I am including a scale to provide more detail to the grades I give out. Hopefully this will clear up some of the ambiguity within the previous grades.
A: Unit played as close to flawless as possible. Unit played well enough to win the game on their own.
B: Unit had a major positive impact on the game but also had several assignment/execution miscues.
C: Unit did not negatively or positively affect the game. Unit made key positive plays along with critical errors.
D: Unit made multiple critical errors that could potentially cost the team a win. Unit blew assignments and had poor execution across the board.
F: Play of the unit was bad enough that it could directly cost the team a victory.
Note: Plus and minuses denote degrees of the grade.
The production from the QB position continues to be double sided. Denard remains a terror in the running game, but his play in the passing game is below average. Denard once again broke the back of another opponent by breaking big plays with his legs. He continues to show great vision and patience when running the ball, though his reads on the zone read were suspect at times. Poor decisions and throws in the 2nd half could have potentially brought SDSU back. Both interceptions were the result of bad throws and bad decisions. There were several nice throws in the first half, but overall the passing game doesn’t seem to be getting better.
The RBs combined for 23 carries and 127 yds rushing. Vincent Smith had another strong day on the ground and made some nice receiving plays. Smith’s fumble in the first half was costly as the team was driving for a 21-0 lead. Fitz continues to be the best, between the tackles and short yardage runner, but hasn’t broken any large runs since the first game. Stephen Hopkins once again showed that he cannot be counted on to hang on to the football, he needs to exclusively play FB from now on.
According to Brady Hoke, the receivers are to blame for several of the miscues in the passing game. How much of that is Hoke trying to take the pressure off Denard Robinson we`ll never know. It’s hard to know whether the receivers are at fault without knowing the play call, but there does not seem to be any glaring issues from a route running or catching standpoint. Kevin Koger dropped another pass that should have been caught for a first down which was disappointing.
The run blocking was good other than when we tried running inside from under center. The interior of the line continues to struggle with the power play. On multiple occasions the pulling guard never made it to the hole or had to reroute because one of the other linemen was pushed back. Pass blocking was excellent considering San Diego State’s 3-3-5 is predicated on the blitz. The line had no trouble picking up blitzes and allowed Denard plenty of time on most plays. They do need to do a better job of not immediately letting players through on screens.
By far the best game of the season for the defensive line. I never thought I would say it this season but the line was flat out dominant at times on Saturday. Craig Roh was a monster against the pass and the run. Roh recorded a sack, 2 TFLs, forced a fumble, was a disrupter for most of the game. This team desperately needs Roh to be a force off the edge in the coming weeks. Mike Martin was his usual self, surprisingly San Diego State choose to leave Martin in 1 on 1 situations which he took full advantage of. Ryan Van Bergen was also a force in the game. RVB has definitely become more productive since moving back outside to his natural DE position.
Another up and down day for the LBs. Jake Ryan was all over the place again and racked up two more fumble recoveries. Ryan was also force in the run game and continues to display a knack for getting to the QB. Kenny Demens was steady but did nothing to standout. One of the things this defense needs is the emergence of playmakers, guys who go beyond their assignment and generate big plays on their own. Demens has the potential to make plays on a regular basis but has not done that as of yet.
Some may find the grade for this unit unfair, but the secondary did not play very well despite the low passing numbers for Lindley throughout much of the game. While the corners tackled well, they did not do a great job of closing on the ball or sticking on receivers. Lindley and the receivers seemed rattled from the start which certainly helped. True freshman Blake Countess has received a lot of publicity for his play considering his lack of experience and the situation he was thrown into. Once the game slows down for him and he is able to trust his instincts he could end up being a very good player. The safeties were virtually nonexistent during the game, which is disappointing considering the number of times San Diego State put the ball in the air.
Gibbons finally got the chance to attempt a reasonably difficult FG and failed to connect from 40 yds. The kick was long enough but wasn’t accurate which seems to be the same story we’ve seen over the years. Matt Wile was finally able to get his kickoffs into the endzone, which he has been struggling with. He also did a nice job punting the ball with a 49 yd per punt average. The coverage and return units were solid, though unspectacular. As of yet this team has not generated any big plays on any of its special teams units.
This team really seems to be coming along defensively. The big plays have all but dried up, while the number of turnovers and stops on 3rd down continue to increase. The defensive unit is well coached and that coaching is beginning to show up on gameday. In truth, the defense should have pitched a shutout but a bad fumble at the Michigan 20 gave San Diego State an easy TD. The decision to put a CB on TE Gavin Escobar on passing downs was a stroke of genius as he has been a matchup nightmare for most CBs and LBs in the passing game.
The offensive play calling was really a tale of two halves. Borges pushed all the right buttons in the first half. Michigan started off the game with a great mix of runs and short passes which were well executed. The speed option was a great call and is a nice addition to the playbook. There is a lot that can be built off the speed option so hopefully Borges continues to expand the use of that play. We also ran the “power play” on Denard’s first TD, a play that needs to be expanded and used on a more regular basis. There were also several plays were we took advantage of Denard’s running ability by faking the QB ISO then throwing the “pop pass” to a WR. I would have liked to see us continue to use that play as San Diego State overcommitted to stopping Denard fairly early in the game. Unfortunately the play calling fell off in the second half. The short passes especially seemed to disappear and we began to rely more on Denard’s legs.
Despite all examples to the contrary we continue to gnaw on that “power play” bone. You`d think seeing the pulling guard run into the back of the playside guard would be enough discouragement to dump that play. At least we’ve limited our use of the power play to late game situations. It easy to see that the coaches would like to run the power play on a regular basis but the team just doesn’t seem capable of executing it consistently.
I continue to be amazed at the use of Denard late in games. Saturday marked the 2nd game in a row that Denard has remained in a game late despite a 21 point lead. Being in the game is bad enough but there have also been several designed QB runs in those situations which are puzzling to say the least. This also marks the 2nd game in a row where we have passed up opportunities to give meaningful reps to Devin Gardner.