As Tony Gibson made his way into the interview area following West Virginia's gut-punch 31-30 loss to TCU, the agony of the contest was evident. Normally bouncy and upbeat, West Virginia's defensive coordinator was downcast and clearly hurting for his players after the last-second loss to the sixth-ranked Horned Frogs.
Even though WVU's defense was excellent, holding TCU well under its season averages for both points and yardage, Gibson wouldn't take solace. Neither was he satisfied with holding the Frogs scoreless after three turnovers gave them the ball in point-blank scoring range. Instead, he noted that WVU's defense could have done more.
"Could have held them to field goals or off the board on the others," he said of the final two turnovers that TCU managed to turn into touchdowns.
While coaches are expected to say such things, fall on their own swords and always note that the perfect game was not played, that's not the way this post-game should have turned out. Sure, Gibson was dismayed with a last-drive communications snafu that left one defender playing the wrong coverage, allowing TCU to complete a wide open 40-yard pass that put them in range for the winning field goal. And in today's knee-jerk, find someone to blame world, that mistake was an obvious target, as much for when it occurred as for the actual mistake. But for those who understand the game, it shouldn't detract from the remarkable job that the players on the field, and the defensive staff, turned in during the other 58 minutes.
To be sure, Gibson wasn't playing a role here. He wasn't following a script. His honest description of the locker room ("We're hurting"), spoke volumes, as did his acceptance of responsibility for the late game foul-up. In doing so, he demonstrated one big reason the defense has improved so much since last year -- his players know he has their backs, and that they are all working toward a common goal.
To be sure, there are deficiencies in this defense. Pressure against passers without bringing extra rushers and weakening downfield pass coverage is non-existent. Standing up to power running games can be problematic. However, through a blend of guile, tactics, effort and trust, Gibson and his defense have gotten the job done the majority of the time this year.
True to his nature, Gibson didn't allow the bigger picture to enter as a consolation. Certainly, he'll use that in coaching this week, telling his players that they have succeeded in the past, and that they'll succeed again. That they can put that one drive behind them and figure out how to execute to beat Texas. In the moment, though, he didn't want any thing to appear as excuse-making or justification, even though the West Virginia offense put his defense in impossible situations throughout the game. The fact that the defense rescued the situation all but a few times wasn't even mentioned -- such is the way that he wants his defense to approach the game.
Gibson's performance this year has clearly answered the critics who said he wasn't ready or qualified to be a defensive coordinator. Certainly, he's had help from his staff. The addition of Tom Bradley has been a huge plus. But he's also shown that with the right combination of playcalling, teaching and execution, he can put a defense on the field that is capable of containing explosive Big 12 offenses. Given just a bit more support, Gibson would have been happily riding that bike with the puppy at his wheel.