The Result :: I Don't Care, Texas Tech Won: It would be real easy for me to sit here and tell you that none of yesterday's result mattered. I'd love to tell you that I didn't get a tad bit emotional when the Gatorade was dumped on McNeill and the first thing he said to those players was that he loved them. I'd love to tell you that McNeill's comments about the administration after the game didn't hurt, but that doesn't mean that he just might be the best man for the job.
Quite simply, what I am telling you is that it's okay to be conflicted about how you feel regarding this entire situation and the only reason I'm saying that is because I know too.
I want to focus on the game as much as possible, but I saw a handful of comments last night voicing displeasure about McNeill giving a shout-out to the administration. I hate to break it to you guys, but there's a few things working here. First, McNeill really wants this job and it may not be a stretch to say that if he were to get this job, he would be the head coach as long as Texas Tech allowed him to be. Second, no matter who Texas Tech hires, they are going to credit the administration. It's just words and we have no idea how they really feel, no matter if it's McNeill or Tubberville or some other head coach possibility. And McNeill may know better than most in that the administration may not be in charge much longer. This is part of the game that's going to be played out no matter who is hired. If you're going to start a new FanPost each time a head coaching candidate endorses the administration then I'll ask you now not to do so because it's inevitable.
I'm as upset as the next person, so much so that I admitted to my wife the other morning that I was pretty sure I was despressed about how this entire situation and she agreed that I haven't been myself the last week. I feel like there's this divide amongst fans, which is eating away at me, whereby certain fans want you to continue to be ticked and other fans are ready to leave the ensuing drama to the courts and continue to be fans. The problem is that there isn't any right answer.
I hate the fact that I had to write a post yesterday morning about potential coaching candidates (this scheduled to be posted tomorrow morning and I've talked to the guys at the Auburn blog about Tubberville and Malzahn and they have some interesting things that I think you'll want to read), but as the guy that helps run this blog, I've got no choice but to move forward because basketball games will be played. The baseball season will heat up shortly. And the football recruiting season ends in a month.
Sorry for the rambling mess, let's get to the game.
The Storylines ::
Defensive Lapses: I'm going to give a ton of credit to the offense shortly, but I thought that the defense's biggest problem was that the safeties had one of the roughest night's I've seen in quite some time. Both Cody Davis and Franklin Mitchem bit on moves, gave up too early on plays that eventually became big plays for Michigan St. and as a result, provided a spark for Michigan St. offensively. I hate to give too much credit or blame for the play of any particular player, but I can't help but think that Texas Tech fans are accustomed to having tremendous safety play and sometimes we forget that much like any other position, these guys can have off-days as well.
It would be unfair to blame McNeill for how the safeties played on the field, but it's not unfair to blame McNeill for continuing the practice of not having any sort of linebacker or support for the defense when the quarterback takes off. As an aside, the times where the defense has trouble containing a running quarterback is when the opposing offense is in a spread formation and the linebacker picks up a slot receiver. I'm hoping like hell that this is part of the change that McNeill wants to implement in the offseason, i.e. converting safeties to linebackers. However, this still means that this is a scheme issue in that there's not even one player over the middle of the field. Perhaps this is just a cost-benefit analysis by McNeill in that he knows he's playing a team without a true running quarterback and would prefer to have that extra player in coverage. The problem is that Texas Tech fans have seen this with quarterbacks who are capable of simply walking for a first down.
Playing With Nothing to Lose, Part I: Statistically, the Spartans only gained 315 yards (averaged 407 for the year) and were limited to only 62 plays (Texas Tech had 85) the difference here is that Michigan St. played like they had absolutely nothing to lose and they played it extremely well. Fake punts, flea-flickers, all sorts of wildcat looks, etc. I thought Michigan St. threw just about everything they could at Texas Tech and it was fun to watch. Lots of credit goes to Michigan St. for making a bowl game incredibly entertaining, and that's really not to discredit the job that the Spartans did, but rather a compliment. It was fun, Michigans St., despite the suspensions, still has some true playmakers on offense and Cousins has a pretty good arm.
