Matt Wallerstedt, Tech’s first repeat defensive coordinator in eons, readily acknowledges this. And he feels he and his staff have taken steps to address those concerns. But the one worry that remains prominent, and to a certain extent mysterious, is the psychology of losing games in November.
Over the past three seasons the Red Raiders are an appalling 1-11 in games played in November. And although Wallerstedt says that record is irrelevant on the one hand, on the other he acknowledges that the bugaboo is very real.
“All that’s in our rearview mirror. All that’s past,” Wallerstedt asserted at the beginning of fall camp.
But then he lays out the straight dope.
“I do think that players, guys that have been around here, that have gone through that where psychologically you gotta deal with that as a coach, you’ve gotta overcome some of that. I mean we came out of the Oklahoma loss last year probably inflated in the polls a little bit, but had every opportunity. I could have called a better game in the Oklahoma game to win that game. I’ll put it on my shoulders. But we didn’t make the plays, didn’t do what we had to do. And we come out of there 7-1 and you would have thought next week’s preparation against Oklahoma State, you would have thought we were 1-7. Just the same thing you guys are talking about. Here we go again. Woe is me. Going down the stretch we’re banged up. And we were banged up. And it’s like, here we go again. So psychologically I think that’s something that this football team, whether it’s defense, the whole team, offense, special teams, whatever it is, whatever it takes to have success and win games in November, to get that off our back and move forward.”
It’s not all that often that you hear a coach speak so frankly about a team experiencing a mental meltdown. And Wallerstedt probably wouldn’t have done so while games were still in the balance last season. But here Wallerstedt freely acknowledges that teams can be devastated by losses, that their preparation can suffer, and that past results have very real consequences in the present.
So what is the solution? How does Tech, and more specifically, the Tech defense, avoid the November death spirals that have shattered seasons with championship potential?
To some degree, the answer is tautologous.
Says Wallerstedt, “Obviously you’ve got to train for it. You gotta talk about it all the time and, you know, for our guys, just doing it. If you do it, and prove it, and have that success, then I think we’ll get that monkey off our back.”
The problem is winning in November. To solve the problem, you must win in November. In other words, there is no set solution.
But one thing is for certain—Tech will be more likely to win in November if its defense is deeper, bigger, produces more turnovers, and is more confident in what it is doing. If, as Wallerstedt believes, these problems have been addressed, then perhaps the November nosedives will be a thing of the past.