Bowl Thoughts (Orange and Outback) / Losers & Legends / More of the Same

Let’s say I sit down to play chess with Gary Kasparov. Kasparov—even if he’s not really paying attention—is always going to be at least ten steps ahead of me. Well, the other night Frank Beamer and his coaching staff were playing chess with Gary Kasparov. And the result? Well, I’ll let the Roanoke Times headline sum it up: Miserable in Miami. Not bad as a summary, but “miserable” doesn’t really do justice to the Hokies’ performance, does it? (I’m not sure we have a word in the English language that would do it justice.)

One game is only one game, I know. But one game is also sometimes the perfect distillation/summation of a career. This was one of those games. The Hokies went into that game 1-26 against top five teams. They are now 1-27. (With 1-28 pending.)

Penn State’s bumbling, frustrating, predictable loss to Florida was also one of those games.

In light of what happened in the Outback Bowl and the Orange Bowl, isn’t it finally time to put the “legend” of Frank Beamer and Joe Paterno to rest? When I saw that mythologizing graphic with the two of them Monday night I almost gagged. I was eating a pretzel at the time, and if I had been George W. Bush I would have choked to death for sure. This whole “legend” idea—perpetuated because it has lots of “feel good” baggage attached to it—is purely a media creation, with very little basis in fact.

Yes, Joe Paterno is the solar system’s leader in “wins,” but how meaningful is that fact? Look at the record. Many of those wins came against decidedly inferior opponents. I can remember the Nittany Lions—with a decided physical advantage (never a decided schematic advantage!)– feasting on the likes of Boston College and Army and Navy and Air Force and Maryland and Pitt and West Virginia. Beamer (after Tressel’s victory last night, the third winningest active coach) has likewise accumulated many of his wins against teams that were simply outmatched physically when they lined up against Tech.

Whenever Penn State played anyone “in their league,” so to speak, things didn’t go so well. I remember (ah, the curse of memory) Penn State being abused by Kentucky and Colorado and Pitt, once they got a decent coach in the city of rust and steel. And whenever Virginia Tech lines up against anyone with athletes about as good as ours—well, you don’t need a long memory to know what happens in those games. When it’s a matter of coaching, Penn State and Virginia tech fans can simply write “EPIC FAIL” in their notebooks and commence meditating.

All mythology aside, Frank Beamer is like the anti-Bear Bryant: he can lose to yours with his, or take yours and lose to his. Nothing is changing either. As we read in Randy King’s article in yesterday’s Roanoke Times, Beamer wants to add recently fired Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen to his coaching staff. “But it’s not going to happen soon,” King says, “because there are no plans to shake up the Hokies’ current staff.” That tells us all we need to know, doesn’t it? You lose to Boise State, you lose to James Madison[!], you squeak by against a bevy of sub-par ACC teams, and then get your ass kicked nine ways to Sunday (read: you get utterly humiliated on national TV) by Stanford and you have no plans to shake up your coaching staff. (Except for this: Mrs. Beamer is lobbying to add son Shane to the staff. Can anyone say “Jay Paterno”?)

The ACC is obviously improving. Randy Edsall is likely going to make Maryland a power, I’m afraid (well, the ACC equivalent of a power). Jimbo Fisher is obviously improving things in Tallahassee. I suspect that Al Golden may get the Hurricanes back on track. Is Virginia Tech keeping pace? No. Apparently the powers that be don’t even see a problem. (I wonder what it would take to make Beamer shake up his staff.)

My prediction (and my cynicism has been earned via several lifetimes of rooting for Penn State and Virginia Tech): As long as the creators of Bummer Ball remain entrenched in Blacksburg, the future looks mighty bleak. And as long as Father Time remains at the helm in State College—well, let’s just say that the past is indeed prologue to an utterly predictable future.

It is truly a joy to watch well-coached teams play football. (We won’t even mention Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Belichick is obviously from an another planet.) When you watch Boise State, or TCU, or Stanford, or Oregon, or Arkansas and Ohio State (who played a very interesting game last night) you see, play after play after play, that these teams are coached by men who understand football, who can actually “game plan,” who can make adjustments on the fly, who know how to give their players a good chance to win. (The Tressel-Petrino chess match last night was intriguing, certainly.)

You see just the opposite when you watch Penn State and Virginia Tech play. Did any of you see even a shred of evidence the other night that Beamer and his staff had planned a way to “attack” the Stanford offense or defense? Or had alternative plans in place in case the first plan didn’t work? Or that they had any idea of how to adjust to counter what Stanford was doing? I saw no evidence. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that this was the first time these guys had ever tried to coach a football game. They looked totally mystified on the sidelines.

It appeared that Stanford had a decided physical advantage in that game. But I wouldn’t be surprised to find that if you matched up the Stanford players and the Hokie players position by position Tech had the better “athletes” at nearly every position. (I kept wondering what Jim Harbaugh could have done with the phenomenally gifted Tyrod Taylor.) But at no point did Tech’s athletes look like they had a clue what they were doing against Stanford. That goes directly to coaching—or the lack of it! The pundits—who don’t watch the games (obviously: cf. Jaws’ and Gruden’s remarks about Bummer Ball, er, Beamer Ball)—recycle clichés and truisms about Beamer and the Hokies, but they are as clueless as the Hokies players were last night.

You’ll sometimes hear that the fans deserve better. I actually don’t give a damn about the fans. But I do feel bad for the players. They certainly deserve better. (I played for coaches who didn’t know how to coach, who didn’t know how to put their players in position to win. That was no big deal. I mean, who cares if Little League or high school or Babe Ruth teams win? But this is big time college football!)

I have been saying this for years now, but let me say it again: I simply can’t understand why any talented offensive player would even think about coming to Tech. Can you imagine a gifted high school junior or senior thinking, “Man, I really want to play in Bryan Stinespring’s sub-par high school offense?”

If it looked like Stanford knew what plays the Hokies were going to run the other night, it’s because they did know—and all that required was looking at a half’s worth of game film—from any Tech game in the last ten years! Bryan Stinespring’s offense is the dullest, least imaginative, most predictable offense I have ever seen.  South of Happy Valley, anyway. On that crucial fourth-and-one play the other night, I (along with legions of Tech fans and everyone on the Stanford team) knew exactly what was coming—because we had seen this many times before. Those of us who are Penn State fans have been watching this exercise in futility—which I have christened the “run into the pile and fall down” play—for what feels like forever. Of course the play was stuffed, Stanford took over, and the rest is bitter history.

Am I saying that Tech would have won if they had converted that fourth-and-one? I am not. I am only saying that this single play was Tech football in miniature. And that Tech fans can expect more and more of the same unless we see a regime change in Blacksburg!

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