The Cardinals offense found some rhythm on the road for #25 Oregon State's home opener in what was the largest non-conference crowd in Beaver history. The Cards out gained the Beavers in the light northwest rain by 134 yards. However, the 319 yards that the Beavers gained proved to be all that Oregon St. would need as they took advantage of 4 short fields thanks to electrifying kick returner James Rodgers.
Overall, I felt like UofL was actually the better team and outplayed the Beavers. This is a loss due to missed opportunities and poor kick coverage. As well as UofL played in this game and as encouraging as this contest was, this team needs to get encouragement from actual wins. This team needs a bowl. Any bowl. That's the most important thing in 2010, and UofL can't get there without wins. I feel UofL played well enough to win, but a few bad breaks and lack of execution really cost the Cards a big win out west.
From a program standpoint, you have to feel good about the progression in 3 games under Charlie Strong. The Cards are 1-2 and have 9 games remaining and have shown steady improvement each week. I don't know if we can constantly see tangible evidence of improvement week in and week out as the season goes on and injuries mount up. But after the first 3 games I feel confident that we have the right man and the right staff at UofL.
UofL's first two possessions
The Cardinals took the ball down to the goal line for their first two possessions Saturday and produced zero points. The first UofL possession saw two 3rd and long conversions and the Cards were able to drive all the way to the one-yard line where they were stoned on 4th down. I hate to question decisions from coaches, especially with new coaches trying to establish their new team's identity BUT I have to think that taking the FG there was the right choice. On the road as twenty point underdogs I just feel like get a lead and see what happens after the opening drive. (Seeing how kickoff coverage played the coaches may have made the right choice, I'll discuss that here in a bit).
Once the decision is made to go for it on the goal line, your 4th down play has to be effective. I definitely have a problem with the play call of pulling the guard for a one-yard play. As it happened, Powell was stuffed for a one-yard loss and UofL gave the ball back to Oregon State. I just have always felt that goal line plays must be straight forward so that you don't lose yardage and give yourself the best chance to score. I also don't have a problem with throwing play-action in there on 4th and 1 and seeing if the defense plays too aggressive. I would never pull the guard there. But that's just me.
The Cardinals were able to get great field position after getting a 3 and OUT while the Beavers were pinned back deep. UofL quickly got into the redzone and looked to score its first points of the game (again) only to come up empty when Adam Froman had the ball punched out inches before crossing the goal line. This play was a great one for Froman all the way until the ball was punched out. Great run, great awareness, all the way around. It was a tremendous play by the Oregon St. defender to get that punch, incredibly lucky too. Coaches teach that skill all the time, and it worked for them at the very best possible moment for the Beavers. Even more unfortunate was that UofL lost the ball as the ball went out of the endzone. I thought he punched it out before the goal line in real time. If it had happened anywhere else on the field UofL probably retains the possession.
UofL not leading 10-0 or 14-0 at this point in the ball game after two great chances was a real shame. You have to execute in the redzone, you must protect the football at all times, and you can never leave points on the board. Especially on the road vs. a ranked opponent.
Oregon State scored on 5 straight possessions
The Beavers took advantage of great field position and scored on 5 straight possessions. Here is the starting field position for the Beaver's 5 consecutive scoring drives (and how they got there):
1st: UofL 23-yard line. UofL backed up due to false start penalty & 7-yard loss by Powell. Josh Bleser's punt was returned 28 yards to the UofL 23.
2nd: Oregon St. 17-yard line. 83 yard drive only legitimate drive.
3rd: UofL 37-yard line. Kickoff returned 63 yards to the 37, tackled by kick Chris Philpott.
4th: UofL 46-yard line. Kickoff returned 43 yards.
5th: UofL 40-yard line. Short Bleser punt returned 15 yards as UofL punted from their own 19-yard line.
As you can see above, four of the Beaver TDs were the result of short fields earned on special teams. James Rodgers is an excellent kick returner, but this is an area of concern. With all of the youth we are playing out there I wonder if the guys are worried more about their positional duties than special teams. Also, knowing your weakness is the first part of correcting that, but why continue to kick to him? Rodgers had 204 return yards on the day and averaged 40.3 yards on KO returns, and 21.5 yards on Punt return, which are ridiculous numbers.
We do have some OL on the punt coverage unit, which is unconventional as they can't pursue the return man down the field. Josh Chichester's roughing the kicker penalty was also very costly. UofL was going to get the ball around mid-field, but instead the drive was extended and even though Oregon St did not score on that possession it flipped the field and instead UofL started their ensuing possession at the 20. It could have been called running into the kicker, but you have to be in control going towards any kicker and cannot leave your feet (even if it is tempting) due to this rule to protect them.
Passing Game (minus Froman)
Doug Beaumont exploded for 9 catches and 121 yards. He also had the only sure fire drop by the receivers on the day. Unfortunately though, I must get on Beaumont here. His fumble late in the 3rd quarter really cost the Cards a chance at an easy 3rd down conversion. As it was, UofL had 3rd and 11 and it killed the drive. Ball control has to be a point of emphasis on this football team moving forward.
Josh Bellamy finally showed why he was drawing praise from the coaches in pre-season. After seeing some of his downfield ability today you have to wonder if he were able to play vs. UK what might have been. Still, Bellamy needs to find success with another route. Does UofL's X receiver have a crossing route, something in the middle?
One thing in the passing game I would like to see is getting more balls to Andrell Smith. He bobbled the catch in the endzone, which is a real shame because it was an opportunity for him to gain some real game confidence. When I watch Smith play I always feel like he is doing the right things, I'd just like to see what he could do with the ball in his hands. He seems like an under used weapon for UofL. Never seems like Froman's primary target.
How beautiful was Cameron Graham's TD catch on the flag route?
