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Watching the Offense from 2015, Part 2: A New Start and a Similar End... Games 4-8

Prologue:

After a bad opening series of games to start the season AU was in a pickle. To put it nicely JJ had severely under performed and the rest of the offense aside from Peyton Barber had not given him much help. Desperate times called for desperate measures and Gus pulled the plug on JJ and opted to start anew with White. This is a less than idea thing for any offense to replace the starter partway into the season but even more so for Malzahn's offense which tends to morph and shape itself around the team's strengths after a few games. By making a change at qb it could be argued that Gus was effectively hitting the reset button for the offense. With a bye week to try to get something in order and the rest of the SEC schedule coming up Malzahn and company tried to overhaul things to try to get something good going for the offense.

Well, let's revisit how that went!

Note: for games started by White replaced the stat that was keeping track of JJ's interceptions or near interceptions with White's red zone stats instead. Since White's overall decision making was better than JJ's and the knock on White was more his lack of TD passes I felt this was a more interesting thing to keep track of.

Vs MSU - L - Final Score: 9 - 17

ESPN Stats for the game.

TOP: 36:10

Speed Sweeps/reverses: 3
- Good yardage (4+): 1
- For loss of yards or no gain: 2
- For minimal gain:

Dropped balls/could have got that: 5
- If caught would have been a 1st down: 1

White Red Zone stats:
- Comp-Atts: 0-2
- Passing TDs:
- 1st downs:
- Turnovers: 1
- Mistakes: 1 (miss-handled snap, the snap was a bit high though)

Turnovers: Ints - 1, Fum -

White runs: 5 (espn has 11 listed, I know he got sacked a few times but I must have missed a couple of runs)
- 6:31-6:40 a nice one, notice that Ray (WR) gets just enough of a defender to help spring him.

Penalties: 4
- Killed drives (may share with others): 1 (happened on 1st down and never recovered)
- Wiped out 1st downs:
- Wiped out scores:
- Everything else: 4

WR blocking: 0:55-1:02 (well at least they kinda chipped them), 3:40-3:47 (gets on a man but loses ground and his guy makes the play), 7:28-7:38 (Duke, who you blocking?)

Play calling: Meh, still running a lot on 1st down and a sack late on an unnecessary play action pass.

Offense seems sharp with White running it. White has a nice accurate gun for an arm.

O-line playing better though they gave up some sacks.

Kerryon with some nice running and catching. Roc with a couple of good runs on some regular running back sweeps.

Can't take a sack on that last play White.

White did pretty well running the ball. Outside of sacks I think he average 7 yards a carry or so and he may have had 35-45 yards on runs/scrambles.

Peyton Barber with another solid day.

Sweeps not going so well this game.

5:27 Barber misses the hole... We end up missing a FG on that possession.

On paper it looks like AU should have won this game between out-gaining MSU 389-326 and dominating TOP, but a horrendous day in the red zone sunk AU. 4 trips to the red zone and just 6 points is just terrible.

Vs SJSU - W - Final Score: 35 - 21

ESPN Stats for the game.

TOP: 26:03

Speed Sweeps/reverses: 4
- Good yardage (4+): 2
- For loss of yards or no gain: 1
- For minimal gain: 1

Dropped balls/could have got that: 3 (0:17-0:20 kinda hard to tell)
- If caught would have been a 1st down: 3 (1:57-2:01 could have been a TD...)

White Red Zone stats:
- Comp-Atts:
- Passing TDs:
- 1st downs:
- Turnovers:

Turnovers: Ints - , Fum -

White runs: 4

Penalties:
- Killed drives (may share with others):
- Wiped out 1st downs:
- Wiped out scores:
- Everything else:

WR blocking: Nothing obvious that I saw.

Play calling: No real complaints, running it down their throats was working so sticking with it made sense.

Roc is a threat in the open field catching the ball. Decent day running it as well.

O-line had a nice day except on a couple of short yardage situations.

White with a couple of fumbles or near fumbles on runs.

Not much of a passing game wise in this game but with how AU was running the ball it makes sense that they didn't try it too much.

Barber with another workhorse game.

A better day in the red zone but still miss-fired on 1 trip. Overall a pretty good day for the offense, the lack of yardage was more due to length of field to drive than any issues moving the ball. SJSU playing keep away as best they could also contributed.

@ UK - W - Final Score: 30 - 27

ESPN Stats for the game.

