Big Dan vs. OSU: Grading Faalele's performance

rockford

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Many of us are excited about the potential of massive offensive lineman Daniel Faalele, whose redshirt officially came off with his debut as a starter at OSU last week. And why not? It's not often you get to dust off a brand new, 6-foot-9, 400-lb tackle.

The consensus seemed to be that the OL looked considerably better against OSU than previous weeks, a sign that Faalele had an immediate impact. But is that true? And if so, how good was he?

So I sat down to re-watch the game, or at least our offensive snaps, with a pen and tablet. (Those are ancient tools used for writing, kids.) I used a simple system, where I assigned a number grade for Big Dan on every play from scrimmage he participated in. Here's the scale:

0 Failure. Did not appear to get the job done.
1 Adequate. Appeared to accomplish the task assigned.
2 Superb. Did something extremely well. A pancake block. Chipping someone at the line before sliding to the second level and delivering a devastating block on a 'backer. Pulling, getting to the point of attack on time and delivering a crushing block in space. The things offensive linemen dream of when they drop off to sleep at night.

So, under a system like this, a player who does his job on every play throughout the game would finish with an average grade of 1, or 100%. If he sprinkles in a couple outstanding plays, he can finish with a grade above 100%.

Before we get to the results, I need to point out that it's not always possible for an outsider to know what an offensive lineman is trying to accomplish on every single play. Sometimes it's obvious. Other times, less so. In those cases, all I can do is make my best guess.

In the first half, Big Dan participated in 20 running plays and earned 15 points for a 75% grade. That may not be a high grade, but his problems were relatively minor and appeared to be primarily due to his inexperience. Consider:

• On the first drive, there was a play where he got to the second level but appeared uncertain about who he should hit, and so hit no one.

• On the second possession, there was a run to his outside where he was required to get to the second level and seal any LB pursuing. He got into perfect position, but the pursuit was so slow in arriving that he turned around to see what was happening behind him, and while he did so a defender ran right by him. In a situation like that, you don't turn around and look for the ball, you attack the nearest defender.

• On the third possession, he earned two donuts on the first two runs. On the first one, he apparently whiffed on his block. (There is a chance he was simply supposed to get an inside release and get to the next level, but it looked like a whiff.)

• On our last offensive play of the half, he was flagged for lining up in the backfield. The penalty wasn't accepted, but he appeared to fail in delivering his required block anyway.

In pass blocking, he earned 11 points on 12 plays for a grade of 92%. There were two plays where he got 0s. On the first, he released his man to the outside even though there was no inside threat, and doing so negated what appeared to be a planned double-team on another outside rusher. On the other, he was simply badly beaten near the line of scrimmage.

I gave him a single 2, and it was likely generous. But I found it encouraging, and perhaps got some insight into why one of our early timeouts were burned.

On our second possession, the Buckeyes were obviously trying to take advantage of the new kid. Faalele had no outside help. OSU lined up an end to his outside, with a linebacker threatening the inside gap. Decision time! I got a little nervous, waiting to see what would unfold, and how Big Dan would react. The LB didn't blitz, and Faalele moved to decisively to lock up with the end.

A few plays later, on 3rd and 2 on OSU's 32, the same situation developed. This time, our running back was lined up on the other side of the formation, which meant if both LB and DE came, one of them was going to get a free shot at Annexstad. Coaches appeared to be trying to get an adjustment made, and when that wasn't forthcoming, a timeout was called. Next play went for 14 yards and a first down, and a short time later we had our first TD.

Timeout well-spent, I say.

Check back later for Faalele's second-half grade and a few other thoughts.

JTG
 

GopherMac

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I think this was the 3rd game he played in...so Red Shirt is not off completely. I'm sure the plan is to continue playing him but just making sure I didn't miss a game he appeared in. Was this his 4th game played?
 

rockford

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No, he hasn't reached four games. But PJ already said he was going to continue playing. So the redshirt is off, even though it isn't ... yet. ;)

JTG
 

rockford

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Second half, second possession, Gophers trailing 20-14:

• A defensive tackle used a pure speed move to beat Big Dan inside for a sack. Blew right by him. Very shortly thereafter (could have been the next play), the same tackle tried the same move, and Big Dan shut that **** right down. The important lesson here (I hope), is that when you move your feet, good things happen. More about that later.

• Blocking down on a run, Faalele drove his man 10-12 feet down the line. He made it look so routine, I scored it a 1. It was only while typing this that I realized, "Hell yeah, that's the definition of a 2." So a 2 it is.

• This was a crucial posession, one where the Gophers had a real chance to take the lead near the end of the third quarter. Faalele gave up a sack, his worst play of the day. They tried to burn him again, the same way, and he stopped it easily. The sack was the only mistake he made in an 11-play drive. He graded 83% on six passes and 120% on five runs at crunch time.

