October 13, 2015

Mountaineers moving past dropped passes

WVU Football Editorial

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Posted: Friday, September 5, 2014 12:41 am

MORGANTOWN — It has become part of the vernacular, almost to the point of becoming a cliche.

You’ve said it yourself.

“You dropped the ball on that one.”

Usually, in reality, there is no ball involved at all, just a chore that should have been completed that wasn’t.

But make no doubt, its roots lie in a sport like baseball or football.

In baseball, it’s called an error.

In football, it’s called a fumble.

Regarding West Virginia football, it’s called an incompletion, usually on third down.

Dropped passes plagued the Mountaineers in their opener against Alabama — maybe even cost them the game.

How many were there? Four? Five?

Dropped passes blow up drives, especially those on possession downs, especially those that would have turned third-and-4 into a first down and instead lead to a punt.

Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineers’ head coach, saw too much of it in Saturday’s loss to Alabama.

“We had some dropped balls on third downs,” he said. “Those are critical situations.”

That helped lead to a rather alarming set of statistics. Alabama converted 9 of 16 third down plays, West Virginia just 5 of 14. What grew out of that was the Crimson Tide running 82 plays in the game to just 69 for WVU and controlling the ball for 37 minutes and 47 seconds while the Mountaineers had only 22:13 of possession time.

WVU’s offense couldn’t stay on the field, and its defense couldn’t get off.

“There were two or three times when I should have called better plays,” said Holgorsen, pointing a finger at himself. “There were two or three third downs when coach Gibson would have liked to call something different. We’re not going to point fingers at one person or another, but those things stand out.”

The dropped passes are the most difficult to swallow. See, there is really no right or wrong call.

The play that works is the right play. The one that doesn’t is the wrong play.

It may be an awful call with a great catch or with a defender slipping or it might be the perfect call with the snap fumbled or the ball carrier cutting the wrong way.

If no one made mistakes, every game would end in a tie.

“Sometimes kids drop the ball,” said WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.

And it isn’t always kids. Ask Wes Welker, who will have time over the next month to answer you, considering his recent suspension. He had a critical drop in Super Bowl XLVI for the New England Patriots.

And that wasn’t even the worst drop in Super Bowl history, that honor belonging to tight end Jackie Smith of the Dallas Cowboys, who dropped a wide open touchdown pass in the end zone as the Cowboys lost, 35-31, to the Pittsburgh Steelers in what was a very unlucky Super Bowl XIII.

It happens, but it isn’t always what it looks like, though.

“There were very tight windows,” Dawson continued, talking about throwing into Alabama’s talented defense. “Sometimes it’s on you, but sometimes the safety is breathing down your neck. There are a lot of factors out there.

“The one thing I will say is I believe whole-heartedly that they are going to catch them most of the time. To have that many drops is an outlier in my opinion. Those kids aren’t going to have that many drops.”

One such player was Jordan Thompson, who the players call “Squirt” and who had a great tumbling catch to go with a couple of difficult drops.

“I could have been more clutch in key situations — had a couple of drops,” Thompson said. “I made a big play, but I feel I need to be more consistent. I was visualizing what I was going to do after I caught the ball instead of catching the ball first. Just lack of focus.”

Dawson actually wants to downplay the issue.

“The biggest thing we can do is not sit there and stress about it. It’s over. Whenever you make a bad pass or make a bad decision, or do anything negative, the best thing you can do is get over it and move on,” he said. “We’re not going to sit there and point fingers and stress about what we did wrong as coaches and players. We’re going to learn from it and move on.”

Moving on means correcting it, though.

Yards are so precious in a football game that it hurts far worse when you should have a big gain and don’t get it because of your own mistakes than it does when the defense just beats you on a play.

So how do you correct dropping passes?

“You've got to work at it,” Holgorsen said. “It hasn’t been an issue. I haven’t made a big deal about it. It’s the same way how we need to make better calls in certain situations. We focus on it, we work at it, and we have confidence that things are going to work out.”

You look at film, see if the drop was caused by technique, holding the hands the wrong way, maybe; taking your eyes off the ball, trying to run before you catch it. There is so much that can go wrong, but that shouldn’t go wrong if you have drilled the proper fundamentals into your very existence that they won’t slip in the pressure of the game.

One thing is for sure, quarterback Clint Trickett is forgiving of the drops.

“Everyone across the board is going to have one or two plays they want back, but everyone played great — better than I imagined they would play,” Trickett said.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel