After the disaster that was the Missouri series, I am not one to take season-opening wins for granted. Especially when we opened against a MAC contender that has given us fits the last two times we’ve played them. So go ahead, get excited about that win. How excited depends on whether you’re a glass half-full or glass half-empty type of person. I used to be the latter but am trying to reform. So I’ll just roll the competing thoughts I’m having out there and let you decide:
“24-7 – pretty good considering we only beat this team by three last year….right?”
Half-full: You’re damn right. Take a look around the Big Ten. Don’t you feel better about this than about Wisconsin’s performance against UNI? Or Iowa’s at Soldier Field? In fact, if we’re counting the quality of opponent, that was arguably the best-looking win of any Big Ten team. The last time Tim Beckman saw WMU, Alex Carder threw for over 500 yards. Saturday, the defense made him look like a freshman. If I would have offered you a 24-7 win on Friday, you’d have possibly embraced me before giddily saying “Yes, of course!”
Half-empty: To go +3 in the turnover battle and hold an opponent to -6 (!) rushing yards and have the game be up in the air in the 4th quarter should make you feel like you’ve seen this movie before. Because you have: it’s called “The Second Half of 2011”. WMU outgained Illinois but basically couldn’t climb out of the hole they dug themselves in the 1st quarter. Count on Arizona State to miss field goals, fumble the football all over the field and make horrible QB decisions at your own peril.
“Jon Davis led the team in rushing?!”
Half-full: Indeed, and it looked like we were just scratching the surface of what he could do in the process. Remember back when our attempts to get the ball into the hands of playmakers meant lining up Rejus Benn in the backfield and running a sweep to the short side of the field? This was the opposite of that, as we utilized Davis as some kind of all-purpose RB/WR/TE. Don’t worry about Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young. Ferguson turned in a respectable 3.5 YPC performance and Young led the team in receiving.
Half-empty: It’s not so much who led the team in rushing as how little successful rushing there was. Davis, Ferguson and Young barely topped 100 yards combined. And considering the playcalling went hyper-conservative from about the middle of the 2nd quarter on, that’s disconcerting. We’ll see MUCH better run defenses than WMU this year, and we’re going to need something more reliable from both the o-line and then backfield than what we saw Saturday.
“So, offensively, the second half went: INT, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, End of game.”
Half-full: True. But that interception was in the endzone, and when Nate left the game, the playbook tightened up. Why wouldn’t it? The defense was in total control – why go for style points and show your cards to Arizona State this week? Sure, they would’ve preferred to get the run going more effectively in the second half, but why push it when it was all WMU could do to even score once?
Half-empty: And if Mr. Scheelhaase is out next week, you can extrapolate that over an entire game. After hitting Ryan Lankford on the 64-yard TD strike, the passing game turned almost entirely into underneath routes, which, when paired with a sputtering running game, will get you said punts. WMU had just scored and was looking to trim the lead to 17-14 or 17-10 when Carder threw the pick-six to Ashante Williams. Can you rely on defensive scores week in and week out? Spoiler alert: no, you can’t – that’s the fast track to 5-7 or even 4-8.
“This defense have given up a total of 12 rushing yards over the last two games.”
Half-full: Impressive, no? It was a dominant performance that could have gotten even more out of hand (the Broncos fumbled six times but only lost one, and at least two catchable interceptions were dropped). In retrospect, WMU may have been lucky that the defense only scored once.
Half-empty: Just kidding, there’s nothing bad about stopping the run like men possessed.
So…..I dunno. We’ll learn A LOT this Saturday night, won’t we?