As Miami was making their late 1st half touchdown drive, I was watching the game on one half of my screen while studying for my Machine Learning midterm on the other half (find me a Miami fan doing that [Supervised (learning)], I dare you). I pulled myself away from studying to watch our stellar defense clamp down and take a 14-6 lead into halftime. I was slightly annoyed at our offense wasting two opportunities to score, but I felt good about the game overall. All of a sudden, Miami goes 77 yards in 1:47 to score as the clock basically expires. To no one in particular, I say "wow, we're gonna blow this game". Tell me I have no faith or whatever you want, but Tech has trained me (get it? cause machine learning haha kill me) to have such thoughts. Later that evening as I kept checking the game on my phone at every red light I came to, I let my brain entertain the thought of us actually beating Miami. Up at the half? Up at the start of the 4th? UP WITH FIVE MINUTES LEFT IN THE FOURTH? It was too good to be true. As I stood in line waiting to order delicious tacos, I watched them kick the game winning field goal. My blood starting boiling over as I began to think about how many times I've seen this happen. Now, if you'll join me, I'd like to rant about our ability to finish games, especially Ted Roof's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad (soft) D[efense].
This is a pattern that comes up over and over again in our football history (dating back a long few years). Stop me when you've been triggered and are remembering a specific instance. We plays a good first half, we're up by double digits. In the second half, we slow down. The offense doesn't have the same machine-like qualities, and we don't move the ball as much. The defense plays softer and softer as the game goes on. You turn to the person next to you when they refer to our offense as the "triple option" to correct them, and as you turn your attention back to the game, we're suddenly only up by 3, and the other team is driving. You watch in horror as they march 70+ yards into soft prevent defense and score the game winning touchdown with 10 seconds left. You are mad. Your girlfriend tells you you care too much about football. You are more mad.
I joke, but this ain't sea world, this is as real as it gets (last joke for a while, I swear). Time and time again, we lose winnable games because 1) our offense lets up on the gas and 2) we start playing soft defense and let our opponents back in the game. Great theory Crees, let's see some examples. Sure:
Miami 2017: We give up a 77 yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half. Our last four possessions end in punts, and our offense racks up a measly 96 total second half yards (68 of which came on one drive). We then give up an 85 yard drive that includes a 28 yard 4th down conversion and results in a game winning field goal.
Tennessee 2017: We finish regulation punt, fumble, turnover on downs. In that time we let Tennessee score 14 unanswered, including a 93 yard touchdown drive that ends with a minute and a half left. Late in the third quarter, we were up 21-7.
Pitt 2016: With 5 minutes left in regulation, we give up a 75 yard touchdown drive, turn the ball over on downs, then give up a game winning field goal drive.
Virginia Tech 2015: We give up a 76 yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half in a game we would eventually lose by 2. Our second half possessions? Fumble, punt, fumble, fumble, punt, downs.
UNC 2014: With four minutes left in the first half, we're up 21-0. We then give up 2 touchdown drives to close the half 21-14. We give up a quick go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and lose by 7.
Georgia Southern 2014: Yes I know we won this game. But we went from being up 35-10 at halftime to needing a last second miracle touchdown to win.
Since 2014, we have lost 18 times (yikes). In five of those losses, we were up at halftime (in two we were tied). In four, we were up at the beginning of the fourth quarter. In three, we were up with five minutes left in the fourth. Want one more example to get your blood boiling? We were up at all three of those points against uga in 2013.
What we have here is a failure to
communicate finish games. If you want a more technical term, we lack a killer instinct. We play safe, especially on defense, when we're up. Now I understand the rationale behind that, but its clearly not working. Take Miami again. Before that last first half touchdown drive, we had allowed their offense to gain 109 total yards. Our defense was playing lights out. I could feel my anxiety building as soon as the Canes lined up on that last touchdown drive. I knew that we would play soft, and we would give them at least a shot at a field goal. It happens like clockwork. While our second half offense was abysmal, I put this one more on the defense because our offense didn't play great in the first half either. There is absolutely no excuse for giving up two separate two-minute scoring drives.
Name me a top team that does this, you can't. Alabama gets up by 30 at the half and comes out in the third quarter looking to push that to 60. We get up by 30 and just try to hang on. We don't win games because we're scared to lose them. Its that simple. Absurd stat of the day: we've either been up or tied for 1:49:56 of a possible 1:50:00 second half minutes, yet we sit at 3-2. We lost to Tennessee and Miami because we were scared of losing. Instead of continuing to do what worked and pushing through the game, we played scared and safe. I'm sick of that. If we had played our game and beaten both of those teams (like we should have), we would be 5-0 and likely a top 15 team. Instead, we're 3-2 and nowhere.
I need to get back to actually studying for Machine Learning (30 hours down, 20 more to go), so lets wrap this up. I'm mad at our team mentality, and you should be too. If we want to actually be a consistent top 25 team (and there's no reason we can't be), then we have to start thinking like one. Let's stop just being happy to win games and start expecting to win games. We have the talent, we have the system, we have the schedule. Lets make something of it.
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