THE WATER COOLER: Baylor and History
By Brandon Priddy
Welcome to THE WATER COOLER, a post-game roundup we put out every
Monday Tuesday morning for a little light reading as you settle into your work week. While every site out there will do their dog-gondest (channeling my inner Don Nehlen there) to bring you the quickest re-cap you can find on Saturday, we will instead strive to bring original observations, stats and point of view – taking in the info on Saturday and processing it on Sunday to have it ready for you to start that game week. Most of it from Jed because – well – he’s smarter than me. Also he’s right there on the sideline for the MSN telecast in the thick of it. It’s something no one else has. Our hope is that we can drop some nuggets of knowledge that you can pass off as your own to your friends at the water cooler.
THE WATER COOLER is going to have to be a little different feel today. First I’m sorry it’s a day late. As I enjoyed my first WVU tailgate in quite a while I got a call from my wife at about 9:30 to inform me my water heater was busted. Being 500+ miles away from our home in Nashville there was little I could do but it was at the top of my list when I got home, as such there wasn’t much writing in the Priddy household on Sunday night. Sorry about that, but it kinda worked out. Everybody and their mother has written a post detailing the amazing aerial display we were witness to and rehashing the record book pages that were left shredded. There’s frankly not a whole lot I can add to that. With an additional day to soak it in I thought I’d really focus on the fan experience – both mine and those around me – from a day we’ll never forget.
What do you say after a game like that? It was so many things: a seminal moment for the program as it finally became part of a major conference, a vastly important game in the adolescent football season between two ranked teams entering on long win streaks, a resounding and smashing end to our vast collective understandings of defensive football as we know it and finally, an offensive explosion of historic proportions that supercharged a Heisman Trophy candidacy which was already leading the field.
It was a day unlike any other in Milan Puskar Stadium history and despite the Big 12 hype believe me when I say there won’t be another one like it in the future. Before we get any further I want you to remember that, treasure it and store it away. That was one you’ll tell your kids about and that their kids will look at in the history books. Obviously there were areas that were less than perfect, but that game was one for the ages – every person I’ve told I was there had something to say about it. I even took a minute to call the local sports talk show (The 3HL) here in Nashville and talked to the guys for about 10 minutes – they couldn’t say enough about us.
Point of all of that to is say I’ve never heard people so excited to talk about Mountaineer football. Yes WVU has had better teams and yes they’ve been ranked higher and yes they’ve had bigger games – but everything felt like it came together on Saturday: the conference move, the hype of the new offense, a top-shelf Heisman candidate…..and then the stove got turned up to 1,507 degrees. It was an amazing confluence of events that everyone should take a moment – or an hour – to appreciate.
First a quick tip of the cap to a classy Baylor football program. As my buddy Josh pointed out, they waited until the Mountaineers had taken the field and played the fight song before entering themselves. It was a minor act, but programs are much like individuals; it’s the little things that reveal what they’re truly about. On one of the biggest days in WVU football history Baylor let them have their moment. Thanks, Bears.
Overheard in Section 113
A few observations and grumblings from those around me.
Matt on the D: “you know your defense is bad when you take a 15 yard pass interference penalty and are happy about it.”
Josh as a smattering of fans booed an injured Baylor player thinking he was feigning lame to get a stoppage in play: “you know they’re not cheating because Greg Schiano isn’t on the other sideline.”
Matt on the mysterious burning smell that permeated our section in the third quarter (I honestly have no idea what this was, it was odd): “must be Pat Miller.”
Casey to a men’s room full of angry WVU fans immediately after Baylor’s halftime TD: “WHAT ARE YOU CRYING ABOUT!! YA’LL SAID YOU WANTED THE BIG 12, NOW IT’S HERE AND Y’ALL ARE MAD!!!
There was one moment when I knew things had gotten out of hand, when I knew we were in the Big 12 for good and football as I have known it for so many years would never be the same. In the fourth quarter, on the Mountaineer’s 9th and penultimate touchdown, Steadman Bailey hauled in a pass and streaked 87 yards for the score. By any measure, on any day it was a spectacular play. And Milan Puskar Stadium was very, very excited.
But it wasn’t pandemonium.
For comparison, look at the longest scoring pass in the history of the stadium – Rasheed Marshall’s 93 yard bomb to Terrance Garvin to all but put away #3 Virginia Tech in 2003. I was there for that one too, and believe me when I say that place went bonkers. Insane. People hugging, people screaming their lungs out…it was crazy. Like they knew they’d really seen something special.
I share this anecdote because I think that comparison provides a real-world insight into the gridiron culture change we’re living through. See as Garvin sprinted into the end zone he, too was scoring the next to last touchdown of the day for the Mountaineers – but this time it was only number 3 of 4 in a game that saw 5 touchdowns total (WVU won 28-7). Not including missed field goals, Saturday saw 5 STOPS total by both teams (4 punts, 1 turnover). It’s a different brand of football that will alter the way we as fans value certain plays and moments. All the sudden a long touchdown play isn’t a back-breaker for the other team, it’s simply another in a long line of offensive parlays which will decide who carries the day. By the same token the opponent landing a long-distance scoring blow is far from fatal – you will most assuredly live to fight another day.
