Playing to Win or Playing Not to Lose?

Well, the good news is that the beavers pulled out another win last week against Utah at home and tied the best start to the football season the team has ever seen. More good news is that the beavers had fewer penalties this game and the defense as a whole, with phenomenal players like Scott Crichton who was named a semi-finalist this week for the nation’s top defensive player of the year, continues to dig deep every game and come up with spectacular plays, which has contributed to a rush defense that’s ranked 5th in the nation. Another interesting stat for us that I’d like to mention is that we are currently ranked 7th nationally in time of possession, which demonstrates how well we have moved the ball this season and dominated offensively compared to seasons past, which has been really nice to watch. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention that the beavers have now achieved bowl eligibility, so it is no longer a matter of if, but when and where the beavers will be headed in the post-season.

The bad news, without desiring to take anything away from the team’s excellent accomplishments as a whole thus far, is that the complete game is still eluding the beavers, and some of those East Coast sports writers, who wrote that the beavers won’t be able to pull out a win against a really good team by playing the way they did last weekend, are right.

I do think that Utah does not get enough credit as they are a better football team than their record shows, but even our defense, for as well as they did against Utah, did not make their best showing during that game. After watching our defense come out the first game against Wisconsin and play phenomenally against a good offense, including playing excellent pass defense (ie turning around and looking for the ball BEFORE it smoothly landed in the opponent’s hands) and executing and completing tackles, I was disappointed to see us take a step backward in my opinion this last week with missed tackles and often weak pass defense by our secondary–both mistakes that absolutely plagued us last season. Despite the fact that our defensive line is ROCKIN’ IT, our pass defense is ranked 106th– in other words, our secondary has some work to do–and fast.

Offensively this last game we just never really got into a rhythm, and obviously some credit for that goes to Utah who defensively did their homework. Overall, however, I have to say that I was concerned with several of the play calls in watching this game, as it seemed that after Cody had one of his first passes tipped, we went to calling running plays for much of the remainder of the game despite the fact that the running game never really got off the ground as Utah was ready for Storm Woods. From a bystander’s perspective it seemed that maybe there was fear that Cody was going to throw an interception after that first tip and so we decided to keep the ball on the ground after that. Another thing that seemed to reinforce the fear factor in watching the offense, was Riley opting to punt on many fourth downs this game, including once in particular when the beavers were on the 35 yd. line and it was fourth and one. I know that Riley told the press afterwards that he was concerned about our defense and didn’t want to put too much pressure on them by giving them bad field position, but at some point I have to wonder what kind of message that sends to your team in regards to the level of confidence you have in them when you decide to send in the punting team when you’re fourth and one on the opposing 35. I didn’t see Bronco Mendenhall doing that at BYU, and I sure as heck haven’t seen Chip Kelly do that anytime in recent history.  During the season opener against Wisconsin we did not see Riley making those kinds of decisions either, so watching what went on this last game makes one wonder what has happened between now and then. Sometimes the greatest gains are made when you’re putting all you’ve got out there. When you’re playing to win instead of just playing not to lose. When you’re driving down the field instead of just trying to hold the ball and run out the clock. The danger when you get to this point in the season with this kind-of a record is that fear can start to creep in and you can stop playing as if you have nothing to lose, when you hold nothing back and just put it all out there.  The players really look like they want to put it all out there and win every game this year–and for their sake, as well as for the sake of all of us in Beaver Nation, I hope they do it–by holding nothing back and playing to win.


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