A couple of days ago, Coach Clawson sat down with the media for his year-end presser. Normally, these are pretty informative, as there is less reason to shade things and no place for wishful thinking...so, let's look at what Coach had to say.
There were three themes that ran throughout.
The first is relatively obvious. The team did improve in all areas from the year before.
The second is that we have a lot of guys back. "Bright future."
The third is that we have to improve our strength.
Taking this in order...
He said that we were better. (We'll look at this a lot in the coming months, but you can't disagree). But, as he noted it, I think he had the right perspective. He'd say, for example, we went from 12th to 8th in defense...which is an improvement, but it doesn't get us where we need to be.
We ran the ball better, we defended better and we had better special teams. And we won 3 more games (BGSU has tweeted that only 12 teams had a better improvement).
The O-line went from very bad to "average or below average."
We have, for example, 12 of our 14 leading tacklers back. We have four starting lineman back and a 5th who actually got a number of starts due to injuries. We have our QB and RBs back. The only hole is at WR.
We should get better at every position except WR.
At WR, he cited Joplin and Stokes, then he mentioned Heath Jackson. He said we red-shirted a good class of WRs, but also said we might very well go back to JUCO for immediate help at this position.
On the O-line, we had six playable guys this year, and no real internal competition. Coach feels our red-shirted class of lineman was very good and he talked them up quite a bit. We were lucky this year not to have a second injury, but that won't be the issue next season.
And here is where he spent most of his time.
He says that on the offensive and defensive lines, we just aren't strong enough.
He attributes this to youth. When you play a lot of young players, you either have guys who have been through one off-season lifting program or they have been through none.
When you are playing against guys who are Jrs and Srs, they have been building strength longer.
He noted that this is as much the issue with having a young team as inexperience is.
The key time for our program this year is not Spring practice. It is the time between now and then, when players are lifting, and then the time between Spring practice and fall camp. Our guys just have to be stronger so we can run the ball and stop the run in key situations.
(A note from me. We also were in our first year with a new strength coach, as the very popular Aaron Hillman had left for UM. Don't know what impact that had, but seems worth mentioning.)
A few other notes
Adrian Hodges left before the Buffalo game because he was upset at losing snaps to Joplin.
Coach was very pleased with our effort in Buffalo, where a team with nothing to play for was into the game, playing hard and showing they "love football."
He said they are looking at moving Boo Boo Gates to WHIP (free safety). They played him there against Buffalo, and he did well. He noted that your safeties need to be sure tacklers, and we didn't always get that this year.
In terms of recruiting, this is the first tim we have not needed to sign the maximum. He said we sign a QB a year, and are looking for o-line help as well as depth at LB and d-back.
He did also mention that we have to take better care of the football. The team made way too many turnovers and didn't force very many on defense.
He also noted that we continue to struggle in close games. He believes that strength will be key to that. For example, being strong enough to know you can run clock with first downs on the ground makes a huge difference. Similarly, the ability to get the other team off the field is (obviously) critical to making a comeback.
Nobody asked him how he felt his QB play was. I would have been interested in that question.