Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Zoom-a-zoom | by Jay

A couple of concluding remarks on Air Force before we complete the military trifecta.

High-flying. Brady Quinn was once again the model of excellence, going 14 of 19 (with three drops by my count), 4 touchdowns, and no picks. Going back to the Purdue game (a six-game span) he's 138/199 (69%) for 1,700 yards with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. Simply amazing. A Denver writer shares his views on the Heisman race.

The efficiency of the offense was breathtaking, scoring five touchdowns on the first six possessions, including a bang-bang opener featuring a 29-yard pass to Samardzija followed immediatley by a 51-yard TD bomb to the Shark. It was the fastest scoring drive to start a game in recent memory -- maybe since '02 FSU, although that game started with the defense on the field. (Ed. note. Apparently I've got a terrible memory. Last year's Stanford game featured an 80-yard scoring strike to Shark on the second play of the game, with only 15 seconds elapsed. I can't believe I didn't remember that. And I was AT that game.) The rest of the game was simply a shooting gallery from then on, with just about everyone hitting the bullseye. Darius Walker? Best rushing day so far this year (153 yards on 15 carries, 10.2 ypc), including a season-high 39-yard scamper in the fourth quarter. McKnight? His three catches put him at 158 career receptions, which is a new all-time record for the Irish. Freeman? Scored his first-ever TD, slipping comfortably into the first-TE role after Carlson had to leave.

And grounded. Unfortunately the option defense didn't exactly take a cue from the second half of the Navy game. It was frustrating as hell to watch Carney move the Falcons up and down the field on sustained drives. The alignment included Zibby playing up on the line and having QB responsibility, with Nedu as a single safety and flying in to tackle the pitch man whenever they pitched it. They pitched it a lot. Thankfully, Ndukwe wrapped up very well, and finished with a robust 22 tackles.

Still, you have to wonder why we didn't adjust and clamp down in the second half like we did against Navy. Pat & I discussed this a little bit yesterday. On one hand, the vanilla D was probably a function of the score of the game: we were up 14-0 within three minutes, and up 27-3 at the half, and by that time the game was effectively over. So we played a prevent, more or less, and were content to let Air Force run the clock. Charlie confirmed this yesterday:

Now, that was not something we normally do, we don't normally play the whole game with a post safety. The majority of the times we play, we have some form of two safeties, whether they are corner or half-field players. When you have to go away from your normal deal, I think that, you know, it almost becomes a bend-but-don't-break mentality right there as you're making sure they nickel and dime you down the field, especially after you get up pretty big early.
Still, you just know Charlie wasn't happy with the sustained scoring drives, especially the 3rd & long conversions that kept our winded defense on the field way too long in this game. They converted a 3rd & 14 on a QB scramble, and then we handed them a couple more first downs with penalties (a questionable pass interference on 3rd & 7, and a highly questionable intentional facemask -- it should have been incidental -- on 3rd & 20). Mix in the blocked FG for a score after a 15-play drive -- a wonderful result, but then the defense had to get right back out there and defend a 17-play drive -- and the net result was an overwhelming time of possession imbalance, with Air Force controlling the clock for nearly two-thirds of the game. Letting a team nickel and dime you when you're up big is one thing, but gassing the defense probably wasn't the original idea.

One thing's true: we're not going to have to take many lessons learned from this game and apply them going forward. Playing an option team is such an anomaly; it's like a hitter in baseball enduring a season of fastball pitchers, and then suddenly you have to bat against Phil Niekro. You have to change your entire approach, and you do your best, but when it's over you file away the debriefing until the next time you have to face one. In the meantime, there's another fastball on the way.