Archive for August, 2014

The good news:  We won.  Donald Hageman made a field goal and all the point after kicks.  Almost 31,000 in the stands.  Mrs. Gwynn has excellent aim.

The bad news:  Quinn Kaehler played with the authority of a newbie.  The linebacking crew was as effective as a dieter in Hodads, thus the defensive backs were far too involved.

The Aztecs rushed for three of five touchdowns.  Donnel Pumphrey looked very good (19/111).  Chase Price’s first run from scrimmage is Youtube bound.  Enthusiasm doesn’t begin to describe that run.  Returning to Kaehler, 18-29-1 is passable (no pun intended) on paper, but the reality was yuck.  He threw behind his receivers a half-dozen times.  He was well short a couple of times.  Ruffin’s one-handed grab was testament to the difficulty all Aztec receivers faced in attempting to catch a pass.  Thanks to Bob Toledo’s play calling, we struck an almost perfect balance between the rush (194) and pass (205) for  a yard shy of 400 overall.  Not bad for the first game.

Six of the top seven tacklers were defensive backs.  Not good.  Far too much advance past the line of scrimmage by the NAU Lumberjacks.  Micah Seau had one assist.  He started.  Boo.  Of the 65 total tackles (solo and assists), a measly 14 were credited to the linebacking crew.  A below average 22% of total tackles.  Rocky was very unhappy and rightfully so.  The third quarter, the NAU coaching staff discovered the left side of the Aztec defense was an open door leading downfield.  That was an ugly period of time.  As usual, Rocky adjusted and the problem disappeared, but such a deficiency is most disappointing against a team such as the L’jacks that do not have near our athletic ability (sorry, NAU).

Next Saturday is UNC.  If Kaehler plays flatline football, we are in for a looooooonnnnnnngggggggg evening.  If the linebacking corps remains passive to the line of scrimmage, refer to the aforementioned length of evening.  The game is an ESPN broadcast.  Time to play well, let the nation know the Aztecs are national, not just regional and beat the Tar Heels.

Offense

Quarterbacks:  Anytime productive, returning starting quarterbacks return, bonus points await.  Quinn Kaehler will notably improve upon last year’s numbers.  Bob Toledo has stated that he intends to add many a layer to this year’s offense.  Mr. Burns may as well add another hound.  Warren Buffet may as well want to make more money.  Kaehler will average better than 35 attempts this year and more than 300 yards a game.  Aztec receivers will be most pleased.  More on the receiving corps later.  Nick Bawden named the back-up to Kaehler was a surprise.  On behalf of all, may Mr. Bawden see nothing more than mop up work deep into the fourth quarter during 2014.

Running Backs:  Listening to Donnel Pumphrey explain during a recent 1090 broadcast that he had “put on weight” only to land at 170 pounds was worth a laugh.  Donnel will never take an extended defensive pounding, but he can run, he can turn a corner and as Ted Leitner will say many a time during Donnel’s Aztec years:  “He’s gone!”  The partner back, whether Chase Price or Marcus Stamps, will be a bruiser.  Lucky Radley (the Utah transfer) may well offer a surprisingly productive single year as an Aztec.  Adam Roberts may not block as well as Chad Young (who does?), but Adam will tuck away many a short pass from Kaehler at a key time to keep a drive alive or slide over the goal line.  Both back ups, Dakota Gordon and Chris Hokokian, are juniors looking to impress for 2015.

Receivers:  I include tight ends with the tall skinny guys.  Ezell Ruffin should have a mammoth year.  Sure, he’ll suffer many a double team, but with Toledo’s decision to enhance all things offense, a double team will cost the opposition as much as one-on-one with Ezell.  Larry Clark, Eric Judge, Jemond Hazely, Robert Craighead and Daniel Brunskill bring experience.  Paul Pitts and Lloyd Mills are the best of the rest in waiting.

