Bumped. So much for fun than reading boilerplate game previews in preseason rags. GO BRUINS. -N
This is the second in a series of posts that will follow how I play through our upcoming season schedule in NCAA Football 10's Dynasty Mode, where one can recruit and play through numerous seasons and years in an effort to build a "dynasty", or at least a recognized program, at your selected school. I'll provide a recap of the game, what to expect from the video game version of our opponent (which may or may not serve as useful scouting tool), and a breakdown of a key play or two with pictures and video. The AI difficulty is set at a higher level than the game's default, which is more representative of real-life play.
Coming off a last-second win against SDSU via a Kai Forbath field goal, the Bruins now head into Neyland Stadium, one of the Top 25 Toughest Places to Play in this year's edition of the game. Mistakes late in the game and inconsistencies proved to be stumbling blocks in the season opener and these flaws could prove to be major problems on the road in SEC country.
The Bruins come into the game with straight B- ratings overall, and on offense and defense. Tennessee's overall rating is a B+, with it's offense at a B+ and its defense, led by Eric Berry, at an A-. Check out what happened after the jump.
I knew this game would be tough, in part because it was an away game with a lot of crowd noise, which in turn affects how you're able to manage the offense before the snap (and I do a lot of audibles/hot routes when I see something I do or don't like). This problem happened to be magnified with a redshirt freshman QB at the helm; underclassmen players don't have the composure rating that their upperclassmen counterparts do. With that being said, I knew that the only way to win was to force UT to turn the ball over or go 4-and-out more than I did, keep the ball in the hands of our RB and milk the clock, and keep our turnovers to a minimum. Let's just say the game was a roller coaster of momentum going into halftime.
Tennessee elected to half the ball to start the half (which I prefer when the opposing team makes their choice) and their first drive started to chug along...up until the point where they crossed midfield. On an important short third down, the defense came up big, stopping Montario Hardesty at the line and forcing the Vols to punt. Austin returned the ball to near midfield and with a short field, I was able to work the running game and short routes. Unfortunately, Prince was injured during the drive and was out for the game (with a pinched nerve...okay? haha). The drive was capped off with a TD run by Jonathan Franklin (again, the RB I selected to start the previous week) on an option run out of the shotgun. Running the option out of the shotgun is one of my favorite plays to use, especially in the red zone, mainly because defenses run man defenses in the red zone and in part because Kevin Craft has some mobility that works with the play. We'll go through a breakdown of the option play here:
We're lined up in shotgun formation with Rosario in the slot, Moya lined up on the right side of the line, and Franklin to the right as well. The play calls for the option to be run to the strong side (to the right); both Rosario and Austin will have to seal off their men (which will be corner and the SS, as we'll see later), while the line will have to push and seal off the right side as well. Notice how the defense stacks the line of scrimmage; they're showing blitz and, for the most part, they intend to stop a run up the middle. Normally, if this was a draw play or a zone-read that involved going up the middle, I'd audible out to quick slants. However, this play is going away from where the Vols are stacking, so I elected to just go with the play.
This is shortly after the snap and just as they showed, the Vols blitz. They blitz their front seven, leaving the secondary to cover the position players in man coverage. For the most part, the line is able to hold and the pressure that does get through is on the left side, away from the play (you can see that their RE and ROLB get pretty much free releases). Embree and the corner on him on the far side of the play are not important on the play. Rosario, in the slot, will seal off the SS towards the middle of the field; Austin will do the same the corner that's on him.
That basically leaves Craft and Franklin to take on the FS. With option plays like this going up against man coverage, you get whoever is on the initial ball carrier to take the bait: in this case, the FS will attempt to make a play on Craft once he cuts up the field. Once he sells out, a simple pitch to Franklin will do and he has nothing but open field. On a side note, when the defense drops into zone coverage, it's wise to just keep the ball as the QB and slide. Just like that, our Bruins are up 7-0.
On the ensuing Vols drive, they again went three-and-out, and again I was able to drive down a short field for a TD pass from Craft to Rosario: 14-0, Bruins. It was at this point, a little into the second quarter, that everything unraveled. Tennessee was able to establish their running game with Hardesty; stacking the line with seven, sometimes eight men was not enough to stop him from chugging along. We were able to pressure Crompton, with four total sacks on the day, including this one by Korey Bosworth. However, they capped off the drive with a questionable TD (the game definitely glitched, but I was unable to challenge the play...sigh). Our ensuing drive was a quick three-and-out, and Tennessee was yet again able to get their running game to move the ball into the end zone: 14-14. With two minutes left in the game, I figured I'd run the two-minute drill to set up a TD or a FG, at the very least...but even seasoned gamers like me become a bit too overzealous and a broken play and an errant Craft throw later (HE IS NOT AN 84...ugh, come on, EA), the Vols were up 21-14 through the pick-six. 21 unanswered points definitely gets one to think about playing really conservatively, but I still had time left and was able to work some quick outs...until once again, Craft threw a pick. In an ironic twist of events, the Vols tried to get a quick score in and ATV was able to pick Crompton off in a matter of seconds. I was finally able to get us into field goal range, with Forbath nailing a 45+ yarder to get the game at 21-17 going into halftime.
By allowing the Vols to score three unanswered touchdowns, the crowd noise got louder compared to when we were up 14-0 and it definitely felt like they had the momentum...and that's why I like getting the ball to start the second half. We were able to establish the running game with the opening drive, ending with another Franklin TD run to finally recapture the lead, 24-17. The following Vols drive was the turning point of the game for both sides. Once again, the Vols were able to drive down into the red zone on the back of Hardesty. On second down, Hardesty broke a run to get the first and then a bit more, but Reggie Carter was able to get a helmet on the ball (it's a bit too fast; unforunately, I can't slow-mo it with their in-game video editor) as he tackled Hardesty, jarring the ball loose and allowing ATV to recover the fumble. That costly turnover was one of four total from the Vols and would have been a moot point with our three turnovers, but the fumble led to another TD drive that effectively broke their back and silenced the crowd. Franklin capped off a great night with his third TD run, finishing the game with 152 yards on 23 attempts (I prefer his speed over the strength of our other RBs, making him a threat in the open field on both running and passing downs). With the score 27-21, subsequent Vols drives needed to end in a score but they ended in three-and-outs and in a turnover, including this pick by Rahim Moore that essentially ended the game then and there.
We were able to walk out of Neyland Stadium with a 34-21 win despite our starting QB going down early, a meltdown that happened two quarters too early compared to last year, and three turnovers. In the end, the defense was able to step up (seen with Tennessee's four turnovers: three picks, one fumble), even in a hostile environment. I'm kinda glad things fell apart in the second quarter as opposed to the fourth, like with SDSU, but I'd much rather not having things fall apart at all. With the win, the Bruins are now 2-0; next time, I'll cover how we stack up back in Pasadena against the Kansas State Wildcats.
NOTE: The games I've played against UT on the "Play Now" mode (to get a quick game in) were all close wins or losses, and this game was pretty much headed down that same road until that Hardesty fumble. I know EA talks about how momentum as a gameplay mechanic ever since the 2007 version of the game, but you really don't get a grasp on it in-game unless you check the status of your players pre-snap (whether they're "hot" or "cold"). That fumble, though, pretty much showed me how much momentum does affect a team in the game. Had they scored a TD, the game would have been 28-24 Vols and would have been nip and tuck like previous games, in my opinion.