Roanoke's Around the SEC: UMass Week

Last week there was still legitimate hope that the debacle on opening night was some kind of fluke. Against Ole Miss a lot of our questions were answered – in true horror show fashion.

To put in perspective just how bad this smack-down was – our Ole Miss performance was nationally televised and I began to get sympathy texts from three time zones starting in the second quarter. Unsolicited comments ranged from just “Sorry” to “Your offense looks lost.” After the game, back at my hotel, Ole Miss fans volunteered charitably that no one could take that baseball championship away from us. I am worried about our 11 a.m. crowd this Saturday. The trip to Nashville is 500 miles each way for me – so I brought my UMass tickets to the stadium to contribute to some eager fan after the game. I could not give them away. Finally, walking across the bridge, a guy told me he would take them if I threw in twenty dollars. I am not sure he was kidding.

I was trying to be subtle last week when I wrote: “There is also a significant chance – after being too quick to pull the starter last week – that we will find no QB rotation this week. If this is true, the anointed starter may be a strong clue as to who controls the philosophical reins of this offense.” Robinette would mean we were molding our offense to our talent; Rivers would mean we were committed to installing a West Coast attack, period. Now I will be blunt: the answer we got (for Week Two) is that Offensive Coordinator Dorrell holds the philosophical reins, and he wants to throw from the pocket whether we have the personnel to do it or not. I suspect that in three or four years of recruiting, we could make our staff’s vision of a pocket passing game work in the SEC, but this staff does not have three or four years at the rate it is going. In the now, our passing game is clunking up an otherwise respectable running game.

Ralph Webb again averaged over 5 yards per carry. But our anemic 6 for 25 pocket passing attack was the bucket of ice cold water that doused every drive our running game tried to ignite. We recorded 9 first downs and 167 yards of total offense, while giving up a pick-6. Much of that yardage came against Ole Miss’ third string. Our offense recorded its first points of the season when the defense recovered a late fumble deep in Ole Miss territory – after the offense moved backwards, we acquiesced to kick a field goal, down by 41.

It is hard to undo a failed scheme in mid-season – but it really would not be that hard to reinsert the wildcat, focus on the run and put our QB in motion once in a while. To make this all the more frustrating, dual threat Patton Robinette did not see the field on Saturday even in mop up duty. Since Robinette got pulled at 7-7 versus Temple, we have been outscored 71-3. We are the only team in major college football to have zero offensive touchdowns through two games. We also have the lowest completion percentage of any offense by a wide margin.

While the offense was mesmerizing in its futility, the defense fared little better versus Ole Miss. The Rebels amassed 34 first downs and over 500 yards. As promised, there was a “well-oiled machine” on LP Field, but it was not us. Again, there were a lot of solid defensive plays – and I remain positive about the future here. It was good to see Caleb Azubike back in action. Kyle Woestmann had an excellent game as did Darreon Herring and several others. But the scheme is soft, transparent and full of visible holes. We, again, telegraphed much and disguised little. A good offense – which Ole Miss obviously has – can pick apart a gap in a zone all day. Our philosophy on likely passing downs seemed to be to drop our safeties so deep that Ole Miss could not burn us long. The good news was our safeties succeeded in keeping most plays in front of them; the bad news is we essentially played obvious passing downs 9 on 11 until after the inevitable catch was made. Ole Miss was 10-15 on third downs. Many of these were long conversions.

These same soft zones and cushions kept Temple’s passing game alive – and Temple’s loss to Navy quelled suspicions the Owls were heavily underrated. This week the zone gaps ensured that Ole Miss would never have to punt. If that is not a testament to defensive failure, what is?

UMass just hung 38 points on Colorado – if we do not make real changes this week on both sides of the ball, we are in danger of dropping anchor on our own foot. I was shocked at how little our game plan changed from the ragged Temple performance to Ole Miss. It is, sadly, time for a sense of urgency to set in on the coaching staff. We need to beat UMass – and our staff has given the fan base very little expectation that we can score enough to beat anyone. The Minutemen were a team we groused about beating on the road by “only” 17 last year. That is how fast and how far things have fallen.

Here is all you really need to know about the UMass game: BC beat the Minutemen in their opener by running 61 times for 348 yards. BC held the ball for over 42 minutes by controlling the line of scrimmage. Even Vegas – which has installed us as a 17 point favorite – believes our offensive brain trust will turn practical this week and grind out a win. Those of us who have witnessed the stubborn adherence to pocket passing the past two weeks likely have doubts. Hopefully, common sense will prevail. I think the offense was so startlingly inept against Ole Miss that some change will come – and I would not be shocked to see a “running quarterback” under center Saturday morning.

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Around the Conference there are several critical games this week. None bigger than Georgia at South Carolina. Last year Georgia closed out a victory over the Gamecocks with a punishing running game. That over-matched Gamecock D-line had the now-departed Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton and Kelcy Quarles and still could not stop Georgia’s potent running attack. Look for a bye-rested Georgia squad to grind up big yards against a struggling South Carolina defense. Georgia is favored by six and will win by more. Kentucky takes an undefeated record to Gainesville for a battle of unbeatens. Kentucky, however, has beaten two badly outmanned clubs – and should come down to earth. Hard. The Gators are on a 5-game SEC skid and will not overlook or go easy on the Wildcats. Kentucky has not won in Gainesville since 1979. The Wildcats then recuperate with a bye to prepare for us.

Several SEC teams take on high quality opponents outside the Conference. Tennessee is a 20-point underdog at Oklahoma. The Vols have looked legitimate so far – but this is a tall order. The Sooners have talked big since beating Bama last year in the Sugar Bowl and are likely to try to pile on against any SEC opponent. Progress, here, for Butch Jones’ crew will be keeping it relatively close – unlike the Vols’ overly-ambitious trip to Oregon last year. Arkansas bravely scheduled a road game at Texas Tech, but the Red Raiders have struggled in going 2-0. Mrs. Roanoke has a “karma” theory that bad things happen to teams that unnecessarily crush smaller opponents (like Arkansas did to Nicholls State last week.) Texas Tech is favored by two at home. But Tech can’t stop the run and Arkansas has a really talented rushing attack. Karma aside, I like the Hogs here. Missouri is a nine point favorite over Central Florida. UCF has a veteran secondary which makes for a strength on strength match-up with Maty Mauk’s arm. UCF also is breaking out a new starting QB this week who engineered an impressive rally against Penn State. At home, Mizzou probably pulls it out – but the Tigers should be on upset alert for this one.

On the cupcake front, MSU travels to South Alabama, Ole Miss takes on UL-Lafayette, Bama again names its score versus Southern Miss, LSU faces Louisiana-Monroe, and A&M burns out the scoreboard versus Rice. The over/under in this one is 70. I still like the over.

Finally, from the misery loves company file, who had a worse week than us last week? Arguably, the Big Ten. Ohio State was drilled at home by Virginia Tech; Michigan State was bombed by Oregon; Michigan was clobbered by arch nemesis Notre Dame, and Nebraska was unbelievably lucky to escape McNeese State. That Conference-wide fiasco will leave a lasting mark come play-off seeding time. As for us, the SEC continues to look strong; we are the only winless SEC team left after Week 2. That needs to get fixed fast. Top Stories