With a final score of 55-14 it's not as if one play won or lost the Syracuse - West Virginia game on Saturday (though after the nose tackle returned the interception in the first quarter, 'Cuse never fully recovered), but there was one play that fully defined Syracuse's season and pretty much summed up the entire tenure of head coach Greg Robinson to date (a tenure that may be on its last legs). In the first quarter and down 14-7, Syracuse setup for a 40 yard field goal. Well within the range of All-Conference kicker--and all-world eater--Pat Shadle. This would put 'Cuse within 4 and make things remarkably respectable going into the second quarter. The only problem was that Shadle wasn't back to kick. Instead he was there to hold and the holder--punter John Barker--was back to kick. Something was amiss, and EVERYONE KNEW WHY:
Syracuse attempted a fake field goal with John Barker lined up as the kicker and Pat Shadle as the holder. Usually, their roles are reversed. West Virginia coaches called it out immediately to alert the defense. Robinson told Barker to run the play anyway.I really love that last sentence. Such a subtle dig at the futility of it all.
Shadle took the snap, flipped the ball over his shoulder to Barker, who ran a sweep 3 yards and was tackled. The Orange was 5 yards short of the first down.
Now, like the article's writer (later he praises the move), I don't blame Syracuse one bit for going for it. I don't think it was necessary but it's about time they showed some guts. But the idea that WVU knew what was going on and yet they STILL ran the play anyway.... that's just ridiculous. Why not call a timeout and run a play on 4th and 7? They were getting decent looks down the field at that point. It's not like the fake field goal was a pass or featured someone athletic enough to make a play. They were running their punter around the end on a naked boot. The play only works if no one expects it. Even if one guy on the defense suspected the play he could averted the first down by himself. Given that the whole team was shouting out the fake, it never stood a chance.
And why is this play such a microcosm of the entire G-Rob era, well, it is evidence of the blind optimism over any semblance of management of the game or ability to react quickly and make tough decisions. Just because you want to take a risk doesn't mean you have to. What if instead of setting up in a blocked kick formation WVU setup in their base defense? What if they overloaded their D-line to the side you were going to fake? Was there an audible to the weak side? Was there a kick audible? Were they in ANY WAY PREPARED FOR THE FACT THAT THE DEFENSE MAY HAVE BEEN ONTO THEIR TRICKERY? The answer to all of these questions is no. In G-Rob's world, you do not react. You go with your gut and because you are so damn optimistic about your chances, you assume that you can will good things to happen. Unfortunately, when the other team is more athletic than you are, the ONLY advantage you have is to catch them off guard and show them schemes, plays and matchups they don't expect. That requires flexibility on the coaches and players. It requires that the QB have a different call for certain defensive reads, that the coaches have different formations and packages available if the other defense shows them something they don't expect and it requires that YOU FOREGO THE THE FAKE FIELD GOAL WHEN IT IS CLEAR THAT THE OTHER TEAM KNOWS IT IS COMING.
I like G-Rob the guy. He can sell tickets and kiss babies and if he was selling snake oil, I'd probably buy it. But he can't coach a good football team let alone one that sorely needs the advantage of an innovative and flexible coach.