Tag Archives: acc football

What Will Carla Do at Virginia?

It had been a while since Virginia played in a post-season bowl game. In the excitement generated by Virginia’s invitation to the Military Bowl, Virginia fans might have forgotten that sometimes post season bowl experiences go awry.

Some might argue that things started to go downhill with the weather forecast which was for daytime temperatures in the mid-20s with steady winds throughout the day. The good news for the Virginia program is that its fans turned out in force. Virginia fans filled the vast majority of the seats in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium eagerly anticipating the next step in Bronco’s resurrection of Virginia football. Kudos to the Virginia faithful for a strong showing in Annapolis. That’s our primary role supporting the program and it was a job well done.

Unfortunately, Virginia’s on-field performance in the Military Bowl against a middling Navy team was 12 seconds of glory and 59 minutes and 48 seconds of agony.  After running back the opening kickoff for a score, Virginia played like they took the month off leading up to the Military bowl. Navy dominated the lines of scrimmage and Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert’s passes went in every direction except that of wide open receivers. Benkert missed 3 walk-in touchdown passes, under and over shooting by 10 yards or more, so off the mark that fans wondered who was Benkert’s intended target. The balance of Virginia’s performance was equally dismal. I could only tolerate 3 quarters of frigid football torture before heading for the warmth of the 3-hour ride home.

Speaking with friends about the game, one particularly loyal and astute Virginia fan raised a most interesting question – What will Carla do?

Virginia’s new athletic director Carla Williams was an all-SEC guard for the Georgia women’s basketball team. She spent the last 14 years with he Georgia athletic department, overseeing the Georgia football program. During her 14-year tenure at Georgia, the Dawgs won 10 or more games 9 times. They had one losing season, a 6-7 campaign in 2010. The bottom line is that Carla Williams is used to winning…a lot.

I wonder what she thought as Virginia went a second consecutive game without scoring an offensive touchdown? I wonder what she was thinking when Virginia punted from inside the Navy 40 yard-line? I have no doubt she has never seen a field goal attempt from 46 yards bounce across the goal line, having never reached a height that would clear the cross bar. The cynical part of me wanted to say “welcome to Virginia football” Ms Williams. Given her background of winning, however, I doubt Williams will stand idly by while Virginia football continues to struggle in its return to football respectability.

The real question is, what will Carla do? Recall, Carla Williams was running the football program at Georgia when the Dawgs fired Mark Richt, who averaged almost 10 wins per season in the juggernaut SEC. The Dawgs won the SEC twice, their division 6 times and won 9 bowl games while Ms Williams as in Athens…and then Richt was kicked to the curb.

I don’t think Georgia holds the SEC record for the largest loss margin as Virginia does for the ACC – tying it’s own record this week with the 42 point drubbing against Illinois in the 1999 Micron PC Bowl. I also don’t think Carla Williams will find this year’s performance an acceptable outcome for the Virginia football program. She didn’t hire Bronco and she didn’t hire any of the staff Bronco brought with him. I am sure she expects a better performance from a coach making almost 3.5 million a year.

I don’t think that Bronco is in trouble, yet. However I do expect to see changes in the program – some of which we will see, others will be kept behind closed doors. I will be very surprised if offensive coordinator Robert Anae is with the program next season. 10 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown is unthinkable for someone with Carla Williams’ background – even Vandy can get the ball in the end zone once or twice a game against the best in the SEC.

While Virginia fans should be encouraged by the improvement in the program from 2-10 in 2016 to 6-7 in 2017, I doubt that this is the expectation for Virginia’s new athletic director. This makes the 2018 season a critical one for Bronco and his staff. I think that another 6-7 season with a season-ending drubbing will raise questions in her mind if Bronco is the right leader for Virginia football. I have no doubt that Williams has a short list in her mind of talented coordinators she could bring to Charlottesville should the Virginia program stagnate or regress in 2018.

I don’t think Bronco will make any public “hot seat” lists in the coming year, but I’d bet you 5 bucks he is on the only hot seat list that matters and that there will be many candid discussions during the off season with his new boss.

This is all is good news for Virginia football. I am not ready to throw in the towel on Bronco and staff, but I am glad that he has a boss who is used to winning on Saturdays and who I doubt has many positive feelings about the 2017 season. If Virginia is going to continue to improve its football results, 6-7 seasons with an embarrassing bowl loss cannot be part of the recipe for success. Based on Carla Williams’ background, I suspect Virginia football will improve under the current leadership or it will see dramatic changes that will lead to wins in the future. Either way the Virginia fans who posted in Annapolis on a day when it would have been easy to stay home will see more winning Saturdays for Virginia football. I am good with that.

