So. 2016 didn't go as expected. No. No, it didn't.
Here, I am going to take a shot at tackling the questions of why, and where I see the program standing as we head toward 2017.
To begin with, the season was an almost total debacle. Picked to win the East, BG instead had a lost year. That included the two worst losses in program history--yes, one of them to Ohio State, but a worse defeat to an 8-4 unranked Memphis team. (Once again, an unranked 8-4 team dealt us the worst defeat in our history).
BG lost to Toledo again, went 3-5 in the conference, and "salvaged" a 4-8 season only by passing tired horses at the end of the track. The last 3 games represented improvement only by the incredibly low bar the program had created earlier in the season.
I see three primary reasons for why the season was less than what was expected...which I will discuss and then talk about where the program stands now.
First, we over-estimated how good we were. This seems clear to me. Most predictors recalled that James Knapke had a much better season in '14 than he actually did, something we pointed out here. In '16 he was as advertised, only to be replaced by a freshman. BG's receivers were much less effective than anticipated. The team never truly developed an outside receiving threat. Finally, the 0-line had injury issues and in some games were not as effective as they were expected to be, as the most experienced unit in the country.
On defense, we were better in '15 than people remember and there was every reason to think that they could compete in the MAC East. I think on defense the larger issue was injuries, but a severe lack of depth and numbers was revealed.
Speaking of which, the second reason BG underperformed was injuries. Yes, every team has injuries. This one had a lot and more than they could handle. On offense, there were not too many, just a couple on the line and they were only a couple games. On defense, however, it was BAD. You had linemen injured, Austin Valdez played injured a lot, Sanford was injured, both of your safeties (Walz and Hale) were injured, both of your projected starting CBs--Clint Stephens (injured) and Will Watson (suspended) missed significant time. Behind them, there were injuries to Antonio Sotolongo and others...BG ended up playing freshmen who weren't ready and transfers I don't think they ever thought would play. BG started 24 first-time starters and four true freshmen.
So, a team that isn't as good as you thought with a lot of injuries that involves a lot of new players. That's enough, right?
Even within that, however, I think our team was hampered and the season made worse by the inexperienced coaching staff. The most general complaint is that they spent too much time asking players to do things they could not do and were slow to adjust to a strategy that could help the team win games. At one point, Jinks said that we could run the ball 65 times a game, but that wasn't who we were. Until it was, and he revealed that his true self as a coach was running the ball. And said that would be the program identity.
Coach also kept the wrong QB starting for far longer than he should have. It was apparent as soon as he made the change that BG had a better chance of winning with Morgan at QB. Lastly, at one point he announced they weren't going to run Donovan Wilson anymore, until it turned out he was "built for November."
By sticking with the air raid and an ineffective QB, BG had 1 minute possessions that put ridiculous pressure on that undermanned defense. Beyond that, Coach said that they had to make things "simpler" for the defense...that they were asking the players to do things they could not do. Unfortunately, in this area as well they waited too long to make that adjustment--and probably should have seen it before the season even started.
I have written here many times that we have a head coach with minimal college experience and a staff that had virtually no coaching experience up and down the line. It is my contention that they mis-evaluated the talent they had and adjusted slowly to the reality that existed. Had they acted sooner, I think the EMU game could have been saved and the OU and Miami games could be in play. And the Middle Tennessee and Memphis games could have been competitive and the Memphis game didn't have to be a total embarrassment.
Yes, I hear you. FIRST YEAR COACHES. Hiring Coaches like this was a choice the university made. I believe a more experienced coaching staff with a proven record of college success would have given us a better season and maybe a shot at winning the East. We'll never know, but that's what I think.
But they chose these guys. And they aren't (and weren't ever) going anywhere. BG was not going to do a one and done or even a two and done and I'm not sure I want to be the kind of place where we do. We're going to sink or swim with these coaches.
Now, to look to the future. You're not going to get anywhere with me by saying PJ Fleck was 1-11 in his first year, so Jinks is going to be great. First, Jinks took over a successful program where the coach was hired to go elsewhere. Fleck was hired to fix a dead program where the coach was fired. Second, it is ridiculous logic to suggest that an awful first season somehow increases the chances for eventual success. To the point, Stan Parrish started out poorly and finished poorly. So did Don Treadwell....4-8 in fact. There are others...far more than there are PJ Fleck stories.
Also, I don't buy that the team was significantly improved at the end. Yes, the team won games that it looked like they might lose, but that's only after the team gave up its worst defeats in history twice in four games.
When the season started, you would have expected to beat Akron with a WR at QB, Kent with a RB at QB, and Buffalo with anyone at QB and even that one nearly didn't happen.
This team has a long way to go to be competitive again. They lose a lot on the offensive line and remain strapped for depth at WR. They could get some guys back in the d-backfield but lose their top linebacker. And depth at d-line is a continuing issue.
And the staff itself remains a question mark. Nothing they did this year convinced me that they are ready. On the other hand, we don't have enough to say that they are not going to work. Four games in I feared that BG had made a historic error. Those fears softened in the last 8 games, but there's a lot of room for improvement before they are ready to be competitive with the top teams in this conference on an annual basis.
They are our coaches and we will win with them until they are gone or suffer with them until they are gone. Even Babers did some shuffling of his staff after his first season , including moving Kim McCloud off of defensive coordinator. It will be interesting to see if Coach Jinks makes adjustments or not.
Ultimately, Coach Jinks says he has "seen this work before," by which he means what happened at Steele HS where he took a new school and eventually won the state championship.
Whether "this" is "that" remains in question.
Hopefully, Coach Jinks--who frankly inspires confidence when he talks about this--is capable of doing what he says...never mind this talk about being in the G5 bowl talk...hopefully he and his people are learning fast enough on the job to not cause this program to go into the kind of long tailspins we saw at Ball State and Miami.
Thursday, December 01, 2016
So. 2016 didn't go as expected. No. No, it didn't.