My kids go to a local public elementary school and they are in an advanced curriculum classroom because they are really pretty bright. But every 3 months or so they'll come home with a test that has a big red 37%, or some other small number, circled in red. After I unclench my teeth and resign myself to saying that Colorado State isn't that bad a school, I'll ask the kids what happened and why they did so poorly on a test, to which they'll remind me that this was just one of their progress tests. A few times during the year, their teachers will give them a test that contains material that is intentionally beyond their capabilities just to see how much progress they are making and if the pace of their teaching is appropriate. And sure enough, the test will have stuff like real algebra or high school geometry that I wouldn't expect any 4th or 2nd grader to handle. So I'll take a breath and relax, and then the images of MIT and Princeton and U.C.L.A. will come dancing back. And, well, yeah, Stanford, too.
U.C.LA. got one of those tests on Saturday, and they fared about as well as my kids do on their progress tests. Unfortunately for the Bruins, these tests aren't just barometers for future development, but are a live measure of accomplished goals and developmental milestones. The truth is that the Bruins met a team in Palo Alto that was clearly better prepared and that executed perfectly and is in fact way out of our league right now from a performance standpoint. Forget high school geometry. The Bruins had as much chance with Stanford as my kids would in Math 31A. And it is a sorry report that 3 years and 5 games into Rick Neuheisel's run that his program is failing so badly to keep up with its contemporaries.
Due to some quirks in everyone's schedule, I get do do the Eye Test grades this week. As such, the grades this week are seen through my eyes, and I am not attempting to judge the way Nestor would have done if he were writing this as he has after our first 4 games. And while there were some definite positives on our offense, this team is still lagging far behind where it should be at this point. When Stanford's offense looks like Sherman's Army and our defense looks like the Georgia landscape (I really liked the Civil War references this week), and our special teams should be renamed the especially bad teams, there is no way to get around the fact that the overall grade for Neuheisel's program is very poor. And once again, the majority of the failures lie in the coaching and preparation. Hello again, CSU. Hey, at least they have some great microbrews there.
The "Eye Test" grades, after the jump...
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
We knew we were facing a potent offense with likely the best quarterback in college football in Andrew Luck. You might have heard the announcers mention his name and his Jesus-like greatness a couple times. And while Luck is truly a great talent and devising a defense to slow him down would be a difficult challenge, it doesn't appear the Bruins made much effort to do even this. The Bruins appeared simply to revert to their classic "don't give up the big play" technique, favoring a long slow steady inexorable death at the hands of a highly efficient passing game that took what the defense allowed and a consistent rushing game.
In the first half, the only thing that stopped the Stanford offense was the first half itself when it finally expired Prior to that, the Tree had the ball 3 times and scored 3 times. In the second half, after our vaunted coaching staff met to make halftime adjustments, it took Stanford all of 2 plays to score another TD. They did force a couple punts on the next 2 possessions, but the fumble on the second punt gave the Cardinal a short field which they cashed in on their way to 3 consecutive touchdown drives to close the game.
There were some classic moments Saturday that showed how unprepared our defense was, and how we failed to make any adjustments. Yet another fail by Jim Tresey and the unit he is running
The wildcat formation: On at least 3 occasions, Andrew Luck lined up as a wide out, with a running back in the shotgun to take the direct snap. The second time, they reset with the QB coming back underneath center. The third time, the ball was snapped to the running back. Perhaps we were still thinking of that highlight reel one-hander that Luck pulled down earlier and thought we needed deep help from the safety, but when the running back, shockingly, ran with the ball, he was barely touched as he went 21 yards up the middle for a touchdown. Maybe it's me, but if Stanford is bold enough to run Luck on a skinny post and have the running back stand in the pocket and chuck it downfield, I say let them. Until then, key on the ballcarrier, defense.
The power formation: On maybe 6 or 7 occasions, Stanford lined up with 3 tight ends, or with double tight and a third in the backfield. On all but one of these occasions, the ball was given to the upback who stormed up the middle. The other was a counter to the deep back. Every one was a run. It wasn't glamorous, and it wasn't a surprise, but it was a guaranteed 4 yard or more gain every time. Which is pretty nice when you have 3rd and 2. Or if you need one yard for a touchdown.
I guess you can't blame the defense for fearing the tight ends. It was nice the Bruins rediscovered Joseph Fauria last night, but Stanford knows they have 3 of him. Poor Dietrich Riley never had a chance when Stanford lined a TE in the slot and dared him to cover him one on one. Maybe Riley was slowed down by his heavier jersey with the extra number on it this week, but their TE's released free and ran up the field all night, scoring two TD's up the seam.
