SUGAR BOWL LOSS LEAVES GREAT LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
OK, so we all took for granted that we would win this game against the lowly West Virginia. So much so, that our team was asleep for the first 16 minutes of the game and trailed 28-0. There are two consolations in this loss.
1. At least our kids and coaches did not quit and in fact should have had the ball back with a chance to tie or win.
2. We found out that Coach Richt still knows how to call plays that result in huge gains and quick scoring strikes. We only have to get behind by 28 points for him to cast off the conservative playbook.
There are also two key learning opportunities.
1. Can we send our coaches to punt defense camp and finally get a clue about how to defend the now unstoppable rolling punt formation. I can recall this same punt formation resulting in at least 3 successful fake punts against us this year. Last night, we had one defender against three blockers and WVU had gotten the opportunity to see how we woould defend on a few earlier occasions. So, with the game on the line, WVU could be reasonably certain that the play would succeed. Also, the punter doesn't decide if he will run until he sees the reaction of the defense.
In the instance last night, we should have had 4 or 5 defenders staying home to prevent what happened. By failing to defend that punt, we throw away what would have been a great opportunity for one of the most heroic comebacks in school history. The way our pass offense was on fire, I was very confident that we would have moved into position to potentially win the game. Oh well. Let's at least hope that our coaches will now expend the effort to learn how to stop that punt formation. Maybe we could even learn how to run the damn thing ourselves if it is so unstoppable!
2. If what we saw last night is a harbinger of how easy it can be to score when you have blistering spped and sharp execution in the spread offense that we will be seeing from the Gators, we better learn how to stop it or at least slow it down. I think we made pretty good adjustments after we trailed 28-0, but we continued to overpursue and take bad angles like we did against McFadden from Arkansas. We continued to run at White when he was in the pocket and failed to break down before trying to tackle him, so it was easy for him to slip our rushers.
We have suffered from a lack of great speed in the defensive backfield and at outside linebacker and the speed of White and Slaton exploited that as did McFadden earlier this season. We had enough speed against most opponents, but when we faced the few offensive talents with exceptional speed, we got exposed. Imagine what Reggie Bush would have done to our defense this season. Ouch!
Now, I should praise the talent and execution of the WVU offense. White and Slaton are burners with poise and determination that will be a winning combination for a few more years to come. This will be a very good team for the next several years, you can bet on that.
I was proud that our team did not quit. That showed some character. Clearly they were shell-shocked early on, but did not mail it in. The offense really dug in to make some plays and I enjoyed seeing Lumpkin and Brown break some long TDs. There must be something about the turf at the Dome.
All in all, this loss is mostly inconsequential and I will not get hung up on it. I am glad we did not get embarassed as it looked like we might in the first quarter. It may sting a little to lose by 3 in a BCS Bowl, but it was not an embarassment, so I don't have all of these lingering questions about what is going wrong with our program a la Miami.
Let's go out and close the deal on our recruiting class and get back to work for 2006.