Thursday, January 05, 2012

Game Review (with a twist at the end) - Sugar Bowl VT vs. Michigan

Well my friends, I've re-watched the game and I still can't believe Virginia Tech lost this game. It might go down as the strangest loss in the history of the program. The Hokies dominated on offense and defense as much as they did, if not moreso, than in the 38-0 beatdown of the Cavaliers. But instead they lost 23-20 in overtime. It took some of the most ridiculous and ill-timed errors on special teams one could believe, one bad coaching decision, another absolutely jaw dropping bad coaching decision and several mindblowing bad calls by the officiating crew to allow Michigan to win this game. Knowing the outcome ahead of time and then watching these plays, it seemed as if fate had decided that no matter what, Michigan was supposed to win this football game.

The game could hardly have started off any better for Tech. They kicked off, forced a three-and-out, went down and kicked a FG to go up 3-0. The next series, they intercepted Denard Robinson and drove down to the 4 yd-line for 1st and goal. On the next play, RB David Wilson made an enormous mental error and lost 22 yds. This was awful but even more horrendous was the fact that the Hokie wide receivers were absolutely RUINING the Michigan secondary and yet, in the red zone, the Hokies weren't taking any shots at the end zone. Not a single fade pattern or slant route. Jarrett Boykin and Marcus Davis could have and would beaten any Michigan defender for a one-on-one ball, or gotten pass interference called against the defense. So while I thought Wilson's decision was awful, I was unimpressed with the playcalling the redzone. Either way, Tech got another FG and went up 6-0.

Even after that, the defense only gave up one first down and forced Michigan's third punt. The Hokies, keyed by a 32-yd run by Wilson, drove right back down the field into the red zone, and again no attempt at letting their experienced, bigger, receivers who completely outmatched the secondary get a single chance at a ball. So the drive bogged down at the 4.5 yd line and here was my first sign that someone had slipped something into Coach Beamer's water bottle.

Any football fan knows that there is a HUGE difference between being up by two scores vs. one score. Football basics are this - if by kicking a FG you can increase the number of you scores you are up on an opponent you ALWAYS. and that means ALWAYS, EVERY TIME kick the !&#$^*#@&!$^ FG. It's just a fundamental law of football and you just don't break that rule. If the same situation had arisen, 4th and a yard and a half from the 4.5 yard line with the score only 3-0, I would have been fine with Beamer going for the first down. But up 6-0 the circumstances are completely different, and I was losing my mind about the Hokies not trying the FG the moment I saw the offense on the field. Success on 4th and short this year be damned, you take the FG in that situation every time. And they didn't. And they got stopped.

And not only did the QB sneak up the middle get stopped, but the QB sneak was not very successful throughout the game. Do you think Brady Hoke is a complete moron? Or do you think he spent two entire weeks of practice working on stopping the QB sneak up the middle? There would have been one possibly excusable reason to go for it on this 4th down, up 6-0. If they had faked the QB sneak and then Logan had just stood up and thrown it to the most wide open player in the history of football - TE Drager - who would have drifted into the end zone, THEN I would probably have been OK with going for it on that play. Demonstrating that level of creativity would have given me hope. But that wasn't the call and the Hokies got stopped.

Of course the defense stopped Michigan again. But this time, Coach Beamer called for a punt block and James Hopper landed on the plant foot of the punter, giving Michigan a chance for their lone real scoring drive of the game. Which - by the way - came on 3rd and 14 and involved QB Denard Robinson just throwing the ball up on a prayer that was answered by WR Junior Hemingway. Again, I have no way of understanding why Coach Beamer went for the punt block in that situation. And to continue the special teams disaster theme, RB Tony Gregory fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Michigan, after being absolutely outplayed for a half, was ahead 7-6 with a first down on the Hokie 26 yd-line. What did the Hokie defense do? Shut the Wolverines down cold on three straight plays.

Now fate looked down and smiled on Michigan. Because Brady Hoke made his own idiotic coaching decision and tried for a fake FG. This, despite having all the momentum on his side, he wanted to give Virginia Tech a chance to recapture it just before the half when the Hokies were going to get the ball to begin the second half. It blew my mind. And then the fragments of my mind that had been blown by Hoke's decision burst into flames when the refs didn't throw a flag on the kicker for a false start on the fake kick. And then the charred powder remains of my burnt mind were snorted up the nose of Captain Insanity as I proceeded to watch Kyle Fuller and Alonzo Tweedy try and INTERCEPT the @#$&^@#~!! ball instead of knocking it down. As they collided into each other and knocked the ball up into the air it nestled right into the hands of the Michigan snapper, which gave Michigan first and goal from the 8 yd-line. I don't know how often the word "apoplectic" has been an understatement in describing someone, but it certainly was in describing me at that moment. And in that moment, I got the sense that Virginia Tech would not win this football game.

