If the season was a single game, we've reached halftime.
And what has the first half taught us about our team?
Lost in the fog of an incredibly inconsistent season, we've got a good running game. It's not a great running game, but it's a solid, a good-enough-to-win games running game. To date, Johnathan Franklin has rushed for a very respectful 509 yards while averaging 6.6 yards per carry. His running mate, Derrick Coleman has 330 yards, many of them in short yardage situations. Coleman is only getting the ball 10 times a game, but seemingly makes a difference every time he plays.
Interestingly, the passing game is not as bad as you'd think. Well, it's not as bad as I thought, anyway.
I won't bother listing out the statistics, you can see them here. What jumps out at me is that we've only thrown four interceptions all season. When you consider that Prince threw three of those during the first quarter of the Texas game (a quarter that cost him the starter's job, until Richard Brehaut broke his leg), the quarterbacks are basically doing what the coaches are asking them to do. They are managing the offense, not turning the ball over, and letting the running backs carry the load.
When you think about it, though, this solid offensive performance is also a paradox.
To explain the paradox, let me use a pro football analogy:
The classic, "manage the game and win a title quarterback" is Trent Dilfer, who led the Baltimore Ravens to a win in Super Bowl 35 (okay, Super Bowl XXXV). He limited mistakes, controlled the offense, let the running backs run and the superb Ravens defense clobbered opponents into submission. In some ways, the current Ravens, quarterbacked by Joe Flacco play in a similar fashion; even the current San Francisco 49ers, with QB Alex Smith and Vic Fangio's defense are sort of playing that way (though in fairness, Smith is playing damn well right now).
Point is, a manage the game quarterback/good running game offense wins big when the defense is playing great.
Our defense is not playing great.
To say the least.
Why am I writing like Bill Plaschke?
I don't know.
In other words, our weak defense does not match our conservative, manage the game, don't turn the ball over, pound the ball offense.
We're three and three. Continuing the analogy from the first paragraph, we've played a lackluster first half, but we are still in the game. There isn't one team remaining on the schedule we can't beat. It's true and that's not a knock on USC or Arizona State who are playing pretty well, because that's all they're doing, playing pretty well. They aren't great. If we play great, we could win five, even six more games.
When I read what I just wrote, it reads outlandish. I honestly don't believe that we will win five or six of our remaining scheduled games. But if I were the coach, ready to deliver the halftime speech, I think it goes in one of two ways. You either have to let the offense know that they need to carry a greater share of the load, which means things will have to open up, the playbook expands and the quarterbacks need to win some games, not just manage some games. We actually saw a bit of that in the Washington State game. The TD to Shaq Evans was a great call. The late third down and eight pass for a first down instead of a running play to burn clock was what ever team does, but out of character for us. So, maybe we're opening things up a bit.
The other way I'd go as coach is to light into the defense. I'd let them know they weren't pulling their weight. I'd figure out what I could do to get the unit to perform better, whether that's changing the play calls or moving around some personnel. But at the end of the day/game/season ... we aren't going to have a second half if we don't change a few things.
Speaking or personnel, I really like this move by Rick Neuheisel (and when was the last time anyone wrote that?). Everyone's favorite missing person, Randall Carroll, is taking snaps on defense and expects to get some playing time there as soon as tomorrow. Supposedly, he'll play against four wide sets at first, then see how things go. I never even noticed that Dietrich Riley changed his number from #1 (because he and Carroll were on some of the same special team units) but now they both can be on the field on defense. Carroll busts his butt on special teams and is starting to get into the flow on offense. I'm very curious to see how his speed helps the defense. (Just so you know, he did play DB in high school.)
If this team is going to have a successful second half, it must begin with a win tomorrow night in Tucson. In much the same way the first drive of the third quarter is crucial for a team to set the tone for the second half, the first game of the second half of the season will set the tone for the rest of the year.
With that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Arizona edition: