Monday, October 19, 2009

the view from the driver's seat

Jameel Sewell dropped back to pass, and like so many times before, his pocket collapsed almost instantaneously and another split-second decision was unwillingly forced out of him. Like the unwanted, skull-masked guest at the masquerade, the blood-red-clad defenders were crashing the party again. Sewell made his choice. As his doom closed in, he let the ball fly; an ill-advised throw. On a graceful arc it soared toward failure; two more blood-red saboteurs locked their greedy eyes onto the ball and leaped expectantly for the prize.

When the ball finally came to rest, it was gripped tightly and safely in friendly hands. Call it Providence, call it luck, or call it the same slippery, ungrippable ball that both teams had struggled with all day. By any name, Kris Burd held in his hands the salvation of the season. There was more work to be done, but the fickle rain gods were done smiling on Maryland. A few short minutes later, the Maryland lead was cut in half; a few short minutes after that, it was gone for good.

A football game in the rain and muddy swamps is not won by proving your superiority time and again, nor with crisp, perfect execution. That's for sunny weather. You try to gut it out each and every play, you try to make something happen, and you take what you're given and do something with that. Kris Burd took what he was given. Nate Collins took what he was given. You try not to be the ones doing the giving - at this, Maryland did not succeed.

So here we are atop the conference. How weird is that. There's only one team in the ACC that has yet to lose to any other ACC team this season, and it's not Virginia Poly, not Georgia Tech, not Miami, and definitely not Florida State, as weird as all that sounds. And yet, to the outside world, we've proven nothing. We've won our first two ACC games and they were both on the road - that's huge. As far as the outside world goes, they care little for that. The ghost of William & Mary still haunts this team. As it should. Because this is a team that can't rest on its laurels. What have we to rest on? We've proven we're not totally crappy by beating three crappy teams. "Not crappy" isn't going to get it done next week. We're sitting in the driver's seat, but there's an intersection in the windshield. One of the signs says "2007" and the other says "2008." I know which road I want to go down, but we're not gonna find out til Saturday.

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Part of the reason it's so much fun to beat Maryland is because Maryland insists on being so fun to beat. Early in the game I thought "man, it's hard to stand out for douchery at such a douchey school, but Alex Wujciak is succeeding." This was because of his "we'd never wear stuff like that" quote from the previous week, and then the "look at me, I'm a fierce tribal warrior, RAHHR" eyeblack he had on during the game. Schmo.

I changed my mind, though. Wujciak, despite his proclamations of dominance (you'd think they won the game the way he speaks) is just one douche rocket in a sea of douche rockets. The attitude is pervasive throughout the locker room.

Torrey Smith: “I feel like we’re better than Rutgers, I feel like we’re better than Middle Tennessee, I definitely feel that we’re better than UVa.” (Yes, he said this after losing to all those teams. Some of them twice.)

Wujciak again: "We just shut them down. They got one lucky pass where the guy is half out of bounds, they called him inbounds. I don’t even know what to say about that." (You were halfway across the field, dude. How would you know?)

Chris Turner: "Any other day if it wasn’t a torrential downpour and the balls were dry it would have been another outcome. But shoulda-woulda-coulda, you can’t make excuses, that’s just the way it was." (I think that qualifies as an excuse. Guy sounds like Charlie Weis: "I'm not complaining but...." And I didn't realize the sun was shining whenever Sewell threw the ball.)

With all that crying about how much better they think they are, that sure sounds like a reflection on the coach. But he wouldn't be dumb enough to say stuff like that in public, would he?

Yes he would: "I don’t think these teams that are winning are better than us, but we just keep shooting ourselves in the foot."

Douche. Bags. This is why it's so much fun to beat these guys. They provide enough humor to let the glow of victory last all week. It's not about getting credit or respect for the win; I don't need it, it's etched in the scorebook for all time. It's the laughs. Schadenfreude is twice as freude-y when it's Maryland. Here's a prediction: Duke is going to beat this team next week. Book it. Come back to this page next Sunday and see if I'm right. Why? Maryland doesn't think they need to get any better. They think they're good enough. Five times now, it's been just the rotten breaks that keep going against them. They don't need to get any better, they just need the world to stop turning against them. Duke is a hungry team with a new attitude. They gave Virginia Poly hell and they crushed NC State. They know they need to keep getting better, and they are. Maryland thinks they're good enough already. Hell, they're better than we are, if you listen to their players. An ironic attitude coming from a school whose fans hate us because they think we think we're better than them.

That said....