I was just struck by the symmetry and symbolism of those two similar yet oh-so-different moments. It’s a brave new world indeed.
In Defense of Pat Miller
While we’re talking about that culture change, let’s look at it within the context of a not-so-fun storyline of the day. Pat Miller had about as bad a day as you could imagine for a cornerback and WVU’s fans weren’t shy about letting him hear about it. At the low point in the fourth quarter Miller was pulled from the game and fans actually cheered his removal.
I’m as bad as anyone – I was making snide “Pat Miller Island – where you get a massage and a gift basket” jokes all day. But what I and other fans need to understand is he’s got as tough a job as one could imagine in this land of high-flying offenses and on Saturday it was even harder than it will be on most days. He was facing a veteran and physically gifted receiving corps that was making corners look silly long before he came along. Those guys in green and white were immensely talented and left no margin for error. Aside from that, Miller wasn’t on his own – I don’t remember seeing much over the top help from safeties and coaches seemed unable to draw up anything schematically to get consistent pressure on Nick Florence. Pat may have been the one in the picture getting beat at a specific moment on a specific play, but it was an across the board struggle by every level of the defense that put him in that position to begin with.
All that aside WVU fans simply need to realize that he’s near the top of the team’s cornerback rotation and in order to have any success he’ll need to be a contributor. Don’t forget that the same #6 who struggled mightily this week snagged a badly needed pick 6 against South Florida and a momentum-shifting turnover in the Orange Bowl. He has the ability to make plays. More importantly he’s what we’ve got and fans giving him a complex by voicing their frustration don't do anything to make this defense better.
Signals from the Sideline
Geno Smith continues to demonstrate he’s the coolest customer in the game, comporting himself on the sideline the same way on a day that he put together what you could realistically call the greatest statistical day a quarterback has ever had at the FBS level as he did on days like last year against Pitt where 300 yards (or even 200) seemed a bridge too far. In an offense where consistent execution is of paramount importance, it’s telling that it’s most successful conductor to date displays that same consistency when he’s not on the field of play.
Despite a new defense by a new team in a new conference, the WVU offensive staff always looked in control. Baylor threw several different blitzes and looks to confuse the WVU offense but coaches and players handled any new wrinkles they saw in a businesslike manner, drawing up the answers between each series and heading back out on the field to execute. When Sun Tzu said the battle is won before an army takes the field, he was talking about these guys. They were prepared.
The back and forth nature of the first half inspired confusion and frenzy far beyond just the defensive huddles. FX's production team and sideline reporters went back and forth several times - even in the final minute of play - on which coach they wanted to interview before the half, unable to decide who the fans would gain more from hearing at a time when both offensive-centric coaches seemed to be in the midst of their Mona Lisa.
One Final Thought
Here’s something that got about as little attention as possible on Saturday – punting. That’s probably not a bad thing. After his first (and only) punt went low and to the wrong side of the field (resulting in a long return), Dana Holgorsen met punter Corey Smith as he came to the sideline and lit into him. Not once, or twice, or three times – but four times. I didn’t have a problem with this. What I did take some issue with was benching Smith and sending backup Mike Molinari out for the only other WVU punt of the day.
I understand the frustration with the up and down Smith, but he clearly has a leg and it’s clearly the best leg on the team. The kid was the MVP of the Pitt win last year and acquitted himself perfectly fine the week before against Maryland when he averaged over 40 yards a kick. This team is going to need a punter and Corey Smith needs to be that guy, but showing no confidence in him isn’t going to help him get his head right. There is going to be a point when this team needs a punter to step up and flip the field and the kid needs to grow into the job. If not now, when?
Again – these are not slouches that are moving the ball up and down the field on WVU’s defense. I’ve got my finger hovering over the panic button, but I’m going to give it one more game before I slam it down.
OK that one might have worried me a little.
Well there’s a first time for everything, right? RIGHT!!
Pretty much summed up the whole day. Exhausting and awesome, all at once.
I’d say at this point if there’s any game ESPN can jump on to keep from publicizing new kid on the block Fox’s primetime lineup, they’re going to do it. Hope y’all enjoyed that Michigan State / Ohio State slugfest!!
Just underscores that with or without Gameday, WVU was the clear “IT” team on Saturday
Seriously – Peter King defending Geno Smith and doing it well. Seriously? I AM NOT USED TO CHEERING FOR THE PRETTIEST GIRL AT THE BALL!
Q-ratings don’t get much higher than “LeBron Approved.” Well done Geno.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love the blue on gold. Always have, always will – for me it’s true Mountaineer football. I will not argue this.