Virginia Football is Heading in the Right Direction – Despite the Last 2 Games

It’s a shame that disappointment was the overriding sentiment among Virginia faithful as the regular season came to a close on Saturday in Charlottesville. The current sentiment is understandable but should not be the prevailing sentiment when looking at the full body of work and the progress Virginia football demonstrated during the year. That said, I get the current feelings of disappointment and pondering what might have been.

Two weeks prior, Virginia completely dominated the #3 team in the country, on the road, for two and a half quarters before falling apart and adding an expected, but still disappointing loss to the 2017 record. Overmatched and on the road, Virginia looked like they could play with some of the best teams in the country before mistakes and fatigue showed that they couldn’t.

If I’d have been offered the following bet prior to this weekend’s game against Virginia Tech – if UVA holds VT to 10 points in the game, would you bet $ 100 that UVA wins the game? – I would have taken the bet in a heartbeat…which reinforces the reasons why I’m not much of a gambler. Virginia’s defense played very well against a respectable Virginia Tech offense, while Virginia’s offense posted its worst performance of the year against a solid but far from great Virginia Tech defense.

Virginia Tech feasted on wimpy opponents to start the year, bolstering its defensive stats by smashing lousy Delaware, ODU, and ECU teams while pitching shutouts in two of those three scrimmages. On Saturday however, Virginia’s offense helped the Hokie defense look like 1975 Steelers. It is hard to fathom that this was the same Virginia offense that racked up 28 points and 440 yards of total offense the prior week against a far more talented Miami defense. The Virginia offense had a couple of chances to score enough points to beat Virginia Tech, but unlike several games prior, dropped passes, overthrown balls, and a fatigued offensive line sealed Virginia’s fate.

Virginia fans know this drill. So close, but no cigar. Hence, the pervasive and familiar feeling of disappointment.

I’d suggest that Virginia fans need to shake off the disappointment and recognize that the 2017 football season was not only a success but could be a turning point in the return to football respectability. Optimistic projections entering the 2017 campaign predicted 5 wins in ’17. Many fans would have seen progress if not success in more than doubling last season’s win total with a 5-win season.

While close-but-no-cigar is recognizable territory for Virginia fans across the athletic spectrum, “close” has not really been part of the equation for football for the past 5 years. Not only was Virginia close in most of their games this season, they won 6 of them and are going bowling for the first time since 2011.

While a bowl game is a significant achievement for a previously 2-10 team and a nice reward for seniors who worked hard to turn the fortunes of Virginia football around, the best outcome of making a bowl may not be apparent until next season. Making a bowl means an extra month of practice for a Virginia team that sports a plethora of red-shirt and true freshman in their 2-deep. An additional month of practice gives Bronco and his staff the opportunity to give younger guys significant practice time and more first-team reps than usual. This extra practice time is invaluable for young teams working to build on a successful season.

Virginia fans can do their part in the turn around of Virginia football by forgetting the disappointment of 2 losses to end the season plus the distraction of a nice start to basketball season by turning out for the bowl game this year. Most projections have Virginia playing in the Military Bowl in Annapolis which is right in the drivable heart of the Virginia fan base. If Virginia draws the short straw and ends up in Detroit at the Quick Lane Bowl I understand that is a slightly less desirable trip and may not see a stellar Cavalier turnout.

Given the breaks of the last two games, I think this team is overdue for a bit of good luck. See you in Annapolis!

The Unfortunate Return of “The U”

Like Jason in the “Friday the 13th” Movies, “The U” appears to be back.

I know “everyone” (defined as the college football media and the FCS-sized Miami fan base) seems to be excited about the reemergence of “The U”. I’m not going to lie, I kind of liked Miami more when they were “The Who?” based on their pedestrian performance since joining the ACC in 2004.

Let’s be honest about Miami, they don’t represent the best that college sports have to offer America’s youth, even when they aren’t very good. What does Miami have in common with classic NFL warriors like Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Heath Miller, & Mike Singletary? I’d say the answer is nothing.

Unfortunately, Virginia gave the ‘Canes the opportunity to sport their ridiculous turnover chain 3 times on Saturday. Virginia played a spirited game against Miami on Saturday. Virginia fans might complain that this was a winnable, signature game that got away. Virginia has rallied well many times this season when they took a punch from their opponents and turned tough games into wins. Miami’s punches didn’t crush Virginia on Saturday, rather Virginia punching itself undid its aspirations for an unlikely win. For all the things Virginia did well against the Canes, to beat the #3 team in the country on the road takes a near flawless performance. For all of the positive plays Virginia made, there were too many field-position mistakes that allowed Miami’s offense to start with short fields well inside Virginia territory.

