I know, we’ve all said it a thousand times. Being a UVa fan is never easy. When it looks like it might be easy, it’s not. It’s hard. It’s stressful. It’s complicated. Even the location of Virginia’s game against Ohio wasn’t easy. Early in the week when it looked like Hurricane Florence would be churning over central Virginia all weekend, AD Carla Williams adeptly moved the game to Nashville, so Virginia could avoid a disruptive cancellation. Demonstrating that no good planning goes unpunished, Florence stayed well south of Virginia and game-time conditions in Charlottesville were not much different than those in Nashville.
I often wonder if any fanbase in the country stresses over a big lead, early in a game like Virginia’s. I suspect not.
Like Alabama and Georgia, this weekend Virginia put on a football clinic…for 28 minutes of the first half. The only thought I had late in the first half was that 35-7 is not a safe lead for Virginia football. Then things went horribly wrong and in a comedic series of miscues, an insurmountable lead for most any program in the country was imminently surmountable when the teams headed to the locker room for halftime. This was markedly dissimilar to Alabama & Georgia.
As text messages started rolling in during halftime and early in the 3rd quarter, I was convinced that another UMBC moment was upon us. The good news is that my premonitions were exaggerated, and Virginia pulled out a victory in a game that didn’t need to be that close. But no one ever said pulling for Virginia would be easy.
After reviewing the game, there were a lot of things to like:
Bryce Perkins, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Tavares Kelly have game-changing speed. Joe Reed fits that bill as well. It’s been a while since Virginia had 4 home run hitters on the squad.
While not as consistent as we would like, the defensive front got a good push rushing 4 guys, frequently in the first half and sometimes in the second. The offensive line was similarly effective more often than not, showing promise opening holes for Jordon Ellis. Both lines are short on depth and play gassed at times. This problem is not likely going away this season, so it is great to see that we can be effective in the trenches, but a lack of depth is going to take its toll at times.
I was delighted to see excellent downfield blocking several times during long runs or short passes that turned into long runs. Hasise Dubois did a fantastic job blocking for Olamide on the first of his impressive TD catch-and-runs. Good wide receiver blocking is a demonstrable sign of a well-coached team that is bought-in to their coaches’ program. It is a welcome sight for Virginia fans.
2 stops on 4th down by the defense were huge. Not only was this tremendously important to winning the game, but these are also “learning to win” moments. High pressure, game-in-the-balance situations, and Virginia came through, twice.
Bryce Perkins was outstanding. Running. Passing. Leadership. He’s here for another year after this one Virginia fans. How is that for quarterback stability while Bronco stocks the QB cupboard?
It would be easy to give the “game ball” to Zaccheaus, Ellis, or Perkins after their stellar performances. If there was a dark horse I thought deserved the game ball I’d say Zane Zandier. The sophomore linebacker was a fill-in for Malcolm Cook who was injured late in the Indiana game. Zandier led the team with 10 tackles while adding 1.5 sacks. He was disruptive. He was effective. He was the next man up. Getting that kind of production from a back-up is what good teams do. While Virginia is not deep across the roster, playable and productive depth is growing under Bronco Mendenhall. I cannot point to a more positive reality 3 games into the 2018 season.
The biggest takeaway from Saturday might be that the margin for error for Virginia remains thin. It is clear that Virginia has the potential to play very well, but implosion is never far enough away. While it might not be easy this year for Virginia fans, it cannot be as stressful as pulling for Florida State.
David is on Twitter @DMRayner.