Tidbits

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Greetings from The Booth!

Just some random thoughts that have been swimming around in my brain this week…

Is there any fan base that would be unhappy with 4-1 at this point in the season (with the exception of the “blue bloods”)? Apparently, there is a segment of Mountaineer Nation at WVU that is miserable over it’s team’s surprising start (West Virginia was picked to finish dead last in the Big 12). Two reasons for the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth: the contingency that wants Head Coach Neal Brown fired doesn’t want him to do well enough to stay beyond 2023. And many don’t think the Mounties are winning pretty enough. This is the same fan base that didn’t think three straight 9-3 seasons under Bill Stewart were good enough. I have had a long-time seat on the “Fire Neal” Bandwagon, but geez, let’s enjoy the wins, no matter how ugly they are.

Speaking of hot seats, two coaches that should be sitting on them right now are Washington Commanders’ Head Coach Ron Rivera and Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio. All was wine and roses after a 2-0 start, but after three straight losses, the natives are getting restless. A supposed “elite” defense is on pace to give up over 500 points, which would be a franchise record. That starts with Del Rio, who seems clueless, despite having what should be multiple playmakers on the D-line. As for Rivera, he looks totally detached from his team when he’s on the sideline. When asked what he said to the team at halftime of last Thursday’s blowout at the hands of the Chicago Bears, Rivera said he let the players hash it out. If that’s the case, what do we need Rivera for?

By tonight, the Baltimore Orioles’ magical season may be over. At the time of this post, the O’s are down 2 games to none in the best-of-five ALDS against Texas. No matter what happens tonight, this season has been a success. Just 2 seasons ago, the Orioles were 52-110 and dead last in the AL East. In 2022, they were a pleasent surprise, finishing 83-79, 31-game improvement from 2021, and way ahead of the rebuilding curve. This season, no one could have predicted a 101-win campaign and an AL East Division Championship. All that being said, the Birds probably have a 2-3 year window to win a League title or World Series. These young, exciting players are going to want their money at some point, and small market teams like Baltimore can’t pay everyone. Enjoy this run while it lasts…

Finally, there are the Nationals.  Their improvement in 2023 is overshadowed by the team just 40 miles away, but their 71-91 finish this season was a 16-game improvement over 2022. Their rebuild seems to be on schedule, with a fun nucleus of players, and a restocked farm system. Build the pitching staff and add some power to the lineup (the Nats had a respectable team batting average, but a low home run total), and this team may be ready to contend by 2025. Patience, patience…

Those are my weekly tidbits…from The Booth!

RW

The Oscillating Blue And Gold Fan

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Greetings from The Booth!

The true fan, I guess, is one who watches every single play of a lightning-delayed, 5-hour, 56-17 blowout of FCS opponent (Duquesne). Or, one of what looked to be 200 people in Puskar Stadium, but I’ll get to that in a moment. I wanted to give myself at least a small sample size before I shared my thoughts about the 2023 West Virginia Mountaineers, my beloved Blue and Gold.

Objectively, I guess this edition of the Mounties lies somewhere between the team that got blown out in it’s opener at Penn State and the team that piled up over 600 yards of offense against the Dukes last night in Morgantown. Playing the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley is certainly not the usual opening game against the Sisters of the Poor, and when you looked at the schedule in the preseason, you probably chalked that one up as a “L.”

Conversely, you would certainly have counted week 2 as a “W.” But if you’re WVU, you really can’t win a game like the one against Duquesne. If you win, you were supposed to, and if you don’t win by enough, it feels like a loss. And God forbid you lose (remember Michigan-App State?). The fan base will lose it’s collective mind.

(A quick side road here: last night’s spread was 38.5 and West Virginia won by 39. It’s creepy how the oddsmakers get these things right more often than not. This is why I don’t bet. Sorry FanDuel, you’re not getting my money.)

As for last night, after a slow start and much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth from the fan boards, the Mounties did what they were supposed to do, and routed the Dukes. What do we take out of this? I’m not sure, except that embattled Head Coach Neal Brown lives to coach one more week. WVU quarterback Garrett Greene looked sharp and ended up with 4 touchdown passes, 3 of those to freshman walk-on Hudson Clement. I menton him because he is a fellow Martinsburg Bulldog, and it was great to see one of our own do well at the D-I level. Hopefully, he will get his scholarship.

Aside from that, WestVirginia played a clean game with few penalties and mistakes, and racked up over 300 yards on the ground. WVU boasts an NFL-quality tight end, which they need to use more, and some exciting young running backs. On the other side of the ball, the front seven looks solid, but the secondary is truly bad. If that doesn’t change, WVU will be torched by Big 12 passing offenses on a weekly basis.

