Last year the Dawgs finally broke the seemingly insurmountable "7-win barrier" that had been plaguing Sark for three years. With his teams, you knew what to expect for the most part. We'd always be able to run the ball, special teams were scary, his defenses would flash for most of a game but would lapse at some point, and the quarterback was going to get hit. At least in regard to the last statement, Keith Price wasn't hit as much last year ... credit to the offensive line.
With a new coaching staff comes new terms, new plays, new wrinkles here or there, and new schemes to boot. It can lead to a very confusing and frustrating off-season, and the first couple of years are always accompanied with bumps and bruises as a result.
At first, I wanted to assess each position group, so naturally I started with "offense," "defense," and "special teams." That failed because, for you constitutional law geeks out there ... the choices were over-broad. There was no way I could come up with a concise rubric for grading such large groupings, especially since, in all reality, those aren't position groups ... idea #1 was killed.
Then I thought for about a week, and nothing came to me, so I forgot about it.
Then it hit me ... just look at the bowl game from last year. So I did, and when I looked, I was not disappointed. It turns out, all I had to do was find all the different areas of the game that, for lack of a better word or three, looked way better than what I had seen up to that point. Here's my choices:
Option #1 - Kickoff Return Unit
When John Ross the Third returned that kickoff against BYU, something happened that I hadn't seen since 2007, and boy was that awesome! Think about this for a second: Tyrone Willingham had more kickoffs returned for touchdowns than Sark did ... It seemed like we were always "on the verge" of breaking one, but, sadly, that didn't happen until the first game Sark wasn't coaching.
Reasons it Will Be: We have Jeff Choate, John Ross the Third, and a ton of athletes to boot. There was an uptick in production with this unit last year, and that was without a legitimate Special Teams coach. Get ready for some fireworks this season.
Reasons it Won't Be: This is the first year with a new coach ... but that didn't seen to stop the Huskies from taking one all the way under Tui.
Option #2 - Pass Protection
I'm not putting "offensive line" here, because in run protection (granted we had Sankey last year) the Dawgs were good. I would wager that they were one of the best in the Conference/nation last year. Pass protection was another story. We've had key injuries, every year ... but so do other teams. That begs the question: WHAT GIVES?!?!?!?!?! I'll tell you what gives ... we need a better o-line coach.
I'll just assume, for the sake of keeping this article reasonably short, that every knows run blocking is easier than pass blocking. Dexter Charles summed it up great two years ago when he said, "Run blocking is easy. You just run forward and hit people." Poetry. In all reality, there's more to it than that, but hey, there's way more to pass blocking. You can't just rely on your athleticism to knock people out of the way for half a second to open a hole. You need the right moves and technique to keep some serious athletes from laying your quarterback out every time he drops back to pass the ball. You have to do it for 2 steps, 3 steps, 5 steps, or, gulp, 7 steps ... that's rough, and, frankly we've sucked at that for years.
Last year Sark mitigated the damage to Price by putting him in Pistol, or Shotgun, formations, or else by having him dump off short passes out in the flat ... (he also gave the ball to the Bishop a whole lot.) The fact still remained, however ... every time Price dropped back more than three steps, he was skittish. Blame the pass protection
Reasons it Will Be: There's nowhere but up to go with the pass protection. On top of that, it's the opinion of quite a bit of people around these parts that Chris Strausser is a gigantic upgrade to Coz.
Reasons it Won't Be: Since there's new coaches, it's entirely possible that the pass protection will remain status quo from last year. You could see a very similar approach to the offense. The best way for a layman to gauge an upgrade would simply be to look at the number of sacks. I just don't know if that number will drop much from last year.
Option #3 - Kickoff Coverage Unit
I was tempted to put safeties here, but I couldn't for one simple reason: the Stanford game.
It wasn't just that game ... any time we kicked the ball off I was worried that the other guys would take one to the house. Stanford was the best example, but I had that fear every single game. Last year we were dead last in the conference in terms of yards allowed per kickoff. We were a whole yard behind the next to last place team, Colorado. But then, when you look at the national rankings, all I can say is at least we weren't last place ... no were were way higher, like 112th ...
Reasons it Will Be: Anything will be better than 112th. We have a great special teams coach.
Reasons it Won't Be: ...
Kickoff Coverage Unit
This was easy. We might have run one back in the bowl game, but we were still third in the conference in kickoff return yards. Hands down, the biggest jump in improvement will come on the coverage unit. Take it to Vegas baby, if they have a bet like that ...