Calm, Cool, and Clutch: A Comparison of Bill Stewart & Rich Rodriguez In Close Games

While I'm all for moving on to Maryland week and trying to forget the first 52 minutes of Friday night's game, the epic comeback against the Herd evoked strong comparisons to the 2005 3OT win over Louisville -- a win that jump-started Pat White and Steve Slaton's run to the Sugar Bowl. It also got me thinking about the ability of WVU under HCBS to be seemingly better equipped to make a last-second comeback than teams coached by RR. Now, I'm not saying it makes HCBS a better all-around coach than RR or anything of that nature. My sole premises is that because HCBS is less emotional and has continued to place emphasis on the passing game, his teams are more even keel and thus better equipped to handle situations that require a drive for a last-minute score to tie or take the lead than RR's teams, which were built on the running game and were very emotional, causing the team (and coach) to panic in end-game situations.

I'm starting with this premises because, off the top of my mind, the 2005 Louisville game is the only time a RR team made such an epic comeback. Against VT and Pitt in 2004, we failed. Against USF in 2006, we failed. And against Pitt in 2007, we failed epically. On the other hand, HCBS's teams were able to make game-tying or game-winning drives against Marshall in 2010, Pitt in 2009, UConn in 2009, and Cincy in 2008.

My parameters are this: WVU must be tied or trailing and in a position that requires some type of score on the last drive either to tie (and send the game into OT) or to win. A successful drive is one that results in a score, regardless of whether the game was won or lost in overtime. If it turns out that RR has a better success rate on these drives, I'm willing to change my thinking. I'm sure you all will let me know of any games I missed or errors in my analysis in the comments.

WVU in close games under HCBS: (4-2)

2010 Marshall (Down 21-13 with 3:09 to go on OWN 2, won 24-21 in OT) WIN
2009 Pitt (Tied 16-16 with 2:54 to go on OWN 32, won 19-16) WIN
2009 UConn (Down 24-21 with 1:40 to go on OWN 20, won 28-24) WIN
2008 Colorado (Tied 14-14 with 2:08 to go on OWN 20, lost 17-14 in OT) LOSS
2008 Cincinnati (Down 20-9 with 1:11 to go on OWN 39, lost 26-23 in OT) WIN
2008 Pitt (Down 19-15 with 0:52 to go on OWN 36, lost 19-15) LOSS

WVU in close games under RR: (4-9)

2007 Pitt (Down 13-7 with 3:00 to go on OWN 46, lost 13-9) LOSS
2007 USF (Down 21-13 with 2:41 to go on OWN 30, lost 21-13) LOSS
2007 Louisville (Tied 31-31 with 3:05 to go on OWN 35, won 38-31) WIN
2006 USF (Down 24-19 with 3:05 to go on OWN 15, lost 24-19) LOSS
2006 Rutgers (Down 23-20 with 3:47 to go on OWN 17, won 41-39 in 3OT) WIN
2005 Louisville (Down 24-17 with 3:41 to go on OPP 40, won 46-44 in 3OT) WIN
2004 Maryland (Tied 13-13 with 6:00+ to go, won 19-16 in OT) LOSS

2004 VT (Down 19-13 with 0:41 to go on OWN 12, lost 19-13) LOSS
2004 Pitt (Down 16-13 with 4:00+ to go, lost 16-13) LOSS
2003 Miami (Down 19-13 with 3:32 to go on OWN 48, lost 22-20) WIN

2003 Cincy (Down 15-13 with 1:11 to go on OWN 16, lost 15-13) LOSS
2001 Temple (Down 17-14, lost 17-14) LOSS
2001 Pitt (Down 23-17, lost 23-17) LOSS

Some of the older games are difficult to find drive charts for, but I tried to provide as much accurate information as I could. I counted a successful drive at the end of the game as a WIN and an unsuccessful drive as a LOSS regardless of the final outcome of the game (e.g. 2008 Cincy and 2003 Miami we scored, but lost the game).

To me, the most egregious losses were the 2004 VT and Pitt games where we ran trick plays in some kind of desperation mode and fell far short of even having a chance to score. 2006 USF and 2007 Pitt were also particularly bad, as we had multiple chances to drive and take the lead and could never put anything together. On the other hand, the 2005 Louisville, 2003 Miami, and 2006 Rutgers were all excellent drives that put us in a position to win the game.

For sake of comparison, both of Stew's losses were, for purposes of this analysis, relatively less troubling. In the 2008 Colorado game, we were tied at 14 and allowed the drive to stall at midfield without attempting a field goal. I thought we should have been more aggressive there, but in the end we went to OT rather than risking the loss. In 2008 against Pitt, we drove the length of the field and had a couple shots at the endzone before falling short. I also considered using the 2009 Cincy game, but under my parameters it didn't qualify because we were down 10, scored a TD, then failed to recover the onside kick. Thus, we never had a drive to tie or win.

So where are we? From the data, it certainly appears that HCBS's WVU teams are better prepared to handle endgame situations in which we need a score to tie or win than RR's WVU teams. In my opinion, this preparedness is the result of an increased emphasis on the passing attack under HCBS and HCBS's more even-keel approach and ability to stay cool under pressure. He never shows a sense of panic and, thus, neither do his teams. RR, though, was notorious for his tantrums and look of utter panic on the sidelines when things weren't going his way. Where HCBS is emotionless to a fault, RR falls at the opposite end of the spectrum. Because RR got flustered, so did his teams. Thus, their performance in these endgame situations suffered as a result.

This is not to say that HCBS is better or worse than RR overall. In fact, one could easily argue that RR didn't have to come from behind as often (13 times in 7 years as opposed to 6 times in just over 2 years), or that he was forced to do so against better competition. Those are certainly fair arguments. But right now, for my money, if we are in a crucial endgame situation, I want a HCBS-coached WVU team on the field.

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