Saturday, October 11, 2008

Campus Corner: A big win for Queen's

Today's 38-16 win over Ottawa [Mike Grobe,] was very impressive (go here for Neate's excellent live-blog of the action). The score doesn't really reflect how absolutely dominant the Gaels were: they led 31-0 at halftime, and didn't seem to be trying particularly hard to pad their stats in the second half. That's a great result against an talented Ottawa team. Sure, the Gee-Gees have struggled on the gridiron this year (today's loss drops them to 3-4), but their talent is immense. All five entrants in our CIS Blog prediction pool had Ottawa finishing first in Ontario before the season began, and three out of the four sets of playoff predictions had them winning the Yates Cup as well. Yes, the Gee-Gees haven't lived up to their potential, but this was still a squad that could have posed a lot of problems for Queen's (as partially demonstrated by their third-quarter resurgence). It's not just the win that's important: the way it happened, with the game all-but-decided shortly after the opening kickoff, speaks volumes for the quality of this Gaels' side.

Another impressive element of this match was how the Gaels won without a huge contribution from Mike Giffin. Giffin ran for a respectable-but-not-dominant 72 yards on 21 carries [OUA box score], but the real offence came through the air. Quarterback Dan Brannagan completed 21 of his 33 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns, and moved past Tom Dennison for the most passing yards in school history in the process. Brannagan was picked twice as well, but according to Neate, it looks like one of those interceptions may have come from Giffin bobbling a pass. He spread the ball around as well, as both Scott Valberg and Devan Sheahan finished with over 100 yards receiving (131 and 114 yards on six and five catches respectively). It was great to see Sheahan make some big plays: as I've mentioned earlier this year, he's been doing everything right but reeling the ball in, so it's good to see him put up the numbers. All in all, a very impressive day for the passing offence.

The defence was also tremendous, holding Ottawa to 273 total yards on the day (and just 71 in the first half). A lot of the media coverage of Queen's so far has focused on the offence, which can be easy to do: the stats are more readily available, easier to interpret and easier to explain to an audience. Still, in my mind at least, it's really the defence that's been the biggest factor to this point. Queen's has a tremendous offence, but the field position they gain from defensive stops and special-teams returns has given the Gaels a sizeable edge when they have the ball, and that's partly the cause of the increased offensive production we've seen this year.

Another nice thing to see was the quick start. Last year, Queen's would often play poorly in the first couple of quarters and win games with come-from-behind, last-minute drives. This year, they have been scoring early and often, which bodes well for the playoffs. Points are just as valuable whenever you score them, but there's a decided momentum advantage from a big halftime lead: you force the opponent into gambling for big plays, which is a high-risk, high-reward strategy.

One remaining concern is the third quarter, which was pretty similar to what happened against Western earlier this year. In both cases, Queen's went into halftime with a huge lead, but came out flat after the break and the opponent took advantage. This was less frightening than the Western game, given the larger lead Queen's had in the first place, but it might still be a problem that could hurt the Gaels down the road. Thus far, they've done a great job of coming out of the gate with focus and refusing to underestimate or overestimate their opponent. They need to work on maintaining that momentum and focus after halftime, though, and that's something that could be crucial in the playoffs. Strange things happen in football, particularly at the CIS level, and these leads may not be safe in the future if the Gaels choose to take the third quarter off.

It's tough to tell what to take from this one. Yes, it's a very impressive win over a highly-touted Gee-Gees team, and it's probably the most competitive game the Gaels have played other than the match against Western (which was a bit wider in score, but was much closer than this one in reality). Still, Ottawa's in a bit of a tailspin: they've now lost three in a row, and may not even crack the playoffs. If they get in, there will be plenty of OUA teams that won't want to run against them, but a win over them in Week Seven doesn't mean as much as it would have in Week One, given their recent performance.

The Gaels will really have to keep that focus and intensity over the next couple of weeks. They're still ranked second in the country, which could go to their heads. Moreover, they have what's almost a walkover game against Waterloo next week and then a first-round playoff bye. They'll be huge favorites in the second round, but they'll have to be careful: I've got a sneaking suspicion that teams like Laurier and McMaster are better than the way they played against Queen's, and the "Nobody believes in us" factor (trademark of Bill Simmons) may give them an extra edge. Optimism and credit are both deserved from the Gaels' performance thus far, but there's still a long way to go before Queen's can claim the Yates Cup, and no one should even consider the Vanier until that milestone is reached.

No comments:

Post a Comment