Friday, January 02, 2015

The State of the Football Program

So, this has been in the works for a while.  I had started it after BG turned in the worst performance in the history of the MAC Championship game and then didn't write it, which I am glad I did not.  Not sure how much it changed, but things can't be any worse than they were that morning.

First, we have to look at this season and see what we have.  The dominant narrative in the media has been a "depends on how you look at it" story.  The team did win the East and they did win their bowl game...the team also was picked to win the conference, lost 6 games, lost a couple games they shouldn't have and struggled to beat some poor teams.

This is a matter of opinion.  My view falls on the latter half of the equation.  Yes, BG did win the East and that's better than not winning the East.  But, objectively, it was a pretty low bar.  Somebody had to win it...BG did so with 3 losses in the MAC and without winning one cross-over game.  Their wins over UMass, Akron, Kent, and Buffalo were all struggles against teams that finished with losing records.  Their win @OU was probably the highlight of the MAC season.

Add to that an embarrassing loss to a WKU team that did not do great things, a historically poor performance @Wisconsin and then a season-ending collapse against BSU and NIU.  The bowl win was fun and nice, but South Alabama was a 6-6 team and BG was 1 minute from losing to them.  Again, beating them is better than not beating them and I was happy for our players and our seniors for the win, but it wasn't climbing Mount Everest.

What about Indiana?  That's the whole thing, right?  How did that happen?  Even an Indiana team that wasn't any good should have been good enough to beat BG (ie, be at least as good as Western Kentucky or Ball State), and they weren't.  BG moved the ball, got a couple stops on defense, made the big rally--it was a huge win and completely at odds with the remainder of the season.

So I have no explanation for that.  I think our guys came out highly motivated and fired up and gave a great performance, one they were unable to replicate even one other time all season.

So mix all that together and I think you have to rate the season as a disappointment and an unnecessary one.  If you look at how the season unfolded, in fact, I think you see a team that was amazingly consistent...the results were mostly based on the opposition, with BG playing well enough to beat bad teams but not well enough to beat the good teams on the schedule.  Having said that, I think the team was playing its worst football in the last two games of the scheduled season and that's never a good thing.

All this has left the Falcon Nation in a pretty foul mood.  It started with the WKU game, when a championship team completely reverted to its previous form.  The mood changed briefly after the Indiana game but then slipped quickly back into a black funk where it sits today.  I'd say there is a low degree of confidence in our Coach's ability to lead the program.

And, I will say that's probably unfair.  The year was a disappointment but you want to give the coach an opportunity to show what he can do over more than one year.

Coach is a talker, and he is quotable.  It started with storming off the field after scrimmages and declaring "we will never be this slow again," went to the WKU disappointment, headed to the Indiana game where he told fans that "the train had left the station" and if you weren't on it, it was too late, "unless you are Superman," where we kicked onside "because we wanted to get the ball back and score again," and then some testy exchanges with the media over the team's winning but subpar performances, and then on it went.  After the Ball State game he said he was going to "fix everything" yet when the NIU game started, it was clear nothing had been fixed.

Here is one thing.  He can be an excuse maker.  In a presser late in the year, he related how he had looked at how many guys BG had been missing for different games, and he implied that because of those injuries, the overall results were out of anyone's control.

That just doesn't hold up.  Yes, the starting QB was injured...but UT came within a TD of beating NIU with their #4 QB and beat BG with the #2.  Yes, BG had injuries on defense, but nowhere near what UT and Ball State had, and both of those teams beat BG.  BG played Ball State with a healthy defense was healthy and they still torched us with a QB they had benched...and BG was relatively healthy for the NIU game.

Injuries happen to football teams.  You can't be a coach who has to have 100% health to win.

Another thing had to do with the QB.  BG was without its starting QB and that is tough on any team.  Fans were screaming for Knapke to be benched for most of the year, but I will submit to you that the play from Callaway indicated that Knapke gave the team the best chance to win.  The bigger issue is that our offensive gurus were unable to figure out a way to move the ball with the guys they had even after 11 weeks and a long bye period.

The third thing that has tainted the fan base is the public issues with the football team, including arrests that run from the serious to the stupid.  Coach's response to the stupid one was more excuses--just boys will be boys.

So combine an underwhelming performance on the field with the off-the-field issues, and you just feel like things fell pretty far in one year.

How far?

