Sokolowski Talks Ohio and More
Sep 22, 2011 | By: Random Blogger
As the dust has now has settled from the offensive line and running back changes, and is still settling from all the conference alignment changes, we now face a game that has Rutgers at a major crossroads for this season and potentially the program as a whole. It’s a game against a Mid-American Conference team, a conference Rutgers has done well against historically, that doesn’t play like a Mid-American Conference team.
Ohio is no joke and I say that with all due seriousness. They are a well coached team by a coach who knows what he’s doing in former Nebraska coach Frank Solich. They have won all three of their games by a wide margin against out of conference foes, two of which are from conferences seen as superior to the MAC (in Conference USA and the Western Athletic Conference). Solich himself has come out and said this is his best team since he’s been at Ohio and Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano has also come out and said the team they are playing shouldn’t be taken lightly.
This measures much more than just a game, though. It’s a game Rutgers must win to remain relevant. In 2008, when Rutgers started off 1-5, that was a senior laden team that was full of potential and leadership. Once the team came together, they then played like a completely different team and rattled off 7 straight wins.
The 2011 version of Rutgers does not have that luxury with the team only sporting 3 senior starters on offense and 2 on defense (with 4 other seniors seeing any significant action). The team also has team captains, only game captains, though Coach Schiano has stated there is no shortage of leadership on the team. Regardless, the team is yet again full of youth for another season.
However, after the North Carolina game, the movement toward the youth seeing the field has become more of a reality. In changing individuals along the offensive line, he has basically told his two senior starters (Desmond Wynn and Desmond Stapleton) that no one’s job is a given by promoting Betim Bujari and Kaleb Johnson over them and two other seniors (Caleb Ruch and Art Forst). The need for these individuals to respond for a game that promises to be one of the tougher “expected to win” games Rutgers will have all year is now reality.
With that, and the replacement of junior De’Antwan Williams with true freshman Savon Huggins, the crossroads is right in our faces. If Rutgers loses, we will be off to a true rebuilding year as getting experience for the future would trump wins and losses. If Rutgers wins, it will show that the team responded to the criticism provided to come together.
With a fanbase that was, to an extent, proud of the way Rutgers held up against North Carolina and stood up to adversity, it will test the will of fans if Rutgers loses. Fans were trained to expect a better than last place record this year and if we lose this game, that will look more like a reality. Fans would also question the decisions made to flip around the offensive line and running backs after a week where you nearly pulled out an away win, something Rutgers has rarely done after 2006 against out of conference foes. In this case, close enough was enough for fans to feel we have something going and now that chemistry was disrupted.
Even if we win, but the offensive line and running game still struggles, it will seem like a win that is more like a loss. Fans view Ohio as an inferior team because they are from the MAC and to have the running game stopped by North Carolina Central, North Carolina, and Ohio will cause questions. Barely beating Ohio will cause fans to say it was a good game, but it was only Ohio. Fans will start thinking that Big East teams, who are more talented and athletic, will easily be able to cover Rutgers’ receivers with less men allowing them to effectively stop the offense and will question all the change when the team did the same thing in the North Carolina game.
If we win handily and it feels like it was never in doubt, the changes made will be seen as ingenious and the team will be hailed as a frontrunner. That means the offensive line gives Chas Dodd time to throw and provides the running game with a positive gain 80% of the time. Meaning, if you carry the ball 5 times and throw 5 times that one of each goes for no gain or less and one has Dodd have to make a hurried decision or take a sack. Over the course of a drive, that will not hurt a drive unless both come on the same series.
Winning handily with a running game that is good enough will feel like the Pitt game from 2008. The running game put up over 100 yards and ate up the clock during a long drive in the second half. That is a game winning running game and not a run game that is struggling. The offensive line in that game was great and gave Mike Teel time to throw the ball 80% of the time. That translated into a season changing performance.
The main thing I look for in this game to show me Rutgers has what it takes to play with the Big East is our receivers, however. In the first two games of the year, our receivers were making drive stalling plays. Meaning, when Chas Dodd did have time to throw and delivered the ball, they didn’t catch it or weren’t on the same page. Those are plays that kill drives and were the main reason why Rutgers didn’t completely dominate on offense against North Carolina Central and didn’t win against North Carolina.
In a pro style offense, you have two forms of offense. The west coast, which is more of a pass happy offense that passes to open up the run, and the east coast (pro form), which is more a run happy offense that uses the run to open up the pass. At the end of the game, a solid west coast offense will run and pass 50% while a solid east coast offense will run 60% of the time. A good run game for the east coast offense will gain 4 yards a carry while a good west coast offense will gain over 5 yards in the end.