Despite Stanford's numerous different formations and variety of offense run from those sets, we played our base defensive formation the majority of the time. Again we saw essentially no pash rush all night. The one time we did get two DL deep in the backfield, there were so confused at finding themselves there that they lost track of the QB and crashed into each other instead. Images of clowns on Vespas came to mind. With no pash rush, and virtually no blitzes to try to confuse Luck or at least make him adjust, he had all night to surgically dissect our soft coverage. Some will argue that Luck is so good that you can't blitz him. Well, not pressuring him didn't work either. Perhaps we should have tried. At this point, an effective blitz from the Bruins defense would not only confuse the O Line and the QB, it would confuse all the Bruin fans watching.
We did see some nice individual efforts from Riley with tackles near the line, Aaron Hester in coverage, some decent rush defense from Seali'i Espensa and Eric Kendricks and Owamagbe Odighizuwa. But has anyone seen or heard from Datone Jones? Again, do we even have our best personnel on the field?
The bottom line is that on Saturday our D held Stanford to a loss on just one single play. One. The D stopped Stanford for a 2 yard loss on their 3rd drive that netted a FG. Every other play gained yards, except for Luck's 4 incompletions on the night, and their kneel-down at the end of the half. In a game where we needed our defense to be aggressive and creative and effective,and slow down a potent offense to give our own a chance to keep pace, that didn't come close to cutting it. D-
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
I will give the Bruins some credit here. The opening drive was a thing of beauty. The Bruins first play as a run was not as much of an upset as the fact that we lined up, and then immediately reset the formation. This was followed by a nice mixture of quick passes to receivers getting loose on short underneath routes and hitches. Johnathan Franklin, Derrick Coleman, Richard Brehaut, Nelson Rosario, Shaquelle Evans, and Jordon James all saw the ball on the first drive. It seems we couldn't stand success as the creativity and diversity that moved us down the field disappeared when we got to the goalline. Enough has been written about the play calling at the end of the first drive that I don't need to rehash it. Going for the touchdown on 4th down was the gutsy call, but the play selection still harkened to our conservative roots and guaranteed failure. One step forward, two steps back.
A measure of redemption was gained in the third quarter on our first drive when the offense, with a 4th and 1 in FG range, ran a play action swing pass to Joe Fauria who went Edwin Moses on a Stanford DB on the way to the end zone. That was simply a great call and a jump (literally) from the expected dive into the line. See what happens when you dare, and with your best players? Unfortunately, the failure on the first opportunity had set the game on a path that couldn't be undone by then, but that was the kind of aggressive play call that we have been lacking.
Stanford was as initially surprised as we all were that Fauria was still one of Brehaut's favorite targets. The explanation that he was 60% last week doesn't make sense if he was on the field to block, admittedly not his specialty. I don't know what personal struggles are going on, but the kid is a matchup nightmare for any defense and he showed his brilliance with a great catch on our first TD and with that catch run/hurdle for our second. Sadly, Stanford was capable of defensive adjustments. On a 4th and 10 in our last gasp effort to stay in the game, they had Big Joe doubled and Brehaut's effort to force in in there was knocked down.
Other highlights included the onside kick which caught most observers by surprise, and it was only the execution which let us down. Brehaut found a mismatch with Rosario on short outside routes and took advantage repeatedly. When the coaches put someone there who can actually break a tackle and make yards after the catch, we'll be dangerous. The touchdown drive before the half showed good clock management. The run game was productive against one of the country's top rush defenses. We took another shot downfield to Randall Carroll, but we need to do this more and connect to make this a viable threat.
There were some lowlights. Brehaut had a too much pressure throughout the game, and especially from their standard 3 and 4 man fronts. The offensive line absolutely has to be able to give the QB more time when they outnumber the DL. Nevertheless, their pash rush was effective and led to Brehaut being hit or rushed on several throws. A delayed blitz right up the middle was missed by the OL and when Brehaut held the ball too long, he got hit and the resulting fumble led to Stanford's second touchdown. Overall, the offense gets a lot of credit for some better variety and execution against a very good and well coached defense. However, their grade is hurt by the pass blocking and that goal line play calling sequence was unforgiveable. They left yards and points on the field. B-.
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
This also was an area of general improvement. We were whistled for only 3 penalties for 25 yards on the night, a show of maturity in a tough environment and a sign that the players understood their positioning and role and were responsible for it. Still, on Stanford's second TD, the defense was flying all over the place, before the snap, trying to get lined up. I've already mentioned the lack of adjustment to their jumbo formation and our inability to stop it. That however is more about poor preparation from the coaching staff than the kids making mistakes. Riley getting torched up the seam by the Cardinal tight end is an error of scheme, as he never should have been left alone like that. Our kick return team had trouble with our upbacks fielding kicks and trying to advance them. They look ill prepared for that situation. To me, the players are looking more comfortable and sure on the field. That they may be the wrong personnel or in the wrong scheme or unprepared is not on them. This week, some good, a little less bad. I'll go with a C+.
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
I think they did on Saturday. A quitter gets worse as the deficit rises and the game gets closer to the end (kinda like me writing this post). But there was no dramatic increase in missed tackles or dropped passes or ridiculous celebrations or brainless penalties or personal fouls even as the game further and further out of hand. This shows me the players stayed focused on maintaining their responsibilities and didn't get lazy or apathetic or down. I do think they got tired, but Stanford's final drives looked a lot like their first drives. That showed their superior preparation and execution, and not a Bruin team that was quitting by the 3rd quarter and looking to get out of town. Could the intensity be better? Sure, by a mile. See the leadership grades. But with the overall performance and culture around this team, and with the things we have read about attitudes on the sidelines and in the locker rooms, this didn't look like a team that was ready to give up on Saturday. And good for them. Because we aren't ready to give up either, Bruins. B-.
5) Do our players execute?
I have covered lots of this already, so I will just summarize instead of listing lots of examples. Our rushing game was pretty effective, and JetSki was a step away from breaking some big runs. But that was the problem. He needed one more step, whether it was a matter of the hip not being 100% or him not getting past the first level clean enough to beat the secondary. Also, Coleman was a non-factor with 4 rushes for 4 yards. Brehaut managed the game well and was a reasonable passer, with continued improvement from our receiving corps. His execution was pretty good given the poor protection he faced. All this points to a disappointing night for our offensive line. I've written it a million times: Line Wins Games. On Saturday, Stanford's lines won the battle in the trenches. With no pash rush, Luck could have gone deep many times had the routes been there, so I believe that our pass coverage was generally pretty good, aside from the always open short and underneath routes that Luck methodically picked at. But we still saw some missed tackles and our D line was pushed around to the tune of 202 yards. It's hard to win when the opponent moves the ball forward on every play.
A not so special mention of our special teams needs to be made here. The troubles with the kicking team are unacceptable. I give Jeff Locke some credit for trying to step in, but when the backup punter is missing PAT's because he is our best option there, that speaks again to the failure of the coaching staff to have the right personnel ready and capable of doing the job. Besides the misses, the PAT team had a false start. I've mentioned the problems with the KR team above. If Josh Smith fields the kick, look out, because something good is about to happen. When teams realize they should kick to anyone else but Josh Smith, well then, look out because hopefully nothing bad happens. Finally, a word for our punt catcher, Taylor Embree, who is by all accounts a great student and person. He has been tasked to field punts because he is least likely to hurt our team. But when has he ever made any big plays that significantly helped our team? I can only presume that Neu believes that many of his catches might have been fumbles had someone else been in that spot, but we'll never know that. We'll also never know how many big plays, changes of field position, or swings in momentum we have missed. When Embree's strength didn't execute, it was a dagger. Our defense rose to the occasion and stopped Stanford on back to back series and we were had a chance to cut the lead to four. Embree's fumble was converted to a Stanford TD 4 plays later and the lead was 18. The special teams would get a G or an H, if there is anything below an F. That, plus the defensive performance gives an overall execution grade of C- .
6) Do we have leaders on the field?
This is always a tough one to grade from television, as the camera isn't always pointing at the things we need to see, like who on the sidelines is talking to his unit and rallying them, or how the body language of the players' looks when adversity hits. We may get a better read on this later tonight when Ryan shares his experiences in making the trip to the Farm. From what I saw, I thought Brehaut looked more confident and in command on Saturday. The conferences with Neu on the sideline seemed less contentious, perhaps reflecting a greater trust by the coach or a better command of the offense by the QB. I think the offense is also looking up to Fauria. He is the one player on this team with some swagger and arrogance who is backing it up. His players seemed to rally around him. I still don't see a lot of teamsmanship on D. We still don't have that alpha dog on the defensive unit who is always helping his players up, and woofing at the opponent, and flying around and destroying plays. It could be that getting pushed around every week, or playing soft every week inhibits leadership. It could be the absence of the leader is inhibiting performance. Either way, the defense still looks generally rudderless. And that starts at the top. C-.
So here's what I have. Remember, I'm South Campus so grades are a lot tougher here...
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? [D- : 0.7]
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? [B-: 2.7]
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? [C+: 2.3]
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? [B- : 2.7]
5) Do our players execute? [C-: 1.7]
6) Do we have leaders on the field? [C-: 1.7]
This comes out to a grade against Stanford of 1.97. Just missed a C. Almost passing, but not quite. That's not quite as good as Oregon State last week, when we saw a really very good first half. But Stanford was able to exploit our weaknesses and we just missed on some golden opportunities to make some real leaps. Until we do, we can't credit them. Our defense and our special teams and 2 turnovers brought down what was an improved offensive effort and a reasonably inspired effort by our players.
After 5 games, that's not passing the Eye Test. And that's all on the head coach of this program.