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.