The Hunter became the Hunted
It remains to be seen if the disasterous loss against WMU signals the day the team jumped the shark and began to trend into a downward cycle, but its clear that our season is in trouble. And, before it goes any farther--we didn't lose only because Omar was injured. (The injury is reported to be a not serious shoulder injury, though his status is unknown for next week).
Let's start with that. The fumble on the play Omar was injured on let the Broncos take the lead, and we never led again. Anthony Turner played acceptably. He is a freshmen, so we have to temper expectations. Also, he needs HIS game plan. Anthony is a Josh Harris type QB--with him in the game, we open up all those option runs you saw us run in the Harris era--especially while UM coached. (It also looks familiar to those watching Utah and Florida in the past three years). Anthony can't succeed in the Omar snap and fire offense--and Coach Brandon acknowledged this in his post-game comments.
When someone is injured, the rest of the team is supposed to step up and make a play. Instead, our guys fell apart in embarassing fashion. A team we beat 52-0 last year (and that was a charity score), beat us by 31 on our field. (WMU's new Coach--Bill Cubit--said it could have been "100-0" in his post-game press conference.)
(Where's Coach's talk about how hard it is to win on the road now).
Anthony had to deal with four bad drops, and poor protection. If we get the drops back, and he gets some time to think though how to avoid sacks and takes care of the ball, we can score enough points to win. But people gotta raise up their game.
Here's what Coach said:
Anthony is more in the Josh Harris mode, so that is probably, down the road, what we will be doing with him. We need to get him some throws that he can complete...and we will."
Anthony is a competitor and we have to put him in situations where he can use his abilities, which we will. And if Anthony starts next week you will see a guy that is ready to go, no question."
Let's not forget that coach has talked about Anthony being as good as Omar last Fall during practice. There is no reason for us not to move the ball. We may not lead the league in scoring, but we should be able to score enough to win.
The things that brought us down last night have been brewing for weeks. First, let's start with the run defense. While we have allowed only 1 TD in the last three games, teams have continued to effectively run against us, as Western did last night. The Bronocs has 4.4 yards/carry, and rushed for 213 yards against us. As Mfulton noted in the Blade, we let them do their best imitation of a runaway freight train against us.
This team, by the way, has a freshmen QB and scored 16 against TEMPLE.
Here's what Coach said:
We have struggled defensively all year stopping the run. That is our Achilles Heal right now. We can't get off the field and that is really disappointing...We need to assess that, whether it is a scheme problem, which I don't think it is, if it's that we don't have the right guys in there...I have some experienced players on that side of the ball and we have struggled to stop the run at key times this year."
No kidding. And, just to replay some past comments, this wasn't Wisconsin and Boise State, on the road. This was WMU, on our field.
The pass defense was barely better. The big play to Jennings was a killer just when we thought we might be getting back into the game. But it was the run defense that killed us.
On getting off the field--they were 6 of 13 on third down.
The other thing that has been brewing for a few weeks is the special teams. Well, not exactly, brewing, but actually boiling. It was another horrible night. We had an XP block, and then, for reasons which pass for understanding, we went for a FG in the second quarter. As nearly everyone in the stands shouted NO! (even though it was 4th and 10), Fry lined up and it was blocked and returned to decent field position which WMU scored off. We had at least one lousy, lousy punt. Our best special teams play continues to be Fry getting roughed--and that was a horrible call.
The special teams on our team are the worst in I-A football, and its a coaching failure. When a player makes a mistake once in a while, its the player's fault. When mistakes happen week and week, that's the coach's fault. (Notice how well the WMU special teams played. It can be done).
Amazingly enough, we still completely control our destiny. If we win out, we still win the East. Its still possible even to clinch prior to the Toledo game, if we can win at Miami.
But given last night's performance, its hard to imagine all that happening. This team could easily finish with a losing record. It could easily finish 6-5.
This is a test. Can our Coach's turn this around, or is the sight of Gregg Brandon on the sideline, with his hands crossed behind his back a metaphor for our program.
Akron, who was shut out by Army, is a team that could still beat us in the East. Saturday's game is a must--and still should--win game, and it doesn't matter if Omar plays or not, in my view. We should win that game.
One more thing:
In all fairness, we haven't had any bad losses, really, in the Meyer/Brandon era. We've lost to some teams we should have beaten, but no embarassing or upset losses, especially at home. All the above remains true.