Four days have passed and I still haven't fully come to grips with Saturday's loss in Fort Worth. For the second time this season, the Mountaineers arguably outplayed a higher ranked opponent only to see their efforts dashed by the little things, and fans like myself are left stewing about "what if?".
There's just something so damn deflating about losing games like this. You obviously never want to get blown out, but at least in the aftermath of those games there's something about it that's almost soothing - X team just beat the hell out of us, clearly they are just much better, and that's why we lost. It makes those losses easier to come to terms with, and ultimately easier to forget about. For example, I rarely think about last year's Oklahoma game, but I still revisit TCU's bullshit 2-point conversion in 2012 about once a week. I have a feeling it's going to take me a while to forget about Saturday.
Revisiting the keys
Coming into the game, I opined that the keys to winning would be finishing our drives and getting off the field on 3rd down. I think I hit the nail on the head in both cases, but unfortunately we were only able to be successful in one of those areas.
We were actually pretty good against the nation's best 3rd down offense, holding TCU to just 6 conversions in 15 tries, well below their 63% season average. I thought a big part of that was the pressure we were able to put on Kenny Hill, and a big part of that pressure was due to the return of David Long. Long didn't get any sacks and only ended up with 3 tackles, but his 2 hurries already have him second on the team. That presence is going to be increasingly important for us as the season rolls on.
On the other side, our failure to put the ball in the end zone and through the uprights ended up being the difference in the game. Simple as. The missed FG cost us 3 points, and our failure to punch it on our opening drive cost us 4. Shit officiating aside, there's your 7 points right there.
The scheme wasn't the problem
It was the guys that we were playing. We were as healthy defensively Saturday as we've been all year, and for much of the game, it showed. I've run the defense pretty ragged on here over the past few weeks, but credit where credit is due: those dudes showed up.
The aforementioned David Long made his presence felt early and often along the line of scrimmage while the return of Toyous Avery and a full week of rest for Kyzir White paid dividends on the back-end. The front 3 held their own against an offensive line that outweighed them by an average of 46 lbs per man, and for the second time this year, we almost played a very good game against a nationally-acclaimed offense. However, we were again done in by two massive mental errors.
The first was in the wake of Grier's interception. Everybody in the stadium knew TCU was about to take a shot downfield, including our defensive coordinator. That's why Tony Gibson set us up in a conservative Cover 3 look and warned our guys of the impending deep ball. Quick crash course: Cover 3 splits the deep area of field into thirds, with the corners generally being responsible for everything outside the hashes on their respective sides while a safety covers everything between them.
When I was but a wee speck of a lad learning how to football, our Cover 3 mantra was "deeper than the deepest." TL;DR - you couldn't call a better defense for that situation. And somehow, despite everything I've just said, we got beat deep. 17-3 TCU. That's the kind of thing that good defenses just don't let happen.
The second miscue was every bit as much of a backbreaker. Stop me if you've heard this story before: the opposing team repeatedly hit us with jet motion looks to set up a late-game haymaker. If that sounds familiar, it's because that's exactly what Virginia Tech did to set up Josh Jackson's 46-yard run on their game-winning drive. This week it got us again on the jet sweep throwback to Kenny Hill that put the Frogs up 24-17. It's not excusable, but it's atleast understandable to get beat by something like that once - defenses are taught to be aggressive, they get caught being too aggressive, and that's that. I get it. For it to happen twice in five games though is just demoralizing.
But for those two plays, we played a pretty good defensive game. But for those two plays, we hold TCU to just north of 300 yards and 17 points. But for those two plays, we win. But unfortunately, those two plays happened.
We continue to find innovative new ways..
..to kill ourselves on special teams. Saturday we threw TCU a lifeline by finding a new way to fumble a punt. Obviously a fumble was the correct ruling, but the way it happened left me speechless:
10/10 for creativity.
And when I say we threw them a lifeline with this, I mean WE THREW THEM A DAMN LIFELINE. Here were TCU's three possessions to that point:
- 3 plays, 9 yards, punt
- 5 plays, 19 yards, punt
- 3 plays, 7 yards, punt
Even worse is that while the first two punts had us pinned inside our own 5, this one would've had us starting at our own 38. We were about to be in business. And then we weren't, and before you know it we're down 7-3 in a game that we'd been 100% in control of. You simply can't make mistakes like that and expect to win, let alone win on the road against a Top 10 team.
Fast-forwarding past an all-too-familiar missed FG (we're now 2/5 this year), we come to TCU's game-winning drive late in the 4th. The interception that "wasn't" has been analyzed to death, but do you remember how that drive started? It started with Evan Staley, not Mike Molina, kicking the ball out of bounds, which gave them the ball at the 35.
Here’s where every drive started on Saturday:
West Virginia - WVU 3, WVU 5, WVU 25, WVU 1, WVU 6, WVU 18, WVU 21, WVU 25, WVU 23, WVU 25, WVU 49, WVU 25
Our average starting position was our own 18, and four times we were pinned inside our own 10.
TCU - TCU 41, TCU 25, TCU 14, WVU 33, TCU 20, TCU 28, TCU 18, TCU 21, WVU 45, TCU 25, TCU 25, TCU 13, TCU 35,
TCU's average starting position was their 33, and three times they started on our side of the field.
So basically we were spotting them 1.5 first downs per possession. I'd imagine a closer examination of the Virginia Tech game would yield something similar. That's how you can pound a team in the box score and still lose.
Pinto's Pick Me Up, sponsored by Pitt
Let’s end on a positive. Here’s Pitt's radar chart overlayed with ours. I’m showing you this because Pitt is bad, and looking at this made me feel better. I’d like to note that the vertical axis limit defaulted to 0.75 because nothing is close to being higher than that. I moved it to 1.0 to further emphasize their suck. That is all.
Looking at the big picture, I still think we have a very good football team. We've lost to #6 and #15 on the road on the last drive of the game, and you can make a convincing argument that we were the better team in both cases. It just sucks that we keep winding up on the wrong end of them. On to Texas Tech.