BG fell from 3rd to 5th in scoring offense and total offense.
1st to 12th in scoring defense (18 more points per game, more than double)...also 1st to 12th in total defense.
1st to 11th in rushing defense.
1st to 9th in offensive pass efficiency.
1st to 4th in defensive pass efficiency
1st to 7th in kickoff returns
1st to 8th in offensive 3rd down conversions.
2nd to 8th in defensive third down conversions
6th to 12th in penalty yards
1st to 5th in red zone defense.

Look, I get it, there's some cherry-picking there.  The stats not listed were comparable to last year.  Those are still some significant fall offs from year to year and clearly follow the overall storyline, which was that the team--which had significant players back--was worse than the year before.

So, let's look ahead.

There's every reason to think the offense will be very potent next year.  In fact, it better be.  Coach has said that the most improvement in his offense comes before year two, and the people who support him point NON-STOP to his 2nd year at EIU.'s the 2nd year and you are replacing two offensive coaches.

Here is the offensive depth chart from the end of this season, with a couple additions.  BG hardly loses anything on offense.  Meanwhile, they add back significant talent at QB and WR...the line remains intact, the RBs are back.  If you can think about teams having to defend Rhodes and Lewis...and then darting Burbrink, Dieter and Gallon in the open spaces, with Greene and Coppet...there is no reason to think that this offense cannot rebound next year.

The issue will be on defense.  Here's the same analysis for BG on defense.  You lose key contributors at DE, both of your best LBs, both of your safeties and your best CB.  So while BG can expect to score next year, they are losing a lot of guys off a defense that was already 12th in the conference.  All the players Babers could not coach without are gone.  And here's the problem--here's the thing I fear:  this year the excuse was injuries.  I can just hear us saying (after a 6-6 season) that "we just lost too much on defense."  God forbid the defense also isn't healthy.

I'd like to propose 3 ways you could look at this situation.

We'll call the first one the Resurgent Scenario.  Even though re-tooling the team and switching systems were choices made by the AD and the Coach, the 2014 season has been sacrificed and now we can see the benefit.  The QB position is solidified, there is a lot of skill and experience, the coaching staff develops the younger defensive players and the team gets the program back, as coach says, "where it should be."  When this happens, all is forgiven.  Winning is a cure.

The second scenario is what I would call the Rip and Run scenario.  This is the one I hear from BG fans all the time.  The idea here is the Babers and his team never expected to be here more than a couple years.  They expected to have big success and then to move on, which all fits nearly (and maybe too neatly) with the perceived lack of discipline, perceived lack of interest in protecting the program's overall reputation and the lack of willingness to build on what existed.  People tell me all the time that Coach has not bought a home in BG.

Here's the problem with the Rip and Run.  It is one thing if it works--although the last time BG had to replace a system coach it took 3 years to put a normal football team on the field again.  If it doesn't...if the Coach doesn't win and can't leave, you are stuck with him for the remainder of his deal or a buyout.  Finally, in this scenario, you need to remember that Coach Babers has not been a head coach long enough to develop--either way--a track record as a recruiter.

Finally there's the RichRod Scenario.  Under this scenario, the Coach is just a mismatch from the beginning with the program and its fan base and everything he does is cast in a negative light and eventually that becomes an undertow that brings the program down.  In fact, even as the Coach improves the team he is run off.

I don't know what's going to happen.  I will say this--underwhelming though it might have been, thank GOD for the bowl win.  It certainly did improve the mood and helps immensely for the off-season.  A loss would have made everything difficult.

Here's the thing.  Every coach and AD who comes here does so with the idea of leaving.  You just hope they leave the way Clawson did as opposed to the way Brandon did.  So, let's hope that's what we get.  I'm not optimistic that next year's team can win a title and I'm not at all convinced that we are headed in the right direction, but let's hope that Coach Babers does what he came here to do.  That would start by putting the Resurgent Scenario into play--after an off-season where we aren't making videos and swaggering around about how fast we are going to be.  Coach may not think he's a grinder, but this winter might be a good time to quietly grind a little.


Anonymous said...

Because I'm a pragmatic type, plus the fact that you make many good points, I agree with your analysis. I can't say I was happy with the season, and it seems to me the program has taken a step in the wrong direction. Although I'm willing to give Babers a chance, talk is cheap.

Ken said...

Thanks for the excellent analysis. One person you didn't mention on offense that will make it even more difficult for defenses to defend is Ronnie Moore. Think of it:


That's quite a receiving crew...with all of them except Burbrink returning in 2016, including Matt Johnson. Opening game that year (9/3/16) is Ohio State.

Orange said...

Moore has a lot of drops mixed with his playmaking skills. As for OSU, I will be satisfied with beating Toledo and NIU.