Saturday night--immediately following the game--I sent the following text to a family member:
That was a little ugly but I'll take it. Cry for Sams is gonna get louder.
Let's be clear. Both quarterbacks on this team are very good in their own way. They both bring a different skill set that can move the football. The major difference between the two in this game was that of the (by my count) 70 offensive plays the Wildcats ran, Jake Waters took 58 of the snaps while Daniel Sams took only 12. Sams made his limited time count, scoring on a big 13 yard run and setting up the John Hubert touchdown that effectively shut the door on the Ragin' Cajuns.
A discerning and objective look at the game can determine that Waters had a pretty decent outing as well. He completed 71% of his passes for 278 yards. But of the 58 snaps he took, the most memorable are the interception that bounced off the hands of Torell Miller, the failed fourth down run, the under thrown interception and the three passes on the ensuing drive that were aimed at the ground. Not to mention spiking the ball with 15 seconds left in the first half and giving Louisiana-Lafayette a chance to touch the ball that should have never been.
But this "controversy" is really nothing at all. This isn't Highlander. There can be more than one. Through two games, both quarterbacks have proved to be valuable and--as Morse mentioned following the game--they compliment each other well. Based on what the we've seen so far, playing just one of them would be doing a disservice to the team as a whole.
The offensive play calling was still pretty vanilla. A good majority of Sams' snaps were a run-pass option taken out of the same formation. Waters made a living hitting Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton on the short hitch. As the season wears on and the playbook opens further, we'll see what the Wizard has in store for his two-headed quarterback monster.
Hidden in the squabble of #teamsams and #teamwaters, the offensive line appeared more focused and determined which led to a more effective running game. Sams' explosiveness will get a lot of the credit for his team-leading 63 yards on the ground, but the blocking deserves praise as well, not just from the line, but all 10 men that weren't wearing the number four.
Sams' athleticism and speed pulled away but the blocking was much better, sealing the defense off after they lost a step to the counter.Glenn Gronkowski will need to continue to block well for the running game to have continued success. The Cats ran an option pitch with Waters on two occasions in which Gronk played a key roll. The first was the Wildcats first snap from scrimmage following the Cajuns game tying field goal. Waters pitched the ball a split second early and Gronk whiffed his block on T.J. Worthy leading to a four yard loss.
The second was the last play of the same drive. Waters released the pitch at the perfect moment and Gronk sealed off Worthy just well enough to allow Hubert to scamper in for the Cats' first touchdown.
Hubert also seemed to run harder and more determined than last week. In the second half, the offensive line showed signs of fatigue and the blocks were less effective. But true to form, Hubert kept the legs grinding and fought off tacklers to gain valuable yardage and keep the clock moving. A lot of things need to improve if Hubert wants to get anywhere close to the production we've seen the past two years though. Three yards per carry won't cut it through the Big 12 gauntlet.
The many offensive improvements would have meant nothing in the end however, if it wasn't for the massive improvement in the other two phases of the game. The same defensive unit that last week couldn't get off the field against an FCS team, kept the Cajuns dynamic offense from converting a single third down in the first half. In fact, Terrance Broadway and company was held to only six first downs in their seven first half possessions. Louisiana's only first half points came as a result of the Torell Miller tipped interception, when the defense held strong and forced a field goal despite being backed up to their own 21 yard line. Speed on the defensive side was still an issue, but Blake Slaughter and Ryan Mueller covered the field well and made a bunch of key tackles. The addition of Mike Moore as a defensive end also made for a better pass rush. Although the broadcast didn't allow a good look at the coverage, Terrance Broadway was flushed from the pocket and forced to throw the ball away on several occasions, seemingly due to good play in the secondary.
Special teams was the story in the first five minutes of the third frame, with Tramaine Thompson returning the opening kick back 94 yards for a score and then taking the ensuing Cajuns punt back 80 yards and setting up another six points. Unfortunately, Darryl Surgent answered immediately with a kick return of his own for a Lafayette score, then Waters threw a pick which set up another, effectively erasing Thompson's efforts.
Except for a Ty Zimmerman pick six on the next Cajun drive, the second half defense looked similar to the late game effort of last week, allowing Louisiana to convert seven of 10 third downs. The last three ULL possessions were all sustained for more than 10 plays, the silver lining being that only one resulted in six points.
A lot of excuses were uttered by the fan base last week, but if the effort this week showed anything, it's that there was no excuse. This team is better than they showed last week, and it's reasonable to assume they'll be a lot better as the season goes on. The offense ran variations on only four or five formations and the defense almost completely shut down late in the game. If we're being honest with ourselves, this would have been a tie game if not for the 21 points created by Thompson's two big returns and Zimmerman's interception. This game was better, but far from good enough. A lot of questions need to be answered. Why go for it on fourth down in field goal range? Will the Waters-Sams combo stop being so predictable? Does the defense have enough depth to last four quarters? This game teased potential, but was it real?
Next week's game is unlikely to provide any answers. It's going to be a nervous wait until conference play.