And now, let's look at this game from "under the hood" a little. And along the way, I'll grade myself on my pre-game predictions.
First off, kudos to Wyoming, a tough, scrappy team that played us tougher than we'd have liked. Their DL was rather quick and lively. Both of the Cowboys starting ends gave us a bit of trouble. I expected the most pressure from Flora but it came from the other end, Robbins who showed surprising quickness and determination. In my estimation, the line was focusing on assignments a bit more than you'd like for live action, and the reaction time was slowed. There were several glaring missed assignments by veteran linemen, and this needs to be corrected.
Wyoming presented us with a very atypical defensive alignment using 2 3-techniques, one over each guard. You will not see it often in the SEC because it exposes your interior to traps and counters. I formation teams would exploit it in a minute, but we won't see it often. With a shotgun, spread team that runs a bunch of empty backfield, you can chance it under certain situations. They had scouted us well and knew to come after our guards, particularly Miller, who gave up two sacks on a missed assignments on stunts. Additionally, the normally rock solid Degory had a least two bungled snaps due to the difficulties he was having with the quickness of Dusty Hoffschneider, who was surprisingly effective. Still, the line did a lot right as well, and after some adjustments to our line spacing, we improved our pass protection greatly as the game wore on, as well as our run blocking, which was a depth issue to be sure for Wyoming.
As for the anemic running attack, the numbers are a bit deceptive. We gained 175 yards on the ground, in gross yardage. Respectable, though considerably less than what I predicted. And you must consider that 40-odd of that was Josh Portis, with fresh legs and against a leg-weary Wyoming defense. We must improve in this regard, and I think we will with game speed repetitions and more instinctive line play.
Which brings me to quarterback play. Chris Leak had a statistically good outing. Game timing and spacing were rough, and Chris under-threw a couple of long balls he'd like to have back I'm sure. Hit those in stride and the score is very different. Still it seems like nit picking, after such a statistically stunning outing. I was actually pleasantly surprised with Leak's decision making. He seemed relatively at ease and able to make game speed decisions, the critical element in being able to run the offense. His pitches were crisp and often on the mark. He had a couple of bone headed decisions. That is to be expected in a first game speed run in a new system. Remember, he is, for the first time, making reads and changing routes and protections. He needs reps. We actually ran the option more than I expected. Nota bene: We will run the Meyer offense. Not a Meyer-ized version of the Fedora offense.
Chris's tosses to the fly and post routes were a bit off tonight. That's called game speed reps, and the need for them. On his designed runs he was relatively quick to the corner and showed me he can run the full offense in time. Showed good toughness too. I'm encouraged for a first game. Chris Leak broke a school record for consecutive completions help by Steve Spurrier, and completed 74% of his passes for 316 yards and 3 TDs. Chris was pitching the ball where it needed to go. Some of his ball fakes were not sold well enough. He will improve with reps. He can run this offense effectively, and though you may see some situational substitution involving Portis, I'd say the show is Leak's to run, and he showed why Saturday night. All in all, he showed me a few things I personally needed to see to feel confident about his progressive mastery of the full offense.
Not surprisingly, I have heard calls for Josh Portis already, and to be sure he adds a dimension to the offense that is lacking with Leak. But this dimension is not critical. Josh Portis is a phenomenal talent that will get his shot in his day.
I liked Skyler Thornton in this outing. He did some tough running inside. He is not especially elusive, nor does he have tremendous escapability but he is solid. One thing I did not expect was the selection of Moore over Manson for the bulk of the snaps for the relief back. He got those snaps early and often. It appears that Moore may have that "something" that can spark an offense. The line gave the backs little to work with in terms of creases, so I was impressed with Moore all the more. He runs low, his feet chop, he displays balance and vision. Excellent first outing and evidence of Meyer's and Drayton's ability to evaluate running back recruits. Manson showed his mettle in the limited time he was in. Add in a bruising, super fast Wynn and running back by committee will get it done for the Gators this year. It may very well be that Coach Meyer knows what he has in Manson, and wanted to see the young buck. Moore had 6 ypc, Thornton had 5. Those are numbers we wouldn't mind seeing repeated often.