The bottom line on the game? Miami has more better players than Virginia, an outstanding head coach, and played in front of a crowd that exceeded Miami’s normal FCS standards. Virginia made a few critical mistakes that hurt their cause. If one is a conspiracy theorist, the fix was in from on high from the ACC or the NCAA as officiating was below Pop Warner quality, with the worst calls all going against Virginia.

The worst part of Virginia’s loss to Miami was not the loss itself, but rather that it tossed fuel on the fire for the resurrection of “The U” and all that it entails. Some things are best left in the trash bin of American culture. Breakdancing, Pet Rocks, The Bee Gees, and the unfortunate antics of “The U” are things we all could have done without in perpetuity.

“The U” joined the ACC in 2004 along with Virginia Tech. There is no doubt ACC leadership had dreams of regular FSU/Miami championship games with packed stadiums and signed contracts for the first 5 ACC title games to be played in Florida. When Wake Forest showed up to play Georgia Tech in 2006, and Boston College played Virginia Tech the following 2 years, things were not exactly going according to plan.

Miami is finally going to make it to the ACC title game this year, albeit 12 years late. The worst thing that could happen for the ACC, college athletics, and the future of American culture would be for Miami to win this game. While the antics of “The U” are not yet down to the standards of the past, I loathe the thought of what could pass, should Miami beat Clemson in 2 weeks.

When I think about the epics struggles in American athletics over the years and the societal good that so many have delivered to American culture, I wonder what true legends like Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, and Hank Aaron would have to say about the turnover chain and the bravado of “The U”. I suspect they might wonder what it was they suffered and fought for if this was the end result.

Let’s hope for a Clemson victory in the ACC championship game and for a modicum of restraint if the unthinkable happens.

Virginia Football, Still Looking for Win Number 7

For many Virginia fans, after qualifying for the first bowl game since 2011, the football program was playing with house money. Virginia was ahead of most every projection for wins in 2017. Many experts saw 5 wins as the mark of good progress and here Virginia sat with 6 wins and 3 games to play. This is the definition of “house money” and Virginia had nothing to lose the rest of the way, right?

I think not. Despite their performance against Louisville, I don’t think the team is thinking that way either. I didn’t see anyone on the sidelines that looked satisfied with the season to date, resting on their laurels waiting for the announcement of the formerly elusive bowl game destination.

Rolling into Saturday’s game, Louisville was due to put it all together. Unfortunately their best game of the season came against Virginia. Any team with Lamar Jackson is dangerous. He is an exceptional talent. Virginia fans will be glad to see a new quarterback in Scott stadium next year leading the Louisville program. However, everyone knew the Cardinals could produce on offense. The shocker on Saturday, and the driver of the win for Louisville, was the performance of their defense. A talented unit on paper, they had been shredded on multiple occasions in 2017, and as a result, Louisville was a surprising 5-4 heading into their match with Virginia.

While there have been many games over the years when obscure players and teams have had exceptional performances against Virginia, this was not one of those occasions. There was no excuse for Louisville’s defense to be ranked in the 80s among D1 (sorry, I still think in terms of D1, D2, & D3…not FBS & FCS) programs. There was too much talent on the sidelines for that kind of performance. Unfortunately for Virginia fans, the Cardinals’ defense put it all together against the Wahoos and the Cavs left Louisville with a convincing loss, and a record of 6-4. Virginia is still well above season expectations, but not lacking more than a dash of hope for a 7th win before Virginia learns its opponent and destination in the post-season bowl frenzy.

I don’t think Virginia was flat on Saturday against Louisville and I don’t think they were overly sloppy. Virginia just had one of those days when their opponents played very well and the Cavaliers were simply not up to the task. Remember Miami’s last game in the OB? Virginia won 48-0 against a Miami team that had far more future NFL players on the field at all times. Virginia steamrolled the Canes as Miami had one of “those games”.

Virginia has done a good job of putting tough losses behind them in 2017. Ugly losses against Indiana and Pitt have been followed by nice wins against UConn and Georgia Tech. This is a team that seems to have no memory. The past is the past and the next game = the most important game of the season. I credit the staff for building this culture and the players for executing in several tough circumstances.

After watching Miami dismantle Notre Dame this weekend, I am not going to call a Virginia win next week in Miami. However, I am going to predict that Virginia shows up next week well prepared and mentally ready to do what it takes to win, to fight until the final whistle, and possibly pull off the biggest surprise since their last blowout win in Miami.

Virginia might be playing with house money when looking at the “expert’s” predictions for the season. However, when I watch Virginia on the field, I see a team that is focused on nothing but win number 7, and after that win number 8.

