I am trying to remember that one game is just one game and anything can happen in one game. However it’s hard to keep the faith on the coaching side of the Billy Napier house after a performance like that. Recruiting is doing just fine, but talent acquisition is only part of the job. The whole thing where you actually play games is the bigger part of the job.
I already went through the obvious structural things on Saturday in a fairly clinical manner. But the way that the team went out and did that, after having months to get ready, is making me feel a lot of things.
One thing that set Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer apart was that they wanted to blow the *(&@*#&! doors off of opponents from the opening snap. Dan Mullen occasionally tried to do that when he felt like putting in the effort, but that wasn’t often enough to keep the job. Spurrier was really special in this regard. No one remembers now but sometimes Meyer’s teams would have slower starts to the season because he felt he needed to have his teams prove their toughness by running inside a lot early instead of just calling a normal game from the jump.
Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain, Mullen when he got conservative, and Billy Napier are all more on the side of trying to grind opponents into dust over the course of four quarters. It works fine when you get a lead early, but that doesn’t happen every game. And then when you’ve put your team into that mindset, it’s hard for them to find the extra gear late while making a comeback.
It’s getting old, frankly. I don’t know why multiple ADs keep hiring head coaches with this kind of perspective, but it’s tiresome.
Napier is also exhibiting some of the other traits that were frustrating about his fired predecessors.
The thing that got me most about McElwain is that he just didn’t try to score that many points. There were things he could’ve done differently to be more aggressive and put more points on the board, but he just didn’t.
Napier is the same way. He could’ve picked up the pace, or tried to hit defense’s weak points, or gone with a lighter and sleeker lineup for a time to get the Utes off balance. Instead, he just kept doing the same things he always does. The offense seldom felt like it got into a real rhythm except for the 98-yard touchdown drive where he finally tried some quick hitters to punish the defense for crowding the box.
I don’t want him to try to go all Air Raid or Baylor-style offense. For one, that’s not his style and therefore it wouldn’t work as well as with someone who believes in that kind of attack. For another, those are evolutionary dead ends that get a lot out of simplicity but will always crash and burn against the kind of elite defense that you’ll inevitably run into on the way to a national title. Want to win ten games a lot? Get Josh Heupel or someone like him. Want to win a title? You’ll have to look elsewhere.
However, it wouldn’t kill Napier to get more aggressive. He talks a lot about complimentary football, which in this context means he doesn’t want the offense to put the defense in a bad situation. But you know what compliments a defense the best? A two-score lead in the first quarter.
Napier also leans a lot on and favors people he already knows, which was a trait shared by both McElwain and Mullen. You don’t want your head coach to be like Muschamp, who flailed around hiring all kinds of dudes from anywhere without really checking that they’d be compatible with the rest of the staff. But also, maybe the best hire isn’t someone who’s already in your contacts?
I already complained about there not being a proper special teams coach. However the analyst who is doing a questionable job as the “GameChangers Coordinator” (I just sprained a muscle from rolling my eyes again) is, you guessed it, a guy who came over from Louisiana. And the two assistants who conspicuously went to title downgrades with the Arizona Cardinals — Patrick Toney from coordinator to position coach, and William Peagler from position coach to assistant position coach — were also guys who came over from Louisiana. We’ll see how Austin Armstrong does in the longer term, but why did Napier hire the youngest DC in all of the Power 5 instead of finding someone more proven? He worked for him at Louisiana.
Worse, we’re starting to hear excuses like you do from, well, any head coach who is feeling heat and starting to wonder if he’s losing control. The play with the two number threes has given us a couple of examples.
During the game, someone told the broadcasters that the problem was Eugene Wilson didn’t change from 3 to 33 for that play. That is cowardly, blaming a true freshman in his first college game, in a stressful and loud road environment no less, instead of a member of the staff taking responsibility as they should have.
Someone in the building is also apparently trying to throw Chris Couch, the aforementioned GameChangers Coordinator, under the bus. Someone told Nick de la Torre that he didn’t update his card for the game and still had Wilson as No. 21. That doesn’t really track for that play though, because Desmond Watson was also in that unit, and he wears No. 21. Plus, there is the whole bit about how they had a plan for Wilson to change into jersey No. 33 if need be.
I don’t know if we will ever get a straight answer or the whole story about that play. However, people are pointing fingers instead of taking responsibility, and that is a bad, bad sign.
I am tired of the constant head-coaching churn, so I hope Napier eventually figures it out. Sooner than later, ideally. However, we are only 14 games in and there are already plenty of red flags waving. I hate this feeling, and I hope Billy finds a way to make it go away.