THE WATER COOLER: GUT PUNCH EDITION
by: Brandon Priddy : @abpriddy
Welcome to “The Water Cooler”, the post-game roundup we put out ever Monday 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, making you look cool because, well, who doesn’t want to be cool, right?
First a quick note: as any of you who’ve been around this way before know I normally include some of Jed’s game pics and observations with this post but we both had pretty busy Sundays and didn’t get a chance to touch base so in the interest of getting this up as quickly as possible I’m going to put together a second post and put that up on Tuesday. Be sure to check it out – he always gets great shots and I certainly enjoy captioning them. Not to mention his insights are top-notch and I always learn several things I wouldn't have otherwise known when I talk to him and write that part of the post. It’s good stuff so be sure to check back in.
Let’s get to some football.
As far as stomach-punch losses go, this one was up there. Even amongst the tortured history of West Virginia football, that one’ll stick around for awhile. It’s not every day that you give up a game-tying 95 yard TD pass in the last 100 seconds of a game. Or have a gimme 36 yard potential winning field goal blocked in overtime. Or give up an overtime TD on a reverse. Or finally lose the game on a two point conversion pass that may or may not have hit the ground. And that was all ignoring the first 58 minutes of the game where plenty of opportunities to win were left on the field. Just saying – that was tough.
First and foremost there is a truckload of credit that goes to the defense. For a unit that the phrase “much-maligned” seems inadequate, the performance on Saturday was nothing short of a revelation. Guys made tackles in the open field, guys made plays on balls, guys forced turnovers – it was a different squad. If you read Jed’s pre-game piece over at WVUSports.com, this type of effort was exactly what he was talking about. And it was an effort that should have been good enough to win. Put simply if this defensive effort didn’t make you happy, I’m guessing you were one of those kids who looked at your parents with a straight face and said you wanted ALL THE TRANSFORMERS for Christmas and I don’t know what to tell you other than I hope you deal well with disappointment, ’cause it’s gonna be a long life.
In all seriousness, it would have been very easy for these guys to clock out after the nightmare Texas Tech / Kansas State games and simply put a decent effort on the field. Give up some points, shrug your shoulders when you got beat and point to the offense when you were down 3 TDs in the fourth quarter. But these players and coaches didn’t do that; they busted their asses, put in the work and got a lot better pretty fast, and that’s a helluva credit to them. Considering the youth on this squad – on the sidelines and in the booth as well as on the field – that should make you feel good going forward. Maybe it doesn’t, but it should.
You can’t expect anyone to be perfect, but you can expect them to learn from mistakes and take steps to make things better. They did that. Up until that awful, awful play at the end they had given up only 154 yards passing the entire game (credit to Mike Casazza for that stat here). In fact I made the bold statement in the fourth quarter on Twitter that if I hadn’t seen this team play all season and watched just this one game, I’d think it was a team that relied on its defense. I was being 100% serious, and I was right. Close your eyes, remember the Baylor game and think about that statement. Lotta hard work by those guys went into that effort. They deserved better from:
It was a woefully inept showing. Sure anybody just looking at the score would think 38 points mean things are back on track, but look a little deeper and the story that game tells is one of an offense where something has gone horribly, terribly wrong. 31 points were scored in regulation. 7 came on a punt return, 7 came on an amazing individual effort by Tavon Austin where he basically scored in spite of his blocking, 7 came following a turnover that gave them the ball at the opponent 9 and 3 came on a 52 yard field goal. And the loan TD remaining came on a so-so throw and fantastic feat of concentration by a wide receiver who seems to be a lot better at making difficult catches than easy ones.
I don’t mean to nitpick and deny credit for every fortunate bounce of the ball, because that’s all part of it and there are plenty of opportunistic moments that contributed to some of the more heralded efforts of this unit in the past 10 months. What I do mean to do is make the point that the story of this game wasn’t an offense moving up and down the field at will (or really at all) – it was an offense that got a lot of things to break its way still managed to do too little to win. Yes the play of the game came when WVU’s DBs made a couple awful decisions in coverage, but that play shouldn’t have mattered. The offense had ample opportunity to extend the lead throughout the second half and consistently failed to do so. That is a problem and THAT – not a bad decision by a safety who was a walk-on until a few months ago – is why they lost the game.
