Sunday, September 28, 2008

The GBU: Queen's football versus Western

Breaking down Queen's win over Western [myself, Queen's Journal]...

The score: Queen's 46, Western 13.

How I saw it: In person.

The Good:

-Queen's defensive line: The Gaels put tremendous amounts of pressure on Western quarterback Michael Faulds all day long, sacking him four times and forcing him to throw the ball away several other times. Dee Sterling and Osie Ukwuoma were particularly effective, recording one sack each and seven solo tackles between the two of them. I particularly liked Neate's take, evoking memories of Grantland Rice: You could almost write of the Queen's D line, "In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Osie Ukwuoma, Kyle MacDonald, Dee Sterling, and Neil Puffer and they formed the crest of the Kingston cyclone."

-The turnover ratio: Queen's forced 11 Western turnovers (four interceptions, three fumble recoveries and four more turnovers on downs, I believe) during the game while refusing to concede a single one. Always good to see that kind of a turnover ratio.

-The fake field goals: The Gaels twice employed a fake field goal to brilliant effect, first picking up an early first down off a Jimmy Therrien bootleg and then getting another crucial first down in response to Western's threat in the fourth quarter. The second one was particularly impressive, given that they were already leading by nine points: many coaches would have just gone for the long field goal attempt, but Jimmy Allin faked a hold and made a tremendous run outside to get 20 yards or so, which eventually led to an important touchdown.

-Alex DaPrato: DaPrato had a tremendous game on several fronts. He was effective in coverage all day, recording five solo tackles and several breakups. More impressive still was his crucial pick in the second quarter near the Gaels' end zone, which he then returned 96 yards to set up Mike Giffin for an easy touchdown plunge on the next offensive series. His play was the difference between a narrow 9-8 lead and a dominating 17-1 margin, huge in terms of momentum.

-The linebacking corps: Thaine Carter, Chris Smith and T.J. Leeper were a dominant unit all day, holding Western running back John Leckie to just 44 yards on 12 carries and getting through to put several big hits on Faulds.

The Bad:

-Western's offence: The Mustangs put up some very impressive offensive numbers Saturday despite the loss, picking up 33 first downs and 510 total yards of offence. They were ineffective in the red zone, but some of their close-in fumbles and turnovers were just gifts. They also spent 46 minutes with the ball, which is far too much for comfort from a Queen's perspective. The Gaels did a good job of restricting their big plays and shutting them down near the end zone, but there's still room for improvement.

-Queen's running game: Western did a tremendous job of shutting down Giffin for most of the game. In fact, if not for a 29-yard touchdown run in the last couple minutes, Giffin would have been held to just 40 yards on the day. His streak of 14 straight 100-plus rushing yard games came to an end. It's not all Giffin's fault: Western was clearly keying on him most of the day and stacking linebackers inside to stop the run, and the horribly muddy field certainly didn't help. I think Giffin is a bit misrepresented as a power back: he's got some good power, but his real strength comes from his ability to read the play and make quick lateral cuts, which is obviously more difficult on a slippery field. He still was effective on shorter runs and punched in three touchdowns, but this game showed that he can be contained with the proper defence and weather, which may be a concern going forward.

The Ugly:

-The on-field vandalism: Some RMC students apparently broke into Richardson Stadium Friday night and burned their school's initials into the centre of the field. Classy move, cadets. It was an eyesore and a half, but the bigger problem was this meant even more mud around midfield, which wasn't good for the game.

-Devan Sheahan's drops: This wasn't entirely Devan, as the rest of the receivers dropped some reasonably easy catches as well, but he was the most prominent suspect. Again, he showed plenty of promise on running routes and getting open, but he didn't seem to be able to reel much of anything in, only making three catches for 19 yards.

-Queen's offensive numbers: The Gaels didn't put on an offensive clinic, finishing with just 295 net yards of offence and 18 first downs. As mentioned, Western shut down the run early, but Queen's was only able to achieve marginal success on the pass. Quarterback Dan Brannagan completed 16 of 36 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers could have been better if his receivers had pulled in some catches, but there were still plenty of times when he overthrew or underthrew them. On the plus side, he was composed in the pocket and didn't try to force too many throws, avoiding interceptions in the process. That's good to see, even if the completions and yards numbers weren't as high as normal.

-Western's long-snapping: Initial Western long-snapper Conor Elliott botched his first two snaps, sending them both a mile over the head of Western kicker Daryl Wheeler. The first led to a safety, the second to a forced fumble and a Queen's touchdown, giving the Gaels a 9-0 lead. Elliott was relieved of his snapping duties after the second mistake.

The Reaction:

Alex DaPrato, Queen's defensive back:

-On what it was like to get revenge on Western: "It's unbelievable. These guys have been consistently the biggest rival we've had."

-On the impact of his interception: "Everyone got pretty pumped up afterwards."

-On the amount of time the defence had to spend on the field, and if they were getting fatigued: "There were a few of us who were getting pretty tired."