TOP: 29:27

Speed Sweeps/reverses: 5
- Good yardage (4+): 1
- For loss of yards or no gain: 1
- For minimal gain: 3

Dropped balls/could have got that: 4 (end of 1st in end zone and 8:30-8:33 I may be being unfair)
- If caught would have been a 1st down: 1

White Red Zone stats:
- Comp-Atts: 1-3
- Passing TDs:
- 1st downs: 1
- Turnovers:

Turnovers: Ints - , Fum -

White runs: 5 (2 on weird broken plays) (ESPN has 6 but I think 1 was a sack).

Penalties: 4 (1 off-setting)
- Killed drives (may share with others): 1 (2nd down holding penalty, didn't recover).
- Wiped out 1st downs:
- Wiped out scores:
- Everything else: 4

WR blocking: 12:34-12:42 (#5 get on your block man...)

Play calling: Pretty decent. Speed sweeps not as effective this game. There is one play action play I'm noticing White seems to get pressure on or sacked almost each time it feels like though.

White with a good game throwing it.

Kerryon had another good game in spot duty.

Louis with a nice game receiving.

O-line had an "ok" game but once again with some issues in short yardage and had some issues running the ball at times.

Is it my imagination or on one of those play-action plays we keep running White is getting sacked or nearly sacked most of the time it is run?

White with some issues in the red zone once more.

After 2 games it feels like White is facing more pressure or at least getting sacked more often than JJ. That may be due to better competition though.

Barber was steady but he was held a bit more in check this game.

A few hiccups here and there but overall a pretty solid outing for the offense though they settled for field goals a bit much.

@ Arkansas - L - Final Score: 46 - 54

ESPN Stats for the game.

TOP: 27:09

Speed Sweeps/reverses: 5
- Good yardage (4+): 3
- For loss of yards or no gain: 2
- For minimal gain:

Dropped balls/could have got that: 11
- If caught would have been a 1st down or TD: 10

White Red Zone stats:
- Comp-Atts: 2-2
- Passing TDs:
- 1st downs: 1
- 2pt conversion 1-1
- Turnovers:

Turnovers: Ints - , Fum -

White runs: 2 (ESPN had 3 but believe 1 was a sack)

Penalties: 1
- Killed drives (may share with others):
- Wiped out 1st downs:
- Wiped out scores:
- Everything else: 1

WR blocking: Nothing that I noticed.

Play calling: Good call to go for it on 4th down late in the 2nd quarter and for the TD in the 4th. Why did we throw it 3 straight plays to end the game (though drops would indicate it wasn't a terrible idea)?

KJ making plays in spot duty once more.

Jason Smith with a running TD and a long reception.

JJ steps in for a short yardage 4th down TD run.

Ricardo Louis... With both a good game and a terrible game... He helped us tie it up and had some good grabs but had a good many of our drops.

Used Ray similar to Lutzie on that 2pt conversion.

O-line with an ok game, the running game struggled a bit.

Peyton a work horse once again.

A lot of drops/misses but I will admit a number of them would have been tough catches.

If most of or even all of those drops/misses get caught then White ends up with perhaps over 400+ yards...

3 straight plays where the ball hit the receivers hands or was close to where they had a chance to catch the ball to end the game...

What could have been AU's best offensive performance of the year was destroyed by a ton of drops... It statistically probably was our best game of the year but the loss and drops mar it. Essentially those drops killed drives in regulation which could have gone for scores (at least FGs with Carleson's leg) with the end result being that AU had to work to tie the game at the end to force OT and then given a chance to extend the game it ends on 3 straight drops/misses by the receivers...

Vs Ole Miss - L - Final Score: 19 - 27

ESPN Stats for the game.

TOP: 26:30

Speed Sweeps/reverses:
- Good yardage (4+):
- For loss of yards or no gain:
- For minimal gain:

Dropped balls/could have got that: 6
- If caught would have been a 1st down: 3
- 1 at 9:00 to 9:04 I'm not sure if I should count or not... Defender made a great play to push him out but did Ricardo have to jump?

White Red Zone stats:
- Comp-Atts: 0-3
- Passing TDs:
- Turnovers:
- 6:46-6:53 he had 2 options that he could have tried to get it to... Coverage was decent but it looked like there were lanes...
- 1 TD pass of his called back due to penalty.

Turnovers: Ints - 1, Fum -

White runs: 1 (still had 1 decent run on a bad leg, 3 others listed by ESPN I believe were sacks).

