Mike Leach, for perhaps the first time this season, really, specifically enjoyed his team’s effort and excitement level during a football game. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, but getting better is the remnence of Mike Leach’s personality and expectation, and the Cougs accomplished at least that in the coach’s eyes this week. There were lapses in concentration that really hurt and Leach put it into perspective when he said this:
In our case, we need to just relax and make another play. Most guys that are really good at key situations have the ability to play the same in those situations. Not tighten up, not try to make too much happen. We do a little of both… something will work out and we’ll get semi-wide eyed… and then we’ll squander chances. I thought we played really hard, but not together as well as we could’ve.
The postgame press conference by Leach actually really surprised me, but it’s because my expectations have been woefully overblown, based on what has happened. When I saw the game on Saturday night, my thinking was that Leach really wouldn’t say anything good about the effort of his team, mostly because I guess I only saw 2 or 3 players that “cared” about the game. Maybe in part that’s because there weren’t many good memorable moments about the loss, other than 2 nice touchdown grabs by Brett Bartolone, some beautiful catches down the field by Isiah Myers and a couple nice plays defensively.
Meanwhile, there were plenty of bad moments to remember. A drop on nearly every drive that would have made a huge difference in the ballgame, including several sure scores or redzone opportunities. Marquess Wilson getting drilled in the face after one of those td drops and wobbling off the field, not returning. 2 interceptions in the first quarter by our starting qb, leading to his second benching in 2 weeks. A limping, twice injured CJ Anderson running untouched through our defense to put the game away. Keenan Allen (one of the most explosive players in the conference) lined up on a linebacker for a sure touchdown on a slant route and the same guy catching about 9 straight slants following that.
But that’s not what the coach saw and that’s more important to me moving forward. What Leach saw gives me hope going into the bye week and boy did I need it, I think we all do! He saw a team that’s growing and just needs to become comfortable with playing “the same” when the big plays need to be made. His take is that the guys try and do too much, to be as big as the setting demands. In other words the players are pressing to try and outplay themselves to match the situation at hand, resulting in a routine play becoming more than that on 3rd down, or in the end zone. I tend to agree with after taking a step back from my initial eval of the game. Here’s why:
The human tendancy in a big spotlight situation, in any walk of life, is to modify what you do so you can be better for that situation, this is exactly what the Cougs do. The thing about sports (and basically everything you can think of where this would apply) is that “better” happens in those non-spotlighted situations, like practice and the weight room. Leach constantly and emphatically (for him) praises what his guys are doing in those settings, which means that when the spotlight comes on, they just need to do what they always do to be great, nothing more. Unfortunately they’re not used to doing that, so they try and out-play themselves, which leads to one guy out of position, one guy not making the basic tackle, one guy not reading the defense routinely or one guy dropping an easy ball to catch.