I promise not to make songs on my playlist a regular part of these columns, but after the Virginia game against FSU and the state of the program 10 games into the 2014 season, the song “Almost” by Bowling for Soup off their Album “A Hangover You Don’t Deserve” seemed more than just a little appropriate as the thematic musical score for Virginia’s Football season.
As a 22 point dog in Tallahassee, Virginia almost got the game to a one-score differential midway through the fourth quarter. While it is hard to say that UVa was in a position to win the game against the Seminoles, they were in a position to make a statement and push the Seminoles to the edge. The Cavalier defense held the ‘Noles to their second lowest yardage total of the season. The Cavaliers were very competitive with the undefeated, #2 ranked team in the country. Then, in a “Play it again Sam” moment, things went awry as they have all season. On the most important drive of the game Virginia stalled on the Florida State 5-yard line yielding zero points and crushing any chance Virginia had to win the game. Inexplicable play-calling and poor execution delivered another “almost” for Cavalier fans and “Ain’t that a Shame” was the chorus running through my head as Virginia almost made FSU sweat for their 10th victory of the season.
The burning question for Virginia fans is why is Virginia almost a good team versus actually being a good team? One answer is self-inflicted implosions through poor execution and/or mental mistakes. A pick-6 against UCLA, a fumble on the first offensive play from scrimmage against Florida State, the worst screen pass of the decade against UNC have resulted in almost-wins, otherwise known as painful losses. The coaching staff has made its share of gaffes to turn UVa into the ACC’s “almost” team. Terrible clock management against Georgia Tech, David Watford in the wildcat behind a patchwork offensive line in the red zone against FSU, too many screen passes & too few vertical passes are among the coaching miscues that have Virginia on the cusp of almost missing a bowl game for the third year in a row.
However, it is also hard to argue that breaks just have not gone Virginia’s way this year. A fluke “pop-up” fumble against UCLA turned into a game-winning scoop & score. A similar fumble by Florida State’s Dalvin Cook this weekend bounced harmlessly back into FSU hands. A 4th down conversion by Greyson Lambert against BYU turned into turnover when BYU stripped Lambert well after forward progress had stopped. The review almost went Virginia’s way…but didn’t and BYU scored a critical touchdown in what was essentially a 14 point swing. UNC punter Tommy Hibbard punted three consecutive times trying to pin UVa deep in their own zone. Three times Hibbard’s punts almost made it to the end zone for touchbacks, but instead each was downed inside the 5-yardline. These things don’t seem to happen to other programs. They seem to happen every week to UVa.
Probably the toughest part of this weekend for Virginia fans was that the Florida State game seemed like the UNC game, which seemed a lot like the Duke game, which put us in mind of the UCLA game. Each of these games was to varying degrees “winnable” to “in-the-bag” yet Virginia lost them all. It is hard to dispute that the 2014 edition of Virginia football is almost a good team. They have almost overcome some incredibly bad luck this season.
Virginia almost won the UNC and UCLA games. If the gods had been with the ‘Hoos the Virginia fan base might almost be willing to give Mike London and the staff another year. Scott Stadium might almost be filled to capacity against Miami on the 22nd. The problem with athletics and college football in particular is that “almost” doesn’t get it done. It doesn’t score touchdowns, it doesn’t win games, and it doesn’t put fans in the seats. Many absentee Virginia fans are delighted by the fact that Basketball season is almost here.
In a year of “almosts” this week’s game in Tallahassee was clearly a hangover we didn’t need or deserve. Unfortunately it might be just one more reason that Mike London and his staff are almost out of a job.