Adam Froman has taken a lot of criticism (me included) for his QB play at UofL. I feel like he played his best game on Saturday in Corvallis as he went for 288 yards on 22/38. A big reason for Froman's performance was that he had a lot of room to operate. Oregon State did not bring much pressure on the day and the UofL offensive line was up to the task and gave Froman time to operate.
Froman's play was a great surprise. While I am hesitant to praise Froman because he seems to play better when he feel he needs to prove himself. He deserves credit for how he played Saturday. I think we finally saw all that competitiveness come out in a great performance. He showed toughness and looked like he was playing through some pain. He made plays with his legs, and really distributed the ball well. Froman kept UofL in the game and is a big reason why the Cards had a chance late.
The interception that seal the game was unfortunate. The offense looked so confident (in the huddle Victor Anderson was smiling) and even with a minute to go things felt like they were going right. As it was Froman was hit while throwing and hung it up short. Bellamy had his guy beat and if Froman could have made the throw cleanly it could have been a TD or at least been a big gain. Good pressure when it mattered by the Oregon St. defense. It was a play when if the clock was not an issue or if the Cards had timeouts Froman probably takes the sack rather than forcing the throw. But he could not take a sack or throw to a receiver that was short, time was just an issue. Very unfortunate.
Also, very early in the game Froman should have had another interception that would have easily been returned for a TD. For all the bad breaks UofL got in this game, this was a good one. Froman needs to read the defense better on the short out or we could see his tackling ability on display again this season.
During the game I felt like UofL could run all over Oregon St. It felt like UofL got whatever they wanted even though they were keying on the running game from the start. But then I went to the stats and I was shocked! Yes, there were 165 yards rushing, but Powell rushed 20 times for 83 yards, and Froman had 8 rushes for 46 yards, including the longest rush of the game of 17 yards!
I'll say this again for the 3rd week in a row. Where is the production from Victor Anderson? How can UofL get VA back? Anderson has a great attitude and is a great ambassador of UofL football, and we all love him. But UofL needs more production from him moving forward. On the day Victor had 8 carries for 15 yards, with a long of 8 yards! Take away that 8-yard rush and he had 7 carries for 7 yards? This is not the VA that Cardinal fans are used to. I'd love to find a way to get him back. He is enjoying himself and playing well returning kicks and I think it is just a matter of time before he finds the endzone, but we need production from him at the tailback position.
I loved watching Bilal Powell in the WildCard. He seems more confident now than he did 2 games ago and this set could prove to be a valuable formation for UofL. Powell is effective when he can get a hole, UofL's O-line played better this week than last, but there is a lot of room for improvement in run blocking. I would like to see more explosion from them coming off the ball.
I never thought I would say that Blayne Donnell is a valuable asset on gameday. But that guy is serviceable. You can always use a player you can rely on to carry out his responsibility. I'm glad he's stuck around and finally getting his shot.
As I talked about above, the Cardinals defense started in a hole for 4 out of the 5 TDs that they allowed. It isn't a good position to be in, but the defense MUST make stops. Especially when the opponent gets a short field. I was disappointed that we didn't force a couple of those short fields into field goals. Oregon State did not handle long drives well at all, but in football you don't always get the ideal situation and you have to play in the scenario that you find yourself in. UofL gave up only 319 yards on the day, but that could be deceiving considering how close the Beavers were on all of their scoring drives.
Still I thought the defense played well and got good pressure. I was disappointed with the attempted tackling of Oregon St. RB Jacquizz Rodgers. Obviously the guy is one of the best backs in college football and does that to everyone, but there are good backs remaining on the schedule and UofL MUST tackle the running back better than they did on Saturday. Oregon St. had ZERO passing game vs. UofL except for their screen plays that they continued to run.
Losing Greg Scruggs was really costly on the interior. I couldn't tell when the concussion happened (hard to see personnel due to the lack of HD), but once I noticed Oregon St. started having success running the football once he was out of the game. Hopefully his concussion is not a bad one and he can be back for Arkansas St. This bye week is coming at a good time for a lot of guys.
Staying on the defensive line, the coaches had Malcolm Tatum doing all sorts of unconventional stuff on Saturday. So much so that I can't really even explain it to you. On one play it looked like Tatum was in man coverage from the defensive end position, on a couple of plays they had him on the interior. Also, there were two stunts I saw Tatum run where no one rotated outside which cannot happen! If Tatum crushes inside someone has to keep containment! Jacquizz Rodgers took advantage of this a couple of times.
I don't really care where BJ Butler lines up. I just want him on the field. He registered 2 sacks on the day and mostly played defensive end after playing primarily linebacker vs. EKU. The linebacker position has been a literal shuffling of the Cards. This week Eugene Sowell got the start and played extensively after only seeing time in mop-up duty vs. EKU. I'm guessing that the coaches are still searching for someone to step up here. Heath needs to get healthy and Daniel Brown is entrenched, so two spots are pretty solid.
One disconcerting thing I saw was Preston Brown on goal line defense was WAY too passive on an Oregon State touchdown. I don't know what he was doing or thinking but if you are on goal line defense do something! Get in there and be physical, you simply cannot watch the play happen on goal line. On this particular touchdown there was an extra spectator in Resser Stadium, and Preston Brown had the best seat in the house. Those who read me regularly know I won't criticize true freshman too much for mistakes they make, but Preston Brown needs to just play football and be physical, through 3 games he is too passive.
Dexter Heyman looks like he is coming into his own. The longer he is out there the more involved he becomes. Really liked the hit on the Oregon State QB when they were backed up in their endzone late in the game (glad he was OK). That is how you hit the QB!
The defense needs to start creating turnovers. UofL has not created a turnover vs. an FBS opponent yet this year and is –4 in turnovers vs. FBS schools.