Now that I've recovered from last night, it's time to take a harder look at what transpired. Kent State came into the game as 3.5 point dogs, but with experience as well as high hopes of winning a MAC championship. They left with a solid road win for any MAC team after physically and mentally outplaying, for the most part, our Clones.
What can we draw from Gene Chizik's first game? His decision to leave play calling autonomy with the coordinators didn't look like a horrible choice. There were a few more wrinkles in the offense this year with less predictability for the most part, and the defense looked to be something close to the right place in the right time - most of the time.
What bothered me the most last night was the actual execution on the field. There was one instance, early in the game when two ISU defensive lineman busted through into the Kent State backfield and proceeded to stare down Julian Edelman and wait for him to do something. Another, more obvious error was the horrible coverage by James Smith on the 42 yard touchdown catch by Muldrow. For the most part, however, most of our guys seemed to be able to be where they needed to be - although I'm no football coach.
Penalties were one of the first things that killed us last night. I'm going to chalk much of that up to inexperience for now but I'm pretty damn sure it'll be gone over relentlessly at practice.
Something that seems to have carried over from last year was the inability to knock someone back, or even just wrap up when making a tackle. On sweeps and screens we still see the first guy miss or get contained by a blocker downfield, whether it be a cornerback or a linebacker. Chris Singleton was made to look silly quite a few times on both run and pass coverage. He also is giving the super huge cushion he gave last year, and Edelman continued to pick on him for most of the game. Allen Bell didn't do horribly, but the cornerback play left something to be desired. Edelman also tore up the field with his legs, as we failed to wrap up.
The defensive line was just overmatched. I really hope some of it is first game jitters, but I don't think that we can depend on Bryce Braaksma as someone to stop the run up front. He weighs just 250 pounds and was getting bulldozed on many runs up the gut. For that matter, the play of our two outside linebackers, Banks and Bowen, was also pretty rusty.
Special teams looked good and bad. The good? The punt game and kick returns, as Mike Brandtner showed of his big leg and Allen Bell and RJ Sumrall showed they've got wheels. The bad? Bret Culbertson still can't make a kick when we need him to, and Zac Sandvig just needs to get more experience fielding punts.
On offense, there were bigger problems, but it wasn't in the places that we'd expect. The new offensive line showed that they could get some things done in the first half, opening holes for Bass and Robinson. And, while they didn't give Meyer all day in the pocket, he was still the beneficiary of more time in the past, which was encouraging to see. An offensive line needs to gel, but their performance was certainly not horrible.
The run game also showed signs of life, as Alexander Robinson started the game and proved that he can handle the ball. The real star, however, was JJ Bass, as he was able to break into the second level on a few occasions. He's a Big 12 caliber runningback that it seems we might be able to depend on.
The pass game is what truly concerned me, and it comes from the quarterback position. The receivers were catching everything that they could, but Bret Meyer was having real issues, from missing wide open receivers to locking onto one guy and not even attempting to look off the secondary. He gave up two picks on the night, and while one was tipped, the other was just a bad pass into coverage. He also failed to make any hay whatsoever from the height and size advantage our guys had, as I do think Todd Blythe was being covered by a midget. The most effective guy in the conference at containing Todd Blythe might just be Bret Meyer. Phillip Bates got a couple snaps late and looked overmatched, but as his redshirt is now gone, expect him to see time on the field.
But what should become of the quarterback position? I fully expect Meyer to start next Saturday against Northern Iowa, but if he continues to struggle, when do we turn the keys over to Arnaud or Bates? It's pretty clear we don't exactly have high aspirations for this season, but when do we decide to build for the future?
Meyer looked like that future during his sophomore year, but he has noticiably regressed ever since. He's not a true leader by any stretch of the imagination, and it seems like the the guys on the team realize that and don't really seem to care. It's a feeling I've had since early last year, but we've had no other option to go to until this year. You can throw as many stats as you'd like to at me from his past success, but I have a feeling that if we surprise people this year, it won't be with #7 behind center.