I didn’t get to watch the entirety of this game, but I watched almost all of the second half and I have to say I was not very impressed with Cincinnati. That doesn’t sound like a very legitimate statement considering the fact that they were down 30-7 before they scored a couple of “gimme” touchdowns in the 4th quarter, but believe me there is a deeper point to this. I have some issues with Cincinnati’s coaching staff right now. Last year they were very much a passing team and the running game was opened up by the passing attack stretching the field and keeping the defense honest. That worked well in the Big East, but when they faced a talented (and fast) Florida defense that could play man coverage, get pressure with four or five pass rushers, and stop the run… they got beaten pretty easily. Enter Butch Jones, formerly of Central Michigan. He has said that he wants to turn his team into a “hard-nosed” football squad, one that could pick up a critical 4th and 1 for instance.
Well, he has a long way to go before he will accomplish that goal, I can say that much.
Right now all I see is a coaching staff that is calling plays as if they have the desired personnel for all of the schemes they want to run. The reality, unfortunately, is that they don’t. I imagine they will still run a spread, but if they want to be tougher, if they want to run the ball better, and if they want to have a chance to compete against a SEC team that has a fast, strong and tough defense… they need to get bigger along the offensive line (or at least stronger) and they need to build their program more along the lines of Oklahoma. Oklahoma runs a spread, and they have a lot of fast playmakers at running back and wide receiver, but they have a powerful offensive line that can grind out tough yards on the ground when they need it. They are a long way from that now though, and every day I believe more and more that the key to a coaching staff’s effectiveness is their ability to adjust to what the opposing team is trying to do. What I mean by this is simply this: Say you are a run-first team and every team in your division knows that. When teams prepare for you during the week they coach their linebackers to play downhill, attack the line of scrimmage, and play run first and then pass. They creep a safety down into the box so they can consistently have seven or eight men in the box, and they generally dare you to beat them with the pass. I think a good coaching staff, hypothetically, would start the game out doing what they normally do: Run the ball to set up the pass. But while an average coaching staff would continue to run the ball regardless of the success rate, I think a good or a great coaching staff would recognize that they are trying to take away the run and draw up some plays to take advantage of the looks the defense is giving them. For instance, attack the sidelines if there is only one safety over the top, because it will be very hard for him to cover the entire width of the field. Or you could run play-action, keep someone in to pick up the blitz, and attack down the seam or over the top of the linebackers since they would more than likely bite on the play-action and not get deep enough in their drops.
That is just a hypothetical situation obviously, but Cincinnati found themselves in a similar position to the team I just invented out of thin air in the paragraph above. They are a pass first team and they started the game trying to stay true to who they are and mix in some runs to keep the defense honest. There is nothing wrong with that. My problem is that throughout the game NC State was sending five defenders after Zach Collaros consistently and they just let them continue to create pressure. That extra defender was enough to overload Cincinnati’s offensive line, yet no adjustments were made until there was less than 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Cincinnati trot out four or five wide receivers in the second half, no doubt to try to throw themselves back into the game. However, NC State continued to bring the “pressure” and Cincinnati seemingly refused to adjust. NC State’s defensive line simply overmatched Cincinnati’s offensive line, and they did a good job of stifling Cincinnati’s running game. I mostly watched the second half of this game only and I noticed that Cincinnati was losing the battle in the trenches after mere minutes of tuning in. Yet, Cincinnati continued to try to run the ball up the middle, to try to prove that they were a “tough, hard-nosed” team and to try to stay true to their game plan. My problem with that is that they really should have adjusted. They should have tried running more two and three wide receiver sets so that they could keep a tight end or a running back in to help pick up a blitzer so they could give Collaros more time to throw. Without any time to throw he was never going to get into a rhythm, and that is why NC State continued to come after him. Notice that once they started dropping back into coverage and playing more of a “prevent” defense Collaros caught fire and led two touchdown drives.
The part of this game that bothered me the most occurred in the 4th quarter. Cincinnati had the ball and it was 3rd and 1. They ran a QB draw with Zach Collaros, you guessed it, right up the middle. NC State was expecting it, their linebackers shot downhill at the snap, the defensive line got upfield and stopped Collaros right at the line of scrimmage for no gain. Now, if I am the coach of Cincinnati I am obviously going to go for it, but by now it should have been entirely obvious to Coach Jones that running up the middle was not working. They averaged 2.4 yards per carry for the game, so it is pretty obvious in hindsight that the running game wasn’t working. But after you get stuffed like that on 3rd and 1 you have to try something different. I thought they should move the pocket and roll Collaros out, or do a play action boot-leg (though that is more risky considering how spotty the protection had been). My point is, they should have gone away from the middle of NC State’s defense since that seemed to be the strength of their unit, and they have a very young secondary that they should have been attacking. I thought they should roll Collaros out, run a deep out with a taller receiver, for instance Armon Binns, run a hitch with a receiver like Marcus Burnett (#85), and then drag D.J. Woods from the opposite side of the field as a safety valve for an easy conversion if neither receiver is open. And if those were all taken away, then Collaros could always take off and try to pick up the first down.
Well, that isn’t what they did. Not at all. Instead, they thought that the answer to their problem was to run a zone-option play where the QB reads the defensive end before deciding whether to hand the ball off to the running back or to keep it. If the defensive end stays at home (meaning they don’t collapse on the run play and they are making sure the quarterback doesn’t keep the ball and break contain) then the quarterback hands the ball off. If the defensive end collapses to go after the running back the quarterback should keep the ball and get as much yardage as he can. I didn’t see what the defensive end did on this play, but Collaros elected to hand the ball off up the middle and shockingly it didn’t work. They got stuffed for no gain AGAIN. I didn’t even care who won this game and I was beside myself with frustration. How could you watch this game, much less coach one of the teams, and run the ball up the middle when you KNOW the opposing defensive line is better than your offensive line. How can you run the ball when you KNOW you haven’t been having success running the ball, especially up the middle. And how can you run the ball when on the PREVIOUS PLAY you ran a draw up the middle and got stuffed. It seems to me at that point some kind of an adjustment is necessary. I don’t care if you run a four wide set, if you put out the jumbo package with three tight ends or if you opt for the pro package with two wide receivers, one running back, fullback and tight end. Just do something different and don’t run the ball up the middle.
That play, to me, symbolizes all that is wrong with coaching today. Too many coaches will hopelessly stick to their guns and their game plan that they had coming in to the week regardless of what the other team does. Obviously you don’t want to abandon what you’re good at, you have to stay true to who you are as a team. However, just like you can’t abandon your game plan entirely, you can’t be so staunch in your beliefs that you don’t adjust to what the other team is doing throughout the course of the game. In my opinion, Cincinnati didn’t do that. Or if they did, then they did an awful job of it. They continued to run the ball up the middle. They continued to let Collaros run for his life without beefing up his pass protection. They continued to throw short and intermediate passes instead of attacking NC State’s very inexperienced secondary (which certainly had something to do with the awful protection Collaros was getting), and somehow they lost the game. What a surprise.
Hopefully Coach Jones and the rest of his staff make better adjustments the rest of the season or I have a feeling it is going to be a very long year for Cincinnati Bearcat fans.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it.