This game means a lot: Will the Bulldogs ‘mean it’?
Oct. 20, 2017
RUSTON – So now we've come to one of those games where you have to just get mean.
One of those games where you want to gnaw the other guy's facemask down to a nub. Gang tackle anybody who even thinks about carrying the ball. Time for everybody to get what one old coach described as “a bad case of the ‘wants’.”
Run like it’s your last game, think like this play is the only one in your life, tackle like the yard behind you is a cliff.
Louisiana Tech won’t stack the pads and quit practicing if the Bulldogs lose when Southern Mississippi visits Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday at 6 pm. The season will continue. There will still be a bowl game to play for and a long -- extremely long, like from here to Anchorage and back -- shot at the Conference USA title.
But because of a 3-3 overall record, 1-1 in the league, Tech has left itself with little wiggle room. The Bulldogs have to play Saturday like there’s no Sunday. At least no “football” Sunday.
Because in a very real sense, the “extra” games are in question now. What seemed like a certainty in September after a last-second field goal into the Bowling Green evening beat defending Conference USA champ Western Kentucky is not so certain anymore. Back then, it seemed like getting to the league title game was only a bit more than a cinch. Winning six games? Shoot, that seemed easy as falling out of a tree.
Uhh...not so anymore. It’s by the slimmest of margins, but it’s still reality. The Bulldogs have played in one-point margin final scores in three of their past four games: 23-22 over Western Kentucky, a 17-16 non-conference loss at South Carolina, and -- the most bitter pill to swallow -- a 23-22 league loss at Alabama-Birmingham on a short blocked field goal attempt on the game’s final play.
In the two one-point losses, the story was playing well enough to win -- except for mistakes at crucial times. And those mistakes meant all the good...was gone.
Was the Carolina game basically given away, despite a valiant effort? It was. But the UAB game was the unkindest cut of all. It should not have come down to a last-second field goal. Too many penalties in the second half. Too many missed tackles in the first half. Too many missed kicks. Too many self-inflicted stubbed toes. Louisiana Tech Hall of Famer Maxie Lambright loved to say, “It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes.” He’s right. The Bulldogs were in position to make tackles that Saturday in Birmingham, to make kicks, to make a crucial first down or two. They just didn’t.
So it came down to a dreaded “double thump.” The double thump is beautiful if you are defending a potential game-winning field goal. If you’re trying one -- as Tech was at Legion Field -- it’s like hearing the nail being hammered into your coffin. It’s kick attempted (thump!) and kick blocked (thump!). The second thump is the fatal one. Maybe it’s more like a thump!/splaaat!
Regardless, it’s a sad situation if your team’s kicking, if it’s your team that steps in a big ol’ pile of splaaat.
UAB 23, LA Tech 22.
And so, although Tech is a young team and a battling-crucial-injuries team, here is the bottom line, which is a reality of sports: this is it. The other team won’t sit out players if you have players hurt. The other team does not care about your feelings or whether or not you were picked in preseason to win the West Division. The other team knows you are young -- and they appreciate that and are not going to wait for you to get older.
So there is no more room for “My bad.” Or “Sorry, coach.” It’s up to the Jimmys and Joes.
All the Bulldogs have been working toward is still right there. Win out, rank higher than anybody else in the West, and you’ve earned your way into the championship game. Lose, and you’ve got to win and win and win and hope a lot of other teams lose.
Players, the actual guys who will be on the actual field, can’t think that way, of course. They have to think one play at the time. Championships are won one play at a time and one pitch at a time. Do the thing that is before you right now.
This is a good team. A team that is injured and young, so it’s been sort of a different team every week. But even though it has been pieced together -- especially in the offensive line, secondary, and at receiver -- this is a team that can win C-USA.
If the Bulldogs are to get to a bowl or to win the league, there can be no more brain cramps. No more Mr. Nice Guy And Here’s Your Win, You’re Welcome. No more of anything but being mad enough and good enough and disciplined enough to run through the tape.
Can the Bulldogs do that? They say they can. Saturday at The Joe, you’ll see if they mean it.
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