Brad Smith has seen the best of times, and he has seen the worst of times. The best: basically winning games against Illinois and Middle Tennessee by himself, and then going for a 350-yard performance against Nebraska. The worst: gaining 95 total yards and basically becoming a non-factor in the loss to Kansas. The best has to be the Nebraska game, though. He completed only 48.1 percent of his passes and had two interceptions, but the way he was able to loosen up and make this offense better shows definite hope for the future of the season.
Running backs: B+
It's hard to ask for more from Zack Abron. He's rushed for 564 yards in six games, and is well past the pace for 1000 yards this season. He's looking like he will definitely pass Brock Olivo as the Tigers' all-time leading rusher. He has found the holes and then bust right through them, and he has been the steady influence on an up-and-down offense.
Wide Receivers: C
Before last Saturday's game against Nebraska, these guys were taking most of the criticism for the stagnant offense. And for good reason: they haven't caught a lot of balls. But Saturday certainly helped. Five Tigers average more than twenty yards a game, but only one, Thomson Omboga at 41, averages more than 30. There have been a lot of dropped balls, and the receivers have had their troubles shaking coverage. But like with Smith, the Nebraska game shows hope.
Offensive line: C+
Supposed to be the strongest part of the team, the offensive line didn't get going until last Saturday against Nebraska. Defensive lines were getting too close to Smith, especially against Kansas, and holes weren't opening enough. What seemed odd against Ball State and Eastern Illinois became obvious against the Jayhawks, and the big guys up front changed that against Kansas, giving Smith plenty of opportunities to run.
Defensive line: B+
Aatiyah Ellison and C.J. Mosley have been everything they were expected to be, and Brian Smith has been even more than that. Brian Smith is one of the nation's leaders in sacks with six in six games. Mosley has four, along with nine tackles for loss. It all adds up to giving up less than 150 yards rushing a game, which isn't great, but good enough.
Twice this season, a player in the secondary has led the team in tackles. One might say that's because the passing defense hasn't been great, but it seems more like many runners are getting through the linebackers. James Kinney and Brandon Barnes are two of the most experienced players on the team, and only in last Saturday's game have they shown that. It will be interesting to see if they can keep that leadership going.
The Tigers are giving up slightly less than 200 yards a game passing, which isn't that great considering four of their games were against Ball State, Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee State and pass-deprived Nebraska. In addition the secondary has only one interception (defensive end Zach Ville has the other). So many of these guys are young or new to the program, that there's no doubt they will improve. The question is, how improved will they be when B.J. Symons comes to town?
Special Teams: B-
The kicking game has been ridiculously bad. Brock Harvey forgot how to punt, and it seems Mike Matheny misses at least one short kick a game, and his kickoff troubles are just as bad. Something has to be done, and at least Harvey has been replaced. As far as coverage goes, the Tigers got wins against Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Nebraska partly because the great field position they had because of the coverage units, and the fumbles that they forced. It's hard to lump special teams together, so they're a bit above average as a group, even with the bad kickers.
Gary Pinkel took the blame at Kansas, so he should get the credit for Nebraska. The aggressiveness and attitude that was clearly lacking against the Jayhawks came up in a big way against the Cornhuskers, and it resulted in Pinkel's biggest win after his biggest loss. Clearly, this program is better than three years ago, considering the Tigers are only one win away from a bowl game. Remember bowl games? They're going to be happening more frequently for the Tigers with Pinkel in town.