Jimmy Allin, Queen's defensive back:

-On if he was concerned with the early offensive struggles: "No, our offence is just way too good to be held down forever."

-On if he was nervous or excited to get the chance on the second fake field goal attempt: "I think everyone on the team wants the ball in their hands."

Dan Brannagan, Queen's quarterback:

-On the impact of the field conditions: "Everyone would like ideal conditions all the time, but it doesn't happen. ... It's not really an issue."

-On if the passing game was harder to get going than normal due to the running game being shut down: "This is a team game, and if one aspect of the team doesn't play as well as you expect, you have to adjust."

-On if he was disappointed with the offence's play: "Our defence was awesome, our special teams were awesome. As long as we're getting the wins, it doesn't matter where we're getting the wins from, [but] as an offence, it's a little unsettling. You don't want to be loafing."

Pat Sheahan, Queen's head coach:

-On Queen's defensive play: "Unbelievable defence today. ... It was more slow 'em down, bend but don't break."

-On Queen's offence: "We didn't move the ball well on offence all day."

-On Faulds and Western's offence: "They've got a very prolific offence. ... He's a very good quarterback, and their kids caught the ball."

-On what Queen's had to do to stop Western: "This week was a huge challenge for the defence. To their credit, they were fired up. ... They fought them for every inch."
-On the impact of DaPrato's pick: "The DaPrato interception there where it's 9-1, in my mind, that's the TSN Turning Point."

-On the importance of the turnovers: "All those turnovers we got today had a major impact. Almost every one had ramifications."

-On how the rain affected the defensive line, particularly in the second half: "We're very athletic on the defensive front, and one of the concerns about the mud out there is we lose some of our mobility."

-On the importance of the fake field goals to the team's motivation: "They were timely, they were explosion plays. They shook everyone up and they elevated the psyche."

-On why they chose to go for the second fake field goal after their offence stalled, and why Western wasn't expecting it: "We needed something. Oftentimes, when you see a fake kick in a ball game, you never see another one."

Greg Marshall, Western head coach

-On the problems they had early on: "We kind of dug ourselves a pretty big hole in the first half. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong."

-On how it was disappointing to see Michael Faulds, who had been so effective on third and short situations, stopped by Queen's defence on third down with less than a yard to go early in the fourth quarter, setting up a decisive drive for the Gaels: "That's disheartening a bit that we were on third and one with a chance to win the football game and we couldn't get it done."

On how his defence should have read the second fake field goal attempt: "There was no way they were going for a field goal. A field goal didn't give them anything." (A good point: a field goal there would have merely made it a two-TD game instead of a two-possession game, whereas the touchdown made it a three-possession game).

On the importance of the trench war: "Most games are won and lost on the offensive/defensive line."

On the impact of Dee Sterling (98) and Osie Ukwuoma (91): "98 and 91 there didn't surprise us. I knew what they could do. ... We worked on blocking Dee Sterling all week, but seeing him live is different than watching him on tape."

On how his team never gave in: "The one thing I thought our guys were doing was they were battling, they were fighting. When you put that kind of effort in and you try and you still lose, that's disappointing."

On why he went for it on third and long so much in the final half: "I don't care if we lose by 100 points. I never do. ... We're not going to win the game by punting the football away. ... All I want our guys to always think about is keeping trying to win."
[Note: I thoroughly approve of this strategy. Too many coaches are overly concerned with keeping the scores close these days rather than throwing caution to the wind in an attempt to earn the W. ESPN's Gregg Easterbrook had a great column on this a little while ago, and I think he'd love Marshall's strategy.]

On what he liked from the game: "If there was a bright spot in today's game, it was the play of our defence."
[Note: An interesting statement for a team that gave up 46 points, but most of those were off atrocious field position picked up off of turnovers. If you look at yardage and first downs, Western's defence did amazingly well against a powerful Queen's offence.]

On how there's still plenty of hope for the Mustangs: "We still have an opportunity to get first place or second place. We still have an opportunity to win the Yates Cup."

On what they'd do differently against the Gaels next time on the offensive line: "We'd better get our pass protection schemes where there's a little more simplicity, a little less complexity and focus on their big guys. ... Instead of trying to double [team] one guy, we'd double a couple guys."

On what they'd do differently in the running game: "We have to use different guys, bite the bullet and say maybe we need to run the ball better [instead of switching to a pass-first offence like they did Saturday]."

On how they'd need to give their defence better field position: "We've got to hold the ball better. We can't have our long-snapper fire the ball over our punter's head a couple of times. ... We put our defence in bad situations."

On how the real test will come if they face Queen's again in the playoffs: "They have Round One, but Round Two is worth all the marbles."


  1. The Ugly: Queen's Athletics release for the CIS where Sheahan said "the turning point"

  2. Anonymous4:40 AM

    Not burned, but spray painted on to the field. Thanks for the honorable mention, pal.

  3. Thanks for not spelling "honourable" the Canadian way, anonymous.