Thursday, December 01, 2016

The State of the Football Program

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.

10 comments :

Anonymous said...

Hopefully they play Nate Locke more!

Schadenfreude said...

Seems fair enough. In his interviews, Jinks does inspire confidence. I'm trying to stay focused on that fact that he seems to be recruiting well so far. If does as well recruiting as he seems to have the potential to do, I think we will have a lot to look forward to.

NWLB said...

There is much I agree with in your analysis. Where I differ is more in degrees than totality.

For better or worse I don’t know that the coaching hire was the best. Likewise, as is a common lament among the more grounded fans, I can’t say it is the worst either. Only time is going to tell. This was a year where an EMU is 7-5 going to a bowl, NIU is 4-8 staying home, and even the comatose Miami program managed a bowl eligible season. BGSU going 4-8 has become simply white noise in an unusual season-at least in terms of net results. At least outside of BGSU fans. So I doubt recruiting or much else was seriously hurt by the past year.

I absolutely believe any analysis and evaluation of Jinks must be linked directly to Babers. I feel the hype machine built around Babers blinded people to objectively looking back on what was and wasn’t achieved under his staff. Jinks was hired with a clearly implied expectation to continue idea Babers tried to implement. Talk focused on little more than how Texas Tech air raids would replace “falcon fast.” Any new hire would have assumed to do the same as his predecessor, especially when that was deemed a “successful” program.

So we have to consider that how Jinks started the season is influenced by expectations that are entirely rational in their context. We are at the bottom of the recruiting/coaching curve with no place to go but up on defense.

Mix into this analysis another factor which has to be acknowledged and that is the experience level of the staff on arrival. I do not feel Jinks’ background is either a damning thing but it warrants attention as a possible reason for the apparently less than rapid recognition of the situation at BGSU or adjustments.

Jinks didn't seek this job, he was approached for it. Maybe he was a year or two or three from being ripe for the picking. It doesn't matter now. What I see is a man who is head coach material, surely did learn on the job some this year, but that could well prove a coup for having hired if he matures into the most he can be. With the end of "falcon fast" he is free to make this program his own, not copy his predecessor' fatally flawed model, one that would never have succeeded at BGSU.

What comes next? Jinks has to continue to reset the recruiting. The failure of the WRs and not having a polished QB ready underscore Babers was hardly going to "reload" had he remained. On defense we clearly have a better coached unit, but as noted, it requires some key studs to give it more teeth. But I don't see any prospects of WMU style runs anytime in the next five or six years. BG sold its soul to the devil hoping for a marketing friendly gimmick (like Syracuse did,) and it ruined any chance at sustained domination as an NIU enjoyed. To some who read this: you asked for it, you got it, now you are paying for it.

Schadenfreude said...

Some good points NWLB, but I do not agree we sold ourselves to a devil or that we have a ceiling on our future potential. The defense seems well-coached. With more talent, maybe this team can dominate defensively the way we did under Dave Clawson, even if we have an offense that puts them on the field more.

I don't see a quick-strike #FalconFast or air raid (or whatever) offense as limiting future potential. The Falcons were not perfect in 2015, but they were close enough during the regular season that I don't think we can rule out a 13-0 start as a possibility with that offense if everything were to click.

Moreover, as far as the offense: It isn't certain what we will running a year or two hence. What we saw the past few games clearly wasn't #FalconFast. Jinks adjusted (finally) to the talent he had. So there's that. We also don't know if Bob Moosebrugger even has expectations for the type of offense Jinks runs.

If I had to guess I would guess we will try to run a fast offense, and I would guess Jinks will be selling recruits on that, but I don't think its a sure thing. As long as we are winning games, I don't much care how we do it.

Orange said...

Jinks did say that an up-tempo running attack would be our identity, but we shall see.

Schadenfreude said...

Fair enough. I haven't tried to follow his every word.

Orange said...

Leave that to me.

NWLB said...

....said Vader before choking some schlep to death.

To be clear, there is a difference between the manic pace Babers sought to run at and a pace that is quick but rational. If I could knock anything about offense under Clawson, it was that you could have TV time-outs during the time it took our offense to get a play off. If effective there were times they'd have a defense on their heels and seem incapable of moving quickly at all. Jinks is going to be up-tempo, is not automatically the same as what Babers tries to do.

For a Babers offense to click it takes more than most teams can ever put on the field. It is like a photo-negative of the Triple-option, only with tons of WRs and passing. Do it right, it is a work of art, like Navy running the option. Do it half-assed and you get Ohio running the option.

I never disliked the rapid pace, it was the arrogant (not "glib" as the media like to re-characterize it as) refusal to have the means to run a slow series, or to ever need to lean on defense. And when he HAD to eat clock because the offense was simply failing and the defense obviously couldn't stop anything, he had NOTHING.

