Sunday, September 13, 2009

Whoops, we just dropped another pass

Playing big, fast, strong athletes — even ones who've given up more than 400 yards to lowly Washington — has a way of highlighting your strengths and weaknesses.

So the day after Vandy's scrappy performance against the five-star talent of LSU, we still feel pretty good about our veteran offensive line; we feel great about our freshman tailback, who's still averaging more than 100 yards a game; and we feel great about our young quarterback, who was firing lasers to his receivers.

Oh, and we feel worse than ever about the guys who are supposed to catch those lasers. This morning, on the way to church actually, I vowed not to berate Alex Washington like I berated George Smith last season. You may remember that Smith, a profile in courage if there ever was one, had his name written in ink in the VU starting lineup and still couldn't catch a pass with somebody breathing down his neck. Well, not until the Music City Bowl, when he hauled in a bullet from Larry that set up the winning field goal.

Now Alex has picked up the title of fifth-year senior starter who can't catch. He dropped two passes, one which he tipped into the hands of a DB deep in Tiger territory and the other on fourth down to put the game on ice.

The three receivers who caught passes for Vandy — Washington, John Cole and Collin Ashley — are each under 6 feet tall, while every member of LSU's secondary and almost everyone on its two-deep was taller than 6 feet. That's OK if you can get open, make the catch and then hang on. But we didn't do that.

Starter Udom Umoh is exactly 6 feet, but was missing in action on Saturday except for that crazy reverse play. Justin Green, the 6-foot-6 converted TE who caught a long TD against the Catamounts, played, I think, on Saturday but didn't make his presence felt. And our other two tall receivers, 6-3 redshirt frosh Akeem Dunham and 6-4 true frosh Brady Brown, didn't play.

Against the Catamounts, the receivers caught a combined six balls for 112 yards and a touchdown. Not bad. Kind of encouraging. But against LSU they combined for four catches and 34 yards.

Larry Smith was not the problem. In tight man-to-man coverage, he was firing the ball into our receivers' hands. In all, I counted five drops. Probably there were more but I'm not going to count plays like when Austin Monahan got tangled up with a giant linebacker and couldn't haul in the pass.

And all the drops were significant:
• Brandon Barden (OK, he's one of our vaunted TEs) lined up at H-back and then dropped a beautiful floater out of the backfield that killed what was looking like an impressive opening drive.
• Collin Ashley dropped a critical pass deep in Tiger territory in the first half.
• John Cole dropped a low pass under coverage.
• Washington dropped the two aforementioned passes.

If those are caught, and they should have been, Larry would have gone 16-24-0 for about 140 yards instead of 11-24-1 for about 90 yards. And seeing how those drops all killed drives, he would have thrown more passes and could have ended up something like 20-for-30 for at least 180 yards.

But here's the deal. A loss has a funny way of forcing you to correct your weaknesses. Remember last season, when we started 5-0 despite a shaky offense. The only difference between our current team and this one? We didn't get the calls and the breaks.

We had 210 yards last night. Last year, we gained only 15 more yards in our upset of South Carolina, 8 fewer yards in our upset of Ole Miss, and later 10 fewer yards in our Music City Bowl victory over Boston College.

Was everybody throwing up their hands after the Ole Miss victory? No. That one was a gift from the gods. And once we got to 5-0, we couldn't make any changes to the offense — like taking the wraps off Larry — because we might jeopardize a shot at that magical sixth win.

So maybe it's a blessing to get a loss that highlights a specific area of our offense. If we don't make adjustments this week and beat Miss State on Saturday, we will have a losing season. We can't sit back and wait for our defense and special teams to bail us out like we did last season. Eventually, the breaks and the calls will go the other way, and Saturday night they did.

Oh, and did I mention we couldn't catch?


Greg M said...

OK. I feel a little better now. I seem to remember a few years ago that Georgia had a drop ball problem early on and still won a lot of ball games. The WR's are probably just not used to someone actually throwing the ball acurately. How bad is Ryan Hamilton's injury.


Johnson said last night it looked like a bicep injury and he could be out at least a couple weeks.