What we saw against Louisville was the uncomfortable reality of a team rebuilding from the foundation up not a lackadaisical performance due to a sense of entitlement because a bowl game is in the cards. Unlike so many teams in the past decade, this Virginia team is focused and well-prepared and they win more than in the past..just not every week.

Not the “Same old Hoos” – Virginia is Going Bowling!

There were enough mistakes on Saturday for Virginia to fulfill the lowly expectations of many fans for the rest of the 2017 season –  a blocked punt, dropped passes across the receiving corps, missed tackles that resulted in long gains. The first two plays of the second half resulted in Georgia Tech touchdowns. For those keeping score at home that was less than a minute off the game clock and a narrow one-point GT lead ballooned to a 15 point margin and the rout was on. Except it wasn’t.

Playing Georgia Tech is always a challenge. They play a different brand of football. They run on first down. They run on 3rd and long. They go for it on 4th down. Their blocking schemes are unique and their athletes are drilled in the nuances of GT football. So when the Yellow Jackets burst out to a big lead, it is not unusual for their opponents to collapse. As noted last week, teams don’t make defensive adjustments at halftime that stymie Georgia Tech. Either you break the code to stop the Jackets in the week leading up the game…or you don’t. There isn’t a lot of middle ground. Virginia looked like they could hang with Georgia Tech, but Virginia can never afford big mistakes. This is especially true against G-Tech who can grind games away with clock-eating drives. Virginia’s early mistakes looked like they would break their back.

When Georgia Tech broke the game open early in the second half, the hearty Virginia fans that braved the Charlottesville downpours could not have been blamed for heading for the exits – to dry tailgate tents and warm rides home.

A funny thing happened in Charlottesville on Saturday. While the crowd was thin due to the horrid weather and tepid team performances of the past two weeks, the fans in the stadium remained and a Virginia team that was expected to accelerate the rush to the exits, instead stormed back and sent the Engineers back to Atlanta with a stinging loss.

Tepid might be a kind description of Virginia’s performances against Boston College and Pittsburgh the past two weeks. Disheartening might be a bit more accurate. However, even in those losses, there was not the expected fatalistic sense of doom throughout the game. There was not the disorganized chaos that has marked Virginia football the past decade. Even in those disappointing losses, Virginia never rolled the tents, like they had in years past.

So when Virginia looked like they had thrown the game away in the first 2 plays of the second half against Georgia Tech, it would have been easy for Virginia fans to begin the groaning festival, reminiscing about the horrors of being a Virginia fan. But this team is not Virginia-business-as-usual. They don’t get rattled like Mike London’s Virginia teams. Instead, the guys that made big mistakes in the first half suddenly made big plays to win the game.

Lester Coleman, after a blocked punt and a touchback-punt that netted less than 20 yards in the fist half punted like an All-American. He flipped the field on Georgia Tech with a monster 60-yard punt on a soggy day when punting was a nightmare. Later, he pinned GT inside the 5 yard line that led to a safety and then again inside the 10. Andre Lavrone, Doni Dowling, and Olamide Zaccheous made fantastic catches after ugly drops early in the game. Kurt Benkert threw pinpoint touchdown passes in traffic after one of the season’s ugliest pick-sixes.

I know this goes against the grain for a program that has not been bowling since 2011, but it is time for the Virginia program – players, coaches, and fans to get greedy. Making a bowl game is great, and I am so happy for the players, especially the seniors who have slogged their way back to respectability. It’s time to move beyond respectable to pretty darned good.

Virginia was a 9.5 point dog to Georgia Tech and a 13.5 point dog to Boise State. The Wahoos have opened as a 9 point underdog to Louisville. I don’t think Vegas knows what to do with Virginia this year. I’m not a betting guy, but take the Wahoos and the points. Lamar Jackson is a fantastic talent and Louisville is hungry for a win after a subpar year. However, unlike too many prior seasons, I just wouldn’t bet a against this team. If they look sloppy in the first half or make a couple of big mistakes to go down to Louisville early, don’t change the channel, don’t go work in the yard. I know what “same-old-Hoos” looks like. These aren’t the same old ‘Hoos.

An Unlikely Virginia Football Contrarian…

I was out of town this weekend when kickoff for the Virginia/Pitt game rolled around. The bartender was either unwilling or unable to find RSN. There was no doubt in my mind that my fellow bar patrons included few UVa fans, so I am not sure if the failure to locate the game was due to a lack of coverage in the area or by design to keep the bar filled and happy.

Frankly, I am not sure it matters. I read the articles and studied the box score. Another convincing Virginia loss. The second in a row as Virginia remains one win shy of bowl eligibility. If I was going to completely miss a game, this was probably a good one. The anatomy of the loss – the shortcomings of the offensive line, a high school caliber field goal kicking game, and squandered opportunities inside the Pitt 40 yard line are not the biggest challenges for the program right now.

