Year one of the Danny Hope Era is virtually in the books. Halfway through the season we are sitting at 1-5 and things seem to be getting worse every week. After the Oregon loss, there was a general consensus that we wouldn't go on another long slide like in previous years. This is not the same team that played at Oregon though. I think if we played them right now we'd lose by 50.
I can accept mistakes. They were expected. I can accept growing pains. They were expected. What we have seen the last two weeks, however, is signs of a team just getting worse and worse. I am now convinced that the only way we can win a game is if we either have a perfect performance or play an opponent that is absolutely worse than us. We are physically, emotionally, and mentally incapable of overcoming the smallest of mistakes or adversity.
Saturday was just another example of it. One mistake, a busted coverage on the long throw to Decker was all it took. It set up Minnesota's score, and from that point forward we were outscored 35-3 over the critical middle portion of the game. We had another awful interception, another special teams fumble, and another shanked punt. Each mistake is magnified because as you fall behind more and more, the more you need a deep passing game. We don't even bother to try and have a deep passing game.
The blocked field goal was another critical play. I think it was the right call because there is still plenty of time left. If you get it, you are down 12 and you don't need a 2-point conversion later. Instead, it was blocked. Ironically, the same player that simply dropped a blocked field goal return for a TD was there to pick it up and complete the return this time. It is a ten point shift against a team that has a sad history of providing such shifts in the negative. The rest of the game might as well have been played with a running clock.
The sad thing is that we have a ton of guys that are playing hard. It is a shame that the defense is going to have 28 points on its record today, because they played a great game. Unfortunately, anyone, even a punchless offense like Minnesota's, can score when you give them the ball at the 30 or closer. Chris Carlino and Jason Werner continue to improve as linebackers. For the first time in a long time, I remember seeing plays where a running back would hit one of our linebackers and actually stop moving forward instead of simply pushing the linebacker over.
Joey Elliott is another guy that had a good game today. He had one bad throw for an interception and a few overthrows, but he gave us an element of mobility in the pocket that we never had with Painter. He did a fantastic job of keeping plays alive with his feet. He deserves better than we have done this season. He has made his mistakes, but they are mistakes that we could easily recover from if we didn't have so many elsewhere.
I honestly don't know what to think anymore. I am tired of caring, but I know I cannot separate myself enough from this team to stop caring. As a result, every Saturday is exhausting because we find ways to lose games we should win. It is difficult to point to one thing that can be fixed and it would immediately change things. You cannot totally blame Joey Elliott. You cannot totally blame the coaching staff. You cannot totally blame the players because it is a perfect storm of all three coming together for this.
This season is now about building for next year. We have to win another game. I don't care how. We just need to win a game so we can prove to ourselves it is still possible. The defense needs to keep fighting because I can definitely see some positives in a group that has had no favors done for them in five weeks.
If you want to blame a member of the coaching staff, blame J.B Gibboney. For someone that was brought in because of an emphasis on special teams it has sure been an emphasis. Every single element of this area has gotten worse. We never have running lanes on kickoff returns. The fumbles, ugh, the fumbles <breaks something>. The low kicks. The shanks. It is just ridiculous. it is not just one player, either. Every single unit is flat out awful and that has to be laid at the feet of the unit coach.
Do we see more Caleb TerBush in the next few weeks? It is a shame that it has taken Elliott this long to get on the field because he could be a really good quarterback with more experience. TerBush needs to play some though simply because he will be here next year and Elliott will not. It is probably Robert Marve's job to lose, but TerBush and Henry still need to see some time because Injuries can happen. With Marve being a mobile quarterback it is even more paramount to give someone like TerBush some playing time.
I was also encouraged once again that this team did not give up, even when down 22 points. It is the only thing we have right now, but this team just keeps fighting even when people as optimistic as me start to give up. It is not going to pay dividends this year, but it will as the talent level continues to improve and as we gain more experience.
This season is over, but the program is not done. We now have six games left to play the role of Spoilermaker and build for a turnaround season next year. The talent is certainly there. There is even better talent coming. Few teams get the opportunity to gain the experience that we can over the next six games. Let's make it happen.