I've posted a good deal at Boiledsports this season on the topic of trust with respect to this team. We all know that this season is going about as poorly as it has ever gone. At this point if you aren't upset with the performance of our alma mater you are probably a masochist. I'm pretty sure at this point that we are the only school in FBS who has lost 4 games by 30+ points - and we are only half way home. We are only putting up an average of 17 points per game - and mostly in garbage time. We currently rank 84th in the nation in passing yardage and 119th in rushing yardage. Our defense is equally deplorable giving up almost 38 points per game good for 117th in the nation. Words like horrible or awful don't do the type of performance we are seeing justice.
Therefore I don't believe anyone at this point can actually look me in the eye and say that we have the 117th or 119th most talented football team in the country. I just don't buy that. We should be able to field more talent than MAC level programs or FCS teams (and quite frankly we looked pretty bad against Indiana State). The rational fans among our ranks didn't expect an instant 9-win season. I personally didn't even expect a 6-win season against this brutal schedule. What I do expect is for a coaching staff we paid good money for to produce a product week in and out that steadily improves. I expected a team that would be fundamentally sound, would limit penalties, and would be in most games during the 4th quarter. And I also expected us to lose most of those close games due to our level of talent compared to the talent of many solid opponents on our schedule.
However we haven't seen this team progress since they fought Notre Dame to the wire. We are out of games it seems by the start of the second quarter. We lost heart and allowed a MAC program to smack us around like they were Alabama. The offense didn't seem to really care about this Nebraska game from the first snap despite the defense actually winning the turnover battle 3-2. And the two Purdue turnovers were avoidable. The fumble was on a simple pitch to the RB and the INT was a pass thrown too hard that bounced from the receiver's hands to a Nebraska defender. The coaching staff has been busy making a lot of changes but just aren't getting any results... so what is the problem?
See as fans we just see the final result- a blow out loss - then we start blaming the result on a ton of different issues. First people commented that it was Henry. If we could just throw in one of our shiny new freshmen instead of Henry we could move the ball. Well the coaching staff threw in Etling and he was still getting sacked. People complained about the line and indeed that unit appears to be part of the problem as well. We re-vamped the line and well we are still getting an awful result. The defense hasn't done anything better either. We re-vamped our defense and still we are getting carved up pretty badly. Well unfortunately for us and this team the lack of results is really only the tip of the iceberg.
I won't feign to have the understanding of a single college football coach or assistant in the country. But I do have an understanding of teamwork from working in industry. And what I can say is that poor results almost always are the tip of the iceberg. Poor results are accompanied with low performance standards or a lack of accountability. We know that Hope was notorious for this and it appears that is still the case - with our two freshmen stealing 20 dollar items from Kohl's. This team doesn't expect to win and clearly the staff is not holding our guys accountable for our performances. However the problem is even deeper still. Typically a lack of accountability is accompanied by a lack of commitment to the team's common goal. I think this is evident by how little our seniors have stepped up to make a difference (perhaps not as individuals but as a whole - Henry may not be a good quarterback but honestly he is committed to the team just as Robinson is). I think there is a reason that guys like Cottom (Junior) and Bush are not on the field and it probably is due to their lack of commitment to Hazell and Co.'s system.
So why are people not committed to the system? its typically because the guys on the team are afraid to call each other out for poor results or a lack of commitment. Our offensive units simply seem like they don't care after making a poor play. Now I can't prove this but I remember at the Wisconsin game that our offense really looked like it could have cared less that Ricardo Allen picked off Stave while the game was still in reach. Instead of using the opportunity to punch it in for six and grab the game by the horns I believe the offense sputtered and we kicked a field goal from deep in Wisconsin territory. The "leaders" on our team need to step up and call guys out when they aren't giving 100% or don't care.
But you won't do any of that for a guy or a coach that you don't trust. These players don't trust the system and they don't trust each other. Even worse than all of that I bet most of these guys don't trust themselves. Maybe thats from the Hope Kool-Aid. I don't think Rob Henry ever trusted himself to make plays and also didn't trust his O-Line to protect him. So he held onto the ball too long and threw the ball into the stands. Etling is trying but he's green and has no time in the pocket to make decisions. But creating trust on a team ALWAYS falls on the shoulders of management. And honestly if our problem is trust I don't know how much pulling seniors to play freshmen is going to help the players trust the coaching staff. It looks like the coaches are blaming the players rather than trying to get them to buy in and believe they can win using this system. And that is a huge problem - no matter how much or little talent you have as a program. At this point I don't think our players believe this system works for them which means the coaching staff has done a bad job of selling it. I'm not saying pull the plug on Hazell yet - but until what I've talked about gets fixed look for more blowout losses.
But there is hope - in 2011 Kent State stood at 1-6 with 3 30+ point blowout losses to Alabama, Kansas State, and Northern Illinois. Then a switch flipped and they won 4/5 of their last games and had their best season in school history the next year. The probability of that happening is slim but it has happened. As fans all we can do is hope this happens again. Attendance dropped from around 54,000 against NIU to 47,000 yesterday-mostly Cornhusker fans. Its your move Coach Hazell - make it count.