This week in lieu of a game I had a little email conversation with Scot over at Bearcats Blog about the current state of the UC program. A number of topics were touched on, such as disappointing performances so far, what the expectations are for the rest of the season, and so on and so forth. Without further delay.
My expectations going into the season were tempered. There was the new staff, and coaching transitions rarely go as well as the Dantonio to Kelly one did, there was a ton of turnover on the roster. Right now there are 60+ freshmen and sophomores on scholarship out of a possible 85. The last time the roster was that young was back in 2005 when Mickens, Byrd and co started as Freshmen. Those two things knocked expectations way down, the Fresno State game but them in the basement from which they are only just emerging. I don't expect an Oklahoma performance every week, but I do expect a higher level of execution than what was on display for the first 3 games.
I am with you on the run defense being a surprise, I knew Derek Wolfe would dominate the point of attack, but the entire front 7 has played extremely well. However for me the biggest surprise has been Malik Bomar. The expression that was bestowed upon him by John Jancek, that he will put his facemask in fan is pretty apt. He isn't the biggest guy at his position, but he plays at warp speed at all times. To top it all off he is a sound tackler. Bomar has been a very pleasant surprise to me.
The offensive line has been disappointing. But the biggest disappointment to me is that it took the coaching staff three games to realize that C.J. Cobb flat out can't play tackle in a spread offense. He doesn't have the hands, foot speed or lateral quickness to play in space. My friend Al had taken to calling him the Anti-Block at tackle, because like Anti-Matter destroys any matter it touches, Cobb destroyed every blocking scheme he touched at tackle. Three games to realize it wasn't working and to move him to guard where he was very effective against Oklahoma. That it took the staff three games to come to that realization was more disappointing to me than his actual performance.
Following on your Kragthorpe comment I just thought it was way too early for people to even entertain that thought. Jones stepped into a situation that was good, but it wasn't so good that it was foolproof. There is a chance that he could go down that path, but I think that is unlikely at this point. He and his staff have at least learned from the mistakes they made early on, the Oklahoma game sort of makes that point. It's just that they don't learn and adjust to issues nearly as fast as Brian Kelly did.
I think that this team has an identiy now, they are playing with swagger, speed and purpose again. That was one of my biggest issues with the first three games, no one was playing fast, rather hardly anyone was playing fast. The defining characteristic of the teams from the past 3 years was that above all else they played fast. That speed and that swagger seems to be back. I feel I have a good read on the team now. I could be completely wrong with what I think they are, a team that runs the football to set up play action strikes on offense and stops the run with basic coverages in the back. It's not great, I would like to see more aggresion in the secondary, but I at least know what this team is and what it does well. Knowing that isn't quite worth the 1-3 start, but having an identity with that record is better than going 1-3 and being completely lost, which was my greatest fear.
In terms of a breakout player, I would go with Dan Giordano. He remains the only person on the team to register more than one sack this season. He went for 1 1/2 last weekend and isn't likely to face a better pair of tackles until the Pitt game plus he is going to get one v one opportunities the rest of the year because of the attention Derek Wolfe commands in the interior.
I would go ahead and write Pitt off. They are just terribly coached. It's like Frank Cignetti Jr. can no longer offset the negative impact the Stache's ideas and philosophy has on the team. Pitt has lots of young talent, but Wanstache has no idea how to develop personnel. He couldn't do it with the Bears, or Dolphins and his two good years at Pitt were because he had deep experienced teams, only one of those adjectives can apply to this group. Lots of talent zero experience for most.
WVU has to be the pick. They have the best defense, a calm, relatively steady QB in Geno Smith and an offense that has enough play makers to make do.