Sunday, September 21, 2008

The GBU: Queen's football vs. Toronto

Breaking down Queen’s win over the University of Toronto Varsity Blues Saturday [myself, Out of Left Field] (which you may have missed while pondering UBC’s stunning loss to Regina [Neate Sager, Out of Left Field] ... UBC now stands for Unbelievably Bad Clock management in my mind)...

The score: Queen’s 58, U of T 14

How I saw it: In person (live blog can be found here): yes, I went to Toronto just to see this one

The Good:

- Running back and all-around superstar Mike “The Giffinator” Giffin:
Giffin ran for a career-high 215 yards 212 yards [see this post for explanation] on 16 carries despite being pulled after the third quarter. He got 4 or so yards on almost every run, which is respectable, and pulled away for some huge ones as well. He also picked up two rushing touchdowns and his 15th-straight game of 100-plus rushing yards. 189 of his rushing yards came in the first half, as he only got three carries in the third quarter. Giffin leads all CIS players with 687 rushing yards. Bishop’s star Jamall Leeis in second with 584 yards, but he has played one less game, so he could still catch up.

-Quarterback Dan Brannagan: It wasn’t an exceptional day for Brannagan, but a good one nonetheless. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns, despite being picked off twice. Most impressive, though, were his efforts of the scramble: there were several times where either Toronto linemen broke through and forced him to take off and run or the Blues’ defensive coverage meant he had no receivers to throw to, and he looked more mobile than I’ve ever seen him be, picking up 29 yards and two rushing touchdowns on five carries. Brannagan leads all CIS quarterbacks with 1404 passing yards.

-Wide receiver Blaise Morrison: It seems like a different receiver’s been stepping up into the spotlight every week for the Gaels, and Satuday was no exception. Morrison led the team with 6 catches for 121 yards, some of them extremely difficult. There was one ball in particular where he made an impressive catch on a dive right at the sideline. Morrison said afterwards that there was more space for him because the defence was focusing on shutting down Scott Valberg, which is probably the case after Valberg’s 192-yard game last week. Four different receivers (Morrison, Valberg Scott Stinson and Chris Ioannides) have had games with at least 100 receiving yards, which is a good sign. That will make it difficult for defences to shut the passing attack down entirely: if they focus on one guy, someone else will step up.

-Defensive tackle Dee Sterling: Despite Toronto’s line being focused on containing him after he racked up a Queen’s-record five solo sacks last week, Sterling added another sack and brought pressure on Toronto quarterbacks David Hamilton and Mark Stinson all day. He now leads all CIS players with six solo sacks and one assisted sack. The attention he drew also opened holes for fellow line members like Neil Puffer and Osie Ukwuoma, who also threatened all day.

-Defensive back David Rooney: Rooney doesn’t play a lot normally, but he had a great day Saturday, leading the team with seven solo tackles and adding a pass breakup and a sack. Good to see him step up.

-Backup quarterback Jansen Shrubb: Shrubb came into the game late and did very well, completing six of eight passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. It’s always a good thing when your backups look capable: he’s no Brannagan, but he can run this offence quite well.

The Bad:

-Mark Stinson: The Blues’ standout did everything for them, spending time at (at least) fullback, wide receiver, quarterback and punter. He was one of their most effective players all day, running nine times for 37 yards and going one-for-three through the air for a 12-yard pickup. He also should have had credit for a long touchdown pass (see next entry).

-The Blues’ trick plays: Toronto ran several trick plays quite effectively. The most impressive was an early halfback pass, where Hamilton handed the ball to Stinson, who did a good job of faking an outside run. Queen’s secondary was completely fooled and they stepped up, leaving Drew Meerveld wide open for a bomb pass. Meerveld caught Stinson’s pass easily and strolled into the end zone, but the play came back on a holding call (quite unnecessary, as Stinson would have had plenty of time without it). The Gaels’ defence might need to work on trying to pick up these kinds of plays better.

