Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could...
-- Bobby Frost
Stoops Team 3.1 started by delivering on the promise of New Kentucky Football: flashes of brilliance from Boom Williams, vertical passing from Patrick Towles, thunderous Stamping from AJ. The game ended with a reversion to Old (or, perhaps, Still-Too-Present) Kentucky Football: no interest in tackling, approaching offense like your roommate in college who threw a Hail Mary every single play on Xbox, Patrick Towles' continued regression since last year's Florida game. What we're left with is a two-path, best-worse case prognostication for Stoops Team 3. Let's examine both.
Path 1 (Best Case)
Last year, Ohio State struggled in their opener against Navy and lost to a pretty bad Virginia Tech team the following week. They went on to (redacated: I can't type it). Early season games are often sloppy, riddled with inconsistencies and should be taken with a grain of salt. One game is far too small a sample size from which anything meaningful can be mined. Let us also not forget: Kentucky won the game. They stormed out of the gate. Were up 21-0. We can be simultaneously pleased with the way they started and disappointed with the way they finished; this is still a young team, and it's possible they just geared down...three quarters too early.
And those deep balls that we threw every new set of downs? Towles did connect on a few of those, and that will prove important not only during games (obvi), but also when teams prepare for Kentucky. In Game 1, we have softened coverages for weeks to come. And the ones that didn't find their targets could be chopped up to an evolving chemistry between Towles and the WRs, nothing more than a few timing kinks which will work themselves out over the course of the season.
It's important not to discount how much Stoops and Dawson were (not) willing to put on tape just yet. This could account for Boom Williams getting only ten touches, nine after he burst 75 yards down the field for a touchdown on the game's opening play. This could account for the recklessness of the playcalling, forestalling what would otherwise look to be an approach to offense most accurately characterized as "wiffle ball home run derby."
Sure, the defense ceded ground, but they only broke once in the first half, and the argument could be made that they only faltered in the second half because, due to our wiffle ball attack on offense, they had been on the field so much. Also, first games are notorious winders--see South Carolina v. Texas A&M last year.
Bottom line: Path 1 leaves a lot of room for optimism; only time will tell whether or not it's justified.
Path 2 (Worst Case)
Patrick Towles has gotten progressively worse since the Florida game last year.
His game-by-game completion percentage:
Add last night's 47%, which would have qualified as his second least accurate game since becoming the full-time starter, and that small sample size becomes regrettably suitable to identify trends.
There are several other stats which illustrate how well a quarterback is/is not playing, but I chose completion percentage because Towles's biggest problem is accuracy, and that's not easily fixed. In fact, history would suggest that it isn't fixable (see: Quinn, Brady; Cutler, Jay; Jets, New York). Go back and watch the deep balls from last night. On two that were completed, the receivers (Timmons and Baker, if memory serves), had to make adjustments while the ball was in the air. The third, the one to Garrett Johnson, was a beautifully thrown ball.
You can see why this is problematic. The Air Raid offense is predicated on getting the ball out quickly, completing short and intermediate routes at a much more efficient rate than "about half" because without the fear of the intermediate route, the fear of the deep route becomes moot.
If Towles and Dawson can't get this straightened out, then, as much as I like Towles, the time for a change could be now.
Path 2 presents far more than a QB problem, though. The defense, even in the first half, looked soft. Fast, but soft. The defensive line was particularly disappointing. There was no real pass rush to speak of, nor was there anything resassuring about the plugging of gaps. Both ULL QBs had clean pockets all night. Fortunately for Kentucky, it didn't much matter because neither QB is very good. Other than AJ Stamping a few people and Josh Forrest flying all over the place (he's really, really good), the void of physicality so evident in last year's unit was glaring. I said earlier to someone that they had no "guts." I don't mean to be so harsh, but I just can't think of another way to put it. There was no energy, no urgency, no chutzpah. Aside from that crucial three-and-out when the game was tied in the fourth quarter, the defense was worrisome. Whether this is attributable to the loss of Bud and Z is yet to be determined, but it's possible that we still don't realize how important those two, especially Bud Dupree, were to that defense, which is saying something because we realized it pretty hard.
The thing is they looked fast. They just didn't look engaged. Or interested in tackling all the time. Which is a problem because, and I've said this before, that's not something that gets corrected in-season. So, it'd be awesome if that could just be a Game 1 problem.
Bottom line: the sky is not falling, but changes need to be made now. Otherwise, we may be a little further behind schedule than we'd hoped.