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The Pandas traveled to Denver to take on the Bighorns this week. How did it go? Read on to find out!
The game was played in ALL PRO MODE, chosen by the Bighorns to slow the running of Vaughn and Dyne.
1st and 80, Pandas Ball, 6:00 min: Pandas line up in a two-back formation, with halfback Vaughn on the right and blocking back Jason Chae lined up on the left. This is a classic formation for teams that run the ball a lot. Defense is a typical 3-4-1 formation, with three linemen, four linebackers/corners, and a safety. The safety is Terry David. Neither team is using the sidelines. The Pandas open with a sophisticated blocking scheme that uses Julian Salts and Sammy Miles Jr. as passive blockers on the outside of the right half of the field. This, combined with stellar blocking on the left generating free actions by Chae and Brian Thompson (yes, the 4-rated players played a HUGE role in this play. Rare, but awesome when it happens.) to get the blockers into position. They were trying to create a hole on the right side of the line that Dyne could run through, while Vaughn would go around the defense down the right side, benefitting from Salts' contain blocking. However, steady pressure from the center by the Bighorns D kept that from happening. When it looked like Matt Sellers of the Bighorns would penetrate for the sack, Carolina ditched the option run and handed it off to Vaughn, who bounced to the outside. Thompson, Chae, and Scott Greer worked to get him downfield, and a great block by Thompson allowed him to burst through the open hole on the right sideline with a free activation. But excellent linebacker blocks got safety Terry David downfield to make the tackle at the Bighorns 40. But Vaughn fumbled it! He had problems with fumbles in the preseason as well and it looks like he still does. Cornerback Cody Crowley of the Bighorns scooped up the fumble, handing it off to David, who took it all the way back into the Pandas end zone for the Touchdown!
1st and 80, Pandas Ball, 4:00 min left.
The pandas run a very poorly constructed triple option offense (handoff, pass, keep). However, any lack of talent by the coordinators on this down was more than made up for by the stellar play by the players. Jason Chae once again was picking up blocks left and right, allowing Dyne to get down the right side. But David, the deep safety, is ready for a tackle, and so Dyne just runs straight at him in hopes of a few extra yards. David leaps, and Dyne spins! He gets free! Brought down by Elliot Manly at the Bighorns 45. That's a 15 yard spin! Timeout Pandas.
2nd and 35. 2:00+1 left.
Pandas are on the right side of the field, which they prefer, so they set up Vaughn in the backfield with Chae. Salts and Leighly are split wide left. Chae motions up to the right side of the line. Dyne reads the defense and decides to go with the pass. Leighly shoots through the defenders, searching for a touchdown. Chae blocks a route for Vaughn to run. When Vaughn stops in the flats and sees that Dyne isn't throwing, he turns and breaks for the endzone. But Terry David is on Vaughn, and Matt Sellers is lurking near Leighly. So Dyne, who has been forced out of the pocket by this point, decides to ignore the 0 modifier pass to Vaughn in the endzone in coverage and runs it. And a lucky roll-off against Manly gets him open space. He's brought down just shy of the goal line by Sellers.
On the final play of the half, Vaughn vaults into the endzone on a wildcat play for the quick touchdown.
1st and 80, Bighorns ball, 6:00.
This play was designed to be a pass, but just like always, a running lane opened up for David by the over aggressive blitzing of Salts, and so the Bighorns abandoned the passing game. David took the ball around to the weak left side, and just broke away, with nobody coming close to catching him. But eventually Vaughn tracked him down at the ten, only to miss his tackle. Touchdown Bighorns!
Note: It's really hard to convince yourself to pass when you can run.
1st and 80: Pandas Ball. 4:00 left.
This was intended to become the first pass play of the game. The Pandas coach stacked the right side of the field with Salts in the slot, Leighly split wide, and Vaughn in the right side of the backfield. Chae was the sole non-Oline player on the left, as he lined up opposite from Vaughn. The pandas were putting a lot of faith into Chae, who ended up lined up against two blitzers! No motions, despite the overwhelming odds against Chae. Hike! This was a dedicated pass, with the only possibility for a run being the third card when Vaughn left the backfield, just in case of a blitz. But excellent blocking by the secondary led to Vaughn and Leighly being knocked down. However, this aggressiveness by the Bighorns allowed Salts to run a straight up route from the slot. David did a poor job in coverage (safety v. tight end, what do you expect?), and Dyne threw a perfect pass to Salts, getting him open field. The bighorns had trouble bringing him down, but once again, Matt Sellers was able to make the tackle at the Bighorns 35 after a swarm of teammates failed to tackle Salts, but also kept him from moving. Chae performed brilliantly, giving Dyne time to roll out (to the right of course. I guess Dyne likes rolling right). That was definitely a huge offseason pickup by the Pandas to get Jason Chae. Because he's a pure Blocking Back, rather than a Fullback, he doesn't get much press, but boy, can this guy pass protect! He's not a bad lead blocker either, though he does need the Juke help from Vaughn to excel there.
Also, still waiting for Bighorns defenders not named Matt Sellers or Terry David to show up. The D-coordinator needs to realize that Terry David can only do so much. The coordinator seems to think he's got Donnie Lock out there at safety or something.
