Gino Guidugli leaned forward in his chair, hair tussled from his helmet, arms bright red from the Bradley Center turf. His eyes were wide, and he looked off over reporter's heads as he was forced to answer more questions about yet another close Milwaukee Mustangs loss.
The veteran quarterback looked stunned.
The Mustangs blew two, 21-point leads in a 58-55 loss to the Georgia Force on Friday night for their fourth loss of six points or less. It was the Mustangs' second straight defeat and fifth in the last six games.
"It's tough, man," Guidugli said. "It's tough. It's the small things. It's been like that all season. We've just got to find a way to start overcoming those things. You could look at it from Georgia's point of view, too. They had a lot of stuff go wrong and somehow they managed to battle back and win the game. For some reason, we're not finishing at the end or our little things end up adding up to a loss.
"I don't got the answer. I wish I did."
Watch the Mustangs for the majority of any game, and anyone can see the talent level is enough to win, and at times they play like a team that can dominate.
Yet at the worst times, the team continues to fall victim to a slew of untimely turnovers, offensive breakdowns and mental meltdowns on defense and special teams.
And those are the most frustrating of lapses for head coach Bob Landsee and his coaching staff, who watch this team execute in practice but then fail to remember the assignments in game.
There was the forced sack and fumble that pushed Georgia back to its own 1-yard line, only to watch the Force throw a 49-yard touchdown on the very next play as Force receiver C.J. Johnson ran unabated to the end zone in the second quarter.
Then there was the 4th-and-17 conversion in the fourth quarter by the Force that led to a touchdown and the two defensive penalties that helped the Force tie the game late in regulation.
"You know what it comes down to?," Landsee asked. "It comes down to a little bit of this."
He then jabbed a finger at his heart.
"A little bit of heart and desire to understand I've been taught the right things, do the right things and things happen," Landsee continued. "So many fingers pointing and everything else. You know what? Look in the mirror. Look in the mirror and figure out what the hell is going on. Don't look at anyone else. Look at yourself in the mirror and you'll find out that if you can't take care of you, don't worry about anybody else."
Andrae Thurman, the former Green Bay Packers receiver who was brought to Milwaukee in an April trade, could only nod. Thurman caught 11 balls for 142 yards, but his fumble after a run-and-catch stalled out another Milwaukee scoring chance in the second half.
"It's tough when you have a loss like that because we really feel we beat ourselves," Thurman said. "We had them right where we wanted them. We couldn't capitalize. It's a tough break but it's something we're going to have get through. We're going to have to go back to work. That's the only way to solve that type of problem."
Is it possible to fix an intangible though, the type of things Landsee wants corrected?
Thurman says they can, starting with a higher level of intensity and focus in practice.
"You can't turn it on in a game," he said. "It's just being accountable, like coach said. We learn in practice. We rep it every day. So, we have to translate that to the field, the play on the field. But I think it's definitely an issue we can solve. We have to have thick seen, and take a positive out of a negative and go back to work. Go back to work."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.