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While the season is still relatively fresh in our minds

by Pat, Right behind you, Monday, January 14, 2013, 06:45

Last year Jay posed an interesting question following a very up and down 2011 season.

What are some of the mistakes that were made this year that you noticed? Before we jump to solutions, I'm first curious what went wrong.

I'd like to repeat the same exercise for this season (and look back at 2011's list later in the week).

Obviously the regular season went a whole lot better this year, but I'm sure there are still plenty of things we can point to where improvement is possible. Feel free to go program-wide big picture or as nit-picky as you want.

Tags:
errors

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Offensive efficiency gaps.

by LaFortune Teller ⌂ @, South Bend, Monday, January 14, 2013, 12:37 @ Pat

72.2% First Down rate (38th nationally)
We earned at least one first down on 72.2% of our non-garbage drives. This was a slight improvement from 2011 (71.5%), though our rank in the category dropped from 33rd to 38th. North Carolina ranked 25th this year at 74.0%.
- Notre Dame's best rank (and only top-30 finish) in last six years was No.4 in 2009 (80.0%).
- Need to avoid three-and-out twice more per 100 drives to move into top-25.
- Need to avoid three-and-out six more times per 100 drives to move into top-10.

52.9% Available Yards rate (35th nationally)
We earned 52.9% of available yards on non-garbage drives. This was a slight improvement from 2011 (51.4%), though our rank in the category dropped from 29th to 35th. North Carolina ranked 25th this year at 54.1%.
- Notre Dame's best rank (and only top-25 finish) in the last six years was No. 8 in 2009 (56.2%).
- Need to earn 1-2 percent more of available yards to move into top-25.
- Need to earn 3-4 percent more of available yards to move into top-10.

11.1% Explosive Drive rate (80th nationally)
Only 11.1% of ND's drives averaged at least 10 yards per play. This was the worst rate for ND in the last five years. 2007 was worse (7.6%), 2008 was only slightly better (11.6%). North Carolina (again) ranked 25th this year at 17.6%.
- Notre Dame's best rank in the last six years was No. 17 in 2009 (17.7%).
- Need to feature explosive drives on 6-7 percent more drives to move into top-25.
- Need to feature explosive drives on 9-10 percent more drives to move into top-10.

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That's not bad when you consider

by Spesh ⌂ @, Los Angeles, Monday, January 14, 2013, 15:54 @ LaFortune Teller

ND was breaking in a new QB and didn't have a big play WR (though Eifert does count somewhat).

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Any idea how these compare to Kelly's 3rd years at UC & CMU?

by Domer99, John Wesley Powell's Expedition Island, Monday, January 14, 2013, 15:42 @ LaFortune Teller

Directionally I am going to guess there's a pretty substantial divide. Just trying to gauge magnitude.

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I don't have the breakdowns for pre-2007 data (yet).

by LaFortune Teller ⌂ @, South Bend, Monday, January 14, 2013, 20:29 @ Domer99

Here were his Cincinnati offenses in each category.

First Down rate
2007: 61.6% (91st)
2008: 60.0% (95th)
2009: 71.3% (25th)

Available Yards percentage
2007: 44.5% (58th)
2008: 41.9% (66th)
2009: 56.8% (6th)

Explosive Drive rate
2007: 15.2% (26th)
2008: 11.7% (55th)
2009: 23.0% (4th)

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As has been mentioned here before, we need a Brady Quinn

by GuinnessBob, The Dark Hedges, Monday, January 14, 2013, 11:47 @ Pat

like El Dumpo pass option for Golson. Watching the Pats this weekend reminded me again of how effective it is to have one.

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I don't know if we'll ever see it that much

by Spesh ⌂ @, Los Angeles, Monday, January 14, 2013, 12:39 @ GuinnessBob

Totally different type of offense than what Weis ran. It almost seems like Kelly prefers an empty look on 3rd down compared to having a back in to pick up the blitz.

Maybe that would change with a more experienced QB. Maybe he felt the empty look simplified reads for Golson because it spread the defense out and helped identify potential blitzers.

