Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Spider Pigs: Thoughts on the Richmond game

Chris Nickson threw for 284 yards on Saturday - 223 of those to Earl Bennett. Photo by The Tennessean.
Some impressions on the Richmond game that don’t include conspiracy theories…

Chemistry of Nickson to Bennett. Watching those two work was impressive, and I can only imagine how smooth they'll look in 2008. Like a senior point guard, Nickson anticipated exactly where Earl would be and delivered the ball perfectly – even when Earl was four or five strides away from the landing spot. Given some of his passing struggles last year, Nickson’s 19-for-25 (76%) was very encouraging.

Star Walk and Vandyville. This is now the third season of “Maple Hollow BBQ at the Viking Store” Vandyville, and it keeps getting larger and more inviting. I need to get a tent and get out there. And I thought the crowd and new Star Walk sign were great – both the football team and the football experience steadily improve each season.

Creativity in formations. Did anyone count the number of plays we had a RB out wide as a receiver? Or a tight end? I thought that Ted Cain did a great job in providing unique looks and moving Earl around to create mismatches. Most of Earl’s big plays came with him lined up in the slot – when he lines up there it helps our completion percentage, our offensive rhythm, and our chances for a big play.

The black shirts. Last season, the gold jerseys stealthily became our primaries and the black jerseys our alternates. (Don’t believe me? We wore gold against Arkansas, TSU, Temple, and Carolina – black against Florida and Tennessee. All photos from VUCommodores). It’s not that I dislike the gold jerseys, but I feel like the black is more of an 'SEC look.’ This year every billboard, media guide, program, and advertising photo has us wearing the black jerseys and either the gold or white pants. And on Saturday, it was the old black-on-white look. Nevertheless, with the 11:30 start on Saturday, I bet we wear the gold-on-white look we’ve worn the last four or five SEC home openers.

Thirds for the running backs. Again, I didn’t count plays, but I got the feeling that we split time between CJG, Jennings, and Hawkins roughly into thirds – Jeff ended up with 11 carries, CJG and Hawk both had 7. That works for me; it’s nice to have enough quality depth that you can comfortably rotate to keep guys fresh.

D.J. Moore's kick return and interception return showed his playmaking skills. Photo by The Tennessean.
D.J. Moore is a playmaker. We saw some of it last year when he tied for the team lead in picks as a true freshman, but his kick return and interception return were both very impressive. I was surprised to see him returning kicks (after all, it showed Washington and Hawkins on the depth chart) but he looked terrific doing it. This week on the depth chart, it shows him and Sean Walker as our kick returners.

Defensive adjustments. I'm not sure why everyone is freaking out about the defense. Our scheme is predicated on allowing short, controlled plays while avoiding big plays - the goal is prevent points, and we want them to earn their points by converting third downs and sustaining long drives. We allowed 10 points total on defense - but in the second half we didn't allow any points, any third down conversions, and held them to only 101 yards. Plus, my feeling was that we were more conservative than usual on defense with few blitzes, especially in the second half. Oh, and don't forget that we had three takeaways. Like they say, football's a game of adjustments, and the adjustments we made worked. You can't expect perfection...

I really enjoyed the game. I thought we played well enough to boost our confidence while also knowing we can play better (which should help us focus for Saturday). You have to earn every win - just ask Michigan - and we took care of business. Now, let's do it again on Saturday.

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