FOOTBALL: Grading the Team's Performance Against NAU
(Graphic courtesy of ESPN)
After a miracle last-second “Hail Malone,” the Weber State Wildcats beat Northern Arizona 28-23 and improved to 3-0 in this spring season. We asked our panel to grade the offense, defense and special teams following the victory against the Lumberjacks.
AC: B-. The run game was strong and the pass game had its moments, like the long touchdown to Rashid Shaheed. Josh Davis averaged 8.8 yards per carry, and Randall Johnson collected another 70 yards on the ground. I think we saw too many inconsistent moments in the passing game today, and I’d have liked the ball in Davis’ hands more often. The offense gets some bonus points for that amazing big guy touchdown/trick play that ended up in Noah Atagi’s hands. The explosive potential is there. Just need more consistency.
Joe Traub: C+. The offense started with a flourish and finished with a miracle that is normally only seen in movies. It was nice to see Johnson’s mobility in his debut, but a more consistent all-around game will be vital if this team is to go far in the postseason. The turnovers were a cause for concern, especially given the fact two of them occurred deep in NAU territory. It is a rarity for this team to cough up the ball in multiple scoring opportunities within the same game. The Hail Mary showed that, no matter how rough a day a quarterback is having, he can completely flip a script with one acrobatic play. I still have no idea how Justin Malone caught that ball in an insane amount of coverage, but Wildcat fans all across the globe should be happy.
Dustin “Chappy” Chapman: A-. Probably going to be an unpopular opinion to give them this high of a grade, but context matters. Were they great? No, overall, they were not, but they had moments that were great. The first drive and TD to Shaheed was great. The second TD Hook and Lateral play was great. The Hail Mary play? Go back and look at it and see how well-executed that was (as well-executed as that type of play can be). Malone knew to be in the middle because he was going to be the tallest guy. Shaheed knew to circle to the back of the endzone to wait for a tipped ball. Johnson knew to roll out and to toss it high. There are clearly things to improve on, but I attribute a lot of that to a QB making his first start of the season. Also, fumbles need to stop.
Sean Lewis: D for 51 plays, A for the other 11 plays, which averages to a C- (yes, I did the math!). After the first two wildcat drives (10 plays, 2 TDss), my group in the stands was talking about how great the blowout was going to be. NAU had no answer for the ‘cats. For the next 51 offensive snaps, the commentary was that Johnson looked like he was thinking too hard; he was indecisive and holding on to the ball too long. This led to three second half turnovers on five drives. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that we felt that the coaches had simplified the playbook, mostly by abandoning the passing game (20/25 non-punting plays from 5:00 left in the third til 4:14 left in the fourth were runs, including 11 straight plays at one point). The Wildcats were able to escape on a miracle play, but there wasn’t much leading up to those final 2.2 seconds, including the previous two plays that made anyone in the stands believe that such a play would be even close to successful. Hopefully Bronson Barron’s injury is such that he is back soon, as when looking at him and Johnson and how the offense has done under each of them, it is clear the coaches were correct in handing Barron the keys to the offense as QB1 this spring.
AC: It was a valiant effort from the defense. The defense forced three turnovers and made some stops. They didn’t get ”home” and get as many sacks as I’d like to see, but there was a decent amount of pressure and hits on Keondre Wudtee throughout the day. Toward the end of the game, it felt like NAU was kind of having their way, though, and the defense didn’t hold on that final four-minute drive, giving NAU the lead with mere seconds remaining on the clock. More good than bad from the defense and combine that with three interceptions, I’ll roll with a B+.
Joe: B. Despite a major discrepancy in offensive snaps between the teams, the ‘Cats held strong throughout most of the game. Desmond Williams started out with an incredible one-handed interception, then “Mr. Playmaker” Preston Smith chipped in two more picks before the first half was over. When a defense is on the field for long periods at a time, big plays will occasionally happen, as was seen when Draycen Hall burst past the line for a long touchdown run. The key is to not break after bending, and Weber State did a nice job of holding the Lumberjacks to field goals on multiple occasions following strong second half drives.
Chappy: B-. Probably going to get some hate for having the defense so low, as well! Maybe I just expect too much out of them? I know that, for the second game in a row, it felt like we struggled against the run. On the last NAU drive, I kept thinking that the defense would do what they do and come up big to stop the Lumberjacks, but they did not. So I guess we’re grading on the curve with this one. We had great defensive play (looking at you, Smith and Conner Mortensen), but I wouldn’t call it dominating. Again - I probably expect too much out of this group.
Sean: B. The Lumberjacks ran 21 more plays than the Wildcats. That’s the stat. On average, the Lumberjacks ran 7.17 plays per drive, compared to the Wildcats 4.77. Those extra 2.4 plays add up on a defense. Yes, the ‘Cats gave up 238 rushing yards, but I felt that they were worn out by the end of the game. It's funny - time of possession was essentially equal for the two teams, but from the stands, it just felt that the Wildcat defense couldn’t get off of the field, while the offense couldn’t stay on the field. It seems as if the total plays had been more balanced, the defense would have had a better performance. As it was, the three first half interceptions were huge drive killers and kept the score close so that we could have the miracle ending.
AC: Any time these guys can score points, it’s a clear and obvious game changer. Shaheed’s touchdown, another two point conversion and no aspects of the kicking game allowed any big returns. On a day when the Wildcats desperately needed a spark and some points from the special teams, they delivered. This group gets an A from me.
Joe: Easy A. Special teams delivered in three major ways on Saturday: Shaheed returning yet another kick the length of the field, a two-point conversion in Jay Hill’s classic formation, and a key booming punt late in the game by Mackenzie Morgan.
Chappy: A+. The Shaheed TD plus a cool two-point conversion equals “Happy Chappy.” I kept waiting for a fake punt, and we didn’t get it because it felt like many of the fourth downs were fourth-and-long. When Weber State gets a fourth-and-manageable around midfield, watch out.
Sean: A+, if, for nothing else, there were no holding calls on the second half kickoff return.