Countdown to Kickoff rolls along, and in this installment of Opinion Week, we’re going to walk through one of my patented twitter rants.
Now, how have we done on winning the little things this past season?— Stephen Murphey (@murphey_stephen) February 9, 2021
Penalty YPG - 119th
Turnover Margin - 111th
Blocked Kicks Allowed - 127/127(!)
Kickoff Return Defense - 61st
Kickoff Return - 85th
Punt Return Defense - 96th
Punt Returns - 102nd
What got me down this twisted path of thinking was a chart showing the most recent signing class, broken down by where each commit was going. It was a noisy graphic that didn’t tell the full story of the off-season for teams in the ACC with respect to this upcoming season, but it go me none the less.
In the midst of “just tweeting through it”, I came up with 2 ways in which programs differentiate themselves from the pack since, you know, running an atypical offense is a treasonous offense in this day and age:
1) Develop your talent better than anyone in your division (Iowa State model)— Stephen Murphey (@murphey_stephen) February 9, 2021
2) Win the little things in an effort to tilt the Win% in your favor just slightly - penalties, turnovers, special teams, clock management, etc.
Now, given the first option won’t be able to be accurately judged for another 2 years or so, I wanted to dive into how our impression of playing BeamerBall is going.
Before we go on and I get accused of being a downer (or a hater, or not a true fan — pick your insult, really), all I’m doing is listing out the stats here. I’ll offer my two cents at the end and hopefully land this thing.
- 119th in the country - good for 74.9 ypg (teamrankings.com and ncaa.com differ on some of these rankings, so just look at the bigger picture)
- In our last three games of the 2020 season (W v Duke, L by 10 @ NCST, L by 14 v Pitt), we committed 11, 12, and 8 penalties respectively and totaled over 300 penalty yards.
- 111th in the country - good for -.7 TO/game
- This stat wasn’t much better in the 2019 season, where the team averaged -.5 TO/game
Blocked Kicks Allowed
- With 6 kicks blocked in the 2020 season, we were dead last in the country
- Clemson and ULM were the closest to us, each having 5 blocked. One of those teams went to the playoffs, the other went 0-10.
Various Kickoff/Punting and K/P return stats
- Georgia Tech was in the bottom third of 3 of these 4 statistics, with only our kickoff return defense being almost exactly average in 2020.
I won’t claim to have all of the answers to our footballing woes — it would be asinine to say I know how to coach football better than those on staff (regardless of what I thought while watching the Syracuse game this year).
But there’s one thing I do know: from roughly 2008 to 2018, there were two rules that were posted in the Georgia Tech locker room.
- Be On Time
- Do What’s Right
“But Stephen, those are too generic! Number 1 fits into Number 2! You’ve got to have more rules!”
Well, bear with me. “Do what’s right” should be all the directive you need in trying to achieve most goals, regardless of field, level of experience, etc.
For the past year, the fans have been submitted to a whole lot of doing what’s wrong. We got gems like this:
This is Statue Technique - makes you impervious to the 300lb man across from you moving you in the slightest— Stephen Murphey (@murphey_stephen) September 26, 2020
There have been bone-headed after-the-play penalties, too many men on the field coming out of timeouts, and timeouts called as your QB rushed into the end-zone to beat an FCS team at the buzzer (not bitter). All of these things would seemingly fit into the category of things where the team could have “[done] what’s right”.
For all the guff about “the greatest transformation in the history of college football”, you think you’d try and make things a little easier on yourself when you could. There’s about 4 million quotes about “the small/little stuff/things”. All of them sum up to say “if you do what’s right, you won’t be upset about it”.
We can talk all day about recruiting, play calling, swag, grit, and drip, but it’s always the un-sexy stuff that gets neglected when you’re doing anything. The architect doesn’t talk to the engineer about the structural integrity of his castle in the sky. He just wants it built.
To circle back to BeamerBall, Frank Beamer and our rivals at VPISU made a name for themselves by making the un-sexy parts of college football what people wanted to see. Those teams made a reputation for caring about the small things. They had talent — sure, but they maximized what they had in personnel and did those small things to tilt the Win % of any given game in their favor when they were given the opportunity.
Now, this all comes with the caveat that Frank didn’t post his first winning season until his 3rd year at Virginia Tech, going 2-9 in Year 1 and 3-9 in Year 2 before posting a 6-4-1 Year 3. It wasn’t until Year 7 that he first won more than 6 games. But then from 1993-2012, Virginia Tech never won fewer than 7 games.
Today’s landscape of college football doesn’t afford you the same leniency to achieve results that Frank was the beneficiary of back in the late 80’s. But let’s extract the central lesson here from a past successful coach: put your team in the absolute best place to execute on your vision of what your program should be.
We’ve seen the off-field emphasis of this staff — plenty of it. But this season will be where the fans need to see the on-field proof of concept to buy in for the seasons to come.
In order to manage the difficulties of playing 2-3 CFP contenders every single season, you can’t afford to make these same mental mistakes that we saw plenty of in 2020. You can’t expect to win when you’re spotting the other team a turnover most games, getting a kick blocked every other game, and treating 4th down like a formality (PHIII’s abilities aside).
For this upcoming season, I’m not looking for wins or losses. I’m not looking for Jeff Sims’ understanding of the offense to reach Joe Brady / Joe Burrow levels. I’m looking to be positive on our turnover margin for the year. I’m looking for a kickoff return team that doesn’t run 25 yards East/West before being hit by 6 defenders at once. I’m looking for people that want to be on the field for 4th down. I’m looking to do the small things right.
If we can do that, I think we’ll be just fine for the years to come, regardless of what the scoreboard says.
Maybe I’ll tweet a little less angrily too.
95 Days Til Kickoff.