Posted on: January 2, 2009 1:41 am
Edited on: January 2, 2009 1:23 pm
MIAMI -- As the Bearcats exited the Dolphin Stadium field and the Hokies celebrated their first Orange Bowl victory in their prestigious history, a cadre of players clad in maroon and orange yelled out, "Cincinnati who?!"
A fair question considering the circumstances.
Pop quiz: With a little more than seven minutes and 23 seconds left in the game, the ball on the Hokies' 1-yard line, your team losing 20-7 and fourth down on the scoreboard, what do the Bearcats do?
Answer: Run a sweep play with plodding quarterback Tony Pike.
This from the team with Mardy Gilyard, he of 158 yards on seven catches fame and Dominick Goodman, he of six catches for 51 yards and now Cincinnati's all-time leader in receiving yards fame.
A run play with your program's first-ever BCS title on the line? A run with a quarterback who doesn't exactly have a 1-2 in his step? A run, when the only element of your offense that's had any bit of success is the pass?
"Yeah, I was a little bit (surprised)," said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. "They had their run formation out there, but I thought they were playing a little game with us."
When arguably the nation's top defensive coordinator is scratching his head, you know it's an odd call.
But the Bearcats players defended the play, like good soldiers.
"I wasn't (surprised)," said uber-receiver Gilyard. "I was surprised at the type of run that was called. We've got good backs. I thought we would try to get those backs into the end zone somehow someway, but a quarterback sweep? I didn't understand why we run an outside sweep instead of running inside."
Maybe Pike, the quarterback who rose from obscurity to lead the Bearcats to their first Big East title, can help shed some light on the play call.
"We just put that play in this week," Pike said.
Oh, a new play. Makes sense to run something the team is barely familiar with. One that a passing team is supposed to execute in the most important seconds of the program's history?
The more you hear about the genesis of this play, the less you want to hear.
"It was more trying to get to the pylon," Pike said. "But they did a great job having me turn up. They stood me up. I have faith in what coach calls. You have an o-line with seniors and I'm running on their back. I had confidence on what was called."
It seems to happen more and more. Trickery, or going against what got a program to where it is, in crunch time. The Bearcats had no business lining up mano-y-mano with the trench warriors of Foster's regiment. But coach Brian Kelly, the offensive genius he is, decided against say, putting trips left and two receivers on the right and giving Pike the option to find one of his superstar receivers or running a quarterback draw. That formation, trips left, two receivers on the right was nothing but successful for the Bearcats. It's how they scored their lone touchdown and it's how they found room in between the 20s to move relatively easily on the Hokies for portions of the game.
But when the time came, the time that defines what your program's offense is all about, Kelly's team did something very un-Cincinnatian. Now I know what you're thinking. If it works, and the Bearcats come back, it's genius. Maybe so. But why coaches at all levels decide to ditch the bread and butter for lamb and tuna fish in the most important part of a game boggles the mind.
If you're going to lose, lose guns blazing. If you're going to win, win with what made you the program you are. Don't do something put in the week of the big game. That's the stuff of Hollywood, not BCS games.
Call it a learning experience for Kelly. Call it me being overly critical. But it's part of a bigger problem of coaches unwilling to trust the DNA of their program in critical times and part of the reason may be insecurity. If spreading it out on the 1-yard line fails, it's now the system's fault -- the spread failed Cincinnati at its most important time. And if the spread fails, Brian Kelly fails. And the experiment in Cincy fails. That's not something a coach wants to live with. Now Kelly can go back and say, "well, if only we had stuck with my scheme. If only we hadn't ran the ball one last time, considering the lack of success -- 64 rushing yards -- the team had running all evening."
But the real Kelly said this:
"Well, obviously this is what you play for. You know, you play -- you work out in the summer and the preseason camp to get an opportunity to get to this point. But you want to finish it off, so there's a lot of disappointment obviously in our locker room."
There's disappointment because Cincinnati abandoned the summer, preseason, the regular season, and 85 percent of the game up until that point by running a sweep on the most important play of the game with its least attractive option.
Posted on: December 31, 2008 1:11 pm
Edited on: December 31, 2008 1:18 pm
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When it comes to potential job openings, Bud Foster has earned the right to refer to himself in the third person.
"You know, like I said, I've got a good job, great job, and I've looked at some jobs that I think would be right for me, for Bud Foster, and Bud Foster would be right for those programs," Bud Foster said at Monday's Orange Bowl press conference.
But Virginia Tech's defensive coordinator, undoubtedly one of the best in the country, isn't ready to just jump ship to any punch and Judy program.
"The right one hasn't worked out," Foster continues, "but I don't lose any sleep over those things. I really don't. I don't cry at home, 'boy, I wish I got that job.' I don't. I've got a great job. It's a win-win all the way around, so I'm fortunate that way. Not everybody has been as fortunate in this profession as I have been, and I'm blessed with that."
Foster has been blessed. Virginia Tech, coming off back-to-back ACC titles and making its second straight trip to Miami for the Orange Bowl, is a hotbed for defensive talent. Defense and special teams are the hallmark of head coach Frank Beamer's 23 seasons in Blacksburg, and Foster has been the man installing the philosophy to young defenders.
It's a noble task, one that's paid dividends as Virginia Tech has, with uncanny ability, almost always stayed in the upper echelon of programs during the Beamer-Foster defense-first regime. But that same duty often goes unnoticed by job-seeking ADs. Virginia flirted with Foster a few years back when it had an opening. Clemson teased him again this year. His name has been linked to a few other jobs, all of which never panned out. Could there be a defensive coach bias in the college ranks? In the NFL, defensive minds reign supreme. Of the playoff teams, only four of the 12 teams feature coaches from the offensive side of the ball (Eagles, Vikings, Chargers, Cardinals). But colleges seem to look for offensive minds to run the show.
Why is that, coach?
"I don't know why that is," Foster says. "I don't know why there's an emphasis on hiring an offensive guy, if they think they're more organized or whatnot. We're pretty organized defensive guys. We run our own ship too, so to speak. I know defenses win championships. They always talk about offense puts fans in the stands and those type of things, but hey, we can hire good people, too, out there."
He can also coach up good players. Players like defensive back Victor "Macho" Harris, the team's defensive leader.
"You know, the coaches do a great job of putting us in great position to make plays," Harris said. "Coach Foster does anyway. That's all I'm doing, doing what I'm coached to do. Fifteen career picks, that's pretty decent, but all the thanks go to the coaches and the players."
Virginia Tech's defense has never ranked below fourth in its conference under Foster. It's finished No. 1 in the country twice and tops in its conference five times. He's pumped out NFL players from DeAngelo Hall to Brandon Flowers to Xavier Adibi. Harris is soon to be on that list. Foster is 49 now, which again, is around that age coaches either get the gig of a lifetime or continue down the road of coordinator guru for life.
So when some more jobs open up this winter, there's a good chance Foster's name will be tied to them. And there's an even better chance he'll take one, but only if it's that right job.
"I may not get my chance as a head coach, but I think you get guys -- you get to a certain point when you've achieved to a certain level, you've reached a certain level, you expect a certain level; I don't feel like I need to take a step back again to get back here, and it's kind of maybe in my mind I don't feel like I need to take a 1-AA job to show I can be a head football coach."
In a world full of high-profile, prima donna coaches, it's refreshing to hear Bud Foster talk about himself as a person who's simply happy where he is in life.
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