There is no sin to a coach having no clue how defense works and having a mind for offense. Babers is precisely such a coach. The sin is in having such a poor grasp of defense in this case, that he can neither help nor seem to judge qualified staff to make-up the difference. He knew he had an issue after 2014, a season that could well have been a championship year had there not be a total failure on defense. His solution was only made to look good, or simply better for not having sunk to the lows of the previous year. The combination of abject professional failure left Jinks' staff with a total rebuild being required.

2015 was a high water mark. But that team was never going 13-0. And I would not have rated them high enough had they somehow gone 12-0 to get a major bowl bid. In the external media and analyst world I think there was pretty deep seeded skepticism about the Babers "system." As with your Baylors and Oregons of the world, when a prepared defense showed-up the Falcons fell.

As for winning the games, I'm all for it. And if people can enjoy messy wins I don't judge and am not knocking that. But "how" we do it does make a difference to me. I did not enjoy seeing the team suck so badly on defense that no matter how many points the Falcons scored, no lead was ever safe. It was painful football to watch and it ruined the buzz from the offense. I don't buy tickets to see half a team play. I don't come to games to see the on-field equivalent of scratch-off lotto tickets. The team I saw against UB to end the year was a squad I could get behind. Not pretty, sometimes ugly, but they worked hard and I could tell.

For my part I worry less about the staff and direction of the team having seen the full course of the past season. My thoughts are turning to how BGSU football's gameday experience and such needs to change. Mid-week games won't go away anytime soon. For what precious few days on Saturday remain I think more has to be done across the full University to turn things into a total and immersive day at BGSU. But that is another story.

Anonymous said...

Nwlb, they way you tell it you must have studied composition lol. I do agree with much written on many fronts. Although I am a season ticket holder and falcon club member, good or bad, I am there as I use this as my vacation time. One thing I've noticed and have become disgruntled with, on the aspect of game experience, there used to be tents all over the place at home games. So many it was called tent city. Now, even on weekends there is nothing and only a couple for homecoming. The alumni association doesn't seem to have much going on where every home game something was planned.

As for Jinks, he inherited a team that hadn't even began to cut its teeth yet. As I previously wrote elsewhere, it makes me wonder what he was told about the team during his short courtship. By his comments prior to the season he seemed to believe he had experienced depth. It doesn't go without saying repeatedly there wasn't much on the coaching front. Babers was sure trying to change us to his style of play on offense that he lucked into having exactly what he needed to do so. As for his defense, I wonder if they would have done any better if they were able to get a longer than 58 second breather at a time. Syracuse seemed to be finding out this as I have watched a little of a couple games and their defense was out on the field a lot. Heck, their last game had such a high score for both teams it would make some basketball teams envious. Yet, watching the slinging schools on how they run their high flying act, they are more balanced, defense gets a longer breather, and there is a running game. Could it be that babers really didn't have the necessary experience running his own high flying team as he thought? Speaking of how all 3 aspects of the game needs to be considered vs just one? How one part of the game has a positive or negative effect on other parts? And now all need to grow together. Jinks fast paced game, you can review game stats. We were getting 70-90 plays in the game even when we lost during the season on most games. Didn't fair well with time management until late in the season but obviously learning on all parts. Much like all, are we there yet? No. Still need to fill spots hopefully with some size. Guess we are no cutting the teeth.

NWLB said...

Anon:

The implication of marketing which mentioned Tent City was that it stood as something for people to come and see or participate in. The problem with Tent City was that most of the tents were for the exclusive use of a few groups, none of whom were welcoming to curious visitors and such. Likewise, Tent City was something of a bridge between the time when nobody tailgated at BGSU games and where we are now. The tailgating at BGSU games-which first is notable for the fact it exists now at all-has come a very long way from the pre-Gameday era.

The energy and money spent on the tents seems better focused on other things these days. Though I’m no fan of paying for the alumni tent either. However I know all the alumni staff and a goodly portion of the development staff. Truth be told they were too few and stretched thin. This is my own point of view, but they are expected to do more than can be with few people and almost no financial means to do it. It is an issue that should get more focus locally until it is fixed.

Then you have the valid point that tents mean nothing if nobody is coming to the games. They couldn’t find people willing to pay for the “endzone” tents much of this year. Especially during weekday games. In fact here we have another example of why weekday games are a waste. It is an impossible sell to corporate groups to hoc a tent and tickets for BGSU home games. The product is radically inconsistent and the game day experience lacks depth and value.

This is why I keep saying that changing the status quo requires a total re-think and engagement of the University and City. Anything less will just see more of the same struggle until we’re priced out of the division.

As for Jinks/Babers.

Babers is thankfully gone and the delusions that were sold along with his arrival. People at Syracuse had a different situation than what he got at BGSU. But their more rational fans are being quicker to question the hype than many in BG were. As well they should. I'm happy for a title, even if I'm still bitter over the train wreck the man left behind and was responsible for creating.

I worry more about game day experiences than I do Jinks at this point.