But even with that chill down my spine, I couldn't help but be reinvigorated as the Hokies overcame a great interception early in the 2nd half by Michigan's freshman defensive tackle and a great throw and catch from Robinson to Hemingway in the back of the end zone to go up 17-6. VT proceeded to mow Michigan down, again on offense and defense, and bring the game back to a 17-17 tie in the 4th quarter. And then with 8:20 minutes left in the game, the refs struck again.

RB David Wilson took the handoff on 2nd and 5 from the Hokie 48 yd-line, sprinted left, lost his footing and then regained it and rumbled down to the Michigan 48 yd line. It would be 3rd and 1. But the head official blew his whistle and said that Wilson's knee had touched back at the line of scrimmage. Now note that the player attempting the tackle on Wilson when he lost his footing didn't indicate that Wilson was down. The two officials closest to the play didn't think he was down and went to mark the ball on the Michigan 48 yd-line. This was the head official who was standing on the opposite side of the field from the way the play went who blew the whistle. Instead it was 3rd and 5, Logan Thomas came up a yard short and with 7:21 left in the game, Coach Beamer called a timeout.

Football is about circumstances. I think calling a timeout and then going for a run/punt option was the worst call of Coach Beamer's career because he tipped his hand to Coach Hoke so that Hoke could prepare Michigan for the possibility of a fake. And I believe that the failed 4th and 1.5 yards from the 2nd quarter was on Beamer's mind so he didn't want to try another sneak. But he apparently had a burning desire not to just punt this ball. Of course, even without the timeout, not just kicking the ball and pinning Michigan deep was inexplicable. The Wolverines had a total of 154 yards of offense to that point in the game. They weren't going to suddenly drive 55+ yards for a FG or 80+ yards for a touchdown to win. And if they did, the Hokies would have gotten the ball back with a chance to tie or win the game anyway. This decision was all risk and it had little if any, reward. Say Coale had gotten the first down. The Hokies still weren't in FG range, would still need another 20-25 yards to kick a FG and even if they did score, Michigan would still get a chance to drive the field to tie or win. Beamer didn't admit this call was his worst one publicly, other than to say that there are some play calls that he would like to do over. But he took responsibility for that decision in the locker room with his team. That is admirable, however the fact remains that no coach, who had any sense in big games would make that play call.

Of course, Beamer did, Coale was stopped, the Wolverines got their 20 yards, kicked a FG and then QB Logan Thomas had to work his magic yet again. Down 3 points, starting on his own 9 yd-line, with 4 minutes left, Thomas led another masterpiece of a drive. He took the Hokies down to the Michigan 13 yd-line where Justin Myer made his 4th FG of the night to send the game to overtime. I still, for the life of me, cannot figure out why Coach O'Cain didn't give Thomas a play to take one shot for the end zone on 3rd and 7 from the Michigan 13 yd-line, but he didn't.

Anyway, you all know what happened in overtime. Coale made a catch and I'm not saying that because I thought it was a catch. In real time, I thought it was incomplete. But the ref thought it was a catch and ruled it so. I think Iceman Wrenn's post on the topic covers my view as well. Looked incomplete in real time, ref says it's a catch, replay, if anything supports that, but even if you don't agree, it's awful hard to say that replay indisputably shows it wasn't a catch. Anyway, I figured the Hokie defense just had to hold on. I know that they would have. But they didn't get the chance to defend a 7 point lead because the booth overturned the call. And despite that, and Myer missing his FG (can't blame the kid, he played a solid game), it appears that one blown call wasn't enough to win the game for Michigan. They needed another.

After the Hokie defense stoned the Wolverines on three downs (yet again), Michigan lined up to kick a game-winning FG. And just like on the fake FG at the end of the first half, the Michigan kicker false started. You want to review that on replay Mr. Booth Official? Because that video clip IS INDISPUTABLE video evidence that the kicker took a step, the ball was then snapped and then he ran up to the ball and kicked it. False start, 5 yards, try again from 42 yards. Michigan 23, VT 20 and that was that. The pain began.