The Ugly:

-Devan Sheahan’s drops: First of all, any nepotism charges (Sheahan is the son of Queen’s head coach Pat Sheahan) are completely unfounded. Devan is a talented receiver, and he’s showcased a lot of speed and an ability to get open that makes him deserving of a continued starting role. Still, his continued drops are getting ridiculous. He wound up with three catches for 31 yards, quite respectable, but he should have had five or six. He created plenty of space against the Blues’ secondary, but just didn’t seem to be able to reel the ball in consistently even when he was completely open, which has unfortunately been a feature of his play this year. Perhaps he’s thinking too much about what to do with the ball and not focusing enough on merely making the catch. He’s got a lot of potential and he could be very good, but he just needs to get more consistent: otherwise, he’ll get less and less chances to make plays if he can’t be relied upon.

-The pronunciations: Toronto’s game-day announcer is quite good overall, and his calls are usually quite accurate and very clear. However, there were a couple of instances where he absolutely butchered some Queen’s players’ names, including Osie Ukwuoma (who he called O-see Osicwoma). It’s a tough job to do and I’d probably be worse, but that wasn’t even close to even a phonetic attempt.

The Reactions:

Wide receiver Blaise Morrison:

Stat line: Six catches for a game-high 121 yards, longest catch for 37 yards

On maintaining focus for this game, despite Western coming up next week:
“The coaches prepared us really well this week, making sure all our focus was on this week’s game.”

On slow starts: “That’s just the way it’s been going this season.”

On Valberg creating room for the rest of the receivers: “After the game Scott Valberg had last week, obviously they’re going to pay a bit more attention to him, so it opens up all the other guys.”

On Western: “We’ve got a week to prepare now, and we’re really excited about this game.”

Defensive lineman Neil Puffer:

Stat line: One sack, two solo tackles

On the expectations placed on the team: “There was a fair bit of pressure on us. Everyone expected us to win, everyone expected us to be perfect.”

On improvement: “We`re not terribly excited about our game today because it didn`t meet our standards for this sort of game. ... We`ve just got to tighten up the loose ends.”

On key things to work on: “We had a couple fumbles, and the trick plays that they were running on us, they got a lot of mileage from. We need to have our heads wrapped around those and know when they`re coming. That`s pretty much it, but we just need to stick to fundamental football.”

On if Dee Sterling`s performance last week opened holes for him:
“He certainly attracted a lot of attention, and if guys are double- and triple-teaming him, it frees me up for a one on one.”

On Western: “It couldn’t get much better than this, a rematch of how things ended last year in the playoffs, and on Homecoming on national TV, and in this case, it’s a battle of the undefeated. ... It’s going to be a good football game, and I’m really excited for it.”

On what they’ll have to do differently from last year’s playoff loss: “We were a step behind all last year’s game. ... They just beat us. They came out, outschemed us, out played us, played with more heart. We’re just going to have to be perfect.”

Halfback/kick returner Jimmy Allin:

Stat line:
One solo tackle, one breakup, five punt returns for 90 yards and two kick returns for 27 yards.

On how far U of T has come: “U of T’s obviously a much-improved team. They’ve got some great athletes.”

On what to improve: “Everything. We need to work on everything, we need to get better. We’ve got a big game coming up this week, and we’ll need to play well if we want to win.”

On facing Western: “We need to focus on what we do best. We’re all confident, we’ll all prepare like we always do, and hopefully it comes out for us.”

On if he thinks there will be a good crowd: “We hope so. Homecoming, we always look forward to it because the stadium’s always packed and we’ll hopefully put on a good show.”

On if he thinks his reputation as a returner is causing teams to kick away from him the way Toronto did most of the day: “I hope not. You always like to get a chance, but it’s like last game, they kicked to Jimmy (Therrien) a lot and he did an amazing job, so you can’t really take away our returns. We have two good returners, and guys are doing a great job of blocking for them.”

