Marketing firms will tell you that it takes substantial time and effort to build a brand. A brand represents those thoughts and ideas that immediately pop to mind when viewing, consuming, or considering a particular product or service. A brand represents perception, reputation, and value. The Richmond Times Dispatch captured the UVa football brand perfectly in their headline following the loss to Pitt. The RTD cited “the Usual Blunders” as the reasons for UVa’s most recent winnable loss. I wondered if the writer had consulted with one of Richmond’s fine marketing firms to come up with that assessment because it captures the devolution of the UVa football brand perfectly.
The usual blunders. The Pitt game had them all. It was a microcosm of the Mike London era. It is easy to recount the blunders, because we know them by heart:
Special teams breakdowns
5 games into the season Virginia has had two punts blocked in their own end zone. Some programs go for consecutive seasons with zero blocked punts. UVa has two, with 7 games to play. Does anyone remember when the winnable loss to the Hokies started to unravel last year? If you said a blocked punt in the end zone, pour yourself a tall scotch. Last season Virginia led the nation in blocked punts. We are on track to repeat again this year. I suppose it’s good to be the best at something and surrendering blocked punts seems to be a UVa specialty. Blocked punts, especially in our end zone, is definitely a usual blunder.
Giving up the big play
It’s standard practice in our section of Scott Stadium, when our opponents are in a 3rd and long situation, for someone to knowingly state “they’ve got us right where they want us”. No one gives up the big play like UVa. The longer the third down distance the better. In fact, opponents might be best served taking a knee on first and second down to set up their highest probability for a successful conversion looking at 3rd and 14. Against Pitt, sometimes we chose to give up the big play prematurely, but in the first quarter, we gave up a season’s-worth of big plays, sometimes with a receiver so wide open he was alone in the camera shot. While the defense righted itself in the second half of the Pitt debacle, we surrendered enough big plays in the first quarter to doom our chances for a rare road victory. Giving up the big play, especially the crucial 3rd and long is a cornerstone in building the UVa brand of usual blunders.
Erratic Quarterback Play
Quarterback play under Mike London can best be described as consistently erratic. Against Pitt, Matt Johns missed low on a walk-in, 4-yard TD pass that a backyard QB makes 99.9% of the time. He missed high on a sure-fire fade route for a touchdown when 6-2 Canaan Severin was matched against an irrelevant 5-9 corner. Fittingly, when Matt Johns threw one of the best long balls I have seen all year, hitting TJ Thorpe in stride right in the bread basket, Thorpe dropped what would have been a certain touchdown. Erratic quarterback play has been the most dependable of our on-field blunders throughout the London era (recall Greyson Lambert’s screen pass, picked off by a UNC defensive tackle last year that was returned 40 yards deep into Cavalier territory, beginning the end of what was yet another winnable loss? I could go on…)
Who’s on First?
Seemingly the most incurable of the usual blunders have been poor sideline decisions and general confusion during any given game. These may be the most maddening of all, because the source of these blunders comes from a well-compensated staff of professionals who are paid specifically to avoid these blunders. It is standard operating procedure, coming off a timeout, for Virginia to break the huddle with either 12 men or 10 men on the field. Players regularly and randomly run on and off the field with 10 seconds or less left on the play clock. It seems to me, having the right players in right numbers on the field is the most basic of coaching responsibilities, yet Virginia commits personnel blunders on a weekly basis resulting in wasted timeouts and costly penalties. Against Pitt personnel issues wasted timeouts and forced penalties which contributed to a stalled touchdown drive and the aforementioned blocked punt. Game day confusion is a hallmark of the Virginia program is the most recognizable and most frustrating of the usual blunders.
It takes a long time to build a brand. The usual blunders are not a new phenomenon in Charlottesville. They are persistent and interminable. There are three paths the Virginia football program can take in the coming weeks. They can reinforce their current brand of blunders by simply committing more of them. They can come up with some new blunders to add to the usual blunders. Or they could stop committing these blunders and produce a string of improbable wins. Wouldn’t that be unusual?