The Universe as a Single Moment
There is one play in particular that summed everything wrong with this unit up to me. On 3rd and 5 with the game tied at 24 in the 4th quarter, Geno scanned the field and then cast his glance left at Andrew Buie leaking out of the backfield. The back had made his turn up the field and was in position to gather the short pass in stride and with a lot of green and only one man in his path, seemed in very good position to get the first down and quite possibly a lot more. But the pass was a little ahead of him and a little low and he stumbled as he tried to gather it in around his shoes. Even if he had caught it the time required to adjust to the ball gave the defender ample opportunity to run up on the play and the first down was an impossibility. As it was he both dropped the pass and missed the first down, stopping the clock in the process.
For the first five games of the year, that’s a throw Geno made in his sleep. It’s the type of extended running play that is the bread and butter of this offense, the type of simple but effective route that gets the balls to playmakers in space and lets them make plays. Being unable to make such an elementary throw is akin to an option quarterback banging his pitch off the tailback’s helmet. For the offense to work it simply can’t happen – more importantly without a quarterback who can perform that simple task with ease this offense doesn’t work.
Things like that have happened a lot in the last 3 games and I have no idea why.
The Universe as Another Single Moment
Click on the image for the full motion GIF – but not until you’ve cracked open a cold beverage. This isn’t going to make you feel better. That wasn’t a catch. Plain and simple. It shouldn’t have mattered and WVU should have won that game 5 times before it happened but it did matter in oh so many ways. 6-2 looks worlds different than 5-3 and a triple-decker losing streak. Such are the threads by which nations hang. It hit the ground.
In The Final Analysis….We Just Don’t Know
So where does that leave us? Against Texas Tech and Kansas State we rationalized the lack of productivity as a collection of miniscule miscues triggered by the mental pressure of playing opposite a sieve defense that could only be counted on to dig a whole at a consistently fast pace. The O was pressing. It made sense. I even crafted a nice “try to walk across a simple 3 foot wide platform 1000 feet in the air” analogy that felt right at the time.
But what do you call it when they can’t score to extend a lead when the defense is playing lights out? I honestly don’t know.
Which gets us to the crux of the frustration. We’re nine games deep and I don’t know what this team is. Are they an offensive juggernaut in waiting, just needing the right combination of planetary alignment and jersey color configuration to light it up? Or are they…just….bad? If you can point to a team that has displayed such vastly differing levels of performance within two months, I’d love to see it.
Look Joe DeForest! I’m Pulling My Finger Off! Look! I’m Really Doing It! It’s Coming Off, See That!! Now It’s Back On! Now It’s Off!! Holy Crap How Do I Do That!!!!
“Trick plays are trick plays. We were in a coverage where we were fine and what happened happened. It’s a trick play. It’s like magic.”
First let me say Joe DeForest called an outstanding game and clearly did a fantastic job in the off week of preparing his guys for TCU. He was under more heat than anyone in the wake of WVU’s October crap sandwich, so that performance coming when it did was impressive and should ease some minds that he’s capable of doing this job. We’ll get a little more definitive answer on that as this season plays out, but for now well done, Coach. I mean that.
Now that I’ve heaped praise on the young coach, YOU CANNOT SIT IN A POST GAME PRESS CONFERENCE AND DECLARE WITH A STRAIGHT FACE THAT A ‘TRICK PLAY’ IS MAGIC. CAN’T DO IT. Maybe I’m just projecting my anger over the game at this one thing, but it was inexcusable to me. It felt like a simplistic way to escape culpability for your defense giving up an enormous touchdown by declaring that football is fatalistic and sometimes things like that “just happen.” No they don’t. Plays do not happen in a vacuum. Your guys were unprepared for what they saw and your young players over-pursued, opening themselves up to it. The other team’s coordinator was better at his job than you for that one moment and called a play that he knew you wouldn’t be able to see coming or stop. These are all acceptable answers. Ascribing a play’s success to supernatural forces is not. You’re better than that.
