Boots & Cats
Here's how this works in my brain. My original post title was "Points & Yards." But while visiting my son and daughter-in-law a few weeks ago, my son was feeding his daughter and trying to get her to smile. So he started in with "boots and cats and boots and cats and boots and cats" which did indeed make her smile. (Say it out loud. It sounds like club music. There's a whole meme and everything.)
Since that trip, any time I say a sentence that includes two one-syllable items and the word "and" in between, in my mind I start saying it like boots and cats. "You need me to get plums and grapes at the store? Plums and grapes and plums and grapes and plums and grapes and plums and grapes."
So tonight, just now, I type "Points & Yards" and what do you think my brain jumped to? I don't have to say it. You're already thinking it.
But that's my main thought after this game. After these four games, really. We're gaining yards. But we're not putting up points. At least not the points you would expect given the number of yards. This should have been a comfortable win, but... points and yards (and points and yards and points and yards).
Here's the data. After today, we have 1,581 yards on the season and 89 points. That's 17.8 yards per point. I don't know exactly where that lands on the list nationally (all stats haven't updated yet, so I'd have to manually add in all of the yards and points for today's games to get my answer), but using last weeks numbers, that would have been 101st nationally. We're gaining yards, but we're not turning those yards into points.
Let's compare that to someone right next to us on the yards per game list. We have 1,581 offensive yards so far in our four games. Kentucky has 1,586 yards, so five more yards through four games. We've scored 89 points in four games. Kentucky has scored 152.
Yes, we're 101st out of 133 teams, so there are some teams who are actually worse at turning their yards into points. But our numbers are still fairly staggering so far. Kentucky gained 365 yards today on Vandy and put up 45 points. We gained 510 yards and scored... 23.
How does that happen? The teams that are really low on the points & yards list typically...
- Struggle to put up 7 instead of 3 at the end of drives.
- Probably are plagued with poor starting field position, meaning they have to travel a long way to get their points.
- Aren't getting many turnovers which means they aren't getting short fields.
- Speaking of turnovers, they probably don't have many defensive scores nor special teams scores (yard-less points).
We're actually much improved this season at moving the ball. We've played a tough schedule (did you see what Penn State did to Iowa?), and we've put up nearly 400 yards per game against that schedule (2022: 378 yards per game; 2021: 329 yards per game). But we're just not turning those yards into points.
Just look at Penn State. Either side of our game, Penn State held Delaware to 140 yards and Iowa to 76 yards (yes, 76 total yards). We gained 354 yards on Penn State's defense. But points from those 354 yards? 13.
So that's the offensive story as I see it. We're putting up the same number of yards as Kentucky (against four better defenses). And while Kentucky has scored 38 points per game, we've scored 22.
Points and yards and points and yards and points and yards and points and yards.
+ Want to know the play of the game? I already tweeted it earlier today so you probably know where I'm going but the play of the game was Hank Beatty's tackle. This was actually my question in the postgame press conference, so maybe that's the best way to explain it.
I asked Coach Bielema about the play and whether that's something they practice. The play I'm referencing: after the "was it a catch and fumble or a drop?" from Hank Beatty, a Florida Atlantic defender (not the guy who forced the fumble - another guy) scooped up the fumble and headed for the endzone. Beatty shed the guy who had tackled him, got up, and tackled the FAU defender as he was headed for the endzone.
It struck me as something we don't see very often (and I described this in my long-winded question). So many times, on a play like that, the receiver just assumes it was an incomplete pass and the defender, having not heard a whistle, trots into the endzone untouched. Seeing Beatty immediately get up to make the tackle struck me as a fantastic heads-up play.
In his response, Bielema immediately talked about the play in the Purdue game Friday night (and I had thought of the same play). The Purdue QB, Hudson Card, had the ball knocked out of his hand just as he started his throwing motion and it clumsily popped up in the air. It was moving forward, so it looked like a pass and wasn't an obvious fumble, but when it bounced right to the Purdue tailback, he just... stood there with the ball. Hearing no whistle, a Wisconsin defender immediately punched it out of his hands and another Wisconsin defender fell on it. It wasn't a forward pass, it was a "fumbled ball flung forward with the QB not having a grip on the ball" and so... Wisconsin ball.
