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Sunday Morning Chicken Biscuit: A Tale of Three Games and Three Third Down Failures

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Why are we 4-5 instead of 7-2? Blame Whammy all you want, but the offense could have salted each of these games away.

Sometims it comes down to Ball Plays
Sometims it comes down to Ball Plays
Streeter Lecka

The advanced stats will be out soon.  When you read them, you will see - overall - we were fairly balanced on both run and pass against the Volunteers.  With 42 points, 625 yards (377 pass) and some daring play calling, we were also prolific.  Based on the stats, it will be natural to blame this loss entirely on Lorenzo Ward's defense.

But to put the blame for this stunning and humiliating Tennessee defeat - or similar losses to Missouri and Kentucky as well - entirely on the beleaguered defense and our embattled D.C. would be wrong, in my opinion. Some of the blame must rest on the offensive play-calling.

This is more than saying we win or lose as a team.  And it's also more than saying Steve Spurrier is the captain of the ship and ultimately responsible for all phases of our play.  Both those cliches are true.

Rather, I am talking about specific decisions in three offensive possessions late in the 4th quarter against Mizzou, UK and UT where a conversion should seal the win, or deny the opponent the clock they'd use to beat us. Even more specifically, I'm calling out the third down play-calling on each of those three series.

Missouri

In our first full possession of the 4th quarter, holding on 13-7, we go three-and-out - using a mere 1:22. On our next series, after a defensive stop, we then score what should be the back-breaker to go up 20-7.

I think we all agree we should have gone for 2 - Brandon Wilds had been cruising on that drive with carries of 9, 9 and 11 - with only one tackle-for-loss.  Davis had one carry for 4 that series. But we can set that aside for a bit.

After the score, Matty Mauk wakes up and leads a beautiful drive for Mizzou - 68 yards in :36 seconds, to leave 6:49 on the clock to make it 20-14.

So here we are.  We have the lead.  We need to chew up the clock.  After a touchback, we run Davis - no gain. Complete a short pass to Wilds for 2; and another to Busta Anderson for 2.   That three-and-out cost us the game.   Allowing a 22 punt return hurt, too.  But we had to convert.  We didn't.  The Defense played a decent game most of the night, but our vaunted offense did not deliver.

That second three-and-out cost us the game.  The O needed to deliver.  We looked anemic out there and we abandoned the run.  On our last possession -  a desperation-time 2:00 min drill - looked awful, too.  Game over.

Kentucky

With the ball at the start of the 4th, we score what should have been that game's back-breaker on a Mike Davis TD run with 11:45 to go and a 38-24 lead.   Then we get the first taste of the JoJo Kemp 4th Quarter show, in which we play the role of the keystone cops.

On our next series, after a piddlin Shon Carson KO return, we get a first down with Mike Davis after a 13 yard gain. We then run Shon Carson for gains of 5 and 2.   Not sure why we have Shon in their for more than a breather for Davis.  Inexplicably though, we throw on third down.   We had been gashing the Cats on the run.   The drive stalls.  Four plays, 21 yards, 2:04 off the clock.  That's it.

JoJo scores again - with 2:46 to knot it up.   We get the ball back after another weak return by Carson (15 yards). Shades of Mizzou, our last two offensive series - desperation time - look bloody awful. Pass - incomplete.  Pass - INT for 6 and the UK lead.  Carson KO return (17 yards). More passing but we're behind and its too late.

Tennessee

You saw it last night.  The Wilds run should have been the back-breaker.  Then the Vols answered.

The game is totally in doubt.  Pharoh kills the onside.  Looks like we will escape with a 42-35 win with 1:50! All we have to do is convert.

Two runs by Davis, six yards.  Makes sense - we are forcing UT to eat up timeouts.  It's 3 and 4 with 1:33 and we are on their 37.  A few more yards and we either have a fourth and short or can try a FG into the windy north.   We run a pass play, instead.   Dylan is immediately sacked (and fouled by the unsportsmanlike UT line but no whistle - typical).

As I said in the comments, the D should have held.  They didn't.   But we should have run Wilds - or Davis again. We had to have that conversion.

Note that in OT, the defense stiffened and held the Vols to a FG.  Out comes the USC offense and its another clown-show final possession - just like UK.  Just like Mizzou.

***

So, yes, I am second-guessing a Hall of Famer.   But in three games our penultimate offensive possession with the lead comes down to a critical third down (and short yardage against both the Cats and Vols).  We have great RBs and an OL that seems to be better run blocking than pass blocking.  We also have a streaky QB with a penchant for 4th quarter turnovers and sacks.

Three times, we only need a first down to salt the game away.  Three times we could put the ball in the hands of Davis or Wilds.  Three times we call pass on third despite the fact our run game has been producing big-time.

If the HBC wants to fire Coach Ward, fine.  We will take a huge blow in recruiting, but I am resigned to that anyway at this point.  But the Visor needs to look in the mirror, too.   Big offensive numbers are great.  But when push-came-to-shove are you happy with the playcalling on these three drives?

I didn't think so.