O-Line:  Compared to last year’s hand wringing at this time, seems the Aztecs do not have much concern.  Size is important, but more so quick feet.  Terry Poole (310 lbs), Nico Siragusa (325 lbs), Darrell Greene (315 lbs) and Pearce Slater (335 lbs) are reported fine dancers.  The “light” Zach Dilley (a mere 295 lbs) will snack his way to the triple hundred club.  Paul Rodriguez, Jordan Smith and Garrett Corbett are experienced and too far down the depth chart.  Alas, Rocky believes in daily competition.

Defense

D-Line:  I’m a bit flummoxed at the concern.  I see five guys with experience.  Perhaps too much is made of Dontrell Onuoha as the only returning starter and Cody Galea’s switch to the linebacking corps.  Jon Sanchez, Sam Meredith, Alex Barrett and Kenny Galea’i played effectively last year.  Truly a group that improved as the season wore on.  I look for a jump in sacks and general knock downs from this group.  To think, if Christian Heyward ever realizes his health and potential, this group could be imposing.

Linebackers:  How quickly strength can become weakness.  With Jake Fely and Josh Gavert out until who knows when, Derek Largent indeed becomes the old man.  Galea, while new to the linebacking position, brings three years of experience into the 2014 season.  Rocky has stated that Galea will occupy a pseudo line position at the start of each snap, thus modifying the 3-3-5, but this strikes me as an opportunity for Rocky to be creative.  Fred Melifonwu, Calvin Munson, Mich Seau and Devante Davis will be busy.  Many a true freshmen (four are listed on the 8/12/14 depth chart) may receive a swift introduction to division one football.

The Last Five (or commonly known as the defensive backfield in other programs):  The safety concerns are well-known.  I expect a burn or two especially against UNC and the Beavers.  Hopefully, whatever is given away defensively can be recaptured offensively.  Regardless, Na’im McGee does bring juco experience and Trey Lomax is backed up by the experienced TJ Hickman.  Malik Smith and Pierre Romain will one-two the other Warrior spot until one out plays the other.  J.J. Whittaker and Damontae Kazee will be the best corner duo in the MWC by season’s end.

Special Teams and the Rest:  McMorrow’s fall from grace continues.  Joel Alesi keeps the punting job.  Newcomer Danny Hageman is the kicker . . . for now.  McMorrow lingers behind both.  The kickoff and punt returns will be the usual exercise in control and fumble avoidance, but I can’t wait to see Marcus Stamps return a kickoff with a head of steam underway.  Cleats will fly.  Jeff Overbaugh is back for year three as the long snapper.  The best compliment one can give a long snapper is only senior long snappers receive mention as the draft approaches.  We will hear much about Jeff next year.

A note of caution.  The shortcoming that drove me crazy last year was the defense taking the first half to get in game mode.  Granted, Rocky always makes the halftime adjustment, but this year, I’d much rather enjoy the sight of a finely tuned defense game ready at the coin flip rather than the first minute of the second half.

Prediction:  Best case, 10-2.  Worst case, 8-4.  Another bowl game either way.  The offense averages near 450 yards per game.

May health be an Aztec blessing.

Lots of changes await in the 2014 MWC.  Predicted order of finish is included.

Mountain Division

1.  Boise State.  A stunner, I know.  The only reason I choose Boise over Utah State is because of the Broncos defense.  16 of the 20 top tacklers from 2013 return including the #1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 guys.  As for Boise’s offense, Grant Hedrick returns as the starter, but he was statistically, let’s say, uneven in 2013.  His passing average per game was 140 yards.  Rather measly in comparison to other starting MWC qbs last year.  But, his 69% completion rate is impressive.  The return of Jay Ajayi and Charles Bertoli ensures a capable running game.  Shane Williams-Rhodes is one of the top five offensive players in the MW.  This guy does everything well:  Run the ball, catch the ball, return punts, return kicks and saves kittens.  He and Matt Miller provide ample opportunity for downfield action.  A wild card for Boise is their new head coach, Bryan Harsin.  Sure, he had mild success at Arkansas State (7-5) and he’s a former Boise offensive coordinator, but his system is new as is his offensive coordinator, Mike Sanford.  Thus, lots of new awaits Boise.  If Boise stumbles to second place this year, on behalf of Utah State, don’t be surprised.

