How Teams Bounce Back From Blowouts
by Trevor Whenham - 09/19/2008
Every so often a result comes along in football that is unexpected for fans and absolutely humiliating for the teams involved. Right now I am, of course thinking of two instances. Ohio State was an underdog heading into USC, but few expected them to be so ridiculously outclassed as they were in the 35-3 drubbing. The Pac-10 ended up on the other side of a massacre, too. People knew BYU was good, but UCLA was coming off an upset of Tennessee and the Cougars had struggled against Washington, so even the biggest BYU fan wouldn't have believed that the final score would be 59-0. BYU dominated every aspect of the game so thoroughly that it can hardly be described.
As much as the Buckeyes and the Bruins might wish they could avoid it, they have to come back and play again. They can't just pack it in. As handicappers we are left with the task of figuring out just how they might bounce back. Sometimes in these cases a team just had a really terrible day and they look much more like themselves in their next game. Other times, though, the extreme psychological toll of the annihilation can set a team back and turn a promising season into a forgettable one. It's not really possible to know which way a team will go until they play another game or two, but there are clues that can give us a hint. Here's a look at six of those clues:
Injuries - The first place to look is at what players were hurt for the blowout game, and the status of those players for the next game. Beanie Wells was out for Ohio State against USC, and his absence had to contribute significantly to the total lack of confidence, and competence for that matter, on offense. He's already been pulled out of his next game as well, so the problems they had as they related to Wells aren't likely to get much better next time out. On the other hand, if a team had a player out for a big loss but had that player return the next week then they might get a boost from that.
Coach's words - You can tell a surprising amount about how a team is feeling from what the coach does or doesn't say. The national media may have some coverage of this, but the best places to look are on the official team Web sites, student newspapers, local papers and message boards. If a coach seems to have taken the loss in stride, learned from it, made adjustments and moved on then it may not end up being that big of a deal and they may play next time like it never happened. If, though, the coach seems panicked, angry, frustrated, or at a loss then it might be a sign of bigger troubles on their way.
Roster changes - You can tell a lot about how a team might bounce back from the changes to their roster. If a team goes mostly with the same players in the week after the blowout then they probably just think that they had a bad week and are trying to move on. That's assuming that they are a decent team that was fairly happy with their roster going into the blowout game. If they start to make major changes, though, then they could be working hard to find solutions, and that can show that they might be panicking or grasping at any possible solution. A particularly good indicator of problems on the team is if they make a move from a veteran established quarterback to an inexperienced freshman or sophomore. That's a clear sign that all is not well on the offense, and the transition is rarely smooth.
Evaluate what happened - Before you can tell how they might move forward, you have to look back to what happened in the loss. Did they lose because of an injury or series of injuries in the game? Did they give up too many penalties or turnovers? Did the winning team have an offense or defense that was well designed to exploit weaknesses? Or were they just outclassed and exposed? Some of those reasons are situational and not likely to be a problem again. Others are signs of bigger problems and need to be treated as such.
Next opponent - No matter how badly a team is playing there are some teams that they just aren't going to lose to. You need to look at the next team that they face before you panic too much? Did the team show exploitable weakness in their blowout loss, and does their next opponent have the talent and ability to exploit that weakness similarly? As often as not a blowout is just a result of a bad matchup, and the losing team could look much better right away against a team they match up better with.