As I sat down in Section 9 of my living room on Saturday waiting for the game to start, I thought about what I wrote last week, that we were going to need some more Denard magic against Notre Dame in order to have a chance to win. Little did I know both how right and how wrong I would be. This would be the game of the Anti-Denard, oh how I wished for just a dash of Denard the Irish Killer in there somewhere.
On the offensive side of the ball, I finally started to see development of the offense like I’ve been looking for all year. Toussaint still looked timid in the first half, but came out in the second half and started to run angry. We need a lot more of that. We need him to glide less and run hard more. Initiate contact if necessary and drive through holes. When he runs strong he’s at his best, we haven’t seen that for most of the year. I thought the offensive line looked substantially better. They weren’t awesome by any stretch, but there was definite improvement in both the running and passing game. The two things that stuck out like a sore thumb were some questionable play calling and the turnovers. First, I think we pulled out every trick play out of the playbook when we didn’t need to. We moved the ball down field and then went to a halfback pass to go to the endzone? That play didn’t need to happen, and the turnover that resulted didn’t need to happen either. We played pretty good all the way to the red zone, but when we got to the red zone we either backed ourselves out through bad plays, or penalties, or both, and then turned the ball over.
Denard definitely was off all game. I know there has been a lot of speculation about whether or not Denard should have been pulled in this game, but I never thought it was the right time to pull him. I kept expecting the Denard magic, that special play he’s always managed to pull off to take over the game. It just didn’t happen this time. The game was never out of reach, right down to the very end, and I thought that Denard was going to find a way to pull it out for us. I don’t think swapping in Bellomy would have given us a better chance to win, of course hindsight is more clear than any vision at the time.
On the defensive side of the ball, again, I saw a noticeable improvement. The run defense was better. The tackling was better. The coverage was better. I really felt the defense had their most cohesive game this year. We’re going to have to see more improvement, but this was the level of improvement I’ve been looking for all year. We actually looked like a team that could stop the run, and we managed to get our first two interceptions of the year as well. The linebackers were probably the stars of the game. The secondary and their support of the run game probably were a close second. This performance gives hope for the future against the run game in the big ten in the games to come.
Special Teams continued to be a bright spot for Team 133. I think it’s only a matter of time before Lightning strikes and Northcutt takes one to the house. I predicted it against UMass and it didn’t happen, but I think it’s coming sooner or later. We can only hope for sooner. The rest of the kicking and kick coverages were solid despite the early missed field goal. I continue to say that it feels good not to be worrying about problems every time the special teams take the field.
I’m also looking forward to seeing Northcutt start to take a few snaps on the offensive side of the ball. I think his speed could be a big bonus in helping spread defenses, which can only make the offense more dynamic. Northcutt, Funchess, Robinson, Toussaint, Gardner, Roundtree…. Those are some potent weapons.
For the first time this season, I’m looking forward to the next game, knowing we have made improvements and expecting that we can continue to improve as we progress into the big ten season. Sure we’re 2-2, but I no longer expect us to go just .500 in the B1G schedule. Section 9 will continue to be my living room for a few weeks, but I can’t wait to be back in the Big House with an opportunity to see us truly perform on the field. I believe in Denard and I think he’ll find the magic again the next time he’s on the field in the Maize and Blue. Don’t you? If you’re reading this, send a tweet or a note to your friends to point out my blog. If you have thoughts, feel free to comment. I’d love to hear what you think about my view. From Section 9, this is so long until next week. Go Blue!