Sunday, September 02, 2007

Look Back on Falcon Upset Win over Minnesota

By now you know that the Falcon Nation is rejoicing, declaring national holidays and otherwise celebrating (in a non-riot kind of way) our upset over Minnesota last night. It was great medicine for us after last season, where we lost 5 of 6 coming home, and beating one of the big boys is always sweet. And last night was a thrilling game that makes you glad to be a college football did the feeling when I woke up today.

The Nation is mostly rallying around the final sequence of plays, so let me give my take here. The sequence that won us the game actually starts a little sooner than you might think. With under 3:00 left, the Gophers were in our territory during a tie game. They had done just what Coach predicted--gone to the power game when the game was tight. And they were running over us, and the defense was gassed.

But, our guys came up with one more charge, and it set the stage. On two straight plays we stopped Pinnix for six yards of losses. We held them on third and long, and forced a FG, which set up what came next. Without the defense rising to the occasion on those two plays, we might not have a shot.

So, we get the ball back, and execute a pretty good 2-minute drill. Note first that the drive took place without our best player--Corey Partridge in the lineup. Still, we marched up the field--excellent offensive management by Tyler Sheehan. We converted a 4-7, and got into FG range. Then, thank god, we finally had a kicker we could count on, and he nailed the FG, and we go to OT.

An aside here. Last year's team was accused of not having any fight--of giving up too quickly. We could have done that last night. Instead, we looked at the clock, strapped our chin strap on, and moved the ball.

So, OT starts. We catch a huge break and win the toss. Minnesota runs the ball right into the end zone, second play.

When we get the ball, Sheehan throws two passes and hits a wide open Marques Parks to bring us within one.

We pause at this point to consider what appeared to be a Coaching dilemma...go for 1 or 2. In reality, Coach says he made the decision long ago, and the Minnesota coach expected it to--go for the win on one play. I don't believe anyone in the Falcon nation expected differently.

It takes us back to UM and Northwestern. It takes us back to Toledo '05 when Coach said he wished he had gone for 2.

The decision is actually pretty simple. If we play by the book, Minnesota is going to keep scoring. And, sooner or later, we'd be sacked or throw an incomplete pass, and that would be it. Let's say we had a 35% chance of making the 2-pointer. In reality, that's higher than our chance of playing it out and winning.

So, we line up for 2, and run a classic spread play with Freddie in motion (see video below) cutting behind our wide outs. Sheehan threw an absolute tracer between defenders--like a credit card under a door--and got the ball to Barnes. Put that pass anywhere else, and we lose.

And the Falcons had an upset in a Big 10 house.

More on the game.

It does without saying that you have to be pleased with the effort. We showed--I thought--a return to the form we had in previous seasons. We moved the ball like crazy at times, and defended really well in the first half. The second half, they did what any Big 10 team could do against us--run down our throats. I don't blame our D for that. They set the stage with a first half shut out, and I am optimistic that we can compete against our conference opponents.

We had a much more open game plan, but we also had a QB who was executing that game plan, too. And that is the game's real headline. Tyler Sheehan is a different man than the one we saw last Fall--and last Spring, for that matter. He was everything we need our QB to be. He was accurate, hitting running receivers in stride. He went upfield. He protected the ball (he threw 51 passes without an INT, Omar like numbers). He managed a great 2-minute drive and threw a great clutch ball to win the game. And much of it he did without his top receiver (see below).

To say the Nation views this with optimism is an understatement. We must have a QB in our offense. Can't be done without it. And, Sheehan had everyone worried as late as the Spring game. But his performance yesterday is just what we needed. If we moved the ball like that against Minnesota, with out Corey, then we can score some major points in our conference.

AT did play, and provided a nice change of pace. He can still run, and scored a TD. He can help us in the red zone, where we have struggled from time to time.

The running game is important in the spread. Gotta have it. We averaged 4.5 yards per carry yesterday, which is OK, but not as good as it could be. Eric Ransom came on big, proving to be the dual run-catch threat the offense needs. He led the team with 7 receptions, in addition to 37 yards. Bullock was also effective with 51 yards on 9 carries. After much hype, Willie Geter did not get a carry. We have some depth here, and though we passed on 53 of our 75 plays, we still moved the ball and kept them honest.

I was also worried about the WRs. Corey is unstoppable when healthy. They had no answer for him, until he was injured. Hopefully in MAC play he stays healthy. Freddie Barnes came up with some clutch plays down the stretch, and is a playmaker and a winner. Marques Parks also appeared to be back to form. We did have some problems with drops, so if these guys can bring it around, we're not in bad shape at all.

By the by, according to Corey's Dad on this AZZ thread, the injury is a sprain, and he might play vs. MSU. But, we want him healthy for the MAC season.

Now, the defense. I think the reviews for the defense have to be good. When Minnesota was playing us straight up, we shut them out for a half, though to be fair, they made a butt load of mistakes during that time. Minnesota averaged about 5.5 yards per play, which is almost exactly what we have given up for the last two seasons. But against a team without a huge size advantage, I hope (hope, hope, hope) that we saw Saturday that we can hold teams and get off the field. If this really young defense can do its job, we really could be good.

John Haneline, who I have worried about here, made 15 tackles, 10 solo. Haneline's brother was a true orange and brown warrior, and if John evolves into one, it helps the D a lot. Other than tackles, D-stats are tough to ascertain without breaking film down. However, it sounded like the secondary played well into Minnesota developed the run and went over the top a couple times.

And, most of all, we made a stop when we had to have it.

Now, for last year's horror--special teams. As everyone knows, the special teams were abysmal last year. You can find the post if you care, but it is not a point to argue. We were awful. Yesterday, really, the one bad element we had was that we had a FG blocked. On the other hand...

  • We had the confidence to bring Vrivilo in for a critical 42 yarder, which he made. Last year, we would been under pressure to get into the end zone for fear of a miss.
  • We did not have a punt blocked, or a kickoff returned for a TD.
  • We averaged 38.7 yards per punt. The 9 yards per return is a little higher than I would like, and two touchbacks, but the punting game functioned.
  • Corey Partridge had a huge punt return. We did not fumble any of them.

So, the first game's review is good. There is room for some improvement, but even at this level--where special teams are not handing over wins--we are improved.

Finally, coaching. The Falcon Nation was beating the drums and lighting torches for the coaching staff last year. Things are calmer now, I suspect. Of course, you are only as good as the last week.

Let me say this. Coach said last year that we were talented but inexperienced. He said if he could develop a QB, we could be dangerous. He said special teams were addressed. And, to date, all the evidence points to the idea that everything he said was right.

What does this do to our overall prognosis. It means that in today's MAC, every game is back onto the table. If we can play like that, I think the OU and Miami games are easily back in play. In our division, looking today, we are as a good a bet as any team to win.

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