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He said as much

by JN @, Seattle, Monday, January 14, 2013, 12:44 @ Spesh

Kelly stated his preference for empty sets to make reads easier. I'm not sure if it was in the context of third down, but I think it applies most everywhere

Sure seems that a lot of what we saw on offense was designed to make the game as easy for Golson as possible and reduce the risk of catastrophic mistakes.

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good call

by Jay ⌂, San Diego, Monday, January 14, 2013, 11:49 @ GuinnessBob

I like that Everett is always looking downfield when the pocket breaks down but it'd be nice if there were a reliable dump-off waiting for him sometimes.

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not sure if it's that simple

by HumanRobot @, Cybertron, Monday, January 14, 2013, 12:42 @ Jay

In this year's scheme, Golson was basically his own dump-off pass. Seemed like the passing game philosophy was something like

1) Have guys run deep routes especially against man coverage, if they got open then Golson threw it to them.
2) Failing that, Golson breaks the pocket and a receiver is supposed to break off for an easy roll out throw. Jones was an absolute master at this.
3) Failing that, Golson takes off.

When the QB can be his own dump-off pass, I think the screens you want to run to take advantage of that are actually fairly advanced (they'll take on the look of a quadruple option). I feel like having a RB slip out as a dump-off option sort of negates what Golson's athleticism brings to the table.

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doesn't it go back to the purpose of a screen?

by Spesh ⌂ @, Los Angeles, Monday, January 14, 2013, 15:52 @ HumanRobot

Purpose is to negate a strong pass rush, to make teams pay for their pressures. By contrast, a dump-off or check-down isn't designed to take advantage of blitzes/pressure; it's designed to take advantage of coverage where everybody drops off, leaving the underneath open.

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I'm still waiting for the oft-rumored up-tempo offense

by Pat, Right behind you, Monday, January 14, 2013, 11:20 @ Pat

although I realize the prime goal this year was to do what Golson is capable of doing. Hopefully we see more up-tempo next season. I did expect to see a bit more of it than we did during the game. I kept an eye on the play clock and we rarely were snapping the ball before 15 seconds left, even when it did look like there was some effort to hurry up.

Other things I noticed from major to minor...

* Still a reluctance to play the backups

Once the undefeated regular season became more and more a possibility, I understand the "play for the now" mentality. But does that really mean putting Davonte Neal out there on offense had to disappear completely? How about popular Te'o heir apparent Jarrett Grace only playing 28 snaps all regular season long? That's only 7 more snaps than Okwara and Rabasa, who were essentially 3rd stringers.

* Red zone offense

It goes against all of our predictions that ND got blown out by Alabama while at the same time converting all (both) red zone trips for TDs. ND had a pretty rough TD conversion percentage all season long. The option attack was a nice wrinkle for the championship game. I wonder if it is something that we will see more of next year. Either way, ND needs to score a lot more points when they have the chance, since the defense will likely be giving up more points on their end.

* Keep improving the play-calling timing

It was better than in 2011, but there were still some burned timeouts. Some of it is on Golson to get ND into another play quicker, but Kelly needs to keep improving how quickly the play calls get to the QB.

* Punt returns por favor

I understood the conservative approach with John Goodman back there. But Neal is a pretty athletic guy. He almost got loose a few times against Alabama. Imagine what he could have done against a BC or Pitt or BYU.

Over the middle passing game

Again, another facet of the passing game likely cut out due to Golson's inexperience and general turnover aversion by the staff. Hopefully it will start to creep back into the playbook and Golson's height isn't a main reason the staff kept most passing plays to the outside.

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on the middle passing game

by Jay ⌂, San Diego, Monday, January 14, 2013, 11:24 @ Pat

I was skimming the game again; I'd totally forgotten about that terrific pass Golson completed to Daniels over the middle downfield. More, please!

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that was a great play

by Pat, Right behind you, Monday, January 14, 2013, 11:42 @ Jay

First, because like you said, pass down the middle!

Second, because Daniels was running free and it took the Alabama defense a bit to catch up. It was the sort of Floyd-esque play we've been looking for from Daniels all season long.

