THE CYANIDE COOLER: NOW IN GRAPE!
By: Brandon Priddy : @abpriddy
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but with a whimper
-- T.S. Elliot, The Hollow Men
Ever wonder if T.S. Elliot was a Mountaineer?
Over the last week and a half, WVU fans have seen their hopes disintegrate and disappear. Not with the dramatic flourish of a blocked punt or a last second touchdown or even the gut-punching finality of a missed field goal, but instead slowly and methodically extinguished, drained of blood and ground up into mediocrity sausage.
It was traumatic and to an extent deadening to the senses. I’ve been writing for a couple years now and have never experienced the writer’s block I did this week, hence the two day delay on a post (sorry about that). Then I finally did write something and my computer decided to not save it but frankly I don’t know that it was that good to begin with, so here we are. I’ll do my best to make some sense out of what we’ve seen and look at the road ahead. Let’s give it a shot.
This isn’t how top 5 teams go out. They lose in a blaze of underdog glory when the opposing third string running back morphs into the second coming of Walter Payton or the rival coach calls the game of his life. They lose with all of America watching the final second tick away as the road crowd teems with excitement, just itching to storm the field. Their losing is replayed as an instant classic the very next week and while it stings as the fan of the favorite, there’s a certain pride that comes in knowing they wound up to give you their best damn shot, everything they had, and they had to play a mile above their heads to do it.
The games against Texas Tech and Kansas State won’t be replayed anywhere anytime soon. They were pedestrian bludgeonings that at no time resembled competitive, compelling football. West Virginia fans are grieving their lost magical season, and what’s worse is they must do so without a body.
Their team never showed up.
That is the reason for the extreme anger and frustration expressed by WVU fans in the last few days. It’s one thing to lose, but it’s another to lose like THAT. It’s enough to make you want to question everything foundational about your football team, staff and program. You forget the highs and focus on the lows. You make panicked statements and knee-jerk pronouncements just to fulfill the urge to do…..SOMETHING. Anything.
So what do you do with this perplexing squad of paradoxical players? The squad that could once score at will but now wonders if it will score. That is now becoming more known for the numbers its defense gives up when it once was so celebrated for those it put up itself.
How do you even begin to pick up the pieces of a season that lays in such seeming shambles?
I have no idea. I thought I had a few ideas and then my computer had other ideas so my ideas vanished and honestly I don’t know that they were very good or insightful ideas to begin with. You get the idea?
So I’ll try this:
As Mountaineer fans under 40 go, I think of myself as pretty grizzled. I’ve sat through rain-soaked 27-0 blowouts to Virginia Tech and I’ve watched bowl embarrassments and I remember Greg Jones (hint – there’s a reason nobody can answer ‘who followed Major Harris’) and Chad Johnston. Point being I’m not some 20 something kid who grew up with a gold and blue silver spoon and expects 8 or 9 win seasons as some sort of birthright. I’ve seen the highs and the lows and feel I have a balanced perspective to show for the experience. And it is this part of me that provides some measure of solace as it comforts me with the assurance that this too, shall pass (even if Geno seemingly no longer can).
I try to take the long view and remember things like Steve Spurrier’s first team of Florida Gators got blown out 45-3 in Knoxville as the #9 team in America. Miami lost to Virginia Tech 43-10 two years before hoisting the crystal football in 2001. Texas lost to Oklahoma 65-13 in 2003. Good teams lose, sometimes quite badly. I’m sure their fanbases were up in arms and clamoring for radical change in the aftermath of those games as well. But they survived, the sun came up the next Saturday and they went about the business of righting the ship and getting better.
West Virginia isn’t going 5-7. They’re going to win games again. This is a talented group of young men who have shown the capacity to play the game at an alarmingly high level. They can move the ball at a rate seldom seen and are less than two weeks removed from one of the biggest regular season wins in the history of the program. Are the last two losses REALLY worse than losing by 26 to Syracuse? Yet that team was able to right the ship late. There may be a time to give up on this team, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
Having said all that I think there are some very large over-arching questions that have emerged about this team and this style of play. I don’t think now is the time to address them because we have a lot of football left to see and there’s a whole off-season that will be devoted to picking apart every detail. You don’t do the post-mortem during surgery and it’s important to remember this patient still has a lot of life left in it.
The standard place to start a down-the-line critique of this WVU team has been the defense. Obviously they’re horrible, but they were horrible long before mid-October and this team had managed to win plenty of games while giving up 34, 45 or 63. It’s the overnight disappearance of the most feared point-producing machine in America that has me dumbfounded. I have searched and thought and can’t find a reason that this unit has simply ceased to move the ball.
Yes the ground production has sputtered but it only netted 26 yards against Maryland and managed a win. Yes the offensive line has struggled but Geno Smith has seen duress plenty of times in the last 2 years without folding to the extent we’ve seen in the last two games. You think Kansas State gave him more issues than LSU last year or that Texas Tech’s defensive ends brought more heat than Texas? There has to be something more….something else that has short-circuted this race car and rendered it a 1 ton paperweight, right?
The human mind is a fascinating thing. Stripe off an area 12 inch wide on your living room floor an every member of the family could navigate its boundaries with nary a second thought, not even sparing a glance one way or the other. Take that same 12 inch width, however and place it 1,000 feet in the air atop a steel skyscraper framework and it becomes an altogether different proposition. Apply a gentle breeze to your back and it’s all but impossible. The mind can’t ignore context information no matter how much logic screams that it’s not important or that the task is physically no different than one you’ve done before. Your brain knows what it knows and if it knows a slight slip will lead to its demise – it will weigh that risk accordingly.
