At 6:58 AM this morning I found myself out on the patio, enjoying the cool 47-degree temperatures, and wondering how many times I’ve found myself feeling this way after a disappointing Hokie loss.
Let’s not put lipstick on the pig, shall we? Last night’s loss to West Virginia was bad.
Having experienced these kinds of mornings for the last 50 years, I pretty much know how to handle it. Sitting outside and enjoying nature is far better than, say, looking at social media, where I can see folks like the very overrated Pat Forde call Lane Stadium “the most overrated home venue in college football.”
You see, when you’ve never been good, people don’t say things about you when you have a bad loss. That’s because they don’t say, think or care about you at all, as it’s like you never existed.
But when you have been good, then go through the rebuilding process Virgnia Tech is now dealing with, that’s the morning they dance on your grave. Opponents taunt you on everything from your team’s losses to the song you play entering the stadium. One UVA fan even suggested it’s time to retire the tradition of Enter Sandman after the defeat.
Dear UVA fan: fill your stadium first. Then we might consider anything you have to say.
In many cases it’s not even your opponents. A lot of the vitriol last night and this morning is coming from Virginia Tech fans themselves. They want to fire Coach Brent Pry, Athletic Director Whit Babcock, the mayor of Blacksburg and probably the guy that didn’t make their coffee to their liking this morning.
After only 4 games.
What stings this morning is that some of those complaints are not without substance. After a spectacularly undisciplined loss to Old Dominion in the season opener where they had 15 penalties for 106 yards, it looked like the coaching staff had fixed the problem. They only had 5 penalties and no turnovers in each of the last two games.
But whatever band aid they used for the temporary fix burst open last night, as they had another 15 penalties for even more yards at 132.
When you are a rebuilding team with a thin roster of talent – and it will take at least two years to bring in enough new recruits to change that - the margin for error is extremely small. You have to hope you can play your best early, not give the opponent any second chances, and that you can still maintain a lead in the 4th quarter when a deeper team might wear you out.
Last night the Hokies didn’t give the Mountaineers second chances. They gave them seventh, eighth and ninth chances.
Then there’s the matter of the offense, where it looks like the team has decided to keep trying to drive a nail through a cement block, no matter how many times it doesn’t work. After 4 games, it’s fair to say this team with its current personnel is probably not going to be able to get the tough one or two yards between the tackles when it needs to this season.
This stubbornness was never so evident than on a key play in the second quarter. Faced with a 4th and one, the Hokies chose to go for it instead of taking the field goal. As I noted on Twitter last night, “we were going to run a play into the teeth of their defense that probably wouldn't work, so we call a timeout, talked about it, then ran a play into the teeth of their defense and it didn't work...”
There are other places on the field to run an offense. The entire rationale for the West Coast offense is that if you can’t pound it down an opponent’s throat, you use your speed by getting your backs out in open spaces with short passes. This lets them use their talents that way, and by doing so the defense now has to creep up and honor that possibility, perhaps opening up the way for longer strikes down the field.
Instead, the stat sheet tells a grim tale of unsuccessful attempts in the running game. It will say the Hokies ran the ball 18 times for 35 yards, but 21 yards came on six scrambles or keepers by quarterback Grant Wells. That means an entire roster of running backs carried 12 times for 14 yards against a West Virginia defense not considered in the same conversation as the ’86 Bears.
If you can’t run, defenses just hang back and make it nearly impossible to throw downfield, and if you’re still working through trying to figure out if you have the right guy at quarterback, all of this is a recipe for disaster.
Which the Hokies tasted the results of last night.
As I mentioned above, this is not a new experience for me in all my years of following the Hokies. I got up, put on a Virginia Tech sweatshirt, poured a hot cup of coffee and sighed a lot thinking about how many times I’ve been here before. I will offer that it’s a good day to stay off the computer, throw a tennis ball to the dog, enjoy some of the turning leaves on the first full day of autumn, and remember that this too will pass.
I’d also point out – even if you don’t want to hear it – that this is only Pry’s 4th game of his tenure at Virginia Tech, and for the barbarians at the gate crowd, it would be like demanding perfection of you at a new job after 4 weeks. Odds are you, me, and 99.9 percent of everyone else would be fired if that were the standard, and the same would also be true for coaches like Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski and yes, even Frank Beamer if you didn’t fix things in 4 weeks, or even two years.
We all knew what we were signing on for this season, and we all realized It takes time to turn around a program that has descended to the depths the previous coach drove it to. We also knew we might see a few clunkers along the way, which we did last night.
Knowing that it might happen, however, doesn't make it sting any less.
I am definitely not the UVA fan who made the callous Sandman comment. I somehow missed the fact that Tech was playing those other Mountaineers on ESPN Thursday night. However, just remember what Rick says to Ilsa at the conclusion of the revered film Casablanca - "We'll always have Charlottesville" or something to that effect!