So, at 1-1, the Mountaineers get ready to face Pitt at home in the Backyard Brawl, a game that needs to be won. A loss against the hated Panthers, and the aforementioned fan base will once again rear it’s head and call for Brown to be fired. Spreaking of that “elephant in the room,” it’s widely thought that anything short of an 8-win season, and a decent bowl, and Brown will be gone after this season. In his tenure at West Virginia, Brown has looked like a coach in above his head in terms of recruiting, play-caling, clock management, and general decision-making. Last year’s loss at Pitt is still a fresh wound, and a win this comimg Saturday is a must for Brown.

But the one thing that will get a coach fired more than anything is an empty stadium, which was the case last night. Some of that, we will chalk up to the weather. When disgruntled fans start staying away in droves, athletic administrators pay attention. Football pays the frieght for everything else at a major university, and donors are football fans. Too many more crowds like last night, and Brown’s already-hot seat will go thermonuclear.

But hey, it could be worse. You could be an Alabama fan this morning…

Until  the next visit from The Booth…GO EERS!

RW

 

 

Building On Success

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Greetings From The Booth!

The cream is starting to rise to the top with regard to the VHSL football playoffs. Five of our area teams are still alive after quarterfinal action this past weekend and although there were a few surprises, usually when we get to the state semifinal and championship level, the best teams are left standing. One of those teams appears to be Strasburg. The Rams, who will host Stuart’s Draft this Friday night in a Region 2B semifinal, are 10-1, with their only loss coming via forfeit in the season opener. My broadcast partner, Ryan “The Duke” Rutherford, correctly describes Strasburg by calling them almost “militaristic” in their approach. They don’t do anything fancy, but they are always in sync, well-disciplined, and fundamentally sound.  They will be hard to beat on Friday night.

As a football fan, I had a rare “Daily Double” this past weekend (for entertainment purposes only, not in a gambling sense), as my WVU Mountaineers and the Washington Commanders both posted wins. West Virginia beat Oklahoma in Morgantown for their first home victory against the Sooners. This year’s Oklahoma team is a bit down and still not bowl eligible, so this is not like beating your father’s Sooners. We’ll take it. These last few seasons have been lean ones for the Mountaineers, and head coach Neal Brown is on the hot seat. With the exit of WVU AD Shane Lyons earlier this week, Brown would almost certainly have to win out against Kansas State and Oklahoma State (unlikely), then win a minor bowl game to keep his job. Even that might not insure a 5th year for Brown, as there is no Lyons now to act as a buffer. A new athletic director will almost surely want his own guy, so it appears “The Climb” will end sometime shortly after the season ends.

The Washington Commanders shocked the football world Monday night with a win over previously undefeated Philadelphia in Philly. Don’t look now, but the Commanders are 5-5 and have won 4 of their last 5. Washington QB Taylor Heinicke has been the catalyst, and the team has rallied around the ODU product, who has now become a Cinderella story around the NFL. Chase Young is set to return this week, so things are looking up for the Burgundy and Gold as they head to 1-7-1 Houston on Sunday.

Can the aforementioned Mountaineers and Commanders build on the success of their recent victories? In the case of Washington, I’ve seen this movie way too many times before where a great win is followed by an egg-laying performance against a weaker foe. This just feels like one of those games. A win Sunday, however, would set the Commanders up for another winnable game the following weekend against Atlanta and a 7-5 record. Make no mistake–Sunday is an important game for Washington, and they must treat it that way.

It’s a much different situation for WVU. Forget about the angle of “playing to save your coach.” That is overrated. Brown is probably gone already, so their game Saturday against K-State is about finishing strong and building some momentum going into Spring 2023. The Mounties have some nice young players, including QB Garrett Greene, who injected much-needed life into the team in the win against Oklahoma and hopefully will start on Saturday.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need go to FanDuel about that Daily Double…

Until next visit from The Booth, HTTC & Go EERS!

RW

 

He Said, She Said

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Greetings from The Booth!

Well, I’ve got a bit of a dilemma this coming Thursday. Mountaineers or Commanders? The way both are going, I may opt for a third choice: bed. Thursday night, my 2-3 WVU Mounties host Baylor, while the dumpster fire franchise formerly known as the Redskins play the Chicago Bears. This past Sunday, I watched exactly zero seconds of the Washington disaster against Tennessee (I’d better explain. I don’t get CBS and efforts to stream or add some app would take longer than the game itself). I decided to tidy up my long-neglected .92 acre. It turned out to be a great choice, as the Commanders lost on a Carson Wentz interception on the Titans’ 2-yard line on the game’s final play.

