Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The gameplan that wasn't

I expect mediocre game plans and ineffective schemes from Chris Cosh, but I have been surprised this season with the lack of imagination of the wunderkind offensive coordinator James Franklin. He is certainly young and dynamic, meaning he has a shaved head and he yells fairly often, but his offense has been well short of those adjectives this season. Perhaps Franklin will turn out to be a good OC but the early returns are not encouraging. Debbie Yow went on record to call him one of the best hires she has ever seen in college athletics which is another indicator of her judgement, or lack thereof, but then again Debbie had a role in his hire so it must be a brilliant move. So here we sit two games into the season with a grand total of 28 points produced by the offense. I shudder to think what this offense would look like if Da'Rel Scott had not exceeded all expectations. It is probably worth raising the issue of how much influence Ralph Friedgen still has on the offense. I find it hard to believe that he has been completely hands off the last two weeks, or that he would go into the Cal game confident that Franklin will draw up a winning formula on his own.

There seemed to be no rhythm or purpose behind the play calling against Middle Tennessee State and consequently the offense failed to muster more than a couple of sustained drives the whole game. One eleven play drive resulted in a missed field goal by Obi Egekeze that would have tied the game at 10-10. As a side note am I the only one who thinks the disastrous kicking game is even worse on a team where the offense isn't likely to get down near the red zone very often? If this team wasn't such a mess the kicking game would be cause for crisis mode. Another drive at the end of the game went nine plays with the Blue Raiders playing soft and allowing Chris Turner to complete a 29 yard pass to Lansford Watson.

After Maryland seemed to abandon the running game, and MTS started stacking the line, the pass blocking problems of the offensive line were on full display. Turner certainly played poorly but it didn't help he was running for his life half the time he dropped back to pass. Friedgen even tried to throw Bruce Campbell in the lineup at tackle to shake things up but MTS was getting pressure on the blitz and with just down linemen. Unless Franklin wants to get Turner killed he should think about keeping a back and tight end in to block.

So far this season the receivers, which were supposed to be a strength have been a disappointment. Darrius Heyward-Bey has played well, if not consistently, but none of the other receivers have been able to produce much opposite him. Part of that is the QB play but the lazy routes and blown hot reads are the fault of the receiver corps.

The upcoming game against Cal will require Franklin to get back to basics and establish some identity for this offense. Will they be a power running team with play action, which was totally absent against MTS, or will they be a finesse short passing offense without the correct offensive linemen for the job? I'd even go two tight ends some of the time to help out the struggling tackles. What I am surprised at is the idea that the staff didn't see this sputtering mess on offense in August practices. Perhaps they looked efficient against the dreadful defense in practice and it gave the coaches some false sense of security about the offense. Given the better talent at some key positions you could argue the offense has regressed since last season.

The offense has not even faced a stern test yet this year but an aggressive and ball hawking California defense will be coming to town this weekend. This team seemed to rise to the level of its opponent last season and let's hope they recapture some of that magic, and quick.

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