Opportunity Lost

First, a couple of disclaimers. I’m pretty hung over (all from post-game libations), which explains the delay in posting. Second, I didn’t hear all of Amato’s post-game blather – I had it on in the parking lot, but I was too steamed to pay full attention. But frankly, I didn’t need to hear anything Amato said – I saw the game.

Pretty much all of my pre-game thoughts and assumptions bore out – Marcus Vick was indeed rusty and a poor passer. Marc Trestman’s offense did indeed play to Jay Davis’ strengths. It was efficient, and we controlled time of possession (at least in the early going). Hell, we even looked like the better team on the field. What I did not anticipate is that the worst problems from the past two seasons – untimely penalties and lack of football IQ (aka rank stupidity) would see no improvement. It’s possible that we even digressed.

Yes, it was NC State’s first game – but it was the Hokies’ first game, too. But Virginia Tech will apparently reprise their opportunist role from 2004. They played smart, patient football. They refused to beat themselves. You can’t say that about the Wolfpack. Sloppy penalties, boneheaded decisions – all at the worst possible time. Of course, the most obvious offender is #2 (Blackman), who made back-to-back awful decisions. First, after a great catch and run, Blackman noticed that 3 Hokie defenders closing in. Instead of hitting the ground, he simply froze in place – his body and the football fully exposed. Blackman predictably got crushed, and Virginia Tech got the football in Wolfpack territory. But the defense held, and what would turn out to be Chuck Amato’s dumbest decision of the night – the undoubtedly rattled (if not brain-scrambled) Blackman was sent out to field the punt. I watch an unbelievably large amount of football, but I was about to see something genuinely new – a fair catch made inside the one yard line. This seemed to infuse stupidity in the other players, as Jay Davis lobbed a screen pass that only the VT defender could catch, narrowly missing a pick at the Wolfpack 3. Not that it mattered much, after Deraney kicked a hurried, 35-yard line drive punt (despite the complete lack of a punt rush from Tech) that the Hokies ran back to the State 20.

This led to a 20-13 Tech lead, and set up the Pack’s last meaningful offensive possession. In a gutsy move (but clearly the correct one, since we had nothing to lose), the Pack pulled off a perfectly executed fake field goal on 4th and 7 from our own 30. With the crowd alive again and momentum on our side, NC State faced a 4th and 1 from the Hokie 15. Shockingly, the same freaking coach who faked a punt on 4th and long from deep inside his own territory now decided it would be too risky to go for it, instead kicking a momemtum-stopping field goal (which Deraney made – he was much better on his kicks from the hashmark Sunday night). Try to follow that logic – when exactly would we have a better chance to get into the end zone? How else could we put the pressure back on Tech, rather than let them (to nobody’s surprise) embark on a clock-draining drive to run out most of the 4th quarter? And quite naturally, the Pack continued its fine recent tradition in getting a penalty on 4th and less than 5, running into the kicker on a missed FG attempt. State likely would have lost anyway, but I’d much rather have the ball on the 30 with 2:30 and 2 timeouts, as opposed to the 20 with 0:39 and no timeouts. My prediction was off slightly here, as I expected us to jump offside rather than hit the kicker. Then, to close the game, our “Hail Mary” pass from inside the Tech 35 was intercepted…at the EIGHT. Just once, I’d like to see our desperation heave at least make it to the end zone (memories of Death Valley last season).

From what I heard, Amato did his best to try to put lipstick on the pig – but just spewed lame excuses and loser talk. Playing up Virginia Tech as a “Top 10” team, one that I guess Chuck thinks we should be happy to stay close to at home. Sorry, Chuck, no sale. There was no reason to lose that game. If you had told me before the game that Jay Davis would play well (although it looks like we’ll just have to get used to 1 or 2 awful panic moves per game that make us all hold our breath and/or curse profusely) and that Deraney would make mutiple FGs from the hash – and State would STILL lose, I would have thought you were crazy. I guess I was just being naive. Stupid is as stupid does, as Forrest Gump would say.

The perfect microcosm of the evening was the commentary of my 7 year old daughter on the way out. “Daddy,” she said, “I knew we were going to lose the whole time.” Having just turned 7, she only really remembers the seasons from 2003 forward. Seems like she noticed a trend, didn’t she?