‘We Just Have To Grow As A Team; Come Together As One’
COLUMBIA, Mo. — In the wake of a lopsided defeat, the search for answers begins quickly.
In postgame press conferences, coaches are asked about problems and potential fixes. Players are queried about plans that fall short, or the reasons a particular play didn’t work out. Sometimes the answers are predictable, but sometimes they are eye-openers.
There was a mixture of both in the aftermath of West Virginia’s 38-7 loss to Missouri on Saturday, one that revealed more problems for the Mountaineers than they thousands of Tiger Tails waved by the home crowd after each big play. Coaches Neal Brown and Vic Koenning shouldered some of the blame, noting that they needed to improve their teaching, and ensure that lessons being taught on the practice field carry over to game day. Brown, along with senior defensive lineman Reese Donahue, espoused a couple of different takes on staying the course, noting that while disappointing, the result did not mean that wholesale changes in scheme or personnel are required.
Those statements are true ones, even though they may not satisfy a certain percentage of fans who want offensive and defensive systems changed and starters demoted to the bench. At this point, that would likely do more harm than good, as West Virginia is playing the best players it has.
Alongside those sentiments, though, was this one from redshirt freshman receiver Sam James.
“We just have to grow as a team; come together as one,” he said calmly while answering the question of how to address some of the issues facing the team. “We played a lot of ‘by ourself ball’. We have to come together as a team. We’re going to start winning games once we do that.”
Those four brief sentences, especially set against the backdrop of a certain NFL receiver who is currently acting out as the poster child for selfish play, might set alarm bells ringing for some. However, James was quick to clarify that he did not mean that individual priorities or me-first attitudes were present, or that they were damaging WVU’s effort.
“It’s not ‘bad’ individual,” said James, who caught five passes for 35 yards and added a rush for another eight. “It’s just that we need to come together as a team.”
Thus, it appears that the reference was to having everything fit together on offense, where one play flows to the next, where everyone does their job on each snap, allowing the team to get into a rhythm that allows it to play more freely. James admitted that has been missing from WVU’s first two games. Against the Tigers, the Mountaineers had seven possessions of five plays or fewer, including four of its final five which were three and outs. One of those outs was the coup de grace shot administered by Tiger linebacker Nick Bolton, who picked off a Jack Allison pass and returned it for a 20-yard touchdown.
Faced with such short drives, West Virginia’s offense had no continuity, and James could feel it. Battling against that became a mental challenge.
“You have to have the mindset of ‘want to’ to just go out there and do it. You have to love the game and I love the game, so that’s what kept me going,” he explained.
Even before the game was over, James and some of his offensive mates were discussing next steps. He, along with a couple of other receivers, were talking with quarterback Austin Kendall as the final minutes ticked off the clock at Faurot Field.
“[Kendall] came over; he apologized for his performance, and I told him, ‘Everybody makes mistakes. I made mistakes out there. We’re going to get it,'” James related. “We just have to come in Monday and get ready for N.C. State.”
This, then, is where all of those team building events that occurred over the spring and summer can help. While there’s not a direct correlation between shooting hoops and cooking out with your teammates and executing seamlessly on the field, the strengthened personal relationships, ranging from dependence on teammates to trust in the coaches, can serve as a basis for working to perfect the meshing that James describes. There’s no way to predict how long that might take, but James, for one, seems determined to make it happen.