Down?

They are 4th at 43%

Do they score in the red zone?
WMU '86
Interestingly, for a team that scores so much they have only 23 red zone trips in 6 games.  They have 15 TDs and 5 FGs in those trips, which is 5.2 points per, which is moderately above average.

Do they protect the quarterback?

They have given up 11 sacks so far, which is 5.7% of their passing attempts, which is a tick better than average..

Defense:

Topline: Scoring and yards per play.

They have the 6th best defense in the MAC on both measures.

Do they defend the run effectively?

They are 10th in the MAC, allowing only 4.9 yards per carry.

No, I said I hold the umbrella and you row the boat.
Can they be passed on?

They are 3rd in the MAC in passing defense efficiency.  They allow only 54% completions, 12 TDs/4 INT, and 12.5 yards per catch.

Do they get off the field on 3rd down?

They are 7th, allowing 43%.

Do they defend in the red zone?

They are not bad at 4.7 points per trip.  They have specialized in forcing FGs more than outright stops.

Do they pressure the QB?

No, they get sacks on only 3.5% of their passing attempts, which is not great.

Special Teams:
And then Grover will rooooooow the boat

Punting?

They are 8th in the MAC in punting.  When there is a return they give up 12 yards per return.  No TDs, no blocks.

Punt Return?

Braverman averages negative yards on punt returns so far this year.

Placekicking?

Haldeman has struggled.  He is 5-8 with all 3 misses inside 30 and 1 block.

Kickoff?

They are 8th in the MAC, with a starting point of the 29.  No TDs.

Kickoff Return?

They average a start on the 25, which is not great.

Miscellaneous: Overall atmospherics and intangibles.

Here's the thing.  This game is VERY HIGH on the worry-meter.

WMU battled UT tough.  They battled Purdue tough.  They beat Ball State, but the Cards are reeling.  They are looking for a statement win, a win that says "we are back."

And what better place to do that then on the road against the defending champs?

They have a big offense, they have a solid defense.  They will put pressure on the BG defense to show how much improvement has really been made, and they will put pressure on the BG offense to get more consistent production.

The line on this has continued to melt as people seem to be betting on WMU.  This is going to be a big challenge for the Falcons.  BG is certainly capable of winning the game and I'd like to think we're likely to win, but this one has me very worried.

Falcon Pride Morning: Chris Jones!


Falcon Pride morning.  Here's Falcon great and former MAC Defensive Player of the year Chris Jones in a happy moment with Bill Belichek after Jones blocked a FG last night to preserve the victory for the Pats.  Could look at this picture all day.

Two things are cool, as contained in this story.  First, Jones says it is the first kick he has blocked at any level of football.  And second, it was just last October when Jones was called for an infraction while trying to block a kick against the same team and same kicker that gave them a second chance in OT and the Pats a defeat.

So, a little redemption for Jones.  Here is what he said...
"It's hard to believe sometimes."
Amen brother. Late draft pick, cut by the Texans, signed by the Bucs, cut a week later, signed by one of the top organizations in football, contribute as a rookie and now you and Bill are smiling...

Falcon Pride morning.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Babers Presser...Hard Head, Soft Behind Edition

Coach Babers held his weekly presser today.  It was full of classic Dinoisms...the man is 100% quotable, that's for sure.

He was asked if the defensive improvements had helped build the confidence of the players.

He said that for the whole team that winning the last 3 games "helps to clear the air about some of the things that are said out there."

John Wagner asked what he was talking about in terms of things that are written out there...and Babers said some of the things written about the defense were read and that once you begin to achieve the criticism actually bonds the football team.  Then he said.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  (Proverbs, BTW)

He said WMU is more balanced than OU and therefore causes problems.  And, having confidence is fine but you have the same problems when the ball is snapped.

Then Wagner asked about the defensive stats, which were shaky for the OU game.  He asked Babers what we should use to evaluate the defense.

Babers:  "I like to use my eyes."

He said that the defense has "gelled."  They are not "fighting over the things that don't matter.  The things that matter in defense are running to the football, tackling in space and creating turnovers."

In other words, he said, defense is about doing the little things well and less about the big picture.

He said having Ryland Ward helped.  He is very experienced and allowed BG to rotate safeties, which was important given that OU ran 110 plays.  BG was able to keep performance high even when facing that many plays.