Playing With Nothing to Lose, Part II: For the first three quarters of the game, I thought that McNeill was playing not to lose the head coaching job. The commentors (no need to mention their names, right?) certainly made mention of it, but I thought that McNeill was playing like a coach who was trying not to lose a head coaching job. You may not give credit to McNeill for making the decision to replace Potts, but he didn't overrule it, i.e. he let his coaches coach. At that point, McNeill played the game to win. The third quarter was a bit of a mixed bag in that QB Taylor Potts led the team on a danged good touchdown drive where WR Jacoby Franks grabbed the 14 yard touchdown. After that, Potts struggled a bit with a punt and an interception on his last two drives. Credit needs to be given to Lincoln Riley, who realized that Michigan St. wasn't going to go away quietly, and despite the fact that Potts had actually had a pretty good game, sans the interception, Riley needed a perfect quarterback and that's exactly what happened. QB Steven Sheffield came into the game, completed 9 of 11 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown and the rest was history.
Credit also needs to be given to Ruffin McNeill for having a pair to go for it on two fourth downs, where it would have been very easy to simply go for the field goal and play not to lose. Granted, this isn't as if McNeill had anything to lose at this point, but something certainly clicked in that McNeill figured that if he was going to go down, he might as well go down swinging.
I'd also argue that the fact that Riley made it a point to give WR Alexander Torres a little swagger after dropping a sure-fire first down on a third down play decided to do the exact same thing again. Cajones. I like that.
Pound Batch: It was refreshing yet again to see so much of RB Baron Batch get the ball. There may not be a more talented player on the offensive side of the ball and McNeill/Riley could have gotten fancy by failing to keep the running game involved, but the team ran the ball 31 times for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. Batch went over the 100 yard mark rushing the ball and don't forget the 6 catches for 85 yards from Batch as well as 3 catches for 33 yards from RB Eric Stephens and RB Harrison Jeffers had 2 catches for 12 yards.
Players Seeing Time: I thought the players who did play was a bit odd. Can anyone remember the last time that WR Detron Lewis had 10 catches for a game this year (to go along with 114 yards and a touchdown)? Hasn't happened all year and his 10 catches yesterday were a career high. In fact, against Oklahoma and Baylor, Lewis had a whopping 3 cathes for 30 yards for those two games. What about WR Tramain Swindall and his 7 catches for 49 yards? Swindall hasn't had 7 catches all year long. And what about Harrison Jeffers, who seemed to be shut out of the offense a bit at the end of the season (he had zero receptions for the past 4 games)? He finished the game with 1 carry for 4 yards and 2 catches for 12 yards.
I don't know if this is a bit of a situation where some of the players who may have previously been in the Leach doghouse were now out, but the staff seemed to tells these guys that from this point forward, they would have a fresh start, that their effort on the practice field would determine their playing time in games, and they'd give everyone a fair shake.
Players Support McNeill: I'm going to get into this a bit more after today, but I would expect nothing less from this group of players not to support McNeill. I am not an insider and I have no idea as to how things "really" transpired, but what I saw last night was a man in Ruffin McNeill who I think genuinely cares about his players and players who genuinely care about him. I've alwasy told people that there's nothing wrong with showing emotion and I think that's what I saw last night. I have no idea how all of the players feel about Leach and this entire ordeal. Most likely, they are as confused as you and what they say in public may not be what they say in private, but what I can say is that I truly believe that this group of kids absolutely love McNeill. Now, I have no idea how this should play out in the coaching hire. It's real easy to dismiss the thoughts of 18 to 22 year old athletes and say that they have no idea what they're talking about, of course they do not want change and someone else might be better off for the program.
On some level, I'd agree, but the truth is that you know about as much as they do.
Unless of course you can see into the future, all we have right now are opinions, and I hope to bring something to the table for you to draw your own conclusions, but don't discount those players' feelings. They matter as much as yours and they don't deserve to be dismissed because they're not old enough to drink.
The Offensive Co-MVP's :: QB Taylor Potts : QB Steven Sheffield : RB Baron Batch : WR Detron Lewis: Yep, it's a cop-out for the last game. Potts wasn't perfect, but I thought he played with some passion and I'm looking forward between the quarterback battle next year. Give Batch the ball 20 times a game and you can chalk up a "W" and nice to see Lewis get some attention late in the season.
The Defensive Co-MVP's :: LB Brian Duncan : LB Bront Bird : DE Brandon Sharpe: Duncan and Bird's play against the run was pretty danged stellar. Other than Baker's long run, Michigan St. only had 102 yards rushing. Bird's crushing hit to stop the third down was a thing of beauty. Sharpe finished off an incredible year with two more tacles for a loss and generally harassing Michigan St.'s quarterback.
The Special Teams MVP :: K Matthew Williams: Who knew that Williams could actually kick a field goal from more than 35 yards. I don't think it's any secret that Williams doesn't have the biggest leg, but he nailed 2 of 3 field goals and for the year, he's only missed 1 extra point.