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Kickoff: What we can learn from it

By Rodrigo Verney, September 6 2022

Kickoff wasn’t quite what we were hoping for this year. The young Dinos football squad wasn’t able to contain the fast and long offense of last year’s Vanier Cup runner-ups. The University of Saskatchewan Huskies were in control of the game from the moment the ball was first kicked their way. Leading to an ever-increasing and comfortable 39-point lead at the end of the game. The Dinos are now looking to solidify their foundations and regain a bit of momentum to contend this season, but without the key players that graduated last year, the road ahead looks a bit longer than usual. 

The game began with Vince Triumbari kicking an impressive 70-yard kickoff right at the Huskies’ end zone, forcing the Huskies to take a knee to restart at the 20-yard line. A great start for the Dinos that looked able to contain the Huskies’ first offensive run. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Huskies quarterback Mason Nyhus exploited the Dinos’ defensive coverage of their wide receiver Daniel Perry connecting with him on a long ball for an early touchdown to set the pace early on with a 7-1 lead. 

The first quarter went from troublesome to problematic for the Dinos after the Huskies caught a live ball they kicked and the Dinos didn’t fall on it. The fumble lead to an easy first down to goal. The Huskies faked a running play that disassembled the Dinos’ defense long enough so that Nyhus could connect with Josh Ewanchyna on a short right free pass to extend their lead and grab the game’s momentum. The 14-1 shocker was a heavy burden to bear for our squad and lead to some complicated plays. A generally disconnected and now devastated Dinos team was now trying to advance fast with some passing plays that weren’t able to connect. The Huskies’ defense were taking advantage of passing opportunities, forcing Dinos quarterback Matteo Spoletini to leave the pocket and run the ball himself. The first quarter was over with a converted Huskies kick for an additional three points to close a great Huskies start with a 17-1 lead.

Photo by Sylvia Lopez

The second quarter had to start with a rhythm change early on or the game would be done by halftime. Thankfully, Triumbari was having a great game and kicked for three more points over a 30-yard field goal. After four solid minutes of runs, Jesse Kuntz, Huskies wide receiver, was at the end of a 27-yard touchdown pass to put 20 points ahead of the Dinos, 24-4. Nyhus found himself where he wanted to be the most after another great run by the Huskies later on in the second quarter. Just 20-yards away from the end zone, the Huskies faked another run play, but the Dinos did an excellent job of containing the passes and putting pressure on Nyhus. That play would have been stopped, if it wasn’t for a well-placed Daniel Perry just five yards apart from the Huskies quarterback that was able to connect with him for a difficult touchdown, in which only the ball passed to the end zone. The Huskies took the game by the throat with a demotivating 31-4 lead.

The Dinos came back from halftime with a lot more drive to start the third. The Huskies’ passes weren’t connecting as much after some enforcements were made to slow the receivers down and contain their running back to two or three yards at a time instead of their five to eight normal runs. The game became a tug of war even if the score wasn’t that reachable. It all came back when Spoletini couldn’t find a passing lane and was forced to run when the pocket crumbled. His reaction wasn’t able to save him, sadly, and he was sacked by the Huskies’ offensive line. Moments later, the same offensive tactic of having the running back on the field on what is, essentially, a passing play was used and they connected with him through an 11-yard passing play focused on the left of the Dinos’ defense that lead to a contested touchdown. 

Photo by Valery Perez

The fourth was a done deal from the start. The Huskies were playing for stats at that point, which resulted in a more confident and slow offense. The game would have been set, if not for Ted Kubongo’s run through the middle of the Dinos defense to score a touchdown early in the quarter. The game came to an end after Triumbari awarded the Dinos another point with a late game rouge. Just like that, the Huskies claimed their victory with a swift and tough blowout at Kickoff.

There is a lot we can learn from this game that can benefit this young team for the rest of the season. One of the most important points we have to reconsider is the defensive backer’s coverage of their wide receiver. That was clear from the get-go. Anyone who saw that game knows that their offense was prioritizing the long ball to the corners where wide receivers consistently had the edge. It is crucial for the Dinos to disrupt that open quarterback to wide receiver channel if they want to contain runs by closing passes and sending help to the defensive backers if things continue to get a bit out of hand. 

Photo by Valery Perez

The second main cause of concern is the number of times the offense was generated from quarterback runs. That is something we can’t be relying on for the rest of the season. In an interview with the Gauntlet, Spolentini explained that sometimes this is what has to happen, even if it isn’t the first choice.

“It wasn’t my goal to run, but the situation called for it so I ran. I don’t ever want to run, but sometimes I have to,” said Spoletini.

The offense has to present itself for Spoletini more than it did to create opportunities that will give their opponents’ defense the need to adjust and reduce the risk factor for the quarterback. To solve this issue, it will take a combination of receivers working to get open with more ease and better communication at the pocket to use those extra seconds to develop a play. 

Spoletini, however, is looking at this loss with a positive mindset. 

“It wasn’t great for us, but it was a fantastic atmosphere out here and I felt towards the end of the game we got jiving a little bit on offense and we can carry that in the next week for sure,” said the Dinos quarterback.

Coach Wayne Harris is ready to learn from this kickoff and is already looking forward to the rest of the season. 

“We’ll make a couple of changes, those are some one-offs that are pretty easy fixes. When you get big plays like that in a game, it sure changes the nature of the game quickly,” said Harris. “[We have] a lot of areas to improve in.”

This loss doesn’t bode well for the Dinos, but it doesn’t mean that we have to stay down. This game proved what was expected, a new squad lacks the chemistry necessary to truly tie the knot on the rope that will connect the team together.

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