Actually I say the pain began, but I'm not 100% sure it was pain. I mean, I've felt various things after Hokie losses in the past, some combination of the following - numbness, pain, sorrow, depression, anger, nausea - depending on who the Hokies were playing and how they lost. Live, after the game, my feelings were hurt but I was also in denial. I just felt like the police were going to escort the replay booth official out of the stadium on camera having uncovered evidence of him being paid off. The Hokies couldn't have lost a game they beat their opponent so badly in. It would have been as if Virginia Tech would have beaten Stanford last year despite Stanford doing what they did in the 2nd half to the Hokies. Unimaginable.

Today, re-watching the game, I just felt a sense of calm. I've had a moment of clarity and it's all about acceptance. Here at TSF we've talked about this before (a whole damn lot) and I always blamed Coach Stinespring for the Hokies' failures to take the next step on the college football ladder. And I'll argue to my dying breath that he was awful at implementing an offense and even worse at calling plays. But this year, Coach O'Cain was a world apart from our offensive shortcomings of the past. He could have done a lot better in the Sugar Bowl in abusing the MIchigan secondary, taking more shots at the end zone, etc, but over this season, the offense was nearly unrecognizable when compared to the train wreck it was under Stiney's tenure.

Tuesday night, despite the team being EXTREMELY focused, well-prepared and more talented than their opponents, the problem was that Coach Beamer was unable to make the basic coaching decisions in the big game to help his team win. It's the heat of the moment and he get paid to make those decisions. He understands that and he understands that he lives with the consequences where fans like us get to second-guess him (although I was first-guessing him a lot in the Sugar Bowl). Coach Beamer is a big enough man to accept that this is the way that it is, but he's not at any risk of losing his job over this. Why? Because the expectations of Hokie Nation have been met. Year in and year out, Tech competes for the ACC title and THAT'S where the real bar is. It's not where my bar has been, I've wanted more, but that is like saying I've wanted a lifetime supply of MacAllan Scotch, or the Hawaiian Tropic girls to work at the barbershop I go to. Wishing and wanting will not make it so.

Listen, it takes everything to win a national title. You have to get lucky, you have to have some NFL caliber first-string talent, you have to have depth, you have to have team chemistry and you have to have great coaching both in preparation and during the game. I think the Hokies need a little more elite talent, not because their starters aren't good enough to win a title but because you're going to have injuries and in the SEC, another elite talent just steps into the spot which is why the SEC has won the past 5 titles and will win their 6th in a row. But for the most part, I think VT can check a lot of those boxes which is why I always expected them to compete for a national title. By replacing Stinespring as offensive coordinator, it just exposed a different Achilles' Heel: Coach Beamer himself. Face it - most of the mistakes on Tuesday night were special teams errors and poor decisions by Coach Beamer. He might have just had a bad day at the office, we all do sometimes, but let's say that the Hokies have a miracle season in 2012, and David Wilson returns and their entire first string on offense and defense stay healthy, to where they get to play for the national title. What makes you, the Superfan, think Coach Beamer will be able to make the right calls in that biggest of big games? Do you think he will? The calls he blew in the Sugar Bowl weren't debatable calls. They weren't "could have gone either way" types of deals. They were fundamental, obviously poor decisions that can't just be written off as inexperience.

So in that light, I've come to a very difficult and long-thought-over decision about how I am going to adapt to this new reality (at least it's a reality in my mind). I've given this a lot of thought since the ACC title game and I've decided that this Michigan game will very likely be the last Virginia Tech loss that I watch on TV. I will adopt a strategy that involves recording every Virginia Tech game that I can't go to live. I will wait to see if the Hokies win or lose, only checking the score after the game is over, and if Tech wins I'll watch the game and if they lose I'll delete it.

I understand the reaction from some of you might be that I am no longer a Superfan. I agree that this is fair-weather fan behavior. I have seen Virginia Tech come so far under Coach Beamer that it really bothers me to think that while he was able to get the Hokies to this level, which is fantastic, I don't think the team will win a national title on his watch. And for reasons I don't understand, while I enjoy ACC titles and am proud the Hokies have won them, they are not enough for me because I think the team is capable of more and that dissatisfaction is spilling over into what I'll call "real life".

