Anyone who saw Charlie Strong's post game presser, knew that they were seeing a side of him that had yet to be revealed. Anyone who heard his post game interview with Doug Ormay, right before the press conference, knew that Paul Rodgers wasn't that far off when he suggested that Doug should get a medal of honor for doing that interview. More important than those things however, is the realization that this team is a long way from being ready for what will come their way over the next couple of months; and Charlie Strong didn't need to say a lot for us to know that.
Charlie really didn't need to say much for everyone to see that the performance of his team was sub-par at best; but, by the numbers this team has the exact same record as the 2010-2011 version did four games into the season. This feels different though, Charlie never showed his emotion and frustration last year the way he did on Saturday. Saturday felt different, scary, and the outlook for the rest of the year feels different. Why?
First of all you have to look at the major difference between last year's team and the one we have now. Even though Bilal Powell was "the face" of the program last year, the program's heart was beating with the offensive line that paved the way for his success. The strength of last year's team is now the glaring weakness of the 2011-2012 version. Last year's team averaged 184 yards/game on the ground through four games, while this year's team has put up a modest 120, with the worst efforts coming at home against teams from the Sun Belt (83) and CUSA (60).
It all starts up front, on both sides of the ball. Ask any college coach, or NFL General Manager with an owner who keeps drafting fast receivers (talking to you Al Davis/ Jerry Jones), and they will tell you that if you can't run the ball and protect your QB,.... you're in big trouble. Conversely, if you can't stop the run and get pressure on the other team's QB,.... you're in big trouble. For a team whose strength is supposed to be it's defense,... running the football and manufacturing first downs is perhaps one of the most important factors in determining whether or not they will win or lose a game.
Running the football and moving the chains allows a defense, especially the front seven, crucial time to rest, hydrate, and get coached up on the sidelines. Nothing wears a defense out faster than having to go right back out onto the field after three enigmatic downs from their offense. Defenses that dominate the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter, are generally well rested unless there is an embarrassment of riches, with respect to the talent on their depth chart. Despite a lack of depth, last year's defense was able to make enough plays to keep the Cards in almost every game, and the offensive line's ability to pound the rock and keep the chains moving had a lot to do with that.
Charlie called everyone out out that press conference; but that's only because he had to. You can't call out one person/ position/ coach and not let everyone else know that they need to step it up too.That said, the defense has not been what has cost us games this year. In the two losses, and the win against Kentucky, the defense has only given up 17 points. Turnovers, a virtually non-existent running game, and penalties have stymied the offense to an average of 15 points in the two losses. Marshall did move the ball on Saturday, but the defense did their job in terms of holding their point total to one the offense should have been able to overcome. There is plenty of blame to go around for the two losses, but the defense should bare the lambs share, with the lion's going to the offense.
At one point in the post game interview, Doug asked Coach Strong if Marshall had done anything special that they weren't expecting. Charlie bellowed (Paraphrasing from memory here but..) "NO! They didn't do ANYTHING that we didn't talk about during the week!." He then went on to explain that "the coaches didn't do a good enough job of preparing the players" and they had (not paraphrasing here) "let the players down." Now, some of that can be put on the fact that this is a young team who probably thought they'd accomplished something after the win in Lexington. Some of this can be put on the fact that Saturday was Mario's first game back and the cohesion that had been found in Lexington was thrown into disarray with everyone moving positions again.
What cannot be explained away is the notion that coaches, looking at you Samford and Borbely, didn't have the QBs and line prepared to face the kind of schemes and pressure Marshall would bring. Especially if it was nothing surprising/ out of the ordinary from what they saw on tape. That, more than anything else, is what the fans should be looking at for answers right now. I know people were calling for Teddy to play more after the FIU game (me included), and many people said it wouldn't have made a difference with the line playing so poorly. Well, the line played better at Kentucky and Teddy shinned; but we all saw the results of an inexperienced QB under constant pressure, with no running game for relief. Will,... Teddy,... it doesn't matter if the guys up front aren't getting it done. Period.
I can only hope that they are more prepared for this coming Saturday than they were against Marshall; because the talent level on defense for North Carolina is something these guys have not seen yet. There are four players on defense projected in the top nine of their particular positions; headlined by #1 DE Quinton Coples, #2 OLB Kevin Reddick, #4 OLB Zach Brown and #9 DE Donte Paige-Moss. Yikes,..... Yikes a lot. You can rest assured that these guys will be better prepared than they were on Saturday, but scoring more than the 13 they did against Marshall would be a tremendous feat for this group. Here's hoping they get it done, but I'm not looking for it to happen.
At this point in the season you've won a game you weren't supposed to win and lost two that weren't supposed to lose. You're still very much alive for another .500 finish, and possibly another bowl game; but, now you're going to have to hold serve at home, which hasn't looked promising (yet), and win 1 of the remaining 5 on the road. It's do-able, but unless the offensive line can take control of the trenches in some of these games,... it's a pipe dream at best. I like pipes. I like wins better.