1. At his Tuesday news conference, coach Paul Johnson offered an analysis of the season that acknowledged that it’s missed the mark thus far but asserted that it’s not time to panic.
“Certainly, the year has not gone the way that we would have liked or envisioned to this point,” he said. “But sometimes, it happens.”
Johnson noted that Tech has led in the fourth quarter of all five of its ACC games, three of which it lost, Virginia Tech, Miami and Clemson.
“It’s not like we’ve rolled out there and gotten steamrolled by people,” he said. (Middle Tennessee State explanation is down below) “We just haven’t finished and haven’t won the game.”
He pointed out that “you can make a really good case that we had a great chance” to beat both Virginia Tech and Miami. Tech led both games going into the final minute but lost both in overtime.
“If you win those two games, you’re probably looking at a whole different scenario,” he said. “But if if’s and but’s were candy and nuts … We didn’t get it done. And sometimes that happens. I don’t think you panic and throw the baby out with the bathwater all because you didn’t (finish).”
I believe there’s some validity to what he’s saying. If Tech had won both of those games, and it’s hard to argue that they weren’t entirely winnable, the Jackets would be 5-3 overall and 3-1 in the ACC and in control of their fate in the Coastal Division. You could also make the case that Tech wouldn’t have lost to Middle Tennessee State if it hadn’t absorbed such a devastating loss to Miami seven days prior.
That loss, Johnson made no excuse for, saying “we no-showed, bottom line.” For the sake of argument, let’s give the Jackets that game. That makes Tech 6-2 and conceivably ranked.
On the other hand, it doesn’t explain the defensive lapses, and perhaps BYU would still have drummed Tech by 24 points at home. Johnson noted that BYU is “pretty dang good,” could finish 8-4 and that three losses will be to No. 3 Notre Dame (by three points on the road), No. 11 Oregon State (a game that was tied going into the fourth quarter) and No. 19 Boise State (7-6 on the road).
You could make the case that maybe Tech would have played with more confidence or spirit if it had been 6-1 going into that game, but then you could also say that BYU would have been all the more fired up to play a ranked team on the road and that maybe the defense might have made more mistakes had Al Groh still been the coordinator. (Johnson said defensive mental errors were “probably half of what we would normally have.” The problem Saturday, on top of getting stuck with disadvantageous field position, was a lot of missed tackles.)
Losing by 24 points at home and not scoring an offensive touchdown is hard to argue around. Even if all the if’s and but’s were true and BYU had been 7-1 and in the top 10, a 24-point home loss to anyone is something of a statement.
This all makes me think of a few things. One, you can play this game the other way, too. Johnson’s signature win, the 2008 defeat of Georgia, could well have gone the Bulldogs’ way with one play. But for a few plays in 2009, Tech could have lost to Clemson (three-point margin of victory), Florida State (five points), and Wake Forest (three points, overtime) and Clemson again in the ACC title game (five points), although none of those teams had those games in the bag like Tech seemingly did the Virginia Tech and Miami games.
That said, I don’t think that Johnson’s point is that Tech should have a better record – as he acknowledged that “we didn’t get it done,” – but rather that the team isn’t the jalopy that some (most?) think.
“It’d be a lot more concerning if we were trotting our butt out and getting beat 56-3 or 41-7 and you were never in the game and you never had a chance,” Johnson said, coming narrowly close to reciting the score of the BYU game. “Then you might be looking at wanting to make some changes in what you were doing and the way you were approaching and all that. In my mind, anyway. We’re not that far away.”
Two, something I’ve heard Johnson say a number of times is “That’s why you play the games.” I’m not sure anyone saw this coming, and I don’t know that, if you rewind the season to Sept. 3, it would turn out again the way it has. Maybe it would.
Three, it’s hard to not feel like something is missing. I asked Johnson what the team’s personality was, and after saying that he thought the team has “probably got some different personalities,” noted that the team is young. There’s 12 seniors on the roster, six of whom start.
“So at times we have a hard time staying focused,” he said. “The maturity level is probably not what you would like all the time.”
He went on further to say that problems with focus can happen game to game or even series to series, noting how off the team was in the second half of the Boston College game.
“Momentum is a big deal, especially with a young team,” he said. “It’s a big deal and when things don’t go well early, they can get down really quick.”
I imagine that strikes some as an excuse. Maryland is even younger than Tech, although it starts more seniors, and has had to deal with four quarterbacks going down with season-ending injuries.
“I think our team has handled all the situations pretty well,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said.
He noted that the Terrapins haven’t finished the last two games as well as he would want – perhaps being down to the fourth-string quarterback was a factor – and added that players are giving great effort.
On the other hand, N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said that with teams with few seniors, “there isn’t that sense of urgency” because underclassmen know they have seasons left to play. At this point of the year, he said, when seniors realize there’s only four games left in their career, “it picks up the whole football team.”
It’s hard to not think something is missing with this team. It’s possible, maybe even likely, the paucity of seniors is a factor. A shortage of playmakers is another. Obviously, the pass rush hasn’t measured up, nor has the offensive line. While it’s contributed plays, special teams has been leaky. The secondary hasn’t lived up to its billing.
In looking at a quote from the 2009 Wake Forest game story, a quote from Johnson stuck out.
“We found a way to win in the end,” he said.
There’s a lot to point a finger at. However, they might still all be warts even if the team were 5-3 or 6-2, but, right or wrong, we probably wouldn’t be dwelling on them so heavily. As Johnson often says, but remarkably didn’t say Tuesday, things are rarely as good or as bad as they seem.
I’m not sure how much I agree or disagree. But I don’t think Johnson is entirely off base.
2. And, also, Johnson said “we’re committed to playing Vad (Lee). A lot of it’s going to depend on practice, and I talked to both of them yesterday (Monday) and they understand the situation. They both have got to get ready to play and as the week goes on, we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it.”
That’s all you were really interested in, right?
In case you missed it…
Thanks for reading.