First off, thanks to Patrick for playing along and commenting on the game thread yesterday, it was cool to try out, and it'll be back in future. The rest of you who didn't comment get a free pass because you were hopefully all at the stadium, so, be there next time.
I predicted NU would win this game by 38 points. Obviously, I miscalculated.
I believed that NU was a talented enough team to defeat an unheralded EMU team handily without much playcalling diversity, or effort. For two quarters, I was correct.
I'd like to chalk up the EMU comeback in the second half to lack of focus, painfully predictable playcalling and NU's nagging habit of playing at the level of their opponent, but the truth is, this team has problems that make them seem a lot worse than we thought at the beginning of the year.
I'm not a doom and gloom guy. I'm pleased with victories, and today, I'm happy. The following is just a list of observations, and, as you'll notice, a lot of them are negative. I have a funny feeling this team will beat Syracuse next week, but a lot of the things here have to improve, or else, quite frankly, they won't.
Coaching: Yeah, we played vanilla, just like we said. This is the last week this year we can afford to do this, clearly. We're not good enough to pull off that trick against FBS opponents, so, the days of running twice as much as we pass are over. Silly playcalling over and over again down the stretch did aid the EMU comeback, and that's fixable.
Defense: WOAH. Wasn't this unit supposed to be one of the best in years? Like last year's, but better?
First off, tackling. It's one of the most fundamental things in football, and the major role of defenders. So it's disconcerting that time and again NU's players were in position to tackle people, and just straight up didn't. That's bad.
The line looked suspect. And when I say suspect, I mean Eastern Michigan's offensive line handled them. It's the talk of the town that Corey Wootton doesn't look ready, and I have to agree with that assessment. But this is just a weaker unit all-around than it was last year, and I'm not sure why people, including me, expected it to be better in retrospect. Last year, we had three passable defensive ends: Wootton, who was a beast, Browne, who was also, and Mims, who was pretty good. They substituted for each other, and were constantly fresh. And up the middle, we had John Gill, who people actually had to watch out for. Now, all the attention is focused on our ends, and to be honest, we're relatively weak directly up the middle. EMU ran right at our defensive tackles, and did so for about 5.4 yards per rush. EMU's o-line was being touted as extraordinarily week, giving up six sacks last week... and they looked like grown men against the NU d-line.
Nate Williams is a bright spot so far, but our linebacking corps is part of the reason for that 5.4 yards per carry. It's not a good sign that our speedy LB's are being blocked out by o-linemen on their second line of blocks on run plays. Credit where credit is due, Ben Johnson made that one great play, but he's been pretty lackluster outside of that, not to mention that it was thrown right at him through no effort of his own.
Also, it should be noted that we've given up two wide open passes for touchdowns on plays where it looked like there was a miscommunication in which a cornerback stuck with a man and then passed him off to let the safety pick him up on deep coverage... and the safety wasn't there. Vs. Towson, the play just appeared to be a miscommunication between the cornerback and the safety, and it wasn't clear with whom the fault rested. Yesterday, safety Jared Carpenter was supposed to pick up Jacory Stone, but bit on a simple lookaway from Andy Schmitt, and voila, nobody was covering Stone anymore. The miscommunication was acceptable, I guess, when we were up 40 on Towson, but by week two, these sorts of mistakes that allow people to be completely unsurrounded in the end zone are frightening.
Credit where credit is due: Brad Phillips played great, Jordan Mabin didn't mess up, and Nate Williams seems to have a nose for the ball. Also, I guess you can't ignore the fact that Sherrick McManis didn't play today, but you wonder how much he would've helped.
So yeah. Not many positives on the defensive side of the ball. We shouldn't be giving up 24 points to EMU, we shouldn't be allowing a bottom-tier o-line body us and let their running back go for 130 on us.
Special teams: YO. Outside of punter messiah Stefan Demos' game-winning 50 yarder, about which enough cannot be said, our special teams game was in absolute shambles, throwing away field position and occasionally leaving points on the field. Let's see:
We had a muffed punt based on miscommunication between the punt returner and the people trying to set up blocking for him, and that cost the Cats seven points.
We had extremely poor coverage on kickoffs: the Eagles had great field position on multiple returns in the first half and needed Demos, aka he who can do no wrong, to make a potential touchdown saving tackle on one return.
We had back to back failures by Brendan Smith to judge the punt and let it roll to the 1- and 2- yard line.
Again, Demos gets a pass, but we also had some pretty poor punting.
Luckily, all this is special teams stuff is correctable: Smith getting under the ball knocks three of those poorly executed plays off the list, and there's nothing staying in your lanes won't do on kickoff returns. But this special teams play gifted EMU a touchdown, and if uncorrected, will gift another school a victory.
Offense: Our offense didn't look as bad as the other units. Just like on defense, we've got issues in the trenches: our offensive line didn't look particularly great, racking up holding calls left and right.. But they were good last year, so I won't fret.
The era of Mike Kafka the devoted pocket passer is over. Yes, he can throw, but let's be real: to have an effect against opposing defenses, he has to show off the wheels. It's obvious. Today, Kafka out of the pocket looked only good, not great, overthrowing people a bunch and throwing a pick, although the pick wasn't his fault as he got hit on the play.
It's also obvious that we were way overdependent on our running back play today. Now, don't misconstrue that statement: Stephen Simmons looked better than he ever has against FBS opponents, and Jacob Schmidt looked like someone who can actually contribute, especially on short-yardage plays. But we need to throw more often, and on deeper routes. Just to mix it up. We had a plan to not do that yesterday, and it backfired.
In terms of personnel: Scott Concannon will hopefully improve with time, but I think his audition for playing time this year is over, despite a really great opening game against Towson. Arby Fields looked like a freshman, and I guess that will happen, so you can't be mad, but he's not ready for primetime. And I think we're trying to overutilize Josh Rooks and his hands of concrete-like material.
So, yeah. Obviously, flush it, and come back and win next week, and we can forget this ever happened. The Cats are half-way to what should be their goal every year: sweeping the out-of-conference slate.
Obviously, there should be complaints: we just nearly blew a game against an extremely week team.
But yo: Stefan Demos hit a game-winning 50-yard field goal. Like it says in the sidebar: this site is about slowing down and enjoying the good things in NU sports. So live life a little, folks. And enjoy watching more football today.