2.  Utah State.  Chuckie Keeton returns as the starter of choice this year.  Last year’s carousel of Keeton (196 passing attempts), Garretson (209 passing attempts) and Harrison (74 passing attempts) is vowed not to be repeated.  Given Keeton’s completion rate of 69.4% and 231 passing yards per game, he is the one.  The good news for Aggie fans is if Keeton is injured, Garretson awaits.  The running game is average and will likely decline in 2014.  Last year’s 178.1 ypg will decrease, but the passing yardage per game should increase.  What could make Keeton’s year too interesting is, less than Ronald Butler, the receiving corps may prove a challenge.  As for the USU defense, they don’t return near the number of top twenty tacklers from 2013 as does Boise, thus my choice of the Broncos for first place in the Mountain division.

3.  Colorado State.  The only reason I’m choosing the Rams over Air Force is Garrett Grayson.  Grayson is the best qb in the Mountain division.  He has five returning receivers who averaged between 11.6 ypc and 16.4 ypc.  Lots of targets.  Unfortunately, the Rams have no returning running game with 2013 experience.  2013’s 202.7 rushing ypg should diminish substantially in 2014.  Defending the Rams, less the surprise development of a running game, will be centered on Grayson and his receivers.  If opposing teams cover well and knock down Grayson, beating CSU will be rather one-dimensional.  The Rams return eight of their top ten tacklers, thus should have a dependable defense.

4.  Air Force.  The Cadets endured a horrible 2013 MW record of 0-8.  Injury to seemingly anybody who did or could play quarterback was the monster problem.  Nate Romine returns.  Sure, Air Force’s idea of a successful passing play is to sucker the opposing safeties towards the line of scrimmage, then heave the ball to the streaking receiver . . . and occasionally this practice works.  Last year, not so much.  Two running backs return from last year with impressive yards per carry:  Jon Lee (6.5) and Sam Gagliano (7.3).  Karson Roberts, less an injury to Romine, will most likely operate with Lee and Gagliano, and contribute his 5.2 ypc.  Regarding the old heave-ho passing scheme, Air Force returns six receivers with double-digit yards per catch averages, but consider the strategy.  Defensively, these guys are tough as nails.  But, so is most of the Mountain division.  If the Cadets average 2013’s 367.7 total offense per game, be happy.

5.  New Mexico.  Bob Davies does a lot with a little.  The Lobos learned hiring the wrong guy (the gentleman who succeeded Rocky Long) takes a great deal of time to heal, thus patience with Davies is required.  Will 2014 feature the quarterback carousel of 2013?  A little Mitchem, a dash of Gautsche.  Both posted anemic numbers.  Thankfully, Gautsche can run (6.6 ypc).  Crusoe Gongbay, Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson are a formidable trio of running backs.  Jeric Magnant, Marcus Bundy and Carlos Wiggins will hope to see more footballs thrown in their general direction than last year (Magnant and Bundy had a team high of 19 receptions each.  Ouch).  Enough of the defense returns to perhaps flip a close game to the Lobos benefit.  Their final two games @ CSU and Wyoming at home could make the season.

6.  Wyoming.  Winters are brutal in Wyoming.  Football will be as well.  Consider new head coach Craig Bohl, no quarterback in waiting, less Shaun Wick, no running game and all the returning wide receivers wondering who will launch a ball in their general direction makes for a difficult 2014.  However, eight of their top ten tacklers return and sixteen of twenty overall.  They will be busy.  Oxygen, please.  Last year Wyoming averaged 472.8 total offense per game.  If 2014 offers 372.8, be surprised and happy.

