Let's start this breakdown with the offense, which we've obviously begun the dialogue on. First up: Colt McCoy
Quarterback After that sparkling debut against the Denton Pop Warner squad, I must admit to feeling pretty good about McCoy coming into this game. Why? He seemed comfortable and poised, which are the two characteristics you don't often see in such young signal callers.
There was a big problem on Saturday night, though. Whatever McCoy's strengths, and however far along the development curve he is (by all accounts, ahead of where Applewhite, Simms, and Young were at this stage), there was one key ingredient lacking under the lights for this game: trust.
This is something we've covered here before. There's been a problem at Texas with Greg Davis not trusting his quarterbacks in big games. It clearly never helped Chris Simms, and it took a transcendent player like Vince Young to get into a wide open offense where the quarterback was unleashed and completely trusted.
Saturday night, though, the reins were put right back on.
Let's be clear about what we're talking about here, though. After all, there's nothing inherently bad about screen passes. Screen passes are a valuable arrow in the offensive quiver. But they should be situational, and by that I don't mean "every time we decide it's a passing down." It's a change of pace play, and one that you can set up to be a valuable weapon.
On Saturday, Colt was taken to the amusement park and told he could only ride the kiddie rides. "Screen passes and underneath routes only, now, ya hear?"
Well, that's 1) not difficult to defend and 2) not particularly helpful in bringing a young quarterback along. The first point, of course, is the important one - at least for the game at hand. The offensive gameplan obviously leaned on lots of "passing," but it was entirely the predictable, underneath stuff that serve as, effectively, running plays. Colt did okay throwing it out in the flat, but there was no room for him to actually make much of a play, while there remained, of course, the opportunity for him to mess up the play. Don't forget, kids: all else being equal, you should prefer a run to a pass; the risk involved in the pass is simply greater. Why, then, you'd throw only passes that were the equivalents of runs is anyone's guess. It didn't help Colt, though it certainly aided their defense.
Grading Colt's performance, then, has to take into account the offensive plays that were relayed in. Well, he wasn't given much chance to go down field, though on the one occasion he did, the ball was badly under thrown and nearly intercepted. Colt did have a very nice scramble and throw on the run that rolled in and out of Jermichael Finley's arms. And he was decent enough dumping the ball off on screens over and over.
Of course, what was working so well was the power running game. And this brings us to the next great mystery from Saturday night. Why, exactly, were we running the zone-read option, when there was, in reality, no read and no option? Colt never kept the ball to run, which begs the question why it was ever faked, or considered? The defenders quickly figure out that he wasn't going to keep the ball for himself. Why, then, wouldn't you just run out of a power I formation? Or any other power running set? What purpose did the zone-read serve? If Colt's not going to run the football, and isn't going to be making a read on "run or hand off," then there's no read for the defense, either.
On that score, I'm not sure where the blame totally falls. Part of it needs to be on Davis, who ought to have been telling him, "Son, you gotta keep that football sometimes. That's how the play works." Some of it's on McCoy, then, as there were multiple plays when McCoy handed off on the wrong read - Vince, for example, would have ran the same play, but upon seeing the end race up the field, kept the football and cut inside himself. Colt never made that happen.
Colt, of course, is a freshman. The Ohio State defense, however questionable as it breaks in some new faces, was a lot for him to handle, and in the end, he wasn't up to the task. Part of it was, as discussed, because he wasn't put in much of a position to succed. And part of it was just poor performace from a frosh in his first huge game.
Hopefully, it's a learning experience, and conference play will give Colt plenty of opportunities to shine. For Saturday, though, the freshman showed his true color: green. We might have been just a bit too hopeful to ask for more. Winning 21 straight will do that to ya. Grade: C
Next up: the tailbacks