What can one say about Jackson and Caldwell? Jackson was a veritable highlight real, especially his spectacular one-handed catch in the end zone. He added his name to some elite company in the process, scoring four touchdowns. Caldwell was a blur, and showed little of the hesitancy that help him back last season. When he decides to go North-South rather than East-West, there is nobody but Devin Hester who could keep up. Baker showed good hands, and great toughness, fighting for yards after the catch and protecting the ball. I loved his effort. Jamalle Cornelius makes a better "fourth" than there is in the nation, in my opinion. Or perhaps Baker is the "fourth." Tate Casey was underutilized, but he will be a factor, since the TE lines up in the slot often in the Spread Option. Those names will take us far this year. We ran relatively simple route trees, keeping our backside reads under wraps, as I thought we would. Though I thought we would run more shallow outs than we did, meaning we respected Wyoming's lateral quickness more than I though we would. Still, we hit the intermediate zones in front of their safeties almost with impunity. This was a good secondary, and I'm happy with our route running. Obviously, the wide receivers will run the ball a great deal, and what we did of that tonight worked very well indeed. WR blocking was nothing short of spectacular. A real improvement here. Considering how poorly we ran on occasion, it is really impressive what the passing game achieved, with Wyoming able to "T-off" more than you'd like. Coach Meyer mentioned the need for balance in his postgame comments, and our blocking assignments are the obvious key here.
OLB play: both EE and Todd lost contain a few of times, EE still needs to work on getting off blocks, and timing on his blitzes, but he is reacting instinctively and he is very aggressive. He was around the ball often and showed excellent lateral pursuit. McCollough showed rust from his long lay-off. He needs a lot of game speed reps, as everyone does. It just isn't the same in practice, even ones against ones. The difference between 90% and 100% in the SEC is the difference between winning and losing. Todd was fooled by play fakes and pulled inside a couple of times that stood out. He needs reps badly and will be pushed by Crum and Demps. The latter had himself a nice game in limited playing time and will be seen a lot this season. He's a natural. Our LB drops into the flats came late, which was surprising. Siler was phenomenal, as usual. He was a human demolition machine, a one-man wrecking ball, and defensive coordinators will have to scheme around him.
Cornerbacks were very effective. Look at the statistics. Vernell Brown had an excellent outing against an NFL-bound Bouknight, whom Wyoming was hoping to get a mismatch against. He was quick out of his backpedal, and tougher at the LOS than I expected. His diving INT was spectacular. How would have thought it would be little Vernell Brown, but we have an SEC quality corner. Other than a bad angle taken on a few out routes, Webb shut down their second receiver Jason Wallace for the most part, after he adjusted to his routes. I really think we have a fine pair here. Our Safeties were relatively quiet, though we saw Herring in on a few tackles. A quiet night from the safeties is not a bad thing. It means your LBs and CBs are doing their jobs for the most part. Still, we'd like to see some punishment back there, and the safeties need to work on their timing a bit.
The DL. What can one say? Are these even the same guys? Ray McDonald showed exactly why he will play on Sundays as a defensive end. He regularly embarrassed Wyoming's right tackle (Hunter Richards?) and was so solid in run containment, that Wyoming abandoned running to his side relatively early. Mincey was relentless as usual, and with pressure coming from the other side, can be very, very effective this year. Their reads were nearly flawless. Thomas was extremely disruptive in the middle, and Harris had a solid outing as well. The seconds were more of a dropoff than we'd like, and I saw McMillan struggle a bit. Cohen was quietly solid. We didn't play our depth enough for my liking and we'll need to keep our DL rotations to prevent 4th quarter fatigue again this year. But folks, this DL (with enough depth developed) will be extremely disruptive, and give our secondary a better opportunity to make plays by shortening plays. Holding an explosive team like Wyoming to the meager yardage we did is a testament to a genuinely re-invigorated defense. When Tennessee looks at the film, we will give them things to think about.
I'm not sure that I agree with Wilbur handling kickoff duties, and feel he should concentrate on punting. Perhaps Phillips, who is reputed to have a very strong leg, can fill this role. Our punt formation looks like it will give up a block every time we use it, but manages not to. Wilbur had an off night. A couple of good returns on a punt and a kickoff. Our kickoff coverage needs work, and I believe it will receive ample attention. I think we have found some capable return men in Vernell Brown and Andre Caldwell who will break a couple this year.
Nobody panic. We need game speed reps in the new offense. We won't face two 3-techs much more this year. Tartt is a cut above Miller right now. Wyoming's DL gets kudos for being very tenacious, tough, and quick. They'll do well in the MW. Patience grasshoppers. All in all, it was a solid first outing, with some exceptions like those awful (and uncharacteristic), wide snaps. We left a touchdown on the field late, another could have been had with a better deep ball from Leak.
We found a ferocious defense in the making, but one with depth issues and a question at one linebacker spot. We sandbagged a bit, as we should have, and saw where need to work, which is the function of these early contests. Next week we'll play our depth and get some tuning in for our game against Tennessee. For now, we'll learn some lessons, make some adjustments, coach up some players and get ready for LA Tech. It's Division 1 football. You take the win and move on. Give the Cowboys credit, as they came in and played fearlessly. I, for one, was very impressed by the quickness of their DL. And obviously we need reps at game speed, and we'll get them next week. And by the way, Tennessee looked very human today as well. Smile folks, we could be OU today.