The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Bill Bowman

October 25, 2011

Bill Bowman On college football: Bucknell's offense needs to make plays

It happens once in a while; if not once a season, then probably at least one time every couple of years. Watch enough football and you see a game that brings back Hall of Fame coach John McKay's immortal answer after a loss.

Coach, what do you think of your offense's execution today?

"I'm all for it," he answered straight-faced.

Joe Susan didn't quite go that far after Saturday's loss to Holy Cross, but he was in the ballpark. He had every right to be. The Bucknell defense did everything in its power to help out, forcing six turnovers, four times giving the offense the ball back in Holy Cross territory and blocking a PAT to keep it a three-point game so that all the offense needed was a field goal to draw, one TD to win the game and break out of its month-long funk.

But there was none to be found. In the end it added up to probably the most frustrating defeat in the Susan era and possibly a lot longer than that.

It was frustrating because plays were there to be had. Receivers were open, but the ball wasn't thrown on time and the play ended up in a sack. Backs had holes to run through early, but not as many late.

Just how tough was it? The Bison were able to turn a short field following a Bryce Robertson punt return into a touchdown to tie the game at 13-13 on their first possession of the second half. It was Bucknell's first touchdown — and turns out only one — since the first play of the fourth quarter against Georgetown, a game played on Oct. 1.

But after that Bucknell had eight more possessions with the game either tied or down three. The Crusaders took a 16-13 lead on a field goal midway through the third quarter, but the Bison could literally do nothing from that point on. On those final eight possessions, the Bison went three and out six times, turned it over on downs once and managed just one first down and that came on a 12-yard run from Tyler Smith on the first play of one series.

Bucknell ran 26 plays in those eight possessions and had exactly zero yards.

That, my friends, is about as frustrating as frustrating gets.

"To have the ball late is what we were trying to do," Susan said. "Our defense gave us that opportunity and we've got to do a better job executing the offense."

And the bad news is it's not a new phenomenon. Since scoring 35 points in a romp of Georgetown, the Bison have managed just 22 total points over past three games. Placekicker Drew Orth has accounted for 16 of those points with five field goals and a PAT.

Not only are the Bison not scoring, they aren't moving the ball with any consistency. In the last three games, losses to powerhouses Lehigh and Harvard and then this week's setback to Holy Cross, Bucknell has just 26 total first downs and 494 yards. By contract, Harvard had 21 first downs against the Bison and Lehigh had 416 yards of offense.

So what's the solution? The Bison seem to have decent personnel on that side of the ball with four senior starters up front, explosive receivers like Victor Walker and Frank DeNick and solid backs in Tyler Smith, Jeremiah Young and Travis Friend.

But after getting pelted for 10 sacks against Lehigh, sophomore quarterback Brandon Wesley seems to be a bit gun shy recently. Saturday he seemed to either split from the pocket early or hang on to the ball too long and take a sack, and nothing kills a drive like negative yardage.

Bucknell has done a tremendous job all season forcing turnovers and not turning the ball over. The Bison are plus-16 in turnover margin, third nationally. Teams that do that need to turn those chances into points. And those points, in turn, will translate into victories.

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