I think the biggest problem for the program is that fans are perilously close to or have already thrown in the towel on the season and some on the football program at large. I got several texts during the game, while I was out for a hike in the Virginia mountains, that predicted a 5-7 season and another bowl season without Virginia as a participant. They were done, waiting for basketball season.

It is hard to blame them. Virginia has been consistently pretty bad over the past 10 years. Al Groh and Mike London each had flashes success during their tenures, but ultimately both were major players in the disintegration of the Virginia football program. Bronco’s first season at 2-10 didn’t do much to repair the damage. Fans are justified in their short fuse.

I understand the sentiments of those who have seen enough. Virginia athletics has a long and storied history of leaving its fans at the alter, especially in the “money sports” of football and basketball. While Virginia has built itself into a national player on the basketball scene, there is no doubt that recent teams had final 4 potential, yet have fallen short of basketball nirvana. Football has been a train wreck since George Welsh was prematurely pushed aside. I get it, for many it’s time to move on.

I’m not there yet. While the playing margin for error for Virginia football is razor thin and the tolerance for injuries among the starters is even thinner, I think there is another win in this team and a bowl game on the horizon. I’d love to cite a mountain of stats that back up my position, but they aren’t there. In fact, the stats clearly support the opposite position. If I were at the blackjack table in Vegas, I’d be the hated player going with his “gut” hitting a “15” while the dealer shows “6”.

I think that Quinn Blanding and Micah Kizer will rally this team for one more win this season. As it sinks in on the rest of the team that these warriors may go their entire college career without a bowl appearance, I think the rest of the team will dig deep and find a way to pull off a major upset victory.

Virginia will be the betting dog the rest of the season. The Wahoos opened as an 8.5 point dog to Georgia Tech, which will likely be the smallest spread we see the rest of the way.

In past seasons, undermanned Virginia teams have stymied the maddening triple option to upset the Jackets in Charlottesville. I think it is possible again this Saturday, but I think the options this week are polar opposites. Virginia will either eek out a close victory or get blowout by 25 points or more. If it is close, Virginia can will its way to victory. If the roof starts leaking early and Virginia struggles in the first half, it will get ugly in a hurry. The triple option is not a riddle you solve at halftime. It is a puzzle you unravel the week before the game.

Let’s hope for a good week of practice and a sharp performance on Saturday, otherwise I’m the guy that took the dealer’s bust card. You’re welcome.

Virginia’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Did you ever have one of “those days”? You know, the days that start realizing you are out of toothpaste because you forgot to go to the store the previous day? Usually this is followed by a crushed button on your last pressed shirt, an unexpected rain shower on your walk to a client meeting, a dead car battery before heading home, and a late Uber driver who gets stuck in a traffic jam.

We have all had those days. The cure for those days is sunrise the following morning. A fresh start to the next day with a full tube of toothpaste and new challenges on the horizon.

Virginia had one of “those days” on Saturday against Boston College.

Take a second to consider this stat: At the end of the first quarter, Boston College had amassed 256 yards of total offense against Virginia. That’s right, BC was on pace to have over 1000 yards of total offense. That only happens on one of “those days”.

Everything went wrong for Virginia, including possibly underestimating the ability of their opponent. I was worried about BC for a couple of reasons. First, they are a lot like UVa in that they are not getting world-beating 5-star athletes to build their program. Rather BC head coach Steve Addazio depends on hard work, discipline, and player development to compete against more talented opponents. Second, BC had played a brutal schedule leading up to Saturday’s game in Charlottesville. They had played Notre Dame, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Louisville, beating Louisville on the road and hanging tough for at least most of the other games. BC was battle tested to say the least and probably looked at the Virginia game as a chance to show what they could do…mission accomplished for BC.

Conversely, Virginia was 5-1, getting its sea-legs, and talk of Virginia football turning the corner was in the air leading up to Saturday. Then, the few fans that were in Scott stadium at the time, watched Virginia lose the coin toss.  Things went down hill from there.

On Boston College’s first drive. Virginia was inches away from a safety on 3rd and long from the BC 5 yard line. Instead of taking a sack & a safety, BC quarterback Anthony Brown scrambled for what would be one of seven 3rd down conversions in the first half. Boston College drove 85 yards for a field goal.

Things broke BC’s way all day. Virginia, not so much. Still in the first quarter, a very good WR block at the edge on a jet sweep took out not one, but two Virginia defenders resulting in a 75 yard TD run. A great block that should have resulted in a 10 yard gain, results in the longest run from scrimmage all year, when it is not your day.