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It reminded me of Goodman versus Wazzu

by Savage, Around Ye Olde Colonial College, Monday, January 14, 2013, 12:26 @ Pat

Except that Alabama is a helluva lot better than 2009 Washington State.

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I don't know if they're mistakes or deficiencies, but...

by Greg, the 'Dena, Monday, January 14, 2013, 10:05 @ Pat

What are some of the mistakes that were made this year that you noticed? Before we jump to solutions, I'm first curious what went wrong.

Obviously the regular season went a whole lot better this year, but I'm sure there are still plenty of things we can point to where improvement is possible. Feel free to go program-wide big picture or as nit-picky as you want.

We hid the deficiencies in our back four pretty well, but Alabama picked them apart. Clearly, we can zone cover well against mediocre passing teams and/or mediocre running teams. But when we get a team that can pass and run equally well, the zone coverage breaks down and the holes on the back end are evident. We either need faster play by our corners such that they are covering man-to-man back there or else we need to switch up the scheme enough that the holes in the zone are not as repetitively evident.

The right side of the offensive line was problematic/inconsistent. They had good games against some opponents and horrible games against others.

In our run game, it appeared that the "slow to and fast through" philosophy didn't always stick with the runners. Witness Alabama using a similar philosophy with deep handoffs where the runners can see/look for the best holes and then burst through. Our guys had games where that worked for them and games where they seemed to consistently miss.

In our passing game, we relied too heavily on throwing fades/sideline routes of all kinds to the one-on-one coverage. Sure, it worked a lot. But it allows the sideline to be the extra defender and allows a great corner to essentially wreck our scheme. I'd like to see us doing more slant routes and crossing routes, but I think that our failures came in some respect from trying to protect EG from making a bad read/bad throw and forcing an INT. So maybe that fixes itself as he ages in the program.

On the DL, we sometimes seemed -- and against Bama always seemed -- to lose edge contain and allow runners to bounce outside. I don't know that it's a purely DL problem, but it's there.

Obviously, blocking/scheme/whatever on KR and PR.

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rushing the ball against anyone

by Jay ⌂, San Diego, Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:50 @ Pat

Not just against the small and timid. Our rushing performances were all over the map this year.

game log:
http://www.cfbstats.com/2012/team/513/rushing/offense/gamelog.html

1.44 ypc versus Purdue, 7.37 against Miami, 1.68 versus Alabama. Rushing the ball more efficiently would help a lot of other offensive woes already mentioned in this thread, such as red zone offense and Golson's effectiveness.

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safeties need to get a lot better

by Jay ⌂, San Diego, Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:32 @ Pat
edited by Jay, Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:42

I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when Farley didn't barf all over himself in his first year of playing, but he was hardly a difference-maker and as the year went on appeared pretty shaky at times. Some of that was injury, I'm sure.

Motta finished with zero interceptions and got badly exposed by Alabama, both in the run game and in coverage.

The liabilities there were largely covered up throughout the year by our terrific front, but when it comes time to play a balanced juggernaut like Alabama again, safeties are going to have to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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I think this is less than fair

by Mike (bart), Monday, January 14, 2013, 10:58 @ Jay

Motta was terrific all (regular) season long. His work attacking the line of scrimmage (particularly on short passes to WRs) was exemplary. Farley also did a pretty nice job of tackling, and he was a real asset in blitz situations (think of the USC and Stanford (4th Quarter) goal line stands). Also, how many long passes did we give up before the Alabama game? 10? Outside of M. Lee vs. USC, I don't know that we gave up a single 40+ yard pass.

I think the answer as far as safeties go is much more "Don't play like poo in the championship game" than it is a wholesale re-engineering.

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I don't want to rag on them too much

by Jay ⌂, San Diego, Monday, January 14, 2013, 11:38 @ Mike (bart)

they seem like terrific guys. But they had one interception between them. Off the cuff, I don't remember too many passes defended or PBUs from them; thinking back to ballhawks like Harrison and Bruton, they didn't compare. Moreover there were some flubs excused by dropped passes; I'm thinking of late in the game vs BYU as the prime example.

The Alabama game is primary in my mind, though, no question. All four of our starting secondary players played like dog doo doo.