- We didn't exactly win the battle in the trenches. Especially not on offense. And we didn't get much pressure on Turner, except for certain key moments. If we'd done what I said to do, which is make liberal use of the blitz, given what happened when we did get to Turner I think we'd have had a lot more success on defense and turned the game in our favor earlier.

- Nate Collins is a hoss. The ACC thinks so too.

- To clear it up: Yes, Groh absolutely should have gone for the score. Did you see what happened the last time we had first and goal on the 1? No cutesying around with kneeling the ball. Punch it in, take the points, put 'em down two scores. Maryland had a timeout left and would likely have gotten the ball back with a chance for a miracle. Never turn down the points when all they need to do is score once and they're on top again. Right play call, right time.

- Not only was Burd not out of bounds, but the officials could legitimately have called pass interference on Maryland. Check the tape; the defender that didn't leap into the air knocked Burd out of the way. If that was single and not double coverage, the refs would call that every time.

- Argh one shotgun draw too many.

- Speaking of what happened when we had first and goal at the 1, I'll tell you what happened: Landon Bradley singlehandedly murdered that opportunity. First with the false start and then repeatedly getting blown into the backfield. Next year's training camp is going to see a fierce competition between Bradley and Oday Aboushi for that job, and that's just if Morgan Moses doesn't show up and stick his nose into the fray.

- We didn't really miss Mikell Simpson. No way Simpson could have been effective on that field. What we missed was Cedric Peerman. Having graduated him, Rashawn Jackson would be the guy we needed; why he wasn't given the ball more often and allowed to just bull his way ahead all the time is a mystery. It was pretty damn effective in the fourth. Also, Peerman would not have whiffed that block that resulted in a Sewell fumble, but that only partly matters: Bradley should not have been doubling down on Pasztor's guy, not with two guys lined up outside him that clearly weren't in pass coverage. That might have been how the play was supposed to be blocked, and you have to tip your hat to Maryland's defensive coordinator for really mixing up his blitzes especially well. But Bradley was ineffective all day.

- This might just be the best defense we've ever had in the Groh era. Seriously. It's weird because we don't have Clint Sintim or Darryl Blackstock, those pass-rushing OLB's that do a lot of great things in this 3-4 defense. The linebacking corps is not getting much attention, outside of Steve Greer who's playing very well. But this defense is beastly when it counts. The 3-4 means not much attention goes to the D-line, but I think they deserve the lion's share of the credit. The secondary is playing exceptionally well, that is a fact. And the aforementioned Greer has been a nice addition. But the defensive line is making plays and winning battles, and the 3-4 defense cannot be successful without that. Matt Conrath has been having a terrific season. Let's hope he's not hurt too badly. But if he has to miss time, then the defense will simply adopt Groh's next-man-up mentality, and Zane Parr is that man. Parr has also played well and can fill the hole left by Conrath.

Aaaand I'm done babbling. This week: BIG GAME. Are we legit? We'll find out. Also, see the note below for some programming info.

Editor's note: This is the column I'd planned for Sunday. Unfortunately, in the middle of putting together the highlights from the Maryland game, my computer decided it didn't want to do this anymore. It is down so hard. It does not do things any more. It's not even that old a computer. In computer years, it's right in the middle of its angsty teenage phase, which now that I think of it, I suppose would explain things. Anyway, that means a severe disruption in posting. I'm doing this from work, in bits and pieces because actual work keeps getting in the way. Today I'm going in to get the data on the hard drive recovered and hopefully, get the hard drive fixed too so that it boots up again. If that doesn't work.....well, I don't know what to tell you; a new hard drive will be in order, I don't doubt. As long as my computer is out of commission, going forward the only thing I can guarantee you is a Q&A session with the FTRS boys and that beyond that, there won't be anything other than my thoughts barfed onto the page whenever I get the chance here at work. Actual research until the situation is fixed, like the weekend review post that normally happens today and won't: highly unlikely. Je suis désolé.

2 comments:

Karl said...

Dude,

I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for posting this stuff. Always a good read. Since Bill Simmons hardly ever writes anymore, this is something I look forward to every week... Go Hoos!

Coles said...

Just one quarterback draw too many? Isn't running it even once too much when it keeps getting stuffed over and over?
Maybe if we ran it on something other than EVERY FREAKING 3RD AND SHORT we have it would work from time to time. If I know the play call is coming god knows the other team does. Yet somehow our coaching staff doesn't seem to be aware of this.
Great game otherwise, but that play is gonna cause a broken window or two in my house if we keep killing drives with it.