Penalties: 4 (2 declined)
- Killed drives (may share with others):
- Wiped out 1st downs:
- Wiped out scores: 1
- Everything else: 3

WR blocking: Nothing obvious this time.

Play calling: 3:24-3:30 (why did we run it here?), 4:17-4:21 (I like the call to go for it but why not run? The play was there on the pass though I'll admit), 8:30-8:39 (why is Barber in and not Robinson or even JJ?). Overall play calling seemed definitely off in this game and I think a lot of it had to do with White's injury.

White is not himself this game, part of it due to Ole Miss front getting after him and batting passes, but he is still pretty sharp. A little high/off on a decent number of throws though.

A lot of subbing in JJ and KJ in situations where they may want the qb to run. Mixed bag on results.

O-line had some issues with the Ole Miss pass rush and some short yardage situations, not helped by Sean's injury though. Had an ok game I guess.

Roc Thomas back (from injury I believe) and making some plays.

Couple of questionable deep throws by JJ though 1 of them did get completed. Not a good sequence on the last play of the game for him.

Jovon Robinson back and making a nice impact. 6:11-6:24 and THAT is what he brings to the table that gets folks high on him.

Peyton Barber not showing up much this game and doesn't seem effective when he is in. I think he had a minor injury at this point of the season?

Note on the drops/could have got that balls in this game. There were a few that may have been more on White than the receivers.

8:21-8:29 nice grab by Stevens.

3 red zone trips where we got only field goals... Penalties, unable to block the stacked front from Ole Miss, some miss-fires (or not firing at all...) from White and etc closing down opportunities in those chances.

Overall a game that turned out to be winnable but red zone failures, White's injury and other mistakes added up to a loss for AU.

Given how White's injury affected play calling should JJ have started or would that have been worse?

Overall Thoughts:

Sean White is Pretty Good!!! Oh Yeah Baby!!! And... He Got Hurt... Bummer...

Prior to him playing I knew we had him on the roster and that he was pretty highly rated coming out of high school, but I had no idea he would play as well as he did as a first time starter through 5 games. While not possessing the kind of cannon JJ has Sean still has a pretty nice gun for an arm and is very accurate.

White was a gamer. He would hang in the pocket and move around for as long as he could to try to find an open receiver and from what I remember he basically forced himself into the Ole Miss game to start. He also did a decent job running the ball. Outside of sacks I think he may averaged 5 or 6 yards a carry.

Under him the offense was more, well, I guess the word for it would be "sharp". While still not as fast paced as a typical Malzahn offense the turnovers did drop down significantly. The yardage went from an average of approximately 329.3 or so under JJ to around 396.2 or so under White. Oddly enough the scoring went from about 26.3 under JJ to about 24.4 under White. Part of that was probably the amount of drops and other issues by the rest of the offense he had to deal with.

White was not without his faults though.

He showed his inexperience at times and he also fumbled the ball a bit as well (though he never lost one to the other team). White can run, he has some wheels on him but the problem is he isn't as fast as a Nick Marshall and he isn't as powerful/durable as a JJ or Cam, this would come to bite him especially in the red zone. Without that running aspect White had to rely on his throwing ability in the red zone and more often than not he came up short. Part of it can be blamed on other things but the bottom line is for his red zone stats he was overall 3-10 (or 4-11 if you count a 2 pt conversion) on completions with 2 first downs, a 2 pt conversion, 1 turnover and a miss-handled snap on a 3rd down play. That's not good...

Overall White was a breath of fresh air and even made folks wonder if White should have been the starter to start the season. Sadly, while the offense progressed and improved under White that progress was undone by injuries during the Arkansas game. While White still managed to start the Ole Miss game he was no longer himself and that would be the last game he started during the regular season in 2015.

Red Zone Offense Being Pretty Offensive

Leaving the bad joke aside... While the offense did seem to move the ball better as previously mentioned the scoring average didn't actually go up during this stretch of the season. In fact it was about the same. With better qb play this seems odd but there were other issues with the AU offense besides the qb play and they were exposed when White was the qb... First among those was the red zone offense.

Since White was not as dynamic or as powerful a runner as a Nick or a JJ that took away a pretty big option that AU had relied on in the red zone since Gus got to the plains. At least a few times on plays where White would roll out and have a run or pass option (or just a run option on some draws) he just did not have the speed or power to make the defense pay.

