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Nothing Moral About That

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By definition, a moral victory is when a team loses a confrontation yet achieves some moral gain. Had the Owls lost to SMU by three points without allowing three blocked kicks and mismanaging the game clock on their final drive of the first half, perhaps their 31-28 defeat could have been interpreted as a moral victory. However, three blocked kicks and poor clock management count, especially when those mistakes undermined a shot to notch Win No. 1.

That's not to suggest that the Owls didn't gain something with their solid showing on the Hilltop. Nick Fanuzzi looked fantastic in spots, not only showcasing his arm strength but a delicate touch on deep outs (his best pass of the afternoon might have been the one Taylor Wardlow dropped in between two Mustangs near the SMU sideline late in the fourth). The location on some of his throws was exceptional, namely the TD pass to Toren Dixon and subsequent two-point toss to Wardlow that cut the deficit to three. The more he plays the more the game will slow down for him, and that will eliminate those moments where he appears to be rushing through his progressions in order to get rid of the ball. The Nick will keep growing.

Dropping Jake Hicks back into the mix stabilized the offensive line, which did a solid job protecting The Nick and took a small step forward with regards to run blocking. The Owls' 12-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter was a thing of beauty for The Nick completed just one pass on that possession. The Owls surged downfield via the ground game the rest of the march, and while SMU took away the run and slowed the Owls' offense considerably in the second half, that flash of potential was worth getting excited over. And credit Coach Z for diversifying the offensive attack during the off week. Health helps build confidence, folks.

And kudos to Travis Bradshaw (a career-high 14 tackles) and the defensive line, which effectively harassed Ponies quarterback Kyle Padron (five sacks). The defense surrendered 130 yards below its season average, so while a blown coverage on a blitz in the second quarter and a facemask penalty on third down in the fourth proved costly, it's difficult to lay the blame for this defeat on the defense. It played well enough for the Owls to win save for ...

Three blocked kicks? Really? The second block (on the first field goal attempt) should not have happened. SMU had fostered a reputation for excellence on special teams, and the Owls were aware of that fact. If Sterling Moore can get a free rush off the edge and into the backfield, the timing of the snap was too easy to read. Deception is necessary when teams are timing the cadence on snaps, and that should have been emphasized prior to the kickoff.

And some sort of plan should have been in place to deal with SMU freshman end Margus Hunt, the 6-8, 267-pound behemoth who blocked four kicks before recording two more on Saturday. Blocked PATs are often on the kicker, especially if they come up the middle. But maybe someone should have plowed into Hunt in order to prevent him from getting his hands in the air and utilizing his impressive wing span to turn around the second field goal attempt. David Bailiff intimated player error was responsible for the second blocked field goal and we don't discredit that assessment. But it's a crying shame that the Owls have surrendered two touchdowns this season on their field goal attempts, and special teams gaffes - relatively few and far between - snuffed out their established momentum against Tulsa and East Carolina.

Three miscues negated solid performances by the offense and defense, and that reality is hard to stomach given how close the Owls were to enjoying the sweet nectar of victory. Another opportunity will be presented this Saturday against hapless Tulane, which provided the Owls their lone triumph in 2005. If the expectation is that the Green Wave will do the same this season, those feeling presumptive should examine the mettle Tulane displayed on yesterday. Victory won't be easy, and it certainly won't manifest via a series of critical errors.

As for that questionable clock management, the floor is open for discussion.

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3 Comments

I don't understand the angst with the first half time management. For one, Bailiff deserves a lot of credit for trying to score in that situation, starting from your 20 with 1:40 left. A lot of coaches would just run things out there. He had faith in the offense, and they responded.

Bailiff clearly called a timeout after the play to Goodson. Obviously there was an assumption the clock wouldn't start running after the penalty. In the end, you expect three shots at scoring when you're facing 1st and 10 from around the 10, and the Owls still had two. It could have been handled better, but was hardly a game changing factor IMO.

Good show by the defense. Solomon had a real nice game; he kept relentless pressure on the OL, instead of those dives for the QB's leg, and it paid of well. I really like our freshmen corners. Lots of room for improvement at LB (who were non-existent all day, save for that disastrous facemask penalty), and the coverage of the safeties. Chris Jones vs. E. Sanders is not a good matchup for us.

You're suggesting someone should plow into the TERMINATOR?

The coaches had a great two weeks and a well managed game. Given the terrible start they've had to the season, that's great to see, and offers some renewal of the optimism surrounding this program's future. Perhaps we can even get our live chat back-- ha. (Maybe not, reading the Parliament).

Also I really appreciate the twitter updates. I was at the game, but had to leave mid through the 4th, so it was (disappointing but) good to find out what happened in real time.

MK-

I think the offense and defense played well enough to win comfortably, by 11 points in fact. I thought the new offensive wrinkles were good (save the continued emphasis on bubble screens), the O-Line did a great job pass blocking (only one sack and that was Fanuzzi or the OC's fault for not identifying the obvious edge rusher), and Fanuzzi, the receivers and the backs all played well.

Defensively I thought the coverage was pretty good considering SMU's weapons. A few of Rice's 6 sacks were definitely coverage sacks. Chris Jones once again failed to make a play on the ball when he had a chance early, but he settled down. The two true freshman corners played great (I hope Gaines' injury isn't serious). Linebacker play is probably what lacked the most, but we have serious injury issues there.

Now, to the things that were inexcusably awful. The field goal kicking team needs to be thrown-out and reorganized, maybe even including the kicker. None of those kicks had a prayer, and penetration was allowed right up the middle. The mechanics of the kicks were slow, and as you noted SMU timed the snap each time.

Also, Bailiff's mismanagement of the clock and decisions before the half cost the Owls dearly. We had 1st and 10 from the SMU 12 with 30 secs on the clock and 2 TOs. Anything short of a TD in that scenario is unacceptable. Yet Bailiff found a way to bungle it away into a TD for the opposing team. Now that is some coaching magic. I am curious what Bailiff's postgame comments were about that disastrous series.

At Ease - Seriously? A coach of a 0-9 spread team in C-USA deserves a lot of credit for trying to score with 1:40 and 2 TOs? You need to come out of the dark ages my friend. Anything but going for a TD there is inexcusable. As Herm would say, "You play to win the game."

I just remembered a field goal block from one of the fall camp practices I attended. Martin Uwah, of all people, came completely unblocked from right side (much like the SMU player on the before-half kick) and blocked a Chris Boswell attempt right back into Boswell and knocked Boswell out of the practice (perhaps out of the season?).

Immediately before the attempt some assistant coach moved a blocker from the side of the formation that Uwah ultimately came in from to the opposite side. It was obvious and elementary.

Should have seen this, and the year's earlier field goal kicking disasters coming. Just shameful.

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