Again on 3rd and long on the ensuing drive, the play clock ran out, hitting 00 on the scoreboard. The officials missed the delay of game call, BC snapped the ball and tossed a 76 yard TD pass on what should have been a 5-yard penalty. BC was ready and played aggressively all day. Virginia was not and did not. When it is not your day, things that have gone well in the past go terribly awry.

What does all of this mean for Virginia football for the rest of the season? It means Virginia has to approach every game as if they are a 13.5 dog. Virginia has to assume they have been overlooked and treated like bottom feeders by the media and their opponents the rest of the way. It means what we all knew before Virginia went on a 4-game winning streak – this is an evolving Virginia team with little margin for error. The fates along with disciplined and inspired play on the field must align for Virginia to win. If one of these is off kilter, Virginia is in trouble. It means that Virginia coaches and players still have a lot of work to do.

What does Saturday’s loss not mean? It does not mean that rest of the season is going to be a complete bust. The schedule is tough the rest of the way, but as we have seen already this season, this team knows how to win. It does not mean that all the progress this season is lost. Last year’s 2-10 team is 5-2 this year. They block better, throw better, and tackle better than last year’s team. None of this goes out the window because they laid an egg against a highly motivated Boston College team.

At the beginning of the season if Virginia fans were magically offered the chance for their ‘Hoos to be 5-2 after 7 games in the season,  do you think anyone would have declined, thinking 6-1 or 7-0 was a more probable outcome? Fans are understandably greedy, however. Success feeds the desire for even greater success. A little perspective after a crummy performance can be a good thing, though not as much fun as winning. The perspective Virginia fans need to appreciate is that 5-2 heading to Pitt next week is a dramatic improvement over last year’s performance as well as this year’s expectations.

Virginia had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day on Saturday. Everyone in the program had a bad day. Players and coaches alike were off their games. For the first time all year Virginia looked disorganized on the sidelines blowing timeouts to get the right players on the field. Players made mistakes in execution and the breaks all went against Virginia.

Like the stock market, the resurrection of Virginia football is not going to be a straight line up and to the right. Virginia will hit bumps in the road and see periodic regression. I remain confident that the trend of the program is correct and heading in the right direction. The key for players, coaches, and fans is to let go of days when everything goes wrong and wait for the sun to rise the next day, looking forward to the next challenge on the horizon…which is Pittsburgh on the road.

Virginia opened a 4.5 point dog, which is exactly what we wanted.

Virginia and North Carolina Both Got What They Deserved

After a hard fought game, Virginia left Chapel Hill with what it deserved – a victory over the struggling, but athletic North Carolina Tar Heels. Virginia snapped a 7-game losing streak to a Carolina team that also got what it deserved on Saturday.

After the NCAA issued the University of North Carolina a “get out of jail free” pass for academic fraud that kept its athletes eligible for almost 20 years while robbing them of any chance for a real education, UNC got what it deserved Saturday as well – a loss and a pot to stew in until the teams meet again next year.

UNC coach Larry Fedora was fuming as the clock ticked down to zeros and Virginia lined up in its victory formation. Fedora and the Carolina nation were outraged at a no-call on what they felt was a face mask penalty on a 4th down, game ending sack by Chris Peace. Carolina fans aren’t used to calls not going their way. Ignore the fact that Carolina just as easily could have been called for a block below the waste on the same play or the missed holding call on Eli Hanback the play before. UNC is supposed to get the breaks and get the calls, whether their athletes go to class or not.

When the NCAA acknowledged that Carolina ran an academic charade for 17 years that helped keep its athletes eligible to compete in its revenue sports, but then stated that the academic curriculum of its members is outside the jurisdiction of the NCAA infractions team…you might say Carolina is used to having its way. Maybe Carolina fans should go back and listen to the interviews and read the chronologies laid out by their internal whistle-blowers describing barely literate athletes getting “As” in classes that never met and turning in papers they never wrote before they get too indignant about a no-call that didn’t go their way.

The University of North Carolina, after spending $ 17 million dollars defending its systemic academic fraud, essentially threw the entire university under the proverbial bus by stating that their sham classes were part of the regular curriculum and were available to all students. Wow, the entire university population can take no-show classes? That must be very comforting to the parents of students and to major benefactors of the university.

While UNC was busy throwing its academic integrity out the window to defend its athletic department, Virginia was busy taking care of business on the field, resurrecting its dormant football program. Jordon Ellis in particular, personifies the 2017 Virginia Cavaliers. On Saturday in Chapel Hill, Ellis had his most productive day as a Cavalier. His legendary work ethic was on full display as he consistently ran for yards after contact, always fell forward, and gained needed yards on 3rd and 4th down.