That's one aspect but couldn't something else have been done? Well, from what I understand outside of the running game or a running qb the other options you can try to have to help you in the red zone are TEs and/or big possession receivers. Last year AU just didn't have a Lutzie or Uzomah to target in the end zone so the TE option was out. As for a possession receiver the closest we had to that was Duke and as per what has been said before he was having his own issues and was kicked off the team 2 games into this stretch anyway! Without those options Gus and company either would try to pound the ball in, try some cute stuff (sweeps, wildcat and etc) and when all else didn't seem like it would work try to throw it with White... Results were mixed you can say.

Red zone offense ended up being the biggest factor in 2 of our 3 losses (MSU and Ole Miss) in this stretch and almost helped cause AU to lose another game against UK.

The Football is Actually a Hot Potato.... No, No it Isn't...

Total number of drops/could have got that balls by my count: 29 or an average of almost 6 per game and 18 that could have gone for 1st downs (or even TDs potentially in a couple of cases)... I don't know that I even need to say any more on this subject. That's just bad... While it didn't play a deciding factor on it's own in most of the games it pretty much was the main cause of AU's loss in the Arkansas game. If even one more drive that was killed by those balls goes for a TD in regulation then AU probably wins. Even the 3 in the OT to end things if 1 of them gets caught AU gets another chance and who knows what happens?

Still to be fair a number of those balls would have been pretty tough catches. In addition as many balls that were dropped there were a number that were caught by some of the offenders to help keep games in contention. As close as the three losses in this stretch were if 1 player somewhere somehow makes just 1 more play then AU has a chance.

But in the end those drops happened and the "what ifs" of if most of or all of those balls get caught in those games abound.

Offense Overall

Look and feel wise the offense overall did seem to flow better during this stretch of games. The offensive line seemed to improve from it's early season problems but still didn't get to a dominating level. The blocking by the receivers seemed to oddly get better once Duke was kicked off... Jovon Robinson also came into the picture towards the end and started to show out offering another weapon to the offense. Overall the amount of "miscellaneous" mistakes by the offense went down during the stretch and the offense as a whole felt better.

The Coaches Dilemma with Play-calling and Who is the QB

I do not envy Gus and company during this time. Between switching to White , discovering inadequacies in the red zone, the consistent drops by receivers, Peyton and Roc getting dinged up and then trying to play call around White's injury against Ole Miss they had it rough.

Overall on play calling once again just watching through these videos it does not seem as bad as folks complained about. There are problems here and there but again the issue seems to be with execution as opposed to the play calling itself. I'm not saying play calling was "great" or even "good" but it was not terrible either though they did have their moments. I will say though that I think we should have been passing more on 1st down under White.

I don't know how much they could have done with the various issues given lack of some key personnel as mentioned before but you'd think at least the drops could have been cured by some hours on throwing machines. I guess the bottom line for the coaching staff during this point would be you'd think there would be more they could have done and that play calling could have been better but at the same time I'm not sure on how much could have been done given what they had to work with.

Closing Thoughts:

Yep definitely did not get the word count down on this one. Oh well...

While the changeover to Sean White fixed some problems it also uncovered some other ones (red zone). Still the offense as a whole seemed to keep improving game to game as the coaching staff figured out how to use Sean and schemed around other weaknesses on the offense. Then White got hurt...

The 3 losses during this stretch just hurt. All were winnable and AU scrapped through them well but just could not overcome certain problems to push through. Those 3 games AU had the opportunities to win and just could not make the plays.

This section of the season ended much as the last one did, with decisions to be made at qb and how the offense was to be run after less than ideal circumstances playing out. Only in this case instead of a qb not playing well it was a qb who had been playing pretty well becoming injured. In addition they had to figure out the running back rotation with Peyton Barber starting to have some injury issues and Jovon Robinson now starting to come on. Looking ahead to Texas A&M and the closing stretch of the season the coaching staff was left to figure out how to run the offense with the qb they replaced 5 games ago...

The next part will cover the last 4 games of the regular season and I'm not sure when I'll get it out. I'm hoping by Tuesday evening but we'll see how life goes. I went ahead and put this part together since I had time today, hopefully I didn't put this out too soon. Many thanks to anyone who read through the whole thing, I hope you enjoyed it!

God bless and War Eagle!

We're all just trying to have a good time here. Don't be a jerk, and we won't have a problem with you. War Eagle!