It was the best of time, it was the blurst of times.
I have been trying to encapsule what went on Friday and that was the by far the most fitting thing I could think of. Yes Rider football is back. The euphoric highs, the soul crushing lows, the unhealthy heart palpitations and stress levels. Its all back it we managed to cram in all into the first game.
It was pretty awesome to hear that stadium roar again.
Offensively the first 3 drives were perfection. Balanced attack, spread the ball around, quick strikes. All of it left the BC defense just helpless. If that’s what a Mass/Fajardo offense can be then there is very good reason for excitement. Unfortunately the O was apparently so pleased with their effort in the first quarter and half that they took the remainder of the game off. They did nothing, literally. There are many reasons you could point to: fatigue, getting complacent with a big lead but the concerning one for me was our absolute refusal to run the ball. In those first few drives we had the right mix of the run game and Powell was chewing up yards. It looked really good. Now most people who know anything about football would know that a good way to nurse a big lead is to run the ball. Apparently that concept is as foreign around here as imposing any kind of health restrictions. We ran 18 times in the first half. Great! Do you know how many times we ran the ball in the second half? I’ll give you a hint, I could count it on my wang (I won't, but I could). One! One solitary run in the second half and it came with under 2 minutes left in the game. We abandoned the run for all of the 3rd and most of the 4th. BC clearly adjusted to our short passing game and we couldn’t adjust. My guess is that our offense will settle into the middle somewhere. Not quite as good as the first quarter. Not quite as bad as the second half. I do love how we are using all our receivers. If we can get some more consistency it will make us difficult to stop.
The one thing I will give Maas credit for is calling the perfect game to hide 2 very mediocre tackles. I went back and watched the game focusing on the tackles and neither looked all that good (no surprise there). But fortunately they didn’t have to be good because the game plan didn’t ask them to do a whole lot. We saw lots of St John as an extra blocker. Lots of quick passes. Lots of motion. Maas hid our weakness well. The key going forward will be to progress because if we try and run the exact same offense next week, Hamilton (with the benefit of film) will make us pay.
Defensively, there was some things I liked and some I did not. It was tough to get a good read on our front 4 as we blitzed Rourke a ton early in the game (which was the right call). As the game wore on I was not impressed with our ability to get pressure with just 4. It was there sporadically but we need way more consistency. I thought Henry and Leonard had the best games of that group. In addition to his knockdowns and INT, Leonard got good pressure a number of times. He also was the victim of a blatant uncalled holding penalty in the 4th that led to a 26 yard gain for Lemar Durant and ultimately a TD. I also thought Lacey did good manning the middle. Run game really wasn’t a factor and he damn near had an INT.
Our secondary of all places had its struggles (when it should have been the most solid aspect of a new look D). We let Reilly dice us apart completing 70% of his passes while throwing the ugliest balls I’ve seen since that time accidentally clicked on the wrong link on the internet with his elbow that is clearly being held together with duct tape and prayers. Credit where credit is due, some of the catches by BC were just great plays by the receiver but overall the secondary underwhelmed me. Noticed Gainey in a bad way a couple times.
Fortunately for us even though we peaked way to early leading to disappointment (something I know a fair bit about), we were bailed out by the unluckiest of heroes. The first was that lucky for us the kicker Yamasaki was more like Yamasucky. A more consistent kicker could have changed the outcome of that game. The other hero, was someone I have heavily criticized over the years. Now I hate Jon Ryan singles more than probably anyone in the stadium and the fact that they get standing ovations from uneducated people who know nothing about what a punter is supposed to accomplish bothers me to no end but we needed his booming kicks and his singles in that one. (I pray this is the only time I have to write that as it makes me feel so dirty). He does seem to be aware that kicking towards the sideline is an option this year which is a big step forward. If you want something to cheer about cheer his last punt of the game where he pinned them deep.
I told you in my game preview that this would be ugly and boy was I right. But an ugly win counts the same as a decisive win so I will take it. Just please don’t get cocky. We almost blew a 31 point lead to the worst team in the West. Upcoming opponents will have better offense, better defenses, better kickers, possibly even an actual starting QB who doesn’t have a debilitating injury. We need to learn from this and continue to improve or the next game might not have a happy ending.
My voice is shot. My heart took some damage. I got to celebrate a win. I am openly criticizing our team again… man it feels good to have football back!