Jordon Ellis embodies what we love about college athletics. He is a humble, hard-working young man who waited his turn and is reaping the rewards along with his teammates. The best news for Ellis and for Virginia fans is that Ellis is a red-shirt junior and Virginia fans can look forward to him grinding out 137 yards against UNC again next year in Scott Stadium.

Virginia played a far from perfect game against the Tar Heels on Saturday, but they made plays when the game was in the balance. That is what good teams do. I was disappointed that the ‘Hoos did not convert UNC turnovers into more points. The Virginia defense broke down twice against talented freshman Michael Carter allowing two long gains that resulted in or set up two Carolina touchdowns. Virginia will need more nearly perfect performances to generate more wins in the second half of the season. Big tests await the Cavaliers, starting Saturday with a home game against a rapidly improving Boston College program that Virginia has never beaten.

If karma is indeed about retributive justice, then maybe UNC just made their first, very small installment to bring the scales back to balance and Virginia a might be reaping the rewards for the hard work of the past two years.

For the first time ever, I think I might pull for the Blue Devils when UNC and Duke play in basketball this season.

Note for this coming Saturday – I realize that no one loves a 12:30 kickoff, but this team is 5-1. Boston College’s series record against UVa is 5-0 and they are coming off a huge win against Louisville. This Virginia has earned a crowd of 45K or more to help them clinch a bowl bid for the first time since 2011. Not loving the kickoff time, but loving this 2017 Wahoo team – Bloodies and Screw Drivers at 10:00 on a beautiful fall morning in C’ville ain’t all bad.

Virginia Football: Do You Believe?

Virginia’s record stands at 4-1 six weeks into the 2017 season. It’s been ten years since Virginia has been 4-1. Four wins doubles last year’s total, and matches the full season win total the year before. The natural question to ask at this point is – do you believe in Virginia football? Long suffering Virginia fans who have had their hearts broken dozens of times over the years probably aren’t there yet. I don’t blame them. I am not sure I’m there yet either. What matters though, is that I think the players are there. They believe and after 5 games it is clear that their faith is not misplaced.

In the second quarter of Saturday’s win against Duke, the Blue Devils had just driven 88 yards down the field for a go-ahead touchdown. It was an impressive drive, as well as a disheartening drive for well conditioned Virginia fans. A passionate, long time Virginia fan in our section noted that lots of teams can put themselves in position to make plays, but good teams make plays when it matters.

He was right on the money. Virginia simply didn’t make the plays needed to halt the Duke offense. Virginia didn’t give up an 88-yard drive because they were out of position, missed coverage rotations, or made mental mistakes. At least 3 times during that drive Virginia was in position to make a drive-killing play, but missed a critical a tackle or failed to blow up a block on the edge. Duke took advantage and scored in impressive fashion.

It was the last time all day Duke scored in impressive fashion.

From that point on Virginia was not only in position to make plays, but they executed on the plays that mattered. An offense which to that point in the game had four 3-and-out series and two picks, scored 3 touchdowns and most importantly ran time off the clock with Virginia leading, when burning the clock was the path to victory. The defense that gave up the 88 yard touchdown drive forced Duke into four 3-and-outs and most importantly stopped Duke on downs to seal the victory for the Wahoos.

Two weeks ago, when Virginia shocked Boise State as a 13 point road-dog, they played very good football for 60 minutes. Against Duke, Virginia had to grind. Virginia didn’t have the A-game against Duke. In years past, this is a recipe for Virginia disaster. Duke is very well coached and always very well prepared under the miracle worker David Cutcliffe. Well prepared teams playing a Virginia team not hitting on all cylinders usually walk away with wins.

Not on Saturday.

There was never any panic on the Virginia sideline. Surprisingly, I didn’t get a sense of impending doom in the stands either. Instead, there was resolve on the sideline and steadily improving execution on the field. As Virginia went deeper into the game, they grew more confident, made more plays, and closed out a win against a Duke team that will certainly be bowl-bound in 2017.

Across the board, when the game was on the line, Virginia made plays. Offense, defense, and a much improved special teams. Lester Coleman averaged 50.8 yards per punt and made a couple of nice plays to avoid special teams disasters. He believes. Olamide Zaccheaus took a flair pass that looked to be a no gainer to the house by reading the defenders and picking the right angle to the end zone. He believes. Freshman linebacker Charles Snowden came in for his first action of the game to relieve a gassed Chris Peace. Snowden recorded a critical 4th quarter sack that killed Duke’s late game rally. Charles Snowden believes.

Virginia travels to Chapel Hill this week for a big game against a talented, but under-performing UNC team. In a refreshing change of heart, I think Virginia can win this game. I have no doubt however, that the Virginia players know they can win this game. They expect to win this game. They believe.

