3 games into this season, we own the record of a winning team. This past Saturday, Nevada showed us that we do not yet own the identity of a winning team.
I've been as hopeful as anyone about the "Russian Coffee" factor, the 4-2-5, the coaching experience that was to wake us up from our defensive nightmare of last season. Neal has been growing into his role, and seems to be more effective at using the incredible wealth of talent he inherited here.
However, I don't think any of us expected to watch another season where players struggle with the prime objective, the key to the identity of Tech football throughout the most exciting decade in school history. At this point we do not have that huge edge we gained over superior talent, when we were committed to being "the most excited to play the game".
I was reminded of this after watching the OU vs Mizzou game, and marveling as the fans voice their concern over this very issue, while rolling for over 600 yards. But it was clear something was missing, even in that win. Some OU fans were quick to make excuses, to point to the injuries, to the tough game last week. Other OU fans remind us all that if the goal is truly a NC, there can never be any excuses, ever. The #1 ranked team in the nation didn't come out as the most excited to play on that day. And it showed.
None of us know what happens in the locker room, what coaching tools are used to achieve this goal of being the most excited to play, if it even is the goal. In past years, at least externally we were given a glimpse of how this identity was built in from the very first scrimmage. We were programmed to expect superior effort from every player, and not excuses related to being young or having injuries.
Here's just an example of what I mean, from a presser with Leach talking about the first scrimage in 09. We got this message then...
"I thought it was pretty competitive,'' Leach said. "We've been alternating workouts, really, as far as who comes out on top. The biggest difference with whoever comes out on top each day is who's most excited to play. Defense was far more excited today, but I thought a lot of young guys on both sides of the ball showed some promise.''
And Ruff gets in on the theme...
I thought we were excited to play, excited to practice, which is always key,'' defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. "I thought the kids did a good job responding. If some bad things happened, they kept playing the next play, which is what coach Leach preaches to the team. I thought we did some things well as a team defensively.''
I'll not do the full compare and contrast here, as I honestly don't want this to turn into a bash fest of everything Tubs has said to the media. But it is apparent that we were not the most excited team to play on Saturday. It's clear that at least in the approach to communicating to fans thru the media, we are getting a completely different message under Tubs. Instead of expectations for young players to come out and compete, and for backups to step in and perform, we are getting the message that we don't have the necessary players here to perform at the highest level. And it shows.
Where do we go to find our identity?
There are players who look like leaders, and who helped us remember something of our identity on Saturday just in the nick of time. Doege can come from behind and win even when some bad things happen. He'll take us there with his arm or on his wheels, and I'm pretty sure he would kick the winning field goal if we need it. McRabbit may bring some excitement to the return game if opponents continue to kick to him. Stephens looks like he is all effort, and a good answer to the hustle we got from Batch.
But to move forward and recapture this identity as a team, we may have to overcome more than just our opponents on the field. There are questions now about what it means for the team to select as its captain the epitome of a player that gives the least possible effort, while expecting the most preferential treatment. There are questions about players leaving the team, and ongoing suspensions, (and serious questions about how long Scotty can keep hitting on other dudes girlfriends in local establishments before starting an all out brawl).
Finding our identity was never going to be easy given the bat-shit craziness surrounding this team, thank you very much Craig James and your belltower lackeys. But as we search for the answers to the biq question mark, I hope we are not afraid to go back to the thing that was once our prime objective. I hope we can become again the team that was consistently the most exciting team to watch, but I especially hope we get back to being the team that is the most excited to play.