It's somewhat amazing how 3 measly points is the difference between further fan outrage and the tamed hope for a successful season.
There was a lot of redemption yesterday. Stephen Paea finally shut his mouth, and let his play do the talking. Keith Pankey made his first memorable play as a Beaver. The defense pressured the QB. And, both coordinators schemed solid games. It was especially refreshing to see Mark Banker utilize his personnel. The speed of Doctor and Collins on the field at the same time made a difference, even though Doctor had a hard go of it.
Without James Rodgers in the game, the offense had to get everyone involved, and you saw the results of that. Do the coordinators see the light and become more diverse? We'll have to wait to see. It's unfortunate that injury (Roberson and James Rodgers) had to occur before the staff were willing to entrust these skilled backups, but it should not come as a surprise. The coaches tendency to hone on one player per position, whether it be Quizz getting every carry, James receiving every pass, etc, is perhaps my biggest frustration.
For four weeks now there's been a lot of criticism that Katz doesn't check down to Quizz enough. I saw two check downs yesterday that would have resulted in meaningful yards. Two. Let's not forget how frustrating it was to watch Lyle and Sean throw two yard passes 90% of the time back in 2007. My point being, it's not just about checking down for the sake of it, it's checking down when there is opportunity for good yardage. And I agree, he needs to improve at the latter. But let's not criticize the guy so much that he develops a complex and begins checking down when big plays are available down field. Learning how to check down is an organic process–let it take its course.
The biggest problem I saw yesterday, and this has been this program's Achilles heel under Riley, is the inability of his teams to finish off games. Over the last five years, the Beavers have been a great first quarter team, but then slowly fade as the game goes on, only to pick it up again in the fourth quarter, many times to secure the victory. The second and third quarter lulls need to be addressed. Why does the team continually lose focus once they get a lead? In my opinion, many times it's predictable, conservative play calling that is the culprit, and that falls squarely on the coaches. Young people have less and less attention span, so it's imperative to keep them interested and involved in the game. QuizZ dive left, Quizz dive right does the opposite.
Another point to address is the notion that the defense has arrived. That is simply false. What made them look good was the pressure they were able to get on Threet, which forced him into mistakes, but many of the same problems continued to plague the unit. For example, allowing close to 50% third down conversions (7/16), 100% 4th down conversions (2/2), 161 rushing yards for a 5.1 average, and let's not forget the continued lack of fundamentals (e.g. the tackling "effort" on Arizona State's first touch down). In short, there was a lot of good (6 sacks, 3 turnovers), but also much of the same old. Improvement does not equate to "arrival."
One final note I'd like to mention: the coaches need to understand when to use the red flag. After Saturday, my tally is 5 calls this season alone that had an above-average to excellent chance of being overturned. In the Boise State game, one of them resulted in 7 for the Broncos. Yesterday, they lucked out and ASU kicked the FG they would have gotten anyway, but not before first driving to the 1 yard line, and almost scoring a touchdown. That would have resulted in 4 additional points–enough to win the game. The lack of decisiveness and aggressiveness has become old. Do you remember the failed challenges (notably on the WR, D.J. Woods' fumble) last year versus Cincinnati? Not recognizing or seizing these opportunities makes the coaches look at best passive and at worst incompetent, and that is not being nit-picky or harshly critical–the broadcasters always mention it, too. Pac-10 officials are bad, and at some point a game is going to be lost over one of these (missed) challenges, if it already hasn't.