Let’s get to some Tweets:
OK, I’ve been sitting on this for awhile but after Saturday I’ve gotta get this off my chest. Can we please scrap the gray look – or at the very least confine it to a novelty thing we do once a year but exclude it from the actual uniform rotation? Gray is for interstates,sexually starved housewives and stormclouds – it has no place in the WVU color scheme. I remember a passage from Don Nehlen’s ‘Tales From The Sideline’ book where he talked about the effort to re-brand WVU when he first took the job (he helped develop the current logo – great story on that here – check it out). He talked about watching film to study his new team and half the time being unable to tell who WVU was because of different helmets and color schemes. Demonstrating an amazing insight into the power that TV would soon carry in college football, he described the desire to create a look that someone would see on TV and instantly recognize that they were watching West Virginia. The Flying WV in conjunction with the blue shirts / gold pants combo (as well as some damn fine football) accomplished that.
Not to sound like an old man here but I watch teams on TV today – teams I’ve watched play for twenty plus years – and I don’t know who the hell they are. I was watching Miami and Virginia Tech play a few weeks ago and kept getting lost because Miami had on bright orange jerseys and Tech wore white helmets – what the hell is that? It’s not just about older folks wanting to keep the status quo. It’s about diluting your brand and creating a product that is unrecognizable in an instant’s glance at the TV, which is important because with the speed of things today sometimes an instant is all you get. There’s value in that and I don’t understand weakening that long-term value in the interest of short-term marketing goals.
Now I understand that it’s a part of modern ‘branding’ to roll out different uniform looks and it excites the kids. I get that and I actually liked the Pro-Combat gear that was rolled out a couple years ago. Aside from looking sharp there was an attempt to tell a story with the uniform in how it made reference to coal mines and I respected that – it reinforced what the program was about. It had purpose and I don’t see any problem with rolling that out a couple times a year. I’ll even stomach those garish gold jerseys that remind me of a certain day in December every time I look at them. But the gray – along with whatever new-wave half-cocked uniform scheme is currently in the swoosh-funded incubator – has got to go. It’s diluting the brand and things like that matter over the long-term. This ain’t Oregon.
Again – so great to see that D play how it did and see the crowd respond how it did. The only cheers those kids heard for a month were of the Bronx persuasion – glad they got their moment in the sun. They deserved a win.
(Mayan gods nod their heads…..it’s almost their time. Almost.) Speaking of the Golden Domers…..
“We did it guys!! We beat Pitt!! We’re a title contender!!” Give me a break. At least Texas was a real team at the time.
It takes a few shower cycles for that to wash off. Sorry.
If Joe installs one of those little waterfall things they sell at Target, starts burning incense and demands that all entrants into his box remove their shoes I’ll forgive him for the ‘magic’ comment.”
Well I’m damn sure glad that somebody’s got some confidence ’cause I’ve been watching these guys for damn near two and a half months and I don’t have any damn idea what they’ll do. Really, WHAT IS THIS TEAM? ARE THEY GOOD? ARE THEY BAD? ARE THEY BAD AT OFFENSE? ARE THEY GOOD AT IT? WHAT ARE THEY? I need a drink.
“Hey Nefeterius this is great, so glad you could come! It’s really great to have you as part of the Mountaineer Nation! Here’s your commemorative double-stomach-punch-gut-kick-heartbreaking loss! Welcome to the club – you’re REALLY one of us now! NO TAKEBACKS!!!!”
My snark aside I was thrilled that she got to experience WVU hospitality in person. She’s been kind enough to agree to speak with me about the trip so I’m going to post something later in the week about her experience. Really looking forward to it and I think you guys will enjoy it.
See you back here on Tuesday!
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. I tweet throughout the game and love a little back-and-forth. Also check out some more of my work over at SmokingMusket.com where I was fortunate enough to become one of the newest staff writers.