Both stress play action and pump fakes to open up deeper passes to score quickly. When you have those deep passes open, you have to make the play because you’ve used the previous 9 plays to set up that one play. Then, if you hit that play, it starts to blow the game wide open because the defense knows it has to account for the deep ball. If you miss that play, the defense will play the deep ball more lethargic because they know you likely won’t try another one for a while and they’ll load up on shorter plays because they know you have to go back to set up mode.
In Rutgers’ first 2 games, we missed way too many “homeruns” to have the offense explode. If Jeremy Deering catches that wheel route or Brandon Coleman catches his deep ball against North Carolina Central, they now have to account for that and allow more holes to rush through. If Mark Harrison catches either of his two deep passes against North Carolina, the same thing happens once again. When you miss them, you then have to go back to running and throwing timing routes to set it up again.
That’s why I look at those two games and now challenge the Rutgers receiving corps to do its job. They are the group that lost that game for us, not the running backs or offensive line. The balls were there to be caught and need to be caught. You watch other colleges around the nation and the good ones have wide receivers that catch everything that comes their way. The ones that are the groomsmen, and not the groom, are the ones who miss entirely too many.
The key, and challenge, is to do the following for this game. If you are sitting at home or at the game, take out a sheet of paper and mark it up and keep stats so you can see if the receivers did their job.
Key #1 is to make the routine catches look like they already happened. These are catches that the receiver is open, the ball is delivered on time and on target, and the receiver has 5 yards between him and a defender making a hit. For these catches, the receiver is open and doesn’t get hit until after he can catch and haul in the pass. Therefore, the receivers need to catch over 95% of these passes thrown (since many times you don’t get 20 of these a game, that means all need to be caught). In other words, there is no excuse to miss a ball that is routine. In game one, the first pass to Mo Sanu and the wheel route to Deering were routine and in game two, the deep ball to Mark Harrison was routine. A receiver who follows his training will make these catches look easy and, again, there is no reason to drop one.
Key #2 is to make the tougher catches look like they are routine. These catches are when the ball is delivered slightly off target (but within hand range), when a defender is within 5 yards of the receiver poised to make a hit, or when the ball is thrown over the wrong shoulder. All three a receiver should still make the play and has time to adjust to the ball. The two balls thrown to Mo Sanu last game (one missed and one caught one handed) fall in this category. While the one handed catch seemed and was spectacular, he had no one around him that interfered with the catch and the ball should be caught because it’s within hand range (heck..he could have bobbled it and still caught it without being hit). Over 75% of these balls should be caught in a game. A receiver who has good hands and solid abilities will make these catches look easy.
Key #3 is to make hard catches look like they are just tough. These catches are a combination of two of the following factors. The receiver has to adjust to the ball, a defender is legally interfering with the ball being caught, a defender makes a solid hit on the receiver right after the ball is caught, the receiver needs to walk the tight rope of the sideline to make the catch. Any combination is a hard catch because the receiver has a good reason to miss the ball, but many good receivers will overcome the obstacle and make the grab. A receiver with good hands, solid focus, and who wants to catch the ball will make the catch. Over 50% of these balls should be caught in a game.
Key #4 is to make impossible catches possible. These are when you don’t think the receiver has any shot of making the catch, but the ball is in range. He’s double covered and it’s a jump ball between him and two defenders. He’s actively being interfered with, takes a big hit, and still makes the catch. The player takes a jarring hit just as he touches the ball and hangs on. There’s a defender in his pocket that bats the ball and he still makes the grab after it’s bobbled and bouncing around. If it’s a catch where you’d give the player a pass for missing it, then it falls in this category. Over 25% of these catches should be made and a receiver who makes them shows he wants the ball more than anyone else out there. A good example is the Raiders game this weekend where Jason Campbell threw a deep ball to a receiver who was double covered, was shorter than the defenders, and still came down with the ball. He passed the test of will and that’s what this is.
I know it’s crazy to think, but one completion could equal 5 yards a carry to follow and that is what we’re looking at as an outcome to making these catches. When you look over the course of a game, you may pass the ball 40 times with 5 being grossly off target (thrown away, batted) as a whole due to pressure and 3 ending in a sack or a QB keeper. Of those 32 other times, 4 may be impossible, 6 may be hard, 10 may be tough, and 12 may be routine. Using the percentages above, that’s 24 catches that should be made of 37 attempts for a 64% completion percentage. That is not a bad game at all and would give Rutgers what we need yardage wise and play wise to keep the defense guessing enough for the running game to move.
So that’s my challenge to the team and the wide receivers. You put up those numbers in the passing game and this crossroads contest with Ohio University will be passed with flying colors. If you can’t fulfill the numbers, it will be another game where struggles resume and questions arise that aren’t needed.
I think we all hope our receivers bring their A game for the rest of the year and make us truly believe they are the best in the Big East.