During games this year I have noticed that I'm setting a bad example for my kids - who are now old enough to begin to understand poor behavior. On top of that, it can't be good for my health to get so worked up like this. Even in wins, where I wasn't sure the Hokies were going to win, the stress damn near causes an ulcer (and it just might have caused an ulcer, I am going to make a doctor's appointment this week). I'm apparently just incapable of watching Hokie football, not knowing the outcome, and somehow remaining calm. So this plan is what works for me. And while I am a little sad about it, I also feel an accompanying sense of relief.

How will this impact my involvement in TSF? TBD at this point. We will huddle in the off-season to discuss and of course I'll still participate in a full recruiting breakdown and spring ball review for this and every offseason. Perhaps next season, I'll exclusively do game previews and a freewheel here and there. Who knows? I still consider myself a Superfan, I still know that the next time VT does play for a national title, I'll be there no matter who the Hokies' coach is, and I'll close by saying that nobody on this planet hopes that I am more wrong about Coach Beamer, and his ability to win it all, than I do. He is a good man, who has worked hard and has a real knack for developing players and it'd be a great reward for his long and illustrious career.



Rob said...

I've enjoyed reading your posts and understand your decision to take a step back from football. As a new father I can understand that family comes first.

Thanks for doing this blog!

And if this is some kind of joke, then you got me.

MadJay said...

Thanks for the thought Rob, it's certainly not a joke. I hope that most people who read this blog are able to provide a more mature and balanced approach to the importance of Hokie football in their "real lives" than I am.

Stay tuned for our rundown after Signing Day on another fantastic recruiting class (the 4th or 5th in a row and maybe the best of the bunch).

LuvzAznChix said...

Mad, I'm gonna miss you bruh. Though in a way I'm not because you'll still have some level of involvement. NOBODY is questioning that you are & forever a TSF.

One thing I have to slightly disagree. Beamer's job NOT being in jeapordy. I agree but I also disagree at the same time. Look what he did last year? Sure it was only band aid, but he still made (& in ways was FORCED) changes. I think he's due for a huge ass ripping when he goes into the alumni meeting in the spring.

Also, I have to disagree that Hokie Nation expectations have been met. I sincerely believe that expectations have RISEN. And though we don't expect to win (much less compete) for a NC every year, I believe Hokie Nation expectations are: 1) to at least be in the running every year for a NC 2) improve the bowl record 3) improve the abysmal and abominable record against top 5-10 teams 4) win more BCS bowls in addition to the already expectation of winning the coastal div, winning the acc outright & beating uva every year.

MadJay said...

I think the rising expectations you're talking about are those of a few of us more "enthusiastic" fans.

I genuinely believe that Hokie Nation at large (the huge portion of fans and alumni who do NOT spend a lot of time keeping up with things on VT message boards and blogs) are having their expectations met. I will admit that even the most casual Hokie fan could tell from watching the Michigan game that the Hokies were CLEARLY a better football team from a talent level. And although the Danny Coale call should not have been overturned, the game should NEVER have even come to that. So I expect there to be a little more heat on Beamer than usual but I would be stunned to see any more changes made.

LuvzAznChix said...

"I think the rising expectations you're talking about are those of a few of us more "enthusiastic" fans."

"...but I would be stunned to see any more changes made."

Mad, I must respectively disagree with you on that one. I say prepared to be stunned then.

MadJay said...

Just a quick update - it's been almost 5 years since I implemented this strategy and I cannot begin to say what a change in my life it has been.

Not watching the games on TV unless we win has been amazing. I get to see the good and bad in the team and see the development of the players, while not subjecting myself to the incredible frustration at the things that were so obviously wrong with the program for so long. Under Coach Fuente, I've been able to watch more games this year than in previous years and while I am disappointed in his approach to the running game, I've been ecstatic with the game planning and execution led by Brad Cornelsen. And the defense looks as mean as ever.

I got to go to the VT-Notre Dame game in South Bend this year and it was like it has always been - a rush of adrenaline, a feeling like I'm part of a win in some small way by being there and cheering the team on, and all in all it was just a completely invigorating experience. In fact, as fate would have it, all the games I've been to since January 2012 have been Hokies wins, and so with my new strategy I actually haven't seen a Hokie loss since that poorly officiated Sugar Bowl game vs. Michigan. I hope that streak continues forever!!


So while I can't advocate this approach for everyone, I know it has added years to my life in only watching Hokie wins on TV and as fate would have it, since all the