Bielema talked about how he has his staff pull videos of plays like that because he wants his players to be aware of the game situation at all times. As someone who has watched Illinois do the Purdue thing (just stand there not realizing what was happening), I'm very appreciative of what Hank Beatty did in that situation. And, given that FAU went 4-and-out and didn't get any points from a drive that started in the redzone, Beatty's tackle saved 7 points.
In a game we won by 6.
+ That fact, however, brings me to my second bullet point. "In a game we won by 6." Six. Over Florida Atlantic. This does not bode well for the rest of the season.
Yes, we kneeled it out inside the five. Had we chosen to punch it in, we would have won by 13. But still, we were in control of this game and allowed them to go 98 yards to get within six. I was hoping this would be a relaxing fourth quarter but... it wasn't.
I had asked for 40-17. Actually, I asked for a lot last night and I got a lot of it. Let me go through my list real quick.
- I wanted Iowa to get pounded by Penn State (check) and I wanted another upset (I was hoping for La Tech over Nebraska) to prove that the Big Ten West was very gettable.
- I wanted Toledo, Kansas, and Penn State to all win which would prove that our opening three games were, in fact, quite difficult. Check, Check, and Check. Kansas and Penn State are now 4-0 and Toledo is 3-1 (with their only loss coming in Champaign).
- I wanted a big (more than three touchdown) win over a G5 opponent that would help us say "see, it was the schedule, and now that we played a nobody, we rolled." Uh... no check mark goes here.
Yes, our opening three games were tough. Yes, especially after seeing Northwestern beat Minnesota, the Big Ten West is a true disaster (even Wisconsin gave up 400 yards to Purdue). But we didn't hold up our end of the bargain. Instead of a blowout over a weaker opponent, we had to pick up those late first downs so we could kneel out a six point win.
+ I really did not expect these OL struggles. It's hard to watch at times. We didn't see whiffs like this the last two seasons. We didn't see this many untouched defenders hurtling towards our quarterback. I'm just not sure what's happening. I figured Pearl and Adams would be absolutely dominating in their sixth seasons.
I guess maybe it's time to try a few other guys? Maybe Zach Barlev needs a look? Perhaps Brandon Henderson is ready? (I mean, no true freshmen are ever "ready" on the offensive line, but maybe he's far enough along that we can start playing him more?)
The Big Ten West may be bad, but this is the one thing these other six teams can do: battle in the trenches. This was the worst defensive line we'll face all season, so I'm now in a complete panic about those trench battles the next eight weeks.
+ Once again, Luke Altmyer was really good (especially given that defenders were in his face all day). 25-36 for 303 yards, 1 passing TD, one rushing TD, and perhaps most importantly, no interceptions. And he had another passing TD that came off the board because of a holding call.
(Man, so many points left out there. Went for it on fourth down on the opening drive instead of taking the three. Touchdown called back for a penalty and that drive resulted in 3 instead of 7. And we even doinked an extra point.)
I saw someone say this in my Twitter mentions: it's such a strange offense to watch. Seeing our offensive line driven back by a G5 defensive line. Several plays where we completely whiff on a defender and find ourselves worrying that our quarterback might have broken ribs. And then 510 yards of offense with great performances from Altmyer and Isaiah Williams.
+ As an aside, on Altmyer's rushing touchdown (at the north end), he ran though the back of the endzone and right past a guy on his phone who didn't appear to flinch. I honestly don't even think he knew that a football player - one who had just scored a touchdown - ran right past his face.
Imagine telling that to someone in 1963. "People will have this device which will be so captivating that a touchdown will be scored directly in front of you and you won't even notice."
+ So now we only have Big Ten games remaining. A should-be-good Wisconsin (although, are they?), a decent Maryland (but have they played anyone?), and then six opponents who are all somewhere between decent and awful. Maybe Maryland or Wisconsin are ranked by the time we play them, but if not, we don't have any more ranked opponents on our schedule.
Can we go 4-4? We have to go 4-4 to go bowling. So can we find four wins? I think I can spot those wins, but then I think about our offensive line troubles today and I talk myself out of it. Gotta be good at trench warfare to win in this division, and I'm just not sure we're there.
But I'm ready to see if we are. The one thing I've said this entire month: I'm excited to see the adjustments this staff makes as the season goes along. Tweak things just right and we can get to a bowl. And I think we've determined that those tweaks should be fairly easy:
Turn the yards into points.