As for West Virginia, the cries of “fire Neal Brown” are growing louder in the Mountain State, as the fans are growing tired of “trusting the climb.” Should things go south early against Baylor Thursday night, it could get ugly in Morgantown. I have never bailed on the Blue and Gold–until their last game against Texas. 28-0 down was about all I could take.

So, who to watch on Thursday night? Forget about the DVR option. That stuff is beyond me, My VHS is still blinking twelve o’clock.

OK, we’ve all heard about the imminent end of the perfect marriage of Tom Brady and supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Apparently, the two are living separately, and she is nowhere to be seen at any of Brady’s games this year. I have no way of knowing for sure, but this all seems to stem from his decision to come out of a brief retirement and play one more season.

In my mind I can almost see how this breakup happened. After last season, Brady decided to hang up the cleats and concentrate more on his family. Football puts a great strain on a marriage and family, even more so with a player as driven as Tom Brady. His many Super Bowl rings are a testament to the time he has given to the game, and the sacrifice Brady has made at the expense of other facets of his life.

Gisele has made sacrifices of her own, having assumed most of the parental duties in the marriage while giving up her own career as a supermodel. I’m almost sure the couple mutually agreed that last season was to be Brady’s last. But, as most retired NFL players will tell you, there is an empty space when a player leaves the game. It’s not the grueling training camps they miss, or even the games. It’s the camaraderie they miss with the other guys. Players share a common bond that nothing else can replace, and Brady needed that more than another ring.

This has become a polarizing tale, with some calling Tom Brady selfish for choosing football over family, while some say that Gisele knew what she was getting when she married Tom Brady. As with most stories, there are three sides: his, hers, and the true story that lies somewhere in the middle. The truth, for now, remains Victoria’s secret…

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO MOUNTAINEERS!

RW

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distrusting The Climb

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Greetings from The Booth!

It was great to put on the headphones and call a football game this past Friday. I hadn’t done play-by-play for a high school football game since the ’90s, but football is football, and after some early rust, I fell into the old routine again. It helped that we had a good game to call, as Skyline went on a final 81-yard game-winning drive, scoring a TD with just 1:34 left to play. It was fun to get back into The Booth, and I look forward to bringing you our area Game Of The Week with broadcast partner Ryan Rutherford.

Well, I wanted to wait a few days and let my emotions die down after my West Virginia Mountaineers lost to the hated Pitt Panthers in the renewal of The Backyard Brawl this past Thursday night. The 38-31 loss still stings, mainly because WVU was in control of the game late in the fourth quarter, and like so many times before, they broke my heart.

I don’t say this lightly–I no longer “trust the climb.” Mountaineers’ Head Coach Neal Brown, who once again was outcoached, and showed no ability to manage the clock in the game’s final frantic moments, sent a clear message to his offense when the game was on the line in the final stanza. With WVU leading 31-24 and facing a 4th and less than a yard to go with around six minutes left, decided to try to draw Pitt offsides, and then punt. The Mountaineers had been running the ball effectively to that point and with a first down, would have grabbed firm control of the game. As the underdog, WVU had nothing to lose by going for the first down.

Instead, Pitt went on the game-tying 91 yard drive, and would win the game in the final minutes on a pick-six. We WVU fans have seen this movie all too often. I wish they’d change the ending.

Contrast the above with a few years back when the Mounties scored against Texas (at Texas) in the final seconds of a back-and-forth affair, and trailed the Longhorns by a point. Head Coach Dana Holgorsen asked his quarterback, Will Grier, “do you want to win the game?” When Grier answered in the affirmative, Holgorsen said famously, “then let’s go win the (expletive) game!” and went, successfully, for the 2-point conversion. Now, I’m no fan of Dana Holgorsen, but I give him credit for trying to win the game, as opposed to trying not to lose.

Neal Brown tried not to lose.

I ran into a fellow WVU fan at Rock Harbor Golf Course this past Sunday, who reminded me that had WVU gone for the first down and failed, we would have been equally upset at Brown. He is probably right. After all, most of us are oscillating fans with 20/20 hindsight. Having admitted that, I will say that I am generally ok with errors of commission, as opposed to errors of omission.

We are at the point in this so-called “climb,” where almost is not good enough.

Until the next visit from The Booth…LET’S GO MOUNTAINEERS!

RW

 

Sports Dogs Podcast: Talkin’ College Football With Coach C

In this week’s SDPC, The Dogs cover WVU, Virginia Tech, and UVA football, as well as a possible collision course between Georgia and Alabama, and transfer portal news.