I am starting to as well.

A quick note to add…as mentioned in last week’s column, Virginia is playing well for the first time in 10 years. It was unfortunate that Virginia drew a 12:20 kickoff time against Duke, as any game starting within the noon hour is always less well attended than a 3:30 kick. While the crowd Saturday was @ 6,000 fans larger than the UConn game, it was still under 40,000. As noted before, this team has earned better fan support. The students are the biggest laggards, which is a shame. I hope that a win in Chapel Hill and favorable kickoff time the following week against Boston College will get the student section filled and give this team the support it deserves.

Virginia Posts a Strong Performance in Boise

Is the Virginia football jinx dead? (Gasp!) Thinking such things seems outlandish, risky, and maybe even blasphemous. Serious consideration of such a possibility is premature. However, the thought occurred to me as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Virginia’s improbable 42-23 victory Friday night.

Winning football games is hard. Winning football games against good programs on the road is harder still. Over the past 10 years, Boise State has won 110 games. The Broncos have beaten teams that Virginia only dreams of beating – Oklahoma, TCU, and Virginia Tech among them. I don’t know if this year’s BSU team is up to the usual Broncos’ standard, but I do know that on Friday night, Virginia took a good Boise State program to the woodshed.

Contrary to the Las Vegas betting line of 13 points in favor of the Broncos, I had a good feeling about Virginia’s chances against BSU. In its first 3 games of the ’17 season, Virginia had really cleaned up their play. Turnovers, penalties, and mental errors were way down from what the Virginia faithful had come to expect from the Cavaliers. The turnover trend was positive for Virginia. It seemed like the Cavaliers were on the brink of putting things together for the first time in many years.

My good feelings about Virginia’s chances to win were converted into assured confidence for victory on one critical turn of events in the first half. As any Virginia fan knows, the probability of converting fake punts and on-sides kicks is very low…except against Virginia. In recent years, conversion rates against Virginia for these plays has been the inverse of the rest of the football universe. Virginia football of the past 10 years gives up the trick play. The Virginia team Friday night did not and quickly converted the resultant opportunity into points.

That’s what good teams do. They take advantage of their opponent’s miscues. They make them pay. Virginia’s inability to do this with any consistency the past 10 years is why they have a 10+ year losing streak against Virginia Tech. It is why Virginia has been absent from the bowl picture 8 of the last 9 seasons. Now, for 2 weeks in a row, when Virginia’s opponents have made mistakes, Virginia has capitalized and won in convincing fashion.

Equally encouraging, and also swimming against the traditional Virginia currents, the ‘Hoos never took their foot off the gas against Boise State. Despite a couple of late game blunders after victory was in the bag, Virginia played to win for 60 minutes. Well conditioned Virginia fans, in any game where Virginia leads, start doing the math in their heads when it looks like Virginia might win. How many touchdowns does the opponent need to score divided by the time remaining…and what is the probability of the making the needed scores in the remaining time? No matter how improbable, Virginia fans have a fatalistic feeling anytime a win looks possible. Think Notre Dame. Think Louisville. Think Michigan, Texas, UNC, and a host of others.

Friday against BSU, Virginia was as focused and aggressive in the final minutes of the game as they were at the start. It was clear that Virginia’s players were intent on this win, on making a statement, that they were not going to let this one get away. How refreshing. How encouraging.

Friday’s win was a good win. The challenge now is stringing together multiple good wins to become a good team. Virginia gets an extra week off to rest and prepare before a solid Duke team comes to Charlottesville. This is an important game. It’s at home. It comes off a bye-week. It comes on the heels of 2 strong wins. Good teams win this game. Virginia gets a chance to take another step towards becoming a good team in 2 weeks.

Is the Virginia football jinx dead? Is the curse of Al Groh finally broken? It seems risky to ponder such things. When seeking guidance in life on important questions…investment advice, house purchase decisions, predictions on the fortunes of Virginia football, I find the Magic 8-Ball as good of source of truth as any.

Magic 8-ball, is the Virginia football jinx and the curse of Al Groh dead? “Concentrate and ask again”

Magic 8-ball, is the Virginia football jinx and the curse of Al Groh dead? “Signs point to yes”

Even though the Magic 8-ball said “my reply is no” when I asked if I should sell Sun Microsystems at $ 75/share many years ago, I think it is on the right track now, as is Virginia football.

I hope Virginia fans reward their team in 2 weeks by coming to the game, not just the tailgate. This team is vastly improved over last season. In Bronco Mendenhall’s culture of earned not given, this team has earned increased fan support. Let’s do what we can to deliver.