Tag Archives: Virginia Football

An Unlikely Virginia Football Contrarian…

I was out of town this weekend when kickoff for the Virginia/Pitt game rolled around. The bartender was either unwilling or unable to find RSN. There was no doubt in my mind that my fellow bar patrons included few UVa fans, so I am not sure if the failure to locate the game was due to a lack of coverage in the area or by design to keep the bar filled and happy.

Frankly, I am not sure it matters. I read the articles and studied the box score. Another convincing Virginia loss. The second in a row as Virginia remains one win shy of bowl eligibility. If I was going to completely miss a game, this was probably a good one. The anatomy of the loss – the shortcomings of the offensive line, a high school caliber field goal kicking game, and squandered opportunities inside the Pitt 40 yard line are not the biggest challenges for the program right now.

I think the biggest problem for the program is that fans are perilously close to or have already thrown in the towel on the season and some on the football program at large. I got several texts during the game, while I was out for a hike in the Virginia mountains, that predicted a 5-7 season and another bowl season without Virginia as a participant. They were done, waiting for basketball season.

It is hard to blame them. Virginia has been consistently pretty bad over the past 10 years. Al Groh and Mike London each had flashes success during their tenures, but ultimately both were major players in the disintegration of the Virginia football program. Bronco’s first season at 2-10 didn’t do much to repair the damage. Fans are justified in their short fuse.

I understand the sentiments of those who have seen enough. Virginia athletics has a long and storied history of leaving its fans at the alter, especially in the “money sports” of football and basketball. While Virginia has built itself into a national player on the basketball scene, there is no doubt that recent teams had final 4 potential, yet have fallen short of basketball nirvana. Football has been a train wreck since George Welsh was prematurely pushed aside. I get it, for many it’s time to move on.

I’m not there yet. While the playing margin for error for Virginia football is razor thin and the tolerance for injuries among the starters is even thinner, I think there is another win in this team and a bowl game on the horizon. I’d love to cite a mountain of stats that back up my position, but they aren’t there. In fact, the stats clearly support the opposite position. If I were at the blackjack table in Vegas, I’d be the hated player going with his “gut” hitting a “15” while the dealer shows “6”.

I think that Quinn Blanding and Micah Kizer will rally this team for one more win this season. As it sinks in on the rest of the team that these warriors may go their entire college career without a bowl appearance, I think the rest of the team will dig deep and find a way to pull off a major upset victory.

Virginia will be the betting dog the rest of the season. The Wahoos opened as an 8.5 point dog to Georgia Tech, which will likely be the smallest spread we see the rest of the way.

In past seasons, undermanned Virginia teams have stymied the maddening triple option to upset the Jackets in Charlottesville. I think it is possible again this Saturday, but I think the options this week are polar opposites. Virginia will either eek out a close victory or get blowout by 25 points or more. If it is close, Virginia can will its way to victory. If the roof starts leaking early and Virginia struggles in the first half, it will get ugly in a hurry. The triple option is not a riddle you solve at halftime. It is a puzzle you unravel the week before the game.

Let’s hope for a good week of practice and a sharp performance on Saturday, otherwise I’m the guy that took the dealer’s bust card. You’re welcome.

Virginia’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Did you ever have one of “those days”? You know, the days that start realizing you are out of toothpaste because you forgot to go to the store the previous day? Usually this is followed by a crushed button on your last pressed shirt, an unexpected rain shower on your walk to a client meeting, a dead car battery before heading home, and a late Uber driver who gets stuck in a traffic jam.

We have all had those days. The cure for those days is sunrise the following morning. A fresh start to the next day with a full tube of toothpaste and new challenges on the horizon.

Virginia had one of “those days” on Saturday against Boston College.

Take a second to consider this stat: At the end of the first quarter, Boston College had amassed 256 yards of total offense against Virginia. That’s right, BC was on pace to have over 1000 yards of total offense. That only happens on one of “those days”.

Everything went wrong for Virginia, including possibly underestimating the ability of their opponent. I was worried about BC for a couple of reasons. First, they are a lot like UVa in that they are not getting world-beating 5-star athletes to build their program. Rather BC head coach Steve Addazio depends on hard work, discipline, and player development to compete against more talented opponents. Second, BC had played a brutal schedule leading up to Saturday’s game in Charlottesville. They had played Notre Dame, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Louisville, beating Louisville on the road and hanging tough for at least most of the other games. BC was battle tested to say the least and probably looked at the Virginia game as a chance to show what they could do…mission accomplished for BC.