West Division

1.  San Diego State.  At this point in my missive, you know I’m all about returning starting quarterbacks, thus my choice of the Aztecs over the Bulldogs.  Quinn Kaehler, less injury, will have a monster 2014.  Offensive coordinator, Bob Toledo will let the offense fly.  This is similar to Warren Buffett wanting to make more money.  Guaranteed.  Donnel Pumphrey will better last year’s numbers on the ground.   The wide receivers feature Ezell Ruffin (16.7 ypc) and Eric Judge (16.8ypc).  Those numbers are pre-Toledo “let the ball fly” in 2014.  Anticipate significant increases.  The defensive side of the ball provides the challenge in 2014.  Only 4 of the top 10 tacklers return.  If the defense holds, the Aztec kicking game can make 2 or 3 field goal attempts on a regular basis (2013’s pathetic results equated with attempting to land on Mars) and the team is ready to play at kickoff rather than post-half time, life is good.

2.  Fresno State.  Much like Boise State, defense rules the pound in Fresno.  8 of the top 10 tacklers return including the first 6.  On behalf of their opponents, be ready for contact.  However, 391 passing yards per game via Mr. Carr have left the field.  Thus, second place in 2014.  Brian Burrell is hardly heir apparent (7-12 for all of 2013).  Returning to Mr. Carr, 5,031 passing yards will no longer be seen in beloved Fresno.  The Bulldogs passing yardage per game sinks.  The running game increases.  Josh Quezada, Marteze Waller, and Malique Micenheimer will see a dramatic increase in carries.  Josh Harper (12.8 ypc), Greg Watson (13.6 ypc) and Aaron Peck (10.6 ypc) will miss Mr. Carr immensely.

3.  Nevada.  The Wolfpack chose the wrong guy to replace Chris Ault.  Brian Pollan’s 2013 effort and result went from bad to worse.   The good news?  Cody Fajardo returns.  Cody had a mere 3 picks in 358 attempts in 2013.  Wow-wee.  However, Cody should never, ever, never run the football.  141 rushing attempts resulted in 154 lost yards.  Throw the ball, Cody.  If he does, the 250 yards passing per game should significantly increase while the running game remains anemic.  Much like CSU, prepare for the pass and the let the run provide momentary entertainment to no effect.  Thankfully for the Pack faithful, the defense returns 17 of the top 20 tacklers.   However, the Pack will be in defensive pursuit far longer than desired.

4.  San Jose State.  Much like the Bulldogs, the Spartans will suffer former-qb-gone withdrawals.  And much like the Bulldogs, the running game will be much emphasized as contrasted to 2013.  David Fales threw for 349.1 yards per game last year.  Blake Jurich will be a tad shy in 2014.  Jarrod Lawson and Thomas Tucker will enjoy significant increases from respective carries of 164 and 66 last year.  Be prepared to run and run and run.  On the other side of the ball, SJSU will return 16 of their top 20 tacklers.  Granted, they will be busy.

5.  UNLV.  Last year’s 411.4 yards of total offense will drop dramatically.  Nick Sherry is the likely starting quarterback.  Nick had 75 passing attempts in 2013.  He was intercepted 5 times.  Do the math.  If  Mr. Sherry throws 400 attempts in 2014 (Caleb Herring threw 405 in 2013), the result is 26 interceptions.  Gonna be a windy, dusty, dry 2014 in Las Vegas.  The top three receivers from 2013 return, but the football maybe out of reach.  Shaq Murray-Lawerence may well improve upon his stellar 8.9 yard per rush.  On the other side, one of their top five tacklers returns while a mere 11 of the top 20 return.

6.  Hawaii.  Wyoming’s sister.  I’m sorry.  Norm Chow is an awful coach.  He is the definition of ego-gone-wild.  Norm is never wrong.  Just ask him.  Rushing yards will give occasional false hope.  Joey Iosefa is a house on feet.  This guy is beyond large.  I wince while watching the opposition “tackle” him.  He is a two tackler minimum.  Maybe three.  Steven Lakalaka and Diocemy Saint Juste provide ample company on behalf of Mr. Iosefa.  And now, the qb’s.  I pity the three of you.  Norm screaming at you.  Norm demeaning you.  Norm being Norm.  Taylor Graham (46% completion rate), Ikaika Woolsey (37.9% completion rate) and Jeremy Higgins (okay, one game, he went 5-11) are the guys who will not get the ball downfield to the three K’s (Kirkwood, King and Kemp).  Scott Harding and Vasquez Haynes will join the three K’s in year-long frustration.  The defense will spend far too much time on the field.  Hydration will be the major theme.

