After week one, McMaster football is 1-0. It was not as methodical of a win as the team has seen the past few seasons – 26-2 over Queen’s in 2011, 50-9 over Guelph in 2012, 51-24 over Ottawa last year – but it showed the team’s holes while still getting a positive result over the Guelph Gryphons.
Mac’s most glaring hole is a familiar one. First down-production was not an area of strength last year, and the Marauders did not instill confidence through the opening half of the 2014 season either. At the half, Mac had 58 yards on 17 first down attempts, or 3.4 yards per play. The struggle put the Marauders in a 13-9 hole.
“In a perfect world, a first-down win for us is five or more yards [gained],” said Jon Behie, assistant head coach and offensive coordinator for the football program. “We weren’t overly pleased with how we did. We did not think it was as terrible as it seemed on the sideline – we were driving the ball a little bit but not consistently.”
First down production improved in the second, and with that, Mac put together more point-lucrative drives. On 20 first-down plays, McMaster gained 104 yards on 20 plays, meaning 5.2 yards per play. (Or, a first-down win by the coaching staff’s definition.)
Mac would outscore Guelph 18-14 in the second half, and win the game in overtime.
Guelph was piling more players on the defensive line – a stand-up seven-man front on many plays – something that McMaster had not game planned for. Mac’s half-time adjustments to the increased pocket pressure gave the team a second-half edge.
“The defence [Guelph] was playing was not what we prepped for. And that’s the problem with week one, you don’t know. You don’t have film to go off of, you’re relying on last year’s stuff and rumours. When they came up in the seven-man front, it was not where we spent a lot of our practice time in the past week,” said Behie.
To combat Guelph’s blitzing style, Mac moved towards bootleg passes, play-action throws and quick passing attempts involving a few reads and finding the open receiver. That is evident in the play-by-play of the third quarter, where quarterback Marshall Ferguson completed passes to a variety of receivers for gains of 4, 7 (twice), 10 and 11 yards before stretching it out for a couple of 20+ yard plays later in the game.
Behie says the offence loves their quick passing game but do not expect the second half success they achieved against Guelph to last week after week. There are so many weapons, though, that even if teams scheme to take away some options, there will be players who can escape coverage.
If Mac can continue winning first downs – which will require an improved rushing game, a whole different beast in itself – then a deep playoff run should be well within reach for the No. 5 CIS-ranked team.