Looking at our football team so far this season I see some real positives, although there are obviously areas of concern. However there is one overriding positive which I think outweighs the negatives. Our greatest problem over the past few years has been our mostly anemic offense. And even more specifically it has been our lack of any kind of consistent passing game. Even when our offense played well last year it was mostly running the ball, and as the season went on teams were able to focus their defense on stopping our running game because of the lack of a passing threat. So until now we have not had a balanced offense with a passing game to go along with the running game. What has been the reason for this? I think there have been three obvious problems which I would rank in this order: An offensive line not able to offer adequate pass protection for our quarterbacks, the lack of an experienced quarterback with a consistently effective passing game, and receivers who were not getting open and not holding on to the ball.
But it looks like this year the offense may have finally arrived. What we saw in the team scrimmage and especially in the Houston game was a balanced and productive offense that can pass as well as run the ball. We now have two quarterbacks who are more experienced and who have shown they can both lead the team and throw the ball effectively (especially Richard Brehaut whom we have seen more of). We have receivers who look like they can really catch the ball and who have exceptional talent. As for the offensive line there is obvious improvement especially in pass protection. I still have some concern in this area. They pass protected well against Houston, but Houston does not have a particularly good defense, and we don't know how they will do against better defensive teams that we will be playing. Also while our running game was good overall I don't think we dominated the line of scrimmage like we did against them last year. So while the offensive line does appear improved we will have to see how they do as the season goes on.
Another cause for optimism comes from other games played on Saturday which seem to indicate that our schedule may be significantly more favorable than last year. Oregon St. was beaten at home by Sacramento St., USC barely beat a very mediocre Minnesota team playing at home, Utah certainly didn't win impressively over Montana St. at home, Colorado got drilled by Hawaii, and Texas was less than overwhelming. The Arizona schools will be tough, but we have a decent chance against them with Arizona St. coming to the Rose Bowl. Cal had a pretty impressive first game, but fortunately we get to play them in the Rose Bowl this year. I now think we have a real chance to win every time we take the field this year with the probable exception of Stanford (I don't mean we will win every game, but that we have a good chance in each individual game.)
Of course our defense did look bad against Houston. What is a little strange is that they played lights out last year against Houston in what I think was the defense's best performance of the season. Of course Houston had the advantage of playing at home, and they must have game planned around what they learned against us last year. However while there is some reason for concern I'm not terribly worried about our defense. They have too much talent, and this game should be a great motivator for them. Also we won't see another team with the type of offense Houston runs and also keep in mind that we were playing against a quarterback who by the end of the season will probably have passed for more yards than anyone in NCAA history. Plus it was the first game of the season. For these reasons I don't think we can extrapolate too much from this game.
Over the last few years our team has been playing with a huge handicap. We have had an underproductive offense while playing in a conference full of high scoring teams with high powered offenses. If what we see so far this year from our offense is for real and not just a one game performance, and if our defense plays up to its apparent talent level then we are going to have a very good and highly competitive team this year. I think the offense is the real key, since it's been our main weakness, and with an offense that can consistently put over 30 points on the scoreboard you don't even need a great defense (look at Houston).
We will have to wait until conference play to know for sure how this plays out. In the last two years after impressive nonconference wins at Tennessee and Texas we thought we were pretty good but when we got into conference play this turned out to be an illusion. I'm fairly optimistic that this year will be different, and in fact it's more likely that this year's team is going to continually do better as the season goes on.