Each year I go into the season with hope that writing these report cards can stay interesting and fun through all 12 (maybe 13 someday) games. Each year I end up being wrong. Once again, it appears that F might be the most common grade assigned to the football team. I tend to be an optimistic person but wow. It's just impossible to muster a positive outlook for the program these days. At any rate, let's trudge through Saturday's performance, shall we?
Quarterbacks - F
While Cozart did display the speed and athleticism we hear about on a few plays, that's just about where the positives end for him. He finished the day completing just 11 of 27 passes, and I can't even guess how many of those 16 incompletions were throwaways where he just gave up while running toward the sideline. Yes, his protection was subpar, but he didn't help his cause any by taking off the second he realized his first option wasn't open. He routinely fled the pocket, electing to either throw to a covered receiver on the run, or just give up and chuck the ball out of bounds. On several occasions he had room to cut it upfield and pick up a meaningful gain, but it seems he has it in his head that if it's a pass play, he wants to throw the ball - even if that means throwing it away. Cozart still looked like a true freshman who wasn't comfortable with the position, and that's a very discouraging sign moving forward
Running Backs - C
Avery and Mann did what they could with what they were given Saturday. Each would finish with 5.4 ypc averages, with 87 and 65 total yards, respectively. These guys have both impressed me in the first two weeks, and it's really a shame the line can't consistently open up any space for them. Corey Avery whiffed on a block in the 4th quarter that just about got Cozart broken in half, but few true freshman running backs know how to properly pick up a blitz, so that doesn't concern me too much right now
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - D
This box score reads just like what we've seen the last two years in Lawrence. Our receivers combined for 9 catches, picking up just 51 yards. While Cozart did not put the receivers in position to succeed, it should be noted that they also weren't getting much separation against what looked like a pretty unimpressive Duke secondary. We know guys like Harwell, King and Pierson can be productive at this level, so clearly we still have something wrong with our offensive coaching. And Warden would be upset if I didn't mention Tony Pierson getting the ball just twice. Even with the new look and OC, could Charlie Weis' fingerprints still be smudging the offense?
Offensive Line - F
Even if Cozart didn't use it properly, he did have a pocket to work with on many of his pass plays. The problem is that it wasn't consistent enough, and didn't hold up long enough. The line was pushed back on too many run plays, resulting in too many 2 and 3 yard pickups. A lot of the offense's problems can be attributed to the poor play of Cozart, but they started up front
Defensive Line - F
No push whatsoever. While Keon Stowers generally holds his ground, Goodman isn't cut out for the role of occupying blockers, and Bolton is basically a ghost on the field. One bright spot here was TJ Semke, who came up with 6 tackles from the DT spot, but this unit wasn't doing its job Saturday and it made things tough for the back seven
Linebackers - C
While Heeney and Love were able to put up nice tackle numbers, they were caught straying from their lanes on a couple of backbreaking long run plays. It looks to me like they're trying to do too much and as a linebacker in this system, that does more harm than good. Michael Reynolds was a non-factor at the BUCK and Victor Simmons was repeatedly caught out of position (I liked him far more in the nickel spot last year). Overall the linebackers racked up a bunch of tackles, and generally did what they could around Duke's blockers getting to the second level, but it was not an impressive performance
Secondary - C+
The defense allowed just 180 passing yards on 33 attempts for a very respectable 5.5 ypa average. What scares me is how much worse it could have been. Duke had clearly seen the SEMO tape, and wisely attempted several deep passes where Matthew Boateng was isolated in a one-on-one situation. Fortunately, none of these passes were on target, because Boateng was getting beat bad. I'm not writing off Boateng just yet, because teams did the same thing to Jacorey Shepherd two years ago when he was adjusting to the position, but for right now we probably need to make sure he has safety help on deep routes. Speaking of safeties, they must have left their tackling shoes back in Lawrence for this one. Johnson and Sendish both had instances of poor form, both resulting in big offensive plays.
Overall though, McDonald looked very good and Shepherd was respectable. At the end of the day, despite Boone having all day to throw, Duke was limited to 58% passing and fewer than 200 yards. With the respectable group of receivers they have available, I'll take that
Special Teams - C+
When one field goal gets blocked in week one, you look past it. When it happens again in week two, from the same side, it has to be considered cause for concern. The good news is that outside of that, the special teams units played pretty well. Wyman made his only unblocked field goal attempt from 34 yards, and Pardula was able to maintain a 51.8 yard average over 8 punts (with a 72 yard(!) long). The other low point for special teams was surrendering a 45 yard punt return, but Jacorey Shepherd was able to set Kansas up with pretty good field position following a nice 31 yard kick return of his own
Overall - F
The defense and special teams nearly brought this up to a D- for me, but totality of what happened in Durham deserves an F, plain and simple. We failed to move the ball against a mediocre-at-best defense (this game actually improved Duke's season defensive numbers), and our bend-but-don't-break defense broke several times, resulting in a disaster. If the play in the trenches and at quarterback doesn't come along quickly, this team is unlikely to do any better than 2-10 (and 1-11 is very much in play)