 

 

Let’s do the winners and losers approach for brevity’s sake.

Winners

Detroit:  Adding Joakim Soria to the bullpen along with David Price (who is a tad overrated) to the starting staff makes for an impressive pitching staff for the last two months of the year and into the playoffs.

St. Louis:  The rich get richer.  Lackey and Masterson add to an already deep and impressive starting staff making the Cardinals the N.L. version of Detroit.  Whatever eluded Masterson regarding pitching instruction will certainly be delivered in St. Louis.  He may realize his potential yet.

Oakland:  They were out in front from the beginning via the Cubs trade, but finishing with the acquisition of Lester and the return of Gomes is an impressive showing for Mr. Beane.

Boston:  Yeah, I know, this year is over, but Ben realizes as much and begins to prepare for next year.  Who can blame him?  Cespedes and Craig joining Ortiz and Napoli should make for many a run filled night the last sixty days of the season.  Joe Kelly struggled to find starts in St. Louis.  He will get all he can dream of in Fenway.  The prospect, Eduardo Rodriguez, exchanged for Andrew Miller, is a starting lefty with promise.  To date, five years in pro ball have resulted in a 3.45/1.25 tag along with 449 ip yielding a paltry 407 hits.  Receiving a living, breathing, semi-functional Kelly Johnson in exchange for Drew is a minor miracle and act of kindness by the Evil Empire.  Thank you, Brian Cashman.  Theo was kind enough to take Doubront off our hands.  Felix was not mentally built for Fenway.  Finally, while waving good-bye to Peavy (quality ball player and person), what was received in return is pure potential quality:  Edwin Escobar (a lefty starter) and Heath Hembree (closer in the making).  Escobar struggled this year at AAA, but his prior numbers were impressive.  The late summer air of Pawtucket should serve him well.  Hembree should see Boston during the 40 man roster expansion.

Washington:  Exchanging Zach Walters for Asdrubal Cabrera is the equivalent of trading a bike for a car.  Nice job, Nats.

Atlanta:  Why the Cubs would trade James Russell (a quality lefty, long reliever) is a bit of mystery, especially in light of who they received (a 20 year old A  ball catcher).  Advantage, Atlanta.

Marginally Successful

NYY:  Getting Prado for a minor leaguer was the best of their mostly ineffective trading efforts.  Even though Prado is generally viewed as a utility guy, he manages to get 500 to 600 abs most years due to his production.  Of course, what the E.E. truly needed was not acquired:  Starting pitching and lots of it (with apologies to Chris Capuano).

Houston and Miami:  Generally a swap of prospects focused on Jared Cosart and Jake Marisnick.  Perhaps one of the six involved pans out.

Chicago Cubs:  You’re thinking, I just criticized the Russell deal.  True, but Theo dumped the long underperforming Darwin Barney to the Dodgers.  The player to be named later turns out to be 20 year old Jonathan Martinez who progressed nicely through the Dodgers system.  His cumulative four year minor league numbers give pause for future hope:  21-12, 3.44/1.23 and 306 ip.  Ta da, Cub minor league scouts.

Tampa Bay:  Okay, Price leaves, but Smyly is under contract forever and seems to be a quality left handed starter.  Hard to find.

Losers

Minnesota:  Sam Fuld for Tom Milone . . . and they ship Milone to AAA.  Idiotic.  Milone, while in Oakland, posted cumulative numbers of 31-22, 3.84/1.26 in 442.2 ip and 73 starts.  The Twins are starving for anything resembling quality starting pitching.  This reads like a guy who routinely criticizes women, yet wonders why he can’t get a date.

Milwaukee:  Their system cannot produce a fourth outfielder, so they give up two prospects for Gerardo Parra?  Boo, Brew Crew.

Kansas City and Toronto:  The Liam Hendriks, Erik Kratz and Danny Valenica deal was a waster of time, effort and airline tickets.  Two thumbtacks for push pin.