Hello Followers. Hope you had a great weekend.
As the Cougs slipped to 2-5 and 0-4 in Conference on Saturday, I found myself asking the following question: Where do we go from here?
Nearly two days later, and after having thought about that question for nary a second, I think I have an answer. So, read on.
Followers, in contrast to popular opinion that is out there, I happen to think that this team has bowl talent. The problem is, they aren’t ready to realize it yet. And because we are now heading toward game 8 of a 12 game season, it has become pretty obvious that the dreams of a holiday bowl are pretty much confined to this…
That said, the fact that we’re not going to a bowl this year doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t continue to strive to become a bowl-quality team by year’s end. And so, as I look forward to the season’s final third, I have the following slogan in mind: THE DRIVE FOR FIVE.
And for me, that slogan carries two meanings. First and foremost, although this team should obviously try to win out, for me five wins represents the goal. To do that, we will have to win our two remaining home games and win one of three on the road. Do that, and we will finish the year 3-2 over our final five and will be the Colorado loss away from bowl eligibility. Not what we wanted, but enough to gain much needed momentum heading into the final recruiting stretch, spring preparations, and so forth.
But, in addition to trying to up the bottom line--with respect to wins and losses—this team also needs to focus on the five following process measures. For me, the extent to which we realize these five keys will determine our prospects for having a chance at a winning season next year. They are as follows:
Trust Your Seniors
When you’re a program that has lost 46 out of its last 57 football games, it becomes real easy to mail it in. After all, NO ONE in this program has any experience winning. NO ONE.
But, as we saw down the stretch last year, seniors can sure help keep the lights on when the going gets tough. And so, Leach has a pretty critical—but alarmingly easy—decision to make here over the next two days. Does he empower guys like Tuel, Winston, Long, and Simmons to lead this team through the Apple Cup, or does he disempower them by going with youth?
If he decides to go with his seniors, I think we’ll all witness pay-dirt sooner than later. I mean, not only does Mr. Tuel provide us with the best chance to win, he also provides us with the best chance to keep our heads above water psychologically. In contrast, hand this team over to Halliday right now, and his over-the-top emotions, renegade decision making, and so forth is destined to lead to a 2-10 squad that will enter a tougher season next year (schedule) a total, total mess.
In short, leaders get you through the tough times and my sense is that Tuel ,Long, et al. aren’t going to let this young team quit as long as they have a real personal investment in it.
One of the things that was the most disappointing to many of you was the play of the defense on Saturday night. And me? Well, I was actually pretty pleased. And the reason for this stance is simple: (a) CAL is as talented at the skill positions as any team we will see the rest of the way—certainly they’re the fastest; and (b) We got lit up for 300+ yards on the ground on Saturday night and gave up ONLY 31 POINTS!!!
Again, we played TERRIBLY on defense for the much of the game and still gave up only 31 points.
(Think about that for a minute, giving up 31 was a GOOD game for us last year, even with Mizell, Kaufusi, Hoffman-Ellis, Lorenzi…)
And so, as we look forward to what we can expect the rest of the way, we can know this much for certain: We have already reached a point in the program’s development where if we can put points on the board, we will win games. Last year we couldn’t say that, nor the year before. And frankly, we couldn’t say that at the beginning of the year either.
But in order for us to keep this group fresh and growing, things are going to have to change on offense. Which brings me to, key #3:
BECOME A PHYSICAL TEAM
Saturday we saw flashes of physical play from our Wide Receivers. Myers and Bartalone showed the ability to play tough, Dominique Williams showed the potential to gain separation from press coverage, and Kristoff Williams showed that he deserves to get TONS of reps the rest of the way.
So, with the next two games against Stanford and Utah—two VERY physical defensive teams—that trend must continue. ..
Of course, the only way that kids learn how to become physical is to practice those skills in one-on-one GAME situations. So, if we want our receivers to have a clue about what they need to do in August of 2013against Auburn, then we better have a quarterback that can get them the ball NOW. Simply put, if we want D & K Williams, Myers, and Marquess to take their games to the next level, they’ll need lots of good reps—not practice trying to run down other DBs following yet another INT/throw into triple coverage.
Bring out the Guns
We saw hints of it on Saturday, and with various degrees of semi-success, but I am a true believer that the Pistol can mesh with the Air Raid in a way that makes us a little more unpredictable and a bit more ball control savy than what we’ve seen so far. Simply put, the more we put a physical guy like Winston on the field, the better. And while losing Marquess was tough on Saturday night, losing Caldwell might have been tougher. As the season progresses and the air gets colder, I think we’re going to find that Caldwell just might have it in him to emerge as an upper division running back. But he’s going to need touches and Tuel needs to have additional blocking support… More Pistol, please…
Don’t Get Upset, Get One
Part of the challenge that this year’s team faces is trying to reconcile their inability to realize their own expectations. I mean, to a man, I bet you that every one of those guys thought that they were going to have a big year. And so, while we have all had our collective panties in a bunch this year (and for good reason) one can only imagine how those guys are feeling. I mean, at the start of the year, Jeff Tuel was probably thinking about a 5,000 yard passing season. Do you think that he would have ever imagined that he would struggle to sniff Marshall’s numbers from last year?
And truly, the best way to get away from feeling sorry for yourself is to win. But even more than that, what this team REALLY needs is to jump on somebody who is good. And to me, that means that this team MUST find a way to beat a team like Stanford or Arizona State—even if it’s our only win the rest of the way. Because frankly, in order to win 6 or 7 games in a conference like the Pac-12 is to beat somebody who’s pretty darn good. And the sooner that this team can gain that signature victory, the better of we’ll all be.
That’s all for today’s bye-week ramble. I’ll be back later in the week.
All for now. Go Cougs.