He was asked about not having a long drive all season.  He joked right back, reminding the questioner that BG did have a long drive, 5:46, which was twice as long as the rest of them.

He did say that he was not happy with how the offense played.  The offense needs to do better...there were too many 3 and outs.

When asked about the inability to run the ball, he said first that his Father used to say that "a hard head makes a soft behind..." and then went on to say that OU was determined to keep BG for running the ball.  He said they were saying "throw it if you want to win."

And, Coach Babers added, "So, we wanted to win."

There was good news about DJ Lynch, who is now running with trainers.  We hope to have him back after the 16-day bye ("the longest bye I have ever heard of").

Finally, when asked about special teams, coach said he couldn't sleep and got up at 4:30 and watched the game again and that Joseph Davidson might have been the offensive player of the game for BG.  He forced OU into long drives...and it is "hard to be that right that long" and that was huge in BG's ability to stop drives.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MAC Blogger Roundtable, My Answers


This week's Blogger Roundtable comes from Over the Pylon, a Ball State blog.

1.) The dominant story this week in college football has been the autographs for potential profits from Jameis Winston or Todd Gurley. Who on your team would command the highest price for their signature, and what would it be worth to you?

Well, to me it would not be worth anything.  I've never paid for it in my life.  (See what I did there?).  I remember one time I got Pete Rose's autograph and it was free and it was mostly an excuse to approach the player.  He was nice about it.  Anyway, I'd say that if BG did have someone who could charge for autographs it would be Matt Johnson and probably Travis Greene.

2.) At this moment we have three undefeated teams in conference play (Akron, BG, Toledo). Do you see any of them running a clean sheet in MAC play? If not, who trips them up? Conversely, Ball State and Kent State sit winless in conference play. Who is their first win, if they even get one at all?

Interesting question.  would say the team with the best shot in that group is Akron.  Their toughest game is BG in Akron...other than that, it is OU, Ball State Buffalo, UMass and Kent.  Only the BG and UMass games are at home, so that makes running the table tough, but it could happen.   I'd say Toledo has a shot.  Their toughest games are NIU and BG and both are at home. They cross-over with UMass and Kent and then finish with EMU.  While we are happy with the BG season to date, I don't think you will see the Falcons run the table...potential trips are, first and foremost, anyone...followed by UT, and Akron.

As for the winless teams, Ball State surely at least beats EMU...Kent really could go winless, their most winnable games are on the road.

3.) Some major schools, most notably Florida are now loudly banging the drum for coaching change. The dominoes that kind of move would have would be felt everywhere. Who is most likely from the MAC to move up at the conclusion of this season, and more importantly, who may be packing up their own office a la Jeff Quinn by season's end for not so good reasons?

Well, the most likely and attractive candidate is Matt Campbell, but I have no idea what his interest might be.  I think Bowden would be on some radars.  Fleck is going to get some notice, but it is probably a year early.  The Lembo train will probably remain in the station for at least a year, and Carey, Babers, Enos, Creighton, Martin, and Whipple are likely to stay in place.  I would also suspect that Haynes will be back at Kent, though certainly everyone there has to be disappointed. Finally, could this be the year Frank Solich retires?

International Centre for Special Teams Research




Special teams played a big role in the OU win.  We have already covered Davidson dropping punts inside the 10 yard line like lawn darts, but there was also a stopped fake punt and solid coverage on at least one kickoff.  BG had only two negative plays--and both were on kickoff returns--so BG had a net score of +10, which is their highest since the VMI game and the highest in FBS since the Tulsa game that kicked off last season.  OU ended up even, 7 up and 7 down.

BG Positive
BG Punt to OU 1 (+2)
BG KO TB (+1)
BG 49 yard net punt (+1)
Defends fake punt (+3)
BG punt to OU 4 (+2)
OU KR to 18 (+1)
BG punt to OU 7 (+2)

BG Negative
OU KO ret to 38 (-1)
OU KO ret to 38 (-1)

OU Positive
OU Punt to BG 11 (+1)
OU KO TB  (+1)
OU 18 yd punt return  (+1)
OU 45 yard net punt  (+1)
OU KO ret to 38  (+1)
OU KO TB  (+1)
OU KO ret to 38  (+1)

OU Negative
OU KO OB (-1)
OU Misses 38 yd FG (-1)
PR Penalty takes ball inside 10 (-1)
Failed fake punt (-3)
OU KR to 18 (-1)