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On defense - pass rush.

by Ken Fowler, Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:40 @ Jay

Too many opponents had too much time to pass against us.

We were like the inverse New York Giants.

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This could - and probably will - get better.

by Mike (Embrey), Mountain Holler, Monday, January 14, 2013, 10:21 @ Ken Fowler

However, this is an area where fans from all but the very, very best teams think they're lacking - even when they really aren't.

Notre Dame had 34 sacks last year (2.6/gm), good for 22nd in the country. That's not spectacular, but it's pretty damn good. Given all the experience coming back I think we will see that number eclipse 40 next year with an outside chance to get to 50. Last year only three teams averaged 1+ more sacks a game than ND (Stanford, Arizona State, and Tulsa).

Incidentally, Boston College was last in the nation with six sacks. For the entire season they had six sacks. Even Kansas had twice as many.

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It doesn't matter much, except vs. teams like Alabama

by Ken Fowler, Monday, January 14, 2013, 17:25 @ Mike (Embrey)
edited by Ken Fowler, Monday, January 14, 2013, 17:59

If a team has high-end receivers and a top-25-ish QB, it should be able to exploit that weakness if we don't blitz.

Oklahoma failed, but Alabama obviously succeeded. I'm not sure that we'll face many of such teams, but I think we need to improve in order to compete for a title again.

(Edit - I know our sack numbers are good, but from an "eye" perspective, I felt all year that many of our sacks were, astonishingly enough, coverage sacks.)

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I was thinking the same thing about the coverage sacks

by Jeremy (WeIsND), Offices of Babip Pecota Vorp & Eckstein, Monday, January 14, 2013, 17:32 @ Ken Fowler

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not to mention

by Spesh ⌂ @, Los Angeles, Monday, January 14, 2013, 10:24 @ Mike (Embrey)

Did we really blitz all that often? Most of those sacks came from 4-man and even 3-man pressures.

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I don't think Diaco's scheme allows for a ton of sacks.

by Mike (Embrey), Mountain Holler, Monday, January 14, 2013, 10:51 @ Spesh

It's just not the system. If ND clears 40 sacks next year - that's over 3/game - I think that along with the pressure/hurries that come with it would be pretty remarkable considering it's rarely more than a 4-man rush.

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Wonder if that might change

by Jeremy (WeIsND), Offices of Babip Pecota Vorp & Eckstein, Monday, January 14, 2013, 10:55 @ Mike (Embrey)

If he's got a secondary full of Redfields and Cole Lukes.

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Pretty happy that Jamoris is coming back for a 6th year.

by Jim (fisherj08) @, A Samoan kid's laptop, Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:40 @ Jay

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Confirmed?

by JN @, Seattle, Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:52 @ Jim (fisherj08)

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To me it was our second level defense

by Domer99, John Wesley Powell's Expedition Island, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:59 @ Pat
edited by Domer99, Monday, January 14, 2013, 10:51

Mind you, there were very few times it was exploited but whatever minor glimpses were evident were blown up in the NCG. For the most part, I think our DL was stout all year.

Even in the NCG, I thought we did a good job of closing holes while forcing Lacy to find cutback lanes outside of the A and B gaps. Where we struggled, was with the second level of pursuit, and this burden was borne on all of the LBs (not just Manti).

I only bring this up as because when Nix was out for large portions of the Pitt game, Ray Graham had similar success against our run defense. In my amateur opinion, it seems like our LBs struggle when the can't shed OL blocking.

Shembo was great all year, but the reason I think Ishaq is still being given opportunities is that he has the ideal size to better take on OL blockers.

This kind of seems like I am picking a nit but I think other teams are going to look hard at the Pitt and Alabama tapes next year. It's also part of the reason why I think our goal line rush defense was so great, there's generally too many DL on the field thereby limiting cutback lanes.

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lack of screens, draws, and counters

by Spesh ⌂ @, Los Angeles, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:37 @ Pat

Not sure it's a mistake, but I found it disappointing that our offense lacked these.

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I think that has quite a bit to do with Golson

by Jeremy (WeIsND), Offices of Babip Pecota Vorp & Eckstein, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:56 @ Spesh

Even in the last few games, it was pretty obvious that we're still working with a bare-bones version of the playbook. Hopefully he can continue to grow and allow the coaching staff to expand the type of stuff we can run with him.