Conversely, Virginia was 5-1, getting its sea-legs, and talk of Virginia football turning the corner was in the air leading up to Saturday. Then, the few fans that were in Scott stadium at the time, watched Virginia lose the coin toss.  Things went down hill from there.

On Boston College’s first drive. Virginia was inches away from a safety on 3rd and long from the BC 5 yard line. Instead of taking a sack & a safety, BC quarterback Anthony Brown scrambled for what would be one of seven 3rd down conversions in the first half. Boston College drove 85 yards for a field goal.

Things broke BC’s way all day. Virginia, not so much. Still in the first quarter, a very good WR block at the edge on a jet sweep took out not one, but two Virginia defenders resulting in a 75 yard TD run. A great block that should have resulted in a 10 yard gain, results in the longest run from scrimmage all year, when it is not your day.

Again on 3rd and long on the ensuing drive, the play clock ran out, hitting 00 on the scoreboard. The officials missed the delay of game call, BC snapped the ball and tossed a 76 yard TD pass on what should have been a 5-yard penalty. BC was ready and played aggressively all day. Virginia was not and did not. When it is not your day, things that have gone well in the past go terribly awry.

What does all of this mean for Virginia football for the rest of the season? It means Virginia has to approach every game as if they are a 13.5 dog. Virginia has to assume they have been overlooked and treated like bottom feeders by the media and their opponents the rest of the way. It means what we all knew before Virginia went on a 4-game winning streak – this is an evolving Virginia team with little margin for error. The fates along with disciplined and inspired play on the field must align for Virginia to win. If one of these is off kilter, Virginia is in trouble. It means that Virginia coaches and players still have a lot of work to do.

What does Saturday’s loss not mean? It does not mean that rest of the season is going to be a complete bust. The schedule is tough the rest of the way, but as we have seen already this season, this team knows how to win. It does not mean that all the progress this season is lost. Last year’s 2-10 team is 5-2 this year. They block better, throw better, and tackle better than last year’s team. None of this goes out the window because they laid an egg against a highly motivated Boston College team.

At the beginning of the season if Virginia fans were magically offered the chance for their ‘Hoos to be 5-2 after 7 games in the season,  do you think anyone would have declined, thinking 6-1 or 7-0 was a more probable outcome? Fans are understandably greedy, however. Success feeds the desire for even greater success. A little perspective after a crummy performance can be a good thing, though not as much fun as winning. The perspective Virginia fans need to appreciate is that 5-2 heading to Pitt next week is a dramatic improvement over last year’s performance as well as this year’s expectations.

Virginia had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day on Saturday. Everyone in the program had a bad day. Players and coaches alike were off their games. For the first time all year Virginia looked disorganized on the sidelines blowing timeouts to get the right players on the field. Players made mistakes in execution and the breaks all went against Virginia.

Like the stock market, the resurrection of Virginia football is not going to be a straight line up and to the right. Virginia will hit bumps in the road and see periodic regression. I remain confident that the trend of the program is correct and heading in the right direction. The key for players, coaches, and fans is to let go of days when everything goes wrong and wait for the sun to rise the next day, looking forward to the next challenge on the horizon…which is Pittsburgh on the road.

Virginia opened a 4.5 point dog, which is exactly what we wanted.

Virginia and North Carolina Both Got What They Deserved

After a hard fought game, Virginia left Chapel Hill with what it deserved – a victory over the struggling, but athletic North Carolina Tar Heels. Virginia snapped a 7-game losing streak to a Carolina team that also got what it deserved on Saturday.

After the NCAA issued the University of North Carolina a “get out of jail free” pass for academic fraud that kept its athletes eligible for almost 20 years while robbing them of any chance for a real education, UNC got what it deserved Saturday as well – a loss and a pot to stew in until the teams meet again next year.

UNC coach Larry Fedora was fuming as the clock ticked down to zeros and Virginia lined up in its victory formation. Fedora and the Carolina nation were outraged at a no-call on what they felt was a face mask penalty on a 4th down, game ending sack by Chris Peace. Carolina fans aren’t used to calls not going their way. Ignore the fact that Carolina just as easily could have been called for a block below the waste on the same play or the missed holding call on Eli Hanback the play before. UNC is supposed to get the breaks and get the calls, whether their athletes go to class or not.

When the NCAA acknowledged that Carolina ran an academic charade for 17 years that helped keep its athletes eligible to compete in its revenue sports, but then stated that the academic curriculum of its members is outside the jurisdiction of the NCAA infractions team…you might say Carolina is used to having its way. Maybe Carolina fans should go back and listen to the interviews and read the chronologies laid out by their internal whistle-blowers describing barely literate athletes getting “As” in classes that never met and turning in papers they never wrote before they get too indignant about a no-call that didn’t go their way.

