A lot has been made of the Cougs' second-half meltdowns this year, and we wouldn't be good bloggers if we weren't
affixing blame searching for answers. A post over at the WSU Football Blog by Longball -- who was a faithful reader and commenter at my previous site -- got me thinking.
Why does this team seem to struggle so much after halftime?
The term "outcoached" has been bandied about a heck of a lot this year, which heretofore would have been considered blasphemy. It seems like no matter what he does, Tony Bennett's just not able to push the right buttons to get his team over the top.
The curious thing about that, of course, is that Bennett built a reputation over the past two years as a master in-game tactician who became near legendary for his halftime adjustments -- the Cougs were 16-5 when trailing at the half in Bennett's first two years. His teams always finished strong.
So, did Bennett just lose his ability to make sound halftime adjustments? Was his button-pushing only suited to guys like Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver?
Those that think Bennett just hasn't been doing enough usually point to the disparity between the team's first-half performances, which generally is good enough to keep the team in games, and the second-half performances, which more often than not have been abysmal against quality competition. But I, for one, can't just simply dismiss the ample evidence accumulated over the past two years.
How about this for a theory, working on the assumption that Tony Bennett hasn't forgotten how to coach?
Bennett is really excellent at preparing this team to play, implementing sound game plans that put his team in the best possible position to succeed early in games. The upperclassmen are smart, and are good at executing that gameplan. In fact, the preparation is so good, the Cougs are actually playing a bit above what their true talent level is. As the game unfolds, though, the other team makes adjustments, and the Cougs lose their preparation advantage. They then begin to play to their true talent level -- which, quite frankly, just isn't high enough overall to truly compete in the Pac-10 -- and the game slips away.
As Longball rightly points out, Bennett has tried a lot of things to try and get more out of this team. The fact that none of it has resulted in any meaningful difference in performance over the course of the season ought to be a clue that there is more going on than just simple strategy. You know why we didn't have any timeouts left when Aron Baynes grabbed that missed free throw? Becuase Bennett had burned them all trying to shuffle personnel and set up different plays that could stop that OSU run.
At some point, you've got to look at the players.