The Fish Report: Final Pieces?
It was like the Boise State game…behind by at least ten points, with the home crowd stunning our team with their energy and the defense of that team stopping our running game. Last year we had a QB who could not throw well in such an environment when we NEEDED to, and we didn’t even have a first down until the third quarter. This year we have a QB who has the skills to throw downfield and you’ll note the play selection as we began to dig ourselves out in Knoxville; a ton of passes, and none got blocked at the LOS. (ThaiDuck says, “that is what happens when your QB has an extra 4-5 inches in height looking downfield.”)
The major question that I had going into the season was whether DT had the skills and judgment to give us the downfield, vertical passing attack that can complete our Spread Offense. Facing one of the best home-field crowds in the US…with a deficit to climb out of….Thomas proved to me that the best-is-yet-to-be with our offense. He is not DD yet, but our offense IS resembling what we had in pre-injury 2007. Powerful running from the TB position, and enough running from the QB on the Zone Read to keep defenses honest, which is what Dixon did for us. Masoli at times last year (I discovered looking at replays) ignored the read and went ahead and ran the ball…because he COULD. He knew that even with a defender in front of him…he could juke by him. (See first TD against Arizona when the Wildcats had TWO defenders in front of JM…and he cut and blew by them) We are materializing the prediction/hope I had that the yardage lost by JM’s departure from running will be picked up by DT’s passing (200 yards+ this game) and the offense will become more balanced and potent. It’s happening baby!
Now there will be those who are critical of him; “his passes wobble!” Yes…the TD to Paulson was a wobbly Fran Tarkenton type of pass that wobbled into the sweet catching spot for David. The way he stood tall and delivered the TD pass to LT as the rusher bore into him…knowing that he was going to take a hit..was inspiring! Our play calls by CK are based upon personnel, and in the Rose Bowl we did not have a QB who could mount an effective downfield passing attack from the pocket. Play-action is fine…but when the rushing attack is stale—you need to step up in the pocket and deliver. Last year we could not; now we CAN. (Again…no disrespect to the greatest running QB ever at Oregon. Coach Kelly was playing to his strengths, and CK now has more flys in the tackle box with Darron)
How do you beat a power running game such as Ohio State? You play your best game on defense and outscore them on offense, which is a ton easier when you don’t have interceptions from tipped passes at the LOS, or 100 mph passes thrown at point-blank range. It is easier when you have a passing attack that is not focused upon ONE WR, (Maehl) but can now see the open TEs (Paulson and Williams) and the other open WRs such as the TD to Tuinea. (his first) We have more balance now, and more receivers are in the mix. I am especially happy for Paulson as he has delivered so many “Man-up” blocks for us in the past. Whether it was the obliteration of the Free Safety at Washington that helped spring LMJ for the 70 yard TD, or the extra effort of a shoulder-shimmey to shove his man inside while Barner got a 1st down on a Power Play the other night….David paid his dues and deserves his shot to be the MAN. In only two games…I’ve developed quite a confidence in Thomas that is surprising considering that I knew NOTHING about him going into the season.
The numbers given on Time-of-Possession (TOP) is skewed in these last two games as we ran out the clock from mid-third quarter on. In usual tough conference games we will see the in-balance taking place again…but our new multi-front defense is designed to put on pressure and create turnovers, and we ARE seeing that in just two games. Some ‘Vol fans may howl about the last TD scored, but we ran simple Inside Zone Read plays which went between the tackles except for when the defense over-pursued the RB, and Costa pulled it and ran. I noted that there WERE more opportunities to pull the ball and run than Nate actually did, but he waited until third down and THEN pulled the ball out and ran for the first down. Smart-smart-smart coaching and execution!
It’s bad enough that Mike Patrick is a bought-off SHILL for the SEC, but when he actually says that Thomas ran a “QB keeper using James as a decoy” on a simple Zone Read play…I can barely stand the incompetence. On another routine Outside Zone Read play where Darron pulled the ball and ran? It was a “QB keeper and a nice fake by Thomas.” Good gosh there is not a single commentator on ANY channels that know our offense. Disgraceful.
The long run by James highlighted the flexibility of our basic plays; run to the hole, and if you can reverse field and pull it off…good! This was an Inside Zone Read going to the right but a superb play by the ‘Vol DT busted through the double-team of Kaiser and Asper. If I was momentarily standing nose-to-nose with that big guy…I’d be looking for ways out as well. BTW….it went a little different, but basically WAS the same as the Holiday Bowl TD by JJ where it started as an Inside Zone Read right, and was so well defended that the RB reversed field and ended up on the left sideline. If you go to Trojanfootballanalysis.com you will find that they incorrectly identify this as an OUTSIDE Zone Read…and they make that mistake because it went outside in the end. Offensive negatives? Too many holding calls and illegal procedure penalties for such a veteran group….but it IS only the second game!
Craig James annoys me on many levels, but his praise of DC Nick Aliotti is genuine and just. We all knew that Tennessee would run a basic group of power run plays and a few passes, thus the choice to go with a 4-3 defense on first down and most obvious running downs was a good call. What became so interesting was when we had second or third and long; was he going to call a Specialty Defense such as “I-Spy-3” or “3-Duck-Chuck”, or a standard 3-4 alignment with a Zone Blitz? With 12:44 in the third quarter…it was fun to see us line up in a 3-4 alignment and then morph into attacking one side with FOUR rushers to force a quick throw for no success.
A new Zone Blitz? Yeah baby! At the 10:48 mark in the third Qtr with a 3rd and 16….we line up in a 3-4 and send the three down DL in hard with another rusher coming from the outside. Rowe was the fourth on the LOS at the snap in his usual standing up hybrid position, and then he backs up (which appears that he might go into coverage) and then he suddenly loops to the inside on a delayed blitz to make the sack! SWEET! I’ve seen Mathews and Paysinger on a delayed blitz…but that is the first time I’ve seen Rowe do it from his position. Keep ‘em guessing!
The Simms “pick-six?” We lined up in a 3-4 set, and appeared to send SEVEN and it had to look imposing to any QB. But run it back in slow-motion and see that the hybrid DE guarded the TE, and the NT tagged and came back as a Spy. We ended up with five rushing, and six in coverage which is classic Zone Blitzing, but one came free and was zipping right for the QB. Simms could see this torpedo bearing down upon him, and if you’ll notice he was NOT hit! He was panicked into throwing it quick before the sack, and the 3-4 creates another turnover.
Many of my Duck-Buddies hated the “drop-into-eight-man-zones” on third and long in the past. Well….get used to it. Nick does it a TON, but the difference is that with all the other aggressive Zone Blitzes—the OC for the opposing team doesn’t know when it’s coming. A good play against the blitz is a flare-out pass where the RB is one-on-one with a DB for potential big yardage to make the 1st down. Nick ran an “I-Spy-3” defense on one third and long, and stuffed the flare for little gain. Remember…that Specialty defense only rushes TWO in the end…with NINE in coverage? Yet it works. In the third qtr with 5:23 left…we put SIX on the LOS which looked like a BLITZ! So Simms audibles into a screen pass, but problem is that Nick has three peel off at the snap, and has the NT “tag” again for only TWO rushing after all. The screen is snuffed for a loss!
The coaching on defense is exciting to watch; we see tipped passes from Bair, Rowe, and BoLo on a key third down. What we’re seeing is a VERY experienced DC who has the speed and packages that he’s wanted, and now he’s blending his judgment into some impressive defensive play-calling that is unpredictable, and great, great fun to watch.
As I write this from Houston…no matter where we are…we love our DUCKS!