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wouldn't those be easy plays to install?

by Spesh ⌂ @, Los Angeles, Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:26 @ Jeremy (WeIsND)

Two runs and a pass where there's only one target who's within 10 yards of the QB? We saw the WR screens at times, and I would guess there'd be more of those next year given one of the outside WRs being replaced is Eifert.

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For the screen, Golson's gotta calm his feet down.

by domer.mq ⌂ @, Monday, January 14, 2013, 10:54 @ Spesh

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Sometimes I rhyme slow sometimes I rhyme quick.

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I keep thinking back to the summer

by Jeremy (WeIsND), Offices of Babip Pecota Vorp & Eckstein, Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:37 @ Spesh

When we heard the report that the media watched Golson throw a terrible screen pass that was picked by KLM. Maybe he's just not comfortable with that yet. IIRC, we saw at least one standard screen to Wood in the SC game.

Don't know about the counters and draws. The only counter/draw we saw with any regularity was the "sprint back" or whatever we're calling it, that went for big yardage against MSU and was largely ineffective after that.

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Close games against clearly inferior teams.

by domer.mq ⌂ @, Monday, January 14, 2013, 07:44 @ Pat

ND's talent level and coaching continuity this year should have lead to larger MOV in a few games.

Pitt, SoCal, and Purdue were all too close. BYU was probably too close as well, though there were mitigating circumstances there. If they were more comfortable MOVs, who knows what that means in terms of depth development.

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Sometimes I rhyme slow sometimes I rhyme quick.

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Only a single defensive score.

by domer.mq ⌂ @, Monday, January 14, 2013, 07:40 @ Pat

And it was against Navy.

Near as I can remember, very few if any other turnovers caused by the Irish gave the O obvious TD opportunities either. A few lead to a scoring drive afterward, but I believe they all required some actual semblance of a drive. I don't recall any within 15 yards of the opposing EZ.

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Sometimes I rhyme slow sometimes I rhyme quick.

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Closest I can recall is

by Pete, Monday, January 14, 2013, 07:55 @ domer.mq

one of Te'o's early picks in the Michigan game took us down to the 20 yard line or so.

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It's a funny gripe...

by domer.mq ⌂ @, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:00 @ Pete

I get that Diaco tries to force teams to march down the field, thus not taking many chances in the opponent's own territory, but, say, just 2 more defensive turnovers could have made a very close game more comfortable. And again, that helps with program building as it gives room to get the 2nd level guys on the roster onto the field.

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Sometimes I rhyme slow sometimes I rhyme quick.

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Our defensive coverage

by JRT, Island of Misfit Toys, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:19 @ domer.mq

was almost always conservative (staying back in a zone and keeping the receivers in front of the defenders) and so almost all our picks were back in the zone with offensive players in front (whether picks in the back line by the DBS or in the intermediate zone by Teo).

That's not going to generate return TDs the same way that having defenders aggressively jumping routes and/or pressing hard in man-to-man matchups on shorter routes would.

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I think I'm more surprised by the lack of scoop-n-score.

by domer.mq ⌂ @, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:26 @ JRT

We have guys who are very capable of putting pressure on the QB. Surprisingly few fumbles by the opposing QB, I'd have to guess.

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Sometimes I rhyme slow sometimes I rhyme quick.

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Ishaq was robbed of one in the BC game.

by Jim (fisherj08) @, A Samoan kid's laptop, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:32 @ domer.mq

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There were a few problems with the OL

by Chris (HCC) @, Paradise, Monday, January 14, 2013, 07:16 @ Pat

Regular zone blocking was an adventure particularly in terms of the blocking on the right side.

In terms of pass blocking there were some problems with picking up stunts. It seemed that we tended to pick up straight on blitzes well enough, but really struggled once they moved to a stunt. I think that was more of a recognition/communication issue rather than purely a technique issue.

I thought overall the staff did a fairly good job of masking some of the issues by calling to the strengths of the line (most notably all the pulling), but this is something I'd like to see worked on.

