The barometer for me continuing to watch Virginia football on TV when things go south used to be – is watching this game better than doing yard work? Not surprisingly, there have been many games when I was cutting grass as the final horn sounded.
A couple years ago I moved to an urban house with a yard that is fully serviceable within the span of the average TV timeout, so my calculus for hanging with a losing game has changed. However, I didn’t pull out the non-gas powered rotary mower during Virginia’s loss to NC State. Despite the losing effort, I remained interested in the game. I wanted to get a sense for the progress of the program in year 3 of a multi-year rebuild against a quality opponent. More importantly and unlike many other Virginia games, I never felt like UVa was completely out of this one. It seemed to me that an upset win may not have been likely, but it was not crazy-impossible either.
Bottom line from this game: Virginia not on the fast track to becoming relevant in the ACC, but it is making progress and is certainly not going in reverse.
Early in the week, I thought the outcome of this game would be predicated on how many grass stains there were on NC State QB Ryan Finley’s jersey at the end of the game. Clean jersey = certain win for NC State. Dirty jersey maybe with a bloodstain or two and Virginia had a chance for the upset. Finely’s jersey looked freshly pressed when the clock read 0:00. Virginia never sacked him, never knocked him down, never forced a poor decision. Finley had time to make accurate, well-timed throws all afternoon and Virginia paid for it dearly. Finley is an NFL-caliber quarterback with a very accurate arm. Given time, he is highly effective. He had time to order takeout against Virginia on Saturday.
Virginia’s shallow D-line and injury-plagued linebacking corps were stymied all day by NC State’s offensive line which set up a resurgence in the Wolfpack running game. There were times in the game Saturday when the Virginia defense was simply gassed with no reinforcements on the way. Such is the lot of rebuilding programs.
When the UVa offensive line was good, it was pretty good. When it was bad, it was really bad. The encouraging news for Virginia fans is that when the O-line gave Bryce Perkins time to throw, Virginia moved the ball and scored against a stout NC State defense. The bad news for Virginia fans is that NC State frequently overwhelmed and out-schemed Virginia’s line and the results were 3 & out possessions…which exacerbated Virginia’s challenges on defense.
While I was frequently tempted to go do what little work my new yard requires, this is an interesting Virginia team to watch. Bryce Perkins, Olamide Zaccheaus, Tavares Kelly, and Joe Reed can turn any play into a touchdown. Juan Thornhill and Bryce Hall can turn any pass into a turnover. The skill positions for Virginia are improved and can keep Virginia within striking distance in most games. The challenge for the Hoos remains in the trenches where Bronco and staff have focused their recruiting efforts the past two years. Unfortunately, like waiting for a hardwood forest to mature, the returns come in increments over time…and this season is not that time.
While Virginia took a tough loss to a good team Saturday, the reality is that Virginia was not as far out of this game as the score might indicate. A poor passing decision from Bryce Perkins at the end of the first half, a couple of dropped 3rd down passes, and a questionable call on 4th down in favor of the Pack put this game out of reach for the Cavaliers – which raises the most critical point when scanning the rest of the schedule looking for 3 more wins to make a post-season bowl. The margin for error for Virginia remains razor thin. Virginia has to play smarter, has to execute better, and has to have a shade better luck than their opponents to get the magic 6-win number…or beyond.
Without question, the most encouraging and consistent improvement for Virginia this season has been the resolve the Wahoos show for the full 60 minutes of every game. Despite long odds to pull out a win late in the game, Virginia was driving for a score late in the 4th quarter that would have trimmed the NC State lead to 7. A tipped-pass interception at the goal line ended hope for an unlikely comeback, but Bronco’s team was fighting to the end driving the best possible results given the clear limitations within the program. Kudos to the staff and the team for their commitment and resolve. It makes it easier for fans to postpone or avoid yard work, no matter how paltry the project.
David is on Twitter @DMRayner.