Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Benoit Groulx is an absolute magician

(Apologies to Sean Keeley for the blatant title theft...)

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Saturday's Vanier Cup game was the play of Laval quarterback Benoit Groulx. I came in expecting him to be good, but not great. Yes, he put up some tremendous passing numbers, especially in completions, but that's in a conference where Matt Connell can become the all-time leading passer in CIS history. Laval's West Coast-style offence, filled with quick, short passes, also certainly played a part. It's also difficult to compare players across different conferences solely on a stats basis when they play different opposition and in different offensive systems, and I didn't get to see Laval this year, so it was tough to learn much about how they played.

I wasn't even entirely convinced that Groulx had a big advantage over Western quarterback Michael Faulds (who I still think is rather underrated; he led the league in passing yards with impressive rate stats as well but couldn't crack the All-Canadian lineup, falling behind Groulx and Dan Brannagan). Thus, I figured Groulx was good, but I wasn't sure if he could live up to his Hec Creighton selection.

He proved me wrong, though. Yes, the system helps, and the outstanding array of receivers helps, but Groulx is an incredible quarterback. He's got a hell of an arm, too; the key evidence for that was the 40-yardish bullet pass he threw that hit Julian Feoli-Gudino right on the hands in full stride and resulted in an 82-yard touchdown, the second-longest in Vanier history. For my live-blog description of the play, go here and scroll down to 2:33 left in the second quarter. That's one of the best throws I have ever seen at any level of football; he threw it with the cannon arm of a Michael Bishop, but the placement of a Tom Brady, and his receiver didn't have to adjust at all to make the catch.

Even more impresive than the long throw was Groulx's decision-making. I don't think I noticed a bad read on his part all day. He hung on to the ball instead of throwing it into a situation where it was likely to get picked, which is why he took four sacks, but I'd much rather see that than interceptions, and Laval was usually able to make up the lost ground on the next down. He also spread the ball out; receivers Feoli-Gudino and Mathieu Bouvette both finished with over 100 yards (on only four and two catches respectively), while Mathieu Picard picked up 72 yards and five other players caught passes. Groulx and Laval's play-calling staff did a great job of alternating between all kinds of routes; there were screen passes to running back Sebastien Levesque, crossing routes over the middle and deep runs down the sideline, so Western never knew what was coming.

Groulx's final numbers (17 for 27, 383 yards and two TDs) are impressive, but nowhere near as high as they could be. In the third quarter, Laval went away from the pass and started running on almost every play, perhaps to try and keep the score respectable. Most of those passing numbers are thus from the first half. If they had kept airing it out, they likely would have broken several more records, and Groulx's magical abilities would have been even more evident. He's fourth-year, so there's a good chance he'll be back with the Rouge et Or next season. The rest of Canada should watch out.

1 comment:

  1. Groulx has mad game! But after his CIS career, then what? Its a sobering question facing too many of our top university football players.