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IMO, the right side of the OL

by hobbs, San Diego, Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:47 @ Chris (HCC)

wasn't strong enough. Those guys got pushed around a lot when they went up against quality competition.

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Red zone offense

by PAK, Monday, January 14, 2013, 07:15 @ Pat

We were terrible at scoring touchdowns from the red zone this year. We absolutely MUST improve in that area if we want to do good things next year. Sub-50% touchdown rate on red zone trips is not winning football.

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Seconded

by Mo, Charlotte, NC, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:57 @ PAK

Way too many drives ended in FGs that should have ended with the refs pointing two arms straight into the air. BK addressed it time and time again, so I think it will be a point of emphasis in off-season planning.

Causes? I'm guessing 2 main reasons - 1) Golson's lack of experience and sometimes questionable decision-making and 2) confidence in our defense. We were burned so many times in 2011 with TOs in the other team's red zone that Kelly was playing conservative ball control instead of being more aggressive. Probably had the mindset of "we just need to get SOME points, as our defense will hold the other team."

Can't argue, he was right the first 12 games of the year. However, it's probably next to impossible to think our defense will turn out another 10.3 ppg average, so we're going to need those TDs next year.

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This was our biggest Achilles heal the whole season.

by Bill, Southern California, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:21 @ PAK

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It certainly creates more difficult reads for the QB.

by domer.mq ⌂ @, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:28 @ Bill

You can't just stretch the field to create big holes into which Golson can throw.

I do wonder where that option look we saw in the NCG and with which Golson scored has been hiding all year.

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Sometimes I rhyme slow sometimes I rhyme quick.

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That seemed like a risk aversion issue as much as a

by Mike (bart), Monday, January 14, 2013, 07:50 @ PAK

competency issue. This can be spun optimistically in the sense of "golson getting more experience will equal more aggressiveness in the red zone," but, you know, sometimes bad things happen in the red zone also.

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Some puzzling play calling, too.

by PAK, Monday, January 14, 2013, 08:26 @ Mike (bart)

Against BYU, 3 straight runs. Against USC, 3 straight passes. Both result in FGs. Just odd.

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The edges

by HullieAndMikes, Joe Turner's bookcase, ALHS, Monday, January 14, 2013, 07:10 @ Pat

Seems like our lateral speed can still be a problem on the lines. Stanford had a lot of success going at Niklas when he was in for protection and Alabama's RBs were able to bounce outside too much.

It wasn't an every down problem and improved dramatically over 2011. For example, everything USC ran last year against us seemed to be designed to get Shembo and co. in space.

But to win a NC we're gonna have to get better in immediate movement to the outside.

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Offense: delay of game/unnecessary timeouts

by JRT, Island of Misfit Toys, Monday, January 14, 2013, 07:05 @ Pat

With an experienced QB returning next year, it should be a very solvable problem, but we definitely had too many wasted timeous or delay of game penalties, especially early in the season.

Everyone knows how bad our punt return team was.

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this didn't seem like a major issue late in the year

by HumanRobot @, Cybertron, Monday, January 14, 2013, 07:36 @ JRT

Our offense seemed to be operationally smooth after the Miami game. The only time those issues resurfaced seemed to be whenever Rees was in the game.

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Return units were a real problem

by Mike (bart), Monday, January 14, 2013, 06:55 @ Pat

Usually teams with underwhelming offenses win with defense and special teams. We tried many times to do it with only defense.

Coverage units were fine, and Brindza and Turk were pretty good. Damned if I can think of more than 2 short(ish) fields provided by the return units though.

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punt returns, particularly Neal's two in the Alabama game

by Captains Corner @, Empty nest in Dallas, Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:54 @ Mike (bart)

were the equivalent of a turnover per game in lost field possession.

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returns were slightly improved

by HumanRobot @, Cybertron, Monday, January 14, 2013, 07:42 @ Mike (bart)

At least they didn't turn the ball over, so that's an improvement to a degree. But even the poor return numbers mask how bad the punt returns were this year. There were numerous occasions when it seemed like Neal didn't properly decide between fair catching a punt or letting it go and that would cost us ~10-20 yards at times.

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