I think the most amazing thing about today's loss is how close we came to staying in a game in which we made some terrible mistakes. I mean, for crying out loud, we gave up a 100 yard touchdown on the second half kickoff, a gimme touchdown on an interception on our very next series [for two touchdowns in 26 seconds] and fumbled the ball away at midfield the next series to set up Oregon's one and only touchdown against our defense. [Less than 4 minutes into the second half.] This does not count our failure to score from the one yard line on two successive plays in the first half. [More on this later] That's a 28 point spread right there. The game could not be more gift-wrapped to the other team. Yet our players never quit and actually made a game of it until the last freaky interception off a bobbles pass.
This is the Good thing to remember from this game. I truly believe our players were equal to the talent level of Oregon, maybe even better. The caliber of our players, I believe, is truly excellent overall. Yes, we can quibble about the quality of certain segments of our squad. We have issues everywhere. All teams do. That's not what i'm talking about. I'm talking about overall talent and team speed. We are more than competitive there and it showed today, despite our loss.
So what's the Bad and the Ugly that are contributing to our losses? Here's my take
The Bad: I question the judgment of the coaches in picking Craft and Prince to start over Brehaut. Perhaps it was defensible before, but certainly not after today. Let's face it. Without question, the most important decision a coach can make is who should be the QB. It makes a huge difference at any level, but especially college. I have only seen Brehaut pass twice in the San Diego State game and now in the Oregon game. And the difference IMHO is dramatic.
Craft is Craft, God love him. He is a gamer but he has obvious limitations. Prince is a redshirt freshman and knows the system to a T, but in his four games he has not shown anything much beyond his strong arm and tenacity to spare. Today, IMHO, he was surprisingly slow in his reads, terrible in his decision making and threw badly [high and wide on long passes and short-arming short ones into the ground]. Brehaut, both against SDSU and again today, IMHO showed not only signs of brilliance, but beautiful, tight, accurate passes all over the field. His performance was all the more remarkable since Oregon knew he was going to pass and our coaches, in their wisdom, did almost nothing to save him from the rush, ie. no screens, one dray, no pitches to backs, nothing, in fact, mostly empty backfields.
Some might point out that Prince was rusty. While that may be true, he had two prior starts and has been in the system for over a year. Brehaut, meanhwile, had the prior two passes against SDSU, period. He had no prior games to be "rusty" from. So I don't think "rust" explains the difference. It's raw talent more than likely.
My bottom line. The only QB of the three who appears to have the talent to excel in the offense is Brehaut. He is not merely a "game manager." He is a natural. Whatever reason he did not start before makes no sense now.
The Ugly. I love Coach Neuheisel and Coach Chow. i am thrilled they are our coaches, No question they have resurrected the program, are recruiting outstanding players and have us headed in the right direction, that is, forward and upward. I have faith they will get us to where we all want to be soon.
Which is why it is unfathomable to me how they have overcoached this team to its detriment. What do I mean by overcoaching? Does the name Gene Mauch, God rest his soul, mean anything to you? Someone who outsmarts himself and his team by constantly overmanaging, complicating the game, taking the bat or ball out of his player's hands at a critical moment. Someone who does not do the most important thing that a coach must do: LET HIS PLAYERS PLAY. Instead, this kind of coach tells his players that HE DOES NOT TRUST THEM TO BE ABLE TO MAKE THE PLAY, THE PITCH OR THE HIT. Instead, he decides he must make some "brilliant" call for his team to make the play or win the game.
I really think that our coaches have done this throughout the season on both sides of the ball. In this game, however, I think Coach Bullough fixed this mistake from last week's Stanford game and let our defense play good assignment football and did not overcoach against the spread. The result, with the exception of two running plays, one a fluke and the other helped by a ridiculous failure to call an obvious face mask on our guy, was a tremendous effort against an outstanding spread team.
Unfortunately, on offense, I think our coaches continued the mistakes of overcoaching from the Stanford game. They didn't let the players play. the didn't trust them to get the job done. So they made decisions that literally took the game away from their own players.
The prime example was the call of two successive QB sneaks at the one yard line. [Mississippi State did the same thing, thought not as badly, against LSU last week with one ridiculous QB sneak at the one.] But two in a row? OMG. You are taking the air out of the ball from your own outstanding running backs, fullbacks. You're telling Chane Moline, with a head of steam, that he can't get a yard. You're telling your offensive line they can't block for a yard. You're telling your QB you don't trust him to carry out a fake up the middle and toss the ball to a running back around the end or fake a run and hit a tight end in the flat or over the middle. You're telling your team you have no confidence in them beating the other team physically. They can only win by being cute or surprising.
Again I say let the players play. Let them risk failure so they can learn what it takes to win.
I think this same overcoaching applies to most of our offensive play calling. I've talked before about how, in general, we have a very effective run game, but the coaches give up on it whenever they get in the red zone. They did that again today in the red zone. At the same time, when we do try and pass in the red zone it is rare we go into the end zone itself. Instead, we seem enamored of passes to the flat or to the tight end that are deliberately thrown under the coverage in the hope he can make a move past a defender and get a first down. It is all so cautious, so tentative IMO, so self-limitng.
I really believe most of the failures on our offense are due to this overcoaching. How to cure it?
Run the ball in the red zone until the other team actually stops it more than once, especially in four down territory. And if you are going to throw it, throw it into the end zone, or at least over the first down marker. Let the players play. Let them have the chance to make the play that gets them somewhere. Give them the freedom to win or lose it.
And start Brehaut.
If we did these simple things from the start against Oregon, I think we win. If not, i think we score at least a couple of touchdowns, really.
Am I wrong? There's an easy way to find out.