Watching the replay, it became apparent to me how pivotal this drive was. The Gophers had second and six in the red zone when ZA threw over the head of an open Johnson, missing at least a first down inside the five. As usual, the two had already connected several times on slants. This time, a D back/'backer feinted twice toward that throwing lane before the snap, but ended up rushing. The receiver was open, and ZA sailed it. Couldn't help but wondering if those feints rattled him or caused him to alter his throw.

That was our high-water mark. The Buckeyes batted down a pass (a play I'd credit more to a tremendously athletic move than ZA's "eyes"), and we missed a 32-yard field goal. And we managed a total of six more offensive plays before the Bucks went up 30-14 late in the fourth quarter and sealed it.

In the second half, I scored Faalele 100% on 17 runs and 79% on 14 passes.

For the game, he scored 86% on 37 runs and 85% on 26 passes.

Faalele had a good -- not great -- game. If you want to factor in his age and the circumstances, I'd grant that it was a very good game. But I think it's safe to say that he didn't single-handedly elevate our line play. Gotta give credit to the whole unit.

One of the things that I noticed in the first half was that Faalele has a very quick first step. A lot of times the battle on the line is won by whoever has the quickest little jab step to gain position. Faalele has a very quick jab step. And once someone of that size has position on a defender, there ain't nothin' the defender can do about it. I only recall 2-3 plays where he hurt himself with his first step.

One of those times, he got beat silly on the inside for a sack. First, let's give the DT some props for a hell of a speed move. It was impressive. But Faalele stopped the same man on the same move a short time later. What was the difference? He moved his feet on the second play. I know it sounds funny, but young guys -- especially ones who haven't been playing football that long -- have to constantly be reminded/whipped to do even basic things. The goal really has to be to do everything right, every time. Because when you don't, you can look silly.

In addition to getting burned inside, Faalele also looked vulnerable a few times on outside pass rushes.

But all in all, a very impressive debut by Faalele in a very tough game. He looked quick, strong and athletic. His inexperience showed, but it didn't kill him. Despite playing every offensive snap, he never looked fatigued. And he never looked like he was incapable of getting the job done. I'd take six more games like this from him in a heartbeat.

JTG
 

fan of Ray Williams

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Excellent write-up. Very Impressive. Even enjoyed the half time intermission. Thank you very much.
Would say this puts to sleep the concern some posters had at the thought of him having to face the mighty Buckeyes in his very first start.

(Now watch the game four more times reviewing each of the other offensive linemen......Just kidding)
 

GopherWeatherGuy

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Thanks for the write up. Even though in your words he had a good but not great game, he replaced someone coming off of a couple really bad games. Faalele just being able to hold his own resulted in a significant upgrade, and better OL play overall.
 

Otis

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I wonder how much of a difference he would have made in the Maryland game where we got whipped.
 

rockford

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(Now watch the game four more times reviewing each of the other offensive linemen......Just kidding)
Actually, I'm hoping to do the same for Faalele and Andries after the Nebraska game. Assuming it's something I can bear to watch repeatedly. :D

JTG
 

Gophers_4life

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Faalele is the starting RT for one very simple reason: Schlueter got abused, with a capital A, by Anthony Nelson. It was shameful at times. I don't know if Schlueter got inside his head after the first bad miss, and couldn't recover? But Faalele came in and after that Nelson was mostly quiet. For whatever reason, Faalele was able to neutralize Nelson.

Would Schleuter have bounced back against Ohio St? Who knows. It didn't seem like Ohio St had a dominating left DE. And we were running the ball so well, and doing those fairly quick throws on the slant to TJ. Yes I do recall the time Faalele got beat badly on the inside speed move, but that was the only time he stuck out to me.


What I do think, overall, is that Fleck wants "his" guys in there, as soon as they're ready. And Faalele is absolutely 100% one of "his" guys. So I think at this point he would rather start getting Faalele ramping up to be a 3/4 year starter, even if we get some "freshman mistakes" this year.

I think that barring some odd meltdown or an injury, Faalele has the RT spot locked down going forward. There will be a battle in the spring and fall camp for the LT spot, with Greene graduating. Dickson will be there, I'm sure Schlueter will be given a chance to compete for the spot, and then we have a bunch of other young guys too.
 
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Face The Facts

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Curious if Schlueter will have a chance to get back in a role, or if he'll be a #2 from here on.
 

WorkingMyTailOff

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Gophers4life is right about the Iowa game but it was pretty rough the four games before as well. I was hoping Sam would seize the opportunity.
 
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hungan1

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I think we should give Faalele the nickname, "Big Daddy".

PJ Fleck is true to his word in the case of Faalele. He wanted to accelerate maturation. He knows the Freshmen he has now need to gain experience as a starter or a red shirt fully taking advantage of the four game participation rule. Faalele is ready based on sheer imposition. This guy will wear down on anyone on the opposing side.
 
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