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Gobbler Country Playbook: Putting it all on the Line When “The Numbers” Say It’s NOT a Winner

Playing the “Numbers” instead of taking risks. Not the kind of risks like an unlikely deep throw in the last seconds, those risks are givens. We’re talking about risking making drastic changes that violate the “Plan”. 2018 was an opportunity to do that, and... well.. we know what happened.

Tre Turner is someone to take risks with
John Schneider - SB Nation

We hinted at where this article was going back in the previous article about special teams. The wheels fell off the cart in 2018. Did the program play the risk game the right way? Should they have taken more risks, or even played a different type of game altogether?

This is a tough one. It’s a tough call. Make the tough, high risk, calls that make the difference in a football game. You’re the hero or the goat; and I am not talking about that silly G.O.A.T. silliness. It’s the decisions that make or break a career, reputation, season, or even a job. Just think of how many plays that we have seen, on both sides of the ball, where success was total victory, and failure was complete, ignominious defeat. Now, add to it the reality that very often the “numbers” say that the play was so low a percentage that random pick mode in a computer football game would do a better job. It’s ‘that’ situation that we are talking about.

You saw this mentioned, Bruce Arians’ phrase that always makes me smile a bit. “No risk it. No biscuit (bisket).” Sometimes the play to call is “Screw it, snap the ball to Tyrod and tell Danny to fly”. Or Frank calling an all-out block attempt in a driving rainstorm with Miami pinned deep and punting from their goal line. We saw Michael Brewer duck away from a tackle on an impossible pass play that he managed to hit. There was the crash of the linebackers and rollup of every defensive back along the line of scrimmage in the 2017 Pitt game that stopped a TD on 4th down and 2 and a half yards for the win. Willis hitting Dalton Keene, deep, late... in the UVA game... on a contested pass.

Those are big chances that have low percentage probabilities of success that are dictated by the game situation. We all understand that sort of risk taking. What we are looking at is taking a risk when it seems the prudent thing to do is something higher percentage, and more controllable.

Look, football is often looked at like it’s a machine. College football is famous for being systemic, meaning that there is a formula in place for the program, and the program is all about recruiting and cranking out the formula. In many situations, the offensive play calling patterns itself after the program management behavior. It’s formula. The OC calls scripted plays, those plays are executed without much deviation regardless of their effectiveness.

Sometimes it’s a really good thing to throw the proverbial grenade in the wood pile. Imagine what would have happened last season, IF (yeah... I know… coulda woulda shoulda) Cornelsen had burned the playbook that he had designed for Jackson, and just let Ryan Willis do what he does. It would have been a high risk strategy. Stop trying to control the clock, and just go out and score as many points as you could get as fast as you could get them. That means opening with a primary play that is an intermediate pass play. It meant chewing up yards using Willis’s arm and legs instead of worrying about grinding out a few schedule yards on the ground.

Sometimes life, and football, is like poker. It’s seven card stud; you only see a few cards in each hand, and frankly by the 5th card, your hand looked good to start… three clubs… but the 4th was a duce of hearts, and you bet some heavy change on that being a club. So, what do you do with that? I am not so sure that the current coaching staff plays too much poker, because what they did in 2019 was to continue to call, hoping for a lame pair or two to save the day. Well, poker isn’t about the cards. Poker is about the betting, and the psychology behind it.

The hand dealt ended up being a pair of Jacks, and not much else. But a pair of Jacks and some strategic bluffing might have saved it. We kept playing the game as if we had a building straight instead of an already busted flush.

This isn’t a long article. It’s actually the penultimate act in this playbook series. It’s food for thought that will give me an idea of where to go with the conclusion. Last season was really a good opportunity to open the super-secret double whammy “well this sucks” playbook, and go for broke. There was a high powered offense without a high powered game plan. There was a crippled defense that dared not risk much of anything or it got gashed, burned, and smoked.

There are two ways to keep their offense off the field… Keep your defense off the field by burning clock on the ground, OR… keep scoring points. It really might have been a more interesting season if the Hokie coaching staff had remembered that second option. They were continually dealt a lousy hand in a situation where they’d run up the pot, and were stuck. It was time to read the table and to bluff like hell.

So a question for the readership about 2018 and taking chances; yes, it’s Sunday evening Head Coaching; but Summer is boring and stirring things up a bit is fun. If you were Head Coach in 2018; and you’ve just been knocked out of the poll crème by ODU AND lost your starting QB. Your near peer program cancelled a critical game, and your defense just collapsed.


What would you have done? (Simple choice, totally binary, here.)

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Just maintained the program’s design and playbook, made the most of the situation but stuck to the plan. Always stick to the plan.
    (13 votes)
  • 83%
    Taken stock, admitted the situation, burned the old playbook, and stood on the accelerator until the engine burned up or you won.
    (68 votes)
81 votes total Vote Now

The ‘Numbers’ last year, said that the Hokies were in trouble. We still played the numbers. Will we this season? Next week the Gobbler Country Playbook wraps up with the first hint of the 2019 Roster Review.