Connor Tapp (CT): To me, it's hard to reflect upon my first week playing NCAA Football 14 and not immediately think about how much fun it is to run the read option with Connor Shaw. When I initially saw his 89 overall player rating and relatively pedestrian speed score of 83, I scoffed a bit at their underestimation of his capabilities. But it seems to me like he plays much faster than that score suggests, and I think that has a lot to do with the work that EA did in getting the run game to be more realistic. (After all, Bo Wallace runs the read option at Ole Miss to decent effect.)
I have a feeling that this year's offense might be the best we've seen under Spurrier, and NCAA Football 14 seems to agree. Even though the overall offensive rating of 90 is, in my opinion, too low, the fact that Connor Shaw is showing up as a Heisman finalist on multiple simulations is very interesting to me.
George Stevens (GS): Agreed. In last year's game, running the read option was something I forced myself to do because of an irrational devotion to realism, not because it was a particularly efficient tool. But this year, the run plays unfold so beautifully that sometimes I have to remind myself to sling the ball every now and again.
On the other side of the ball, I'm still settling into the defensive mechanics, but it sure is nice to have that 99 at your disposal. I've used him to unleash a few big hits-none yet have dehelmeted the ball carrier, but I'm holding out hope EA snuck that in. But any time I bring the thunder with DE #7, it gets me all the more giddy to see our IRL 99 line up at Williams Brice.
CT: I'm almost done with my first season in dynasty mode, and Jadeveon Clowney only has four sacks, but Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton have both beaten Clowney's school record from 2012. Also, TJ Holloman is only rated 80, but has been a total badass for me. He's got 60 tackles to his credit and is a finalist for "Best LB". Good sign of things to come for South Carolina's murky LB situation or random video game quirk?
Overall though, defense has been a struggle for me so far. For some reason, I was only interested in offensive coordinator mode last year, so I'm still trying to develop muscle memory for things like breaking up passes and executing swim moves to get to the QB. Here's what most of my 'successful' defensive series look like: opponent rips off giant gain on an out route that he breaks for 30 YAC, ends up inside my 20, and I sack him on third and medium to force a field goal. But it also makes some sense that improved efficacy of the various styles of run option plays would make playing defense more difficult.
Am I being too hard on myself or have you noticed an increased degree of difficulty on the defensive side of the ball as well?
GS: I've definitely noticed it. You simply can't skate by on running basic 2 deep zone or man cover plays. Trying to outwit the offense via playcalling is just a part of the game (at least on Heisman mode.) Also, there's far less margin for error than last year from an execution standpoint. I find that it usually requires two or three tacklers to take down any ball carrier. Open field tackles are almost always shed. For instance, I once broke free with Clowney and greeted the poor, exposed back with what I thought would be The Hit part 2. Instead, after making contact Clowney lethargically slipped off the ballcarrier's shoulders and a big run ensued. I mean, I get that it could happen. But c'mon, that couldn't happen!
I think our defensive successes look similar. I could probably count on one hand the number of times I've forced a punt. But I've found myself adapting-truly trying to read the offense, audible if necessary, even use defensive hot routes which is something I rarely tapped into in previous years. But at this point I usually sim our defense ever other drive.
By the way, I've really come to appreciate the new ballhawk feature (hold triangle for a user pick, as opposed to tap it at the last second.) This means you're controlling a player's judgment instead of his shoulder joints, and there's an emphasis on angles and jumping routes.
I'd be remiss not to mention the streamlined return game. I got to a point last year where I was simulating kick returns because they were so undynamic. But with the better blocking and running AI, returns develop more organically, and I can rip off the occasional 40 yard kick return with Bruce - something we saw him do with regularity in 2012. Have you enjoyed this upgrade as much as I have?
CT: Yeah, tackling is much different in this year's release. There have been several occasions in which I thought I had a ball carrier pinned down in the backfield, only to have him scamper away for an irritating first down. (You tweeted a Vine of you rolling out of a pile for a TD, and I've been on the business end of that on a kickoff return for a TD.)
The Ballhawk feature is something that I initially greeted as an added frustration, but I'm starting to enjoy it. I've used it to pick off 5 passes in the past 4 or so games I've played, so my recent results make it difficult to complain.
The return game is the most fun it has been in a while.
I've returned one kick to the house with Bruce Ellington, but even when I've failed, it's been considerably more enjoyable.
GS: Speaking of considerably more enjoyable, how about the Dynasty Mode? The recruiting process had become so convoluted and bloated that I'd avoided Dynasty Mode altogether last year, or only using it to play individual seasons. Cheers to EA stripping out the arduous point-by-point phone calls and opting for a broader approach that still allows for fine-tuning classes. The coach power-ups are a nice touch, too.
CT: Yeah, I like the new recruiting setup. I'm still trying to figure it out though. I'm losing some recruits that I thought I had in the bag. One downside: I used to get all of my podcast listening done while I was recruiting on NCAA '13. I guess I'll have to carve out some new time to get that done.
I really enjoy the choice between game management and recruiting when you earn a coaching powerup. I'm putting all of mine in recruiting so I can be the next Ron Zook.