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Help Wanted

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It cool. We fine.

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The online poker boom of the early 2000s changed the way the game was played in brick and mortar casinos in lots of ways.  We can discuss all of them in the comments, but the reason I bring it up today is that playing online allowed poker players (especially younger ones) to get a lifetime's worth of hands and experiences in less-than-a-lifetime's worth of time.  So you had older players who had "seen it all" playing against guys who literally had seen it all - enough hours, enough repetition, enough hands and pretty soon you know exactly what to do when someone floats you on the flop and turn and triple barrel shoves on a seemingly-bricked river because you've seen it hundreds of time instead of once.

Anyway, so if I worked for an athletic department, I would do one of two things: (1) create a job on staff and hire a game-theory educated 20- or 30-something year old kid who has played >10,000 hours of NCAA 20XX and Madden video games in their lives or (2) require everyone from the head coach down to play >10,000 hours of NCAA 20XX and Madden video games as a condition of employment.  Or both.  In this day and age there is no excuse for coaching staffs not having SOMEONE with a 30,000 foot view to advise them on tricky late-game clock and strategic situations.

For instance: Should I spike the ball on 3rd down inside the red zone on the game's outcome-determinate drive against Clemson when I am out of timeouts?  In 2014 the answer is no most definitely you do not want to waste a down, you should run Play XXX that is your absolute go-to passing play from 5 yards out, and which you have already decided to run the moment the play clock starts running so you don't waste 20 seconds changing packages and running everyone around with their heads cut off.

In 2015, however, the answer is yes spike the ball you are out of timeouts and down by 3 and you have a dependable enough field goal kicker and you don't have time for 2 plays so spiking the ball and kicking a field goal is clearly better than a lob to your shortest receiver into 5 defenders.  We had >15 seconds on the clock!  Paying someone to sit on the headset calmly saying "lulz spike it obv" over and over again seems +EV in the long run!

So frustrating.  But, it's easy to say that (even in real time) on Twitter and yelling from the stands.  The amount of pressure and decision making and thinking and yelling and chaos on a football sideline in the waning moments is something none of us will likely ever experience or have experienced.  That's why it would be good to have just 1 guy whose job it is to have a plan: the Game Theorist on the headset who they make pause his rated Madden match against a teenager in South Dakota when you get the ball back down a score and less than 2 minutes left.  Give him the score and clock and have him ready.  "Spike it, bro."  I mean, our athletic department has no budget.  You could probably even get this job sponsored or make it a scholarship position.  Everyone wins.

Deep sigh.

Moving on.  Here's what I wrote in the season preview:

And since I'm not sure if I'll be able to do a full football preview or even Auburn game preview, here are my basic thoughts on those subjects: This is one of the most talented and experienced teams we've ever had, and yet we could easily be 1-2 or 0-3 to start the season.  Let's all remember that no matter what, we get to play in the ACC next year, so it's okay to have a season like one that is certainly possible to have here.  Our defense is going to be really, really good.  Our offense has the chance to be better than last year, but offensive line and QB and WR are all still question marks.

If I had known that James Quick (remember him?) and Jamari Staples would both miss all 3 games (or in Quick's case, 2 1/4 games) I would have said 0-3 is more than just plausible.  So I'm not freaking out...too much.

We are eliminated from the Playoff (I mean, probably, college football is chaos theory so I mean, who knows) but we can still: 1) beat UK, 2) make a bowl, 3) win lots of ACC games, 4) develop, recruit and play again in the ACC next year.

Long-term I'm fine - we have seen more "no f'in way" losses in the last 2 seasons than the previous like 8 - between the two Clemson endings, FSU's luck advantage, the weird Auburn 82-yard fumble TD, the Houston KO return for TD, even the ND game included a no f'in way TD pass they caught - so many things seem to have gone against us.  Some of those are mistakes by our players, to be sure, but the disproportionate consequences of mistakes and the bad bounces have to even out at some point.  Right?

Also long-term, I think we have a ton of talent on offense that are guys who are true freshman, red shirt freshman or sophomores, and Quick and Staples should provide an immediate boost when they come back.  Lamar Jackson having packaged plays with Reggie as an H-back is awesome and will work against every team left on the schedule except maybe FSU, and maybe even against those dirt bags.  The recruiting on the defensive side of the ball has been good but we haven't seen a lot of those guys yet, so we'll see.  But, still, we have talent.  Devante Peete is really good.  Mickey Crum has looked awesome this season.

The short-term (and long-term) worry is both the late-game scenarios and the defense.  It's not like Charlie Strong was a master tactician in late-game scenarios, and his clock and timeout management left a lot to be desired.  I think Petrino is overall fine with that (short of the accidental timeout and the weird Auburn penalty clock rule that, again, might have benefited from a 30,000 foot view of a guy in the booth with the rule book and a calculator) but the end-game stuff has got to get better.  I mean, against Rutgers in 2012, in a tie game, they were clearly playing to run out the clock as much as possible assuming we'd score, but if Wallace misses that field goal, we've wasted a golden opportunity.  If Wallace makes that last night, who knows what happens, but that's not really on the coaches right?  Same guy? Same distance?  Different result?  These are still college kids.

But ya, the defense.  Tackling seems to be the biggest issue, which is something that Charlie Strong's teams never had trouble with.  Maybe that's also the talent level of teams we are playing: Auburn-Houston-Clemson are all teams that are, on paper, competing for the championship in their various leagues. So when guys on those teams make you miss, that can say just as much about them as it does about you.

With all the objective issues we've had, the fact that the difference from 3-0 to 0-3 in 3 games played in a 12-day span is 13 points means that there's no reason to panic. I started to write a post about Identity after the Houston loss but never got around to it.  The gist was: the QB decision isn't what Bobby needs to make, it's the Identity decision.  What kind of team do we want to be?  Not just on offense, because the offensive style affects the defense.  It's probably not a coincidence that we sustained longer drives last night in the second half and the defense made huge stops on 3rd down in the 4th quarter.  Charlie Strong's offensive identity was to use offense to help the defense as much as possible - which is fine, except when you have a once-in-a-generation talent at QB AND WIDE RECEIVER AT THE SAME TIME ZOMG DO YOU KNOW WHAT SORT OF SICK NUMBERS BOBBY WOULD HAVE PUT UP AGAINST THAT CRAP SCHEDULE IN 2013 WITH TEDDY AND VANTE OMG EVERYBODY FUCKING PANIC.

But whatever identity we land on, there has been a common thread with the Strong years: games aren't over until they are over.  Clemson last year, ND last year, UK last year, and two of the three games this year have been games that we easily could have gotten blown out it or lost a lot worse than we did, and all of them came down to the last drive.

The difference between winning and losing all of those games were basically coin flips, luck, and late-stage game theory.  You can control only so much, which is why the coaches need to figure out the best way to prepare themselves (and the team) for late-game scenarios.  The rest will even itself out.