Welcome to this week’s edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” For the next few weeks, we are going to focus on how teams performed at various positions. Up this week: offensive lines and tight ends.
As always, the Falcons are the most difficult team to evaluate. They are a triple option team that throws the ball the majority of the time, so they are not going to give up a ton of sacks. They also have the smallest offensive line in the Mountain West and have to rely on shiftiness. With that being said, they blocked well, and their tight ends and fullbacks are vital to their offensive success.
The Aggies were also hard to evaluate. Their offense plays at a blistering pace, and Jordan Love tries to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. For that reason, Love was sacked only nine times this season. Utah State also had a potent rushing attack, as Darwin Thompson and Gerold Bright ranked fourth and seventh, respectively, in the conference in rushing yards.
The Aggies also had one of the best tight ends in the conference in Dax Raymond, who will likely be an NFL tight end.
The Bulldogs offensive line battled inconsistencies; they were great in pass protection, as Marcus McMaryion was sacked only 12 times this season. However, the Bulldogs struggled to establish an efficient run game. What pushed the Bulldogs into the good category was the play of tight end Jared Rice. Rice finished the season with 55 catches for 664 yards.
I considered putting the Broncos in the ugly category. If we were only judging them on the first half of the season, they would have easily been in that category. During the first half of the season, the running game struggled, and Brett Rypien was taking a ton of vicious hits. As the season progressed, the running game improved. Rypien still took a lot of unnecessary hits, but a 1400 yard rusher will keep the Broncos out of the ugly category.
As far as tight ends go, they were essentially nonexistent in the passing game. This was really disappointing considering the numbers that Jake Roh put up the previous season. John Bates and Chase Blakely were both expected to play major roles in the passing game, and it never happened.
The Rainbow Warriors were the opposite of the Broncos; they started strong and finished poorly. They gave up nine sacks in their bowl game. Not exactly an ideal finish. Hawaii deserves a bit of a pass here; they started two true freshman on the offensive line and operated an offense where they throw the ball the majority of the time. Not an easy task for a young offensive line. Cole McDonald was sacked 34 times, more than any quarterback in the Mountain West. Tight ends also aren’t a big part of their offense; they rely heavily on their slot receivers.
The Cowboys were another difficult team to evaluate. Their quarterback play was awful; they often held on to the ball too long. Vander Waal was sacked 24 times this season, and the running game struggled when Nico Evans was injured. It all starts with the offensive line, and the Cowboys had the worst offense in the Mountain West.
I have learned a lot about the Wolf Pack while writing this series. Heading into the season, I expected Nevada to be lethal on offense and awful on defense. It turns out that neither unit performed as expected. The Nevada offense did not have much of a rushing attack, but they only allowed 16 sacks this season. I expect the offensive line to improve next season and running back Toa Taua to put up some great numbers.
Another team that under-performed. The Rebels fell victim to the injury bug. When Armani Rogers was injured, their offense was not the same. Backup quarterback Max Gillam and Armani Rogers were sacked 31 times, and their running game was inconsistent. Leading rusher Lexington Thomas was a preseason candidate for offensive player of the year, but he barely broke 1,000 yards.
San Jose State
The Spartans had the luxury of having the best tight end in the conference in Josh Oliver. Oliver had 56 catches for 709 yards this season. His performance alone kept San Jose State out of the ugly category. Thirty-nine sacks allowed and a struggling rushing attack keeps the Spartans out of the good category.
San Diego State
The Aztecs are traditionally known for their bruising offensive line and power run game. The Aztecs were a shell of themselves this season. Quarterbacks Ryan Agnew and Christian Chapman were sacked 33 times this year. The passing game was boom or bust, as they relied heavily on the deep ball. The running game struggled to produce while Juwan Washington was injured. I would be shocked if the Aztecs don’t rebound next year, but their performance in the bowl game was not encouraging.
The Rams’ run game was awful. There were high expectations for Izzy Matthews coming into the season, and they never came to fruition. KJ Carta-Samuels and Colin Hill were sacked a combined 30 times. The Rams offense had its moments, but the lack of a consistent running game kept them from being a dangerous team in the Mountain West.
The change in offensive scheme had a clear impact on the Lobos. The offensive line surrendered 27 sacks, but the quarterbacks were under constant pressure as they combined to throw 16 interceptions. The Lobos were a team searching for an identity this season.
Stay tuned. Next week’s edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly” will feature the linebackers of the Mountain West.