The University of North Carolina, after spending $ 17 million dollars defending its systemic academic fraud, essentially threw the entire university under the proverbial bus by stating that their sham classes were part of the regular curriculum and were available to all students. Wow, the entire university population can take no-show classes? That must be very comforting to the parents of students and to major benefactors of the university.

While UNC was busy throwing its academic integrity out the window to defend its athletic department, Virginia was busy taking care of business on the field, resurrecting its dormant football program. Jordon Ellis in particular, personifies the 2017 Virginia Cavaliers. On Saturday in Chapel Hill, Ellis had his most productive day as a Cavalier. His legendary work ethic was on full display as he consistently ran for yards after contact, always fell forward, and gained needed yards on 3rd and 4th down.

Jordon Ellis embodies what we love about college athletics. He is a humble, hard-working young man who waited his turn and is reaping the rewards along with his teammates. The best news for Ellis and for Virginia fans is that Ellis is a red-shirt junior and Virginia fans can look forward to him grinding out 137 yards against UNC again next year in Scott Stadium.

Virginia played a far from perfect game against the Tar Heels on Saturday, but they made plays when the game was in the balance. That is what good teams do. I was disappointed that the ‘Hoos did not convert UNC turnovers into more points. The Virginia defense broke down twice against talented freshman Michael Carter allowing two long gains that resulted in or set up two Carolina touchdowns. Virginia will need more nearly perfect performances to generate more wins in the second half of the season. Big tests await the Cavaliers, starting Saturday with a home game against a rapidly improving Boston College program that Virginia has never beaten.

If karma is indeed about retributive justice, then maybe UNC just made their first, very small installment to bring the scales back to balance and Virginia a might be reaping the rewards for the hard work of the past two years.

For the first time ever, I think I might pull for the Blue Devils when UNC and Duke play in basketball this season.

Note for this coming Saturday – I realize that no one loves a 12:30 kickoff, but this team is 5-1. Boston College’s series record against UVa is 5-0 and they are coming off a huge win against Louisville. This Virginia has earned a crowd of 45K or more to help them clinch a bowl bid for the first time since 2011. Not loving the kickoff time, but loving this 2017 Wahoo team – Bloodies and Screw Drivers at 10:00 on a beautiful fall morning in C’ville ain’t all bad.

Virginia Posts a Strong Performance in Boise

Is the Virginia football jinx dead? (Gasp!) Thinking such things seems outlandish, risky, and maybe even blasphemous. Serious consideration of such a possibility is premature. However, the thought occurred to me as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Virginia’s improbable 42-23 victory Friday night.

Winning football games is hard. Winning football games against good programs on the road is harder still. Over the past 10 years, Boise State has won 110 games. The Broncos have beaten teams that Virginia only dreams of beating – Oklahoma, TCU, and Virginia Tech among them. I don’t know if this year’s BSU team is up to the usual Broncos’ standard, but I do know that on Friday night, Virginia took a good Boise State program to the woodshed.

Contrary to the Las Vegas betting line of 13 points in favor of the Broncos, I had a good feeling about Virginia’s chances against BSU. In its first 3 games of the ’17 season, Virginia had really cleaned up their play. Turnovers, penalties, and mental errors were way down from what the Virginia faithful had come to expect from the Cavaliers. The turnover trend was positive for Virginia. It seemed like the Cavaliers were on the brink of putting things together for the first time in many years.

My good feelings about Virginia’s chances to win were converted into assured confidence for victory on one critical turn of events in the first half. As any Virginia fan knows, the probability of converting fake punts and on-sides kicks is very low…except against Virginia. In recent years, conversion rates against Virginia for these plays has been the inverse of the rest of the football universe. Virginia football of the past 10 years gives up the trick play. The Virginia team Friday night did not and quickly converted the resultant opportunity into points.

That’s what good teams do. They take advantage of their opponent’s miscues. They make them pay. Virginia’s inability to do this with any consistency the past 10 years is why they have a 10+ year losing streak against Virginia Tech. It is why Virginia has been absent from the bowl picture 8 of the last 9 seasons. Now, for 2 weeks in a row, when Virginia’s opponents have made mistakes, Virginia has capitalized and won in convincing fashion.

Equally encouraging, and also swimming against the traditional Virginia currents, the ‘Hoos never took their foