So Sunday morning I was outside my hotel, killing time until my car service (!) picked me up and took me to the airport. I’ve had this song stuck in reddmy head for a while and it was running laps around my idle thoughts. I was tapping my toe as I pieced a few things together and, man, Fun.’s “One Foot” suddenly made sense.
I’m standing in Brooklyn just waiting for something to happen. I can’t help but love thinking that everyone doesn’t get it.
That Pinstripe Bowl? I think it gets a Bad.
Don’t get me wrong. I quite enjoyed my time before, during and after the game. The bowl people took great care of the media and all its needs. The events were good. The hotel was fine. The transportation wasn’t bad, and that 2 1/2 hour trip from WVU’s practice back to the hotel Thursday was not the norm. I didn’t even mind the open-air press box and the arctic conditions encountered covering the game.
That’s not the gripe.
I just have questions about the luck and the future of the game that’s supposed to be a novelty, a postseason game in a baseball stadium in a famed city, but in a non-traditional bowl climate. It it’s had six 7-5 teams in three years and two games compromised by weather. Unless you’re covering the game, root for one of the teams or work for the Yankees, you’d have a hard time being in the city and knowing the game was coming.
WVU had to practice inside one day — inside a hotel ballroom. There was an alternate option, but it was on Long Island and thought to be too tricky a trip because of that afternoon’s weather.
The field was in awful shape by the end of the game with mud and ice. It wasn’t catered to at halftime and both teams wondered why — and the reply, as told to me, was that no one wanted to do it. The infield was exposed toward the end of the game. The sidelines were really slick — and also close to the outfield walls and the sponsorship signs.
But, man, that bowl logo was always visible at midfield.
Ryan Nassib, Geno Smith, Alec Lemon, Tavon Austin, pass rushers, cornerbacks, even coaches were limited and the ones from this sentence with names couldn’t properly show off their abilities in their final games. One of the hooks of the Pinstripe Bowl is the media market, the attention of the sports world and the stage and exposure for professional scouts.
That’s not ideal for the bowl and that’s not what teams, or conferences, are signing up for. On one hand, it’s football weather. It’s the elements at play and teams at the mercy of that which they cannot control. But that’s now what bowls are supposed to be about.
And so I’m curious what happens next. The Big 12, now 0-3 in the game and twice bothered by the conditions, might not want a part of it in the next bowl cycle. Given the way the conference has been resurrected in the past few seasons, it might aim higher.
The Big East is going to look very different once the current bowl cycle expires next season, so will the bowl want to invest in the UCFs and ECUs and SMUs it is bound to welcome? Or will it have a choice? And what happens if it’s Big East v. Mid-American Conference? It has a lot to offer, but it has some red flags, too.
There’s a lot on the line there and, while the bowl is a neat idea under optimal circumstances, it’s impossible to guarantee those conditions. It was a great idea and the concept was worth pursuing, but you have to wonder where it goes from here.
But that’s not something WVU has to think about right now after the 38-14 loss to Syracuse Saturday. It left the Mountaineers with a 7-6 record after a 5-0 start and a long offseason to endure before whatever happens in 2013.
How did we get here? Let’s take a look by examining the Good and the Bad of the Pinstripe Bowl.
First play from scrimmage and isn’t that a hell of a way to start a game? Watch Pat Eger, the right guard, throw it in reverse. It was like that for much of the game up front, and what was discouraging for WVU was it knew it had to at least hold its own up front because Syracuse was better there.
There was never a string of plays where WVU got the better of the Orange and 37 runs netted 88 yards.
Bad: Nick Kindler’s height
This is the ninth and final blocked kick of Tyler Bitancurt’s career and to call it a block is a little misleading. This one kicks off the helmet of 6 foot, 6 inch Nick Kindler (No. 79). I know the weather was a mess and Bitancurt slides a little on this attempt, but trajectory was a problem of his through the years — and really, only the final three. He didn’t have one blocked in 2009.
Bad: Nutshell, Part I
OK, third-and-7. WVU sends seven at the play and not one of them gets home. Only linebacker Josh Francis gets close, but his route twisting inside off the edge takes too long. And by sending seven, which includes all four linebackers, the Mountaineers leave the middle open for the tight end. Beckett Wales has no trouble before safety Darwin Cook has trouble making the tackle.
In flag football, it’s a good stop, though.
Good: Tavon, one last time
Was this the highlight of Tavon’s final college game? Eh, don’t answer that. Cherish it. Instead of a 10-yard loss, it’s a loss of one, but it’s pretty entertaining.
That thing was doomed from the start. Eger gets beat, Shawne Alston has to jump in and I’m not sure what Ryan Clarke was doing. He needs to take out Brandon Sharpe, but he never gets there.
Then again, no one could stop Sharpe. How he wasn’t the game’s MVP, I’ll never understand: Seven tackles, two sacks (one a safety), 3 1/2 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. I know Syracuse had some offensive stars, but the defense was the story and Sharpe, from the defensive end position, personified that effort against a renowned passing offense. I thought he was the best player on the field.
Unconscionable, really, that that offense could fail on all 11 third downs, and two fourth downs. It was an all-encompassing failure, too, with bad scheme, bad blocks, bad throws and bad drops, like this one from otherwise reliable Connor Arlia.
His teammates tend to marvel about his hands and how he doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t go up and make great plays or fly off the page with ability, but he’s known to be one to do the right thing, which explains the walk-on’s rise this season when others around him couldn’t do those things.
But when it’s bad, it’s bad.
Good: Syracuse’s Plan B
I felt a little silly for spending much of my space devoted to Syracuse writing about the passing offense and only glancing over the two backs who average five yards per carry and the offense that averaged 170 rushing yard per game.
But the Orange did want to pass against WVU’s woeful pass defense and to pressure the Mountaineers with some tempo.
The weather did not allow that, but Syracuse had a seamless transition to the backup plan. Jerome Smith was wonderful, carrying 30 times for 157 yards and never once losing ground on a carry. He ran the plays, challenged the defenders and made life a lot easier for Prince-Tyson Gulley, who capitalized 25 times for 208 yards and two scores.
Side bad: WVU’s tackling. Not good. Not even close. I’d share examples, but the spring game is in April.
It’s equal parts good and bad and, I think, the first and only Goad of the season. The offensive line did a really nice, really rare job of completely opening a lane. Andrew Buie did precisely what he was supposed to do and cut the defensive back down so Tavon could get get going. And then J.D. Woods strolls by as his cornerback makes the tackle.
If Woods gets on Brandon Reddish early and puts his back on the sideline, Tavon probably scores. It’s still a nice play, but it could have been a sensational one.
I will say this — and I’ll add to it later — but Syracuse did not allow WVU’s periphery parts to make a difference on plays. Reddish does a nice job avoiding the possibility of a block.
Bad: Eyes in the wrong places
Go through the catalog of football memories you have in your head. What happens when an offense runs a play action pass? Does the defense’s sideline not yell “PAAAAAAASS”? I didn’t hear that here.
But that’s not the issue. So potent was Syracuse’s running game that the Mountaineers had no choice but to buy into the play action pass here. And, boy, did they. WVU rallies to the middle of the field and watch Brodrick Jenkins crash really hard. Marcus Sales is running at Darwin Cook, who can’t get it done in one-on-one coverage.
He has to turn his head and find the ball, if only by reading Sales.
Good: … then again
Terence Garvin definitely did not play fake here. Pity Nassib, and his fillings, for that.
Good: Perimeter play
Syracuse won the game with the run, but locked it up on the perimeter. The Orange blocked very well on the outside, like they do on this swing play that worked again and again against WVU. They also would not be blocked out of the play by WVU’s offense and made a lot of open-field tackles in those outside spaces the Mountaineers like to exploit.
Just excellent blocks here to turn a third-and-long into a manageable fourth down. This set a tone early, too, because this play worked repeatedly and WVU acted later in the game as though it didn’t want to be blocked out there. I actually think Jenkins had a good enough year and wasn’t the problem many others wanted to make him out to be, if merely because of association, but he’s had better games than he did on Saturday.
Good: Stand up
Here’s where WVU’s safeties excel. Neither Karl Joseph nor Cook are exceptional against the pass, but they come up and play the run pretty well most of the time and hit hard almost all the time. This was early, but it looked like a huge moment for the Mountaineers because of their safeties — though credit Will Clarke for his reach off the edge on fourth down. That helped Cook quite a bit.
Bad: … then again
That momentum didn’t last long. Center Jeff Braun told me after the game Geno was just about to check out of this pass play into a run, but that he didn’t. Geno said he thought he could get the pass off, but that was before he saw the Orange were sending three players off the right and not two.
You can see it happen and the sudden rush does catch WVU off guard. The Mountaineers send the offensive line to the left and Syracuse just outnumbers WVU on the right. Credit the Orange for taking the aggressive stance when momentum was in the balance.
Bad: Another testimonial
Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson was pretty exasperated after the game. He was “shocked” Syracuse ran as well as it did and was frustrated by some blown assignments, including a penalty committed by a player who was supposed to be blitzing.
Good: WVU wins one
The Mountaineers were not completely outmanned and outwitted by the Syracuse defense and the offense had its good moments. This was one.
The pressure is going to come through the middle, which opens the middle and thins numbers in the back and on the outside. It’s a perfect storm for WVU’s missile screen and Stedman Bailey is sprung by good blocks from Tavon and Braun.
Though it didn’t happen enough for WVU, that was the ideal meeting of circumstances there. I think it’s unfair to say WVU was entirely unprepared for the game.
I’ll be honest: I don’t think Garvin had a great season. He wasn’t comfortable early on, but he was playing a new position and he didn’t have the winter workouts or spring practice because, we forget, he, too, missed the Orange Bowl with an injury. When the defense was bad in the earlier and middle portion of the schedule, Garvin was as guilty as the others.
He was much better, and very good, in the final few games and he was terrific against Syracuse: 15 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. This play, aided by Cook coming up and adding a hit, nearly turned the game at the end of the first half.
Good: One more of Garvin
He gets another good. He had that kind of game. WVU’s blitzes had a hard time getting home throughout the season, but Garvin, who led the team with six sacks, made it happen here. He works in concert with Joseph and he reads the tight end, who sets up outside just enough to yield the inside route to Garvin. Nice, impactful play that ought to go on tape.
Bad: Nutshell, Part II
To review, WVU can’t generate pressure without a blitz. The linebackers drop and a ball hits a linebacker in the hand, but the defense can’t make a play. The ball ricochets high into the air, but there’s no WVU defender close enough to keep the ball from getting to Wales, and that’s particularly inexcusable. Cook just starts too shallow on the play and once Wales clears the linebackers with no trouble, he has all the room he needs to make the play before Cook can rally.
That’s a bunch of WVU’s problems in 2012 balled up into one play.
Good: The nimble Stedman Bailey
I loved this. Tavon makes a great block, but puts two obstacles in Stedman Bailey’s path. Stedman first steps through a partial ankle flick and then never flinches and never breaks stride as he gets past the next obstruction. That had to be hard to do so smoothly on that field at that part of the game. Then for fun, he throws out a nice stiff arm for more yardage. He’s going to be OK at the next level.
Bad: More testimonials
Let’s give Patterson the floor one more time to explain another play gone wrong.
Prince-Tyson Gulley’s 33- and 67-yard touchdown runs both came on the split zone play, which is a variation of the zone play WVU likes to run. Both times, Patterson was positive his team not only knew how to stop it, but would stop it. Both times, he watched individuals make errors that turned into touchdowns as Gulley ran away from the rest of the defense.
“On both of those, we did a great job forcing the ball to the edge and bouncing the ball all the way back to the outside,” Patterson said. “It ought to be a dead play. But both times we had a linebacker overpursuing the football. Obviously, it’s my fault I didn’t have those guys understanding you’ve got to rock back with the split zone.”
Bad: Another swing and another miss
Go up a few items to the part about perimeter play: “…WVU acted later in the game as though it didn’t want to be blocked out there.”
Syracuse didn’t block this play well at all, but the Mountaineers did nothing with the three opportunities they had to keep Gulley out of the end zone. That says a lot about the day and the defense. Players can hate getting cut. They can hate linemen running out for blocks. They don’t have to, but they can.
Bad: Safety first, er, second
History! The first two-safety game by an opponent since 2002. If the record-keeping is correct, WVU had two since then and one was in the JMU game.
This is a three-man rush. Three on five linemen and a running back who stayed near the base. Kindler gets pushed around outside by Sharpe, but I do wonder about the intent of that leg that flew out there.
I don’t know, but it’s hard to blame Geno here. Look at the score and the time left. It’s third-and-8 and he doesn’t want to punt, but that’s the outcome if he chucks it out of bounds. He can’t run because it’s 4-on-8 on the second level. He tries to make something happen and it doesn’t work, but I do wonder if he’s able to wiggle outside and buy some more time if he doesn’t, um, fall.
Bad fortune more than a bad play. The first safety? That was a bad play. This is debatable, though.
Bad: Once more, with feeling
This was just too appropriate after the safety. Just not very good all season on special teams.