2nd and 35, 3:00 left.
Pandas line up in a fairly conservative formation on the right hash mark, and quickly give the ball to Vaughn, who carries it on a sweep right. However, this is probably the most obvious play for this situation, so the Bighorns are ready for it. Keen goes in to make the tackle. The fumble-phobic Pandas fans hold their collective breaths... And Vaughn holds on. Gain of 10. This is Vaughn's first yardage of the day, as the TD dive was for 0 yards and his other carry was a fumble. PANDAS TIMEOUT.
3rd and 25, 1:00+1 time left.
This is the key play. Any mistake could potentially cost the game. The Bighorns show blitz with Sellers motioning up behind the line. This leaves the right side of the field fairly unprotected, but fortunately they have a plan. The idea is to have Chris Saguisag block for Sellers to blitz, putting pressure on the right side. Phil Manly is the double deep cover man to stop any juke shenanigans. But in the most epic of fails, Sasguisag misses his block, falls over, and allows the ever-able Jason Chae to block out Manly, leaving an open running lane on the right, despite that the play was originally supposed to be run left. Touchdown Pandas! TIMEOUT BIGHORNS.
1st down, Bighorns ball, 0:00+2 minutes.
Obvious passing formation, because the only running lane for David has Dyne and Vaughn playing deep coverage. So the Pandas start out with a heavy blitz from the left, but Salts falters under the blocking of Keen. This gives the Bighorns a golden opportunity for the win. Crowley is wide open deep, and all they have to do is block at +3. Nailem vs. Miles Jr. But Miles hangs in there! He demonstrates incredible toughness. This sets off a chain of destruction. Chae blocks Leon Chan of the Bighorns. At this point we begin to question if Jason Chae is human. Then, Brian Thompson blocks to free up Chae again. Chae is now close enough to go in for the sack. CRUNCH! Jason Chae picks up the first sack of the season, a 15-yard monster hit on Manly. I can't say this enough. Jason Chae, if you are reading, well played sir. TIMEOUT BIGHORNS!
2nd down and 95. Bighorns ball. 0:00+2 left.
The bighorns just want out of safety range, and so they run a neat little trick play that sees David take a handoff, juke a defender, then hand it off to Crowley, who runs. Unfortunately for the Bighorns, the play was stopped by the Pandas defense. Vaughn with the tackle.
3rd and 75. 0:00+1 left
Manly goes from the shotgun. He finds Crowley up on the post route. But Crowley loses initiative next card to Dyne, who goes in to make the tackle. FUMBLE!!! Sammy Miles Jr. of the Pandas recovers at the 35. They have to score on this return. Leighly runs backwards to pick up the handoff, and is advanced by great blocks from Thompson and Chae. He wraps around to the other side of the field. But David has a chance to tackle Leighly at the goal line to save the game and send it to OT. But he misses!!! TOUCHDOWN PANDAS! THE PANDAS WIN!
Carolina Pandas: 21
Denver Bighorns: 14
C. Dyne (CAR): 1/1, 45 yds.
P. Manly (DEN): 1/1, 0 yds.
T. David (DEN): 2 rush, 95 yds, TD
C. Dyne (CAR): 2 rush, 80 yds
S. Vaughn (CAR): 4 rush, 35 yds, 2 TD, fumble lost.
J. Salts (CAR): 1 catch, 45 yds
C. Crowley: 1 catch, fumble lost
I. Leighly (CAR): Game-winning return TD
T. David (DEN): Return TD, force fumble
J. Chae (CAR): Sack
M. Sellers (DEN): 2 tackles
MVP: Jason Chae (CAR)
It's not often that a blocker wins player of the game. But Chae earned it (though the offense not putting up great numbers didn't hurt either). He didn't miss a single block, unlike his counterpart Nailem, who failed two key blocks and got partials on others. Having that auto-full-success is what got Leighly to the endzone, is what kept Dyne safe while rolling out, is what made opportunities for Vaughn and Dyne to tear up the field rushing. Plus that sack on Manly likely was what won the game for the Pandas. Congratulations Jason Chae.
What We Learned:
The Bighorns defense needs to improve. David missed tackles left and right, blocks were not made well, the blitz was bad, and there was more gaps in the line for Dyne and Vaughn to exploit than there should have been.
Cameron Dyne has arrived as a powerful dual threat quarterback. The mobile QB spent much of the game rolling out, and got to demonstrate his legs on two great runs. But he also showed an ability to find the open man, even if they weren't the original target. Look for him next week to show off some more skills.
Jason Chae pulled off the unthinkable: winning MVP as a blocker. While this obviously had a lot to do with Vaughn's poor game and Dyne's lack of passing, it's still impressive. Let's see how he can carry that momentum moving forward.
0. That's Julian Salts' stats in every major defensive category. What happened? Quick decision making by the Bighorns certainly was a factor, but Salts has to start getting full success on his blitzes.
No Cody Crowley, don't drop it! This game was certainly a wake-up call for the usually dominant Bighorns O. While some blame can be placed on Crowley, the fact that he was the best option on a shotgun play is pathetic, especially since the blitz wasn't that strong. They have to find a solution. Perhaps having the ball for longer would have helped them establish a rhythm.