Ladies and gentlemen – I give you the Mountaineer offense. Walking the tightrope of knowing a single slip puts the onus back on a defense that’s giving a historic clinic in ineptitude. Knowing that punting is not an option and touchdowns are simply the ransom paid to keep a game competitive. It’s evidenced with every overthrown deep ball that was a shot at scoring or dropped pass where the wide receiver was thinking about running to that end zone more than tucking the ball away.
The way to combat the coverages this offense is seeing is to patiently take what they give you and work your way methodically down the field. But death by a thousand cuts is difficult to trust when you see your defense consistently cleaved with a samurai sword. If nothing else this bye week is vital for a psychological reset to remind this team that they weren’t just good, but dominant. If someone asked me what I thought they needed, I’d say to order some pizzas and fire up the projector for a marathon of the Orange Bowl, Marshall, Baylor and Texas games. 36 touchdowns in 4 games, three of them against ranked teams.
The tape doesn’t lie. These guys are good. Maybe they just need to be reminded of it.
What can be said about this unit that hasn’t already been said. I’ll just keep it simple: the record for points scored against a WVU team in a season was 364 in 1978 for an average of 33.1 points a game. That was a 2-9 team that was by any standard one of the worst WVU teams ever. The 2012 tally stands at 279 or 39.9 points a game, and this is with two teams who all but shut it down in the fourth quarter and neither of which is counted among the highest-output units in the conference. At this pace, that all-time points record will fall in 3 games against Oklahoma, if not the week before against Oklahoma State. They’ll almost certainly shatter the 400 point barrier with or without a bowl game.
They are historically, categorically, unprecedentedly bad. The ongoing debate is whether or not it’s the coaching or the talent. Is it Xs and Os or Jimmys and Joes? Let me tell you something – a defense doesn’t get this bad because of the failings of one or the other. Both are woefully inadequate. At one level inexperience and lack of strength and speed have clearly combined to assemble a unit that is physically limited with what it can do to stop teams – particularly in the secondary. On another those shortcomings are magnified by guys constantly being out of position and a step behind what is going on. You think it’s tough to keep up with a wideout who runs a 4.5 40? Try doing it when you start 10 yards away because you had no idea where the hell you were supposed to be to begin with.
Devoid of any real positives to take away from what we’ve seen I’ll just kinda make one up. Youth works both ways. Yes things can look pretty ugly at times, but that sharp learning curve works both ways. When things start to click they can fall together quickly and improvement can come in leaps – particularly when the starting point is so low. Maybe that’s what these guys can do with two weeks off.
And while I certainly can’t defend job Joe DeForest has done thus far, I will give him credit for being a stand up guy. Last week in this space I criticized him for failing to take responsibility for what happened in Lubbock, insisting that the schemes were sound and putting it on the kids by default. On Saturday night, to his credit, he went out of his way to take responsibility for the results on the field. A young defensive coordinator seems to at least be learning something, here’s hoping his kids can do the same.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. In the darkest days after December 1, 2007 as my friends and I exchanged endless emails permeated with misery, my buddy John did a great job talking us all off the ledge. I can’t remember his exact words and have since lost the email, but it went something like this:
We only have so many football seasons to enjoy on this earth. We spend the off months waiting, anticipating, begging for this time of year when our Mountaineers take the field and make us cheer. There’s nothing like it. WVU football is a wonderful thing – something that all of us no matter where we live can stop and enjoy and remember what we love about our home state. It makes us cheer and it breaks our heart. We get together and tailgate when we’re lucky enough to be there or exchange texts when we’re not.
These seasons are a precious thing that make up only a little more than a third of the year. So don’t waste that time being miserable. Don’t waste it being angry. Don’t take it for granted.
The last two games have sucked. But you know what sucks more than that? – the middle of June. So dust yourself off and get ready to go back at it in a couple weeks. Anybody can be a front-running fan of a team putting up 60 a game, but where are you when the times get rough? Because I can promise you they’ll get better and this too, shall pass. Enduring awful losses only makes the great ones that much more sweet.
Don’t give up hope, there’s a second season on the horizon.
But until then, here are some tweets:
This is the type of thing that gives me the willies. This defensive staff isn’t that bad, is it? IS IT?
(submitted without comment)
He’s clearly the lightning rod for this feces-storm, but I felt genuinely bad for the guy watching his interviews. He’s throwing everything at the wall he can and nothing’s sticking. Like him or not, you gotta feel for the guy. That has to be demoralizing.
I think Geno’s in the Baylor game was something like 258. So yeah.
Lost in all this is how fantastic a job Snyder has done. And how fantastic a human being he is. His postgame presser was a tour de gentle in how to respectfully speak of a slaughtered lamb. If my grandpa, who was a wonderful man, had ever kicked my ass, I think it might have felt like that.
Which is tough but also….
They’re not the first team to ever deal with this. Which gets us back to scheme vs. players and honestly I don’t know. By the way Kentucky gave up 29 points in a hard-fought loss to Georgia. That’s right, a 1-6 team with a lame-duck coach that is assured of not going to a bowl fought harder than the 13th ranked team in America at home at night. So perplexing……
Shots from the Sidelines
Thanks for reading, we’ll see you back here next week with an off-week feature, and as the great Tupac Shakur reminded us, “ya got to keep ya head up.”
Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to hit me up with ideas or suggestions on how to make these pre and post-game wrap ups better and more informative. We’re here for you. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter: @abpriddy.