Quarterback Dan Brannagan:

Stat line: 13 for 22 for 241 yards, three passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns, two interceptions.

On if the team met their goals against U of T: “I think overall there’s a lot of room for improvement, but the ultimate goal, the goal every week is to get a win, and we did that.”

On what’s causing the slow starts: “I’m not too sure. I guess it takes us a while to get going, but it’s something we can work on in the second half of the season.”

On if Giffin’s stellar performance on the ground opened up passing lanes in the second half:
“Definitely. All year long, I think that’s been the case. It definitely helps to have him in the backfield, and teams have to respect that and bring guys up. When you have to gang-tackle a big running back like that, it means less guys in double coverage.”

On his own scrambling performance: “Going into the game, I wouldn’t have predicted that, but it just gets to the point where you have to take what the defence is giving you if they’re going to drop a lot of guys into coverage. I think it’s something they weren’t expecting, so I think I kind of caught them off guard a little.”

On what to improve: “It’s just a matter of execution. We have great players and great plays, it’s just a matter of going out there and being confident, making sure that we’re going out there and fully executing every play.”

On if there’s a desire for revenge against Western after last year’s playoff loss: “It’s not really on my mind. You’re always trying to look forward and not look backwards. It’s a different team and a new season.”

Head coach Pat Sheahan:

On the game overall: “I’m pleased with the win, but I think that we’re still not a hundred per cent polished. We still have a few areas that we can improve on, and my hope is with each passing week, we’re going to gain a measure of consistency and improve our execution. ... Maybe I’m becoming too hard to please, I don’t know. It was a good win, and we want to be better, that’s all.”

On the slow starts: “I think standard practice in football is to do some things early in the game. You unveil your plan, you set your formation, see how they play you. You’d like things to go a little better than perhaps they did today in the early going. ... Being a slow-starting team doesn’t worry me, as we’re a big finishing team. I think we’ve outscored our opponents in the second half of most games, if not all of them.”

On Morrison: “I thought the contribution of Blaise Morrison today was very good. Each week, we kind of have a new hero stepping up. ... The new face that seemed to rise to the occasion was Blaise Morrison.”

On Mike Giffin breaking his career-high mark of 214 rushing yards (Giffin finished with 215 212 [see this post for explanation] yards, and was pulled after the third quarter): “For the number of carries he got, I thought his numbers were good today. ... At times, they shut him up pretty good. I’m afraid with him today, it was kind of feast or famine: he either made a great play or they did a pretty good job on him. With a great runner, when they come in with the plan that they’re going to stack up on the running game, sometimes it works. He just kept at it, he was very determined, he was fired up about having a big game today and he did.”

On other strong performances: “ Valberg was solid today, I thought he made a couple of great big plays. I thought Danny (Brannagan) was pretty good.”

On the injuries to linebacker T.J. Leeper and Kyle MacDonald: “I don’t think it’s anything serious. MacDonald, I think he went down just to give the defence a breather. T.J. Leeper, it’s an ongoing thing, but he could have come back and played today if he had to.”

On Western next week: “There’s a lot of preparation work that needs to be done. I think we have to look at them a whole lot closer. We didn’t look at them this week, we didn’t talk about them, we didn’t even mention them, which was a challenge in itself for our team, knowing that this one was looming large. Anyway, this is a game to get excited about, and it should be a good one.”

What’s on tap:
Next week should be the regular-season game of the year. It’s Queen’s versus Western, a heated rivalry even when the teams aren’t competitive. Throw in that both teams are 4-0 and ranked in the Top 5, that Queen’s lost to Western last year in the playoffs and that the game’s being televised nationally on The Score’s University Rush, and this gets even bigger. Oh, and the little ritual known as Queen’s Homecoming is involved too. Should be a hell of a match, and I’ll be there and hopefully live-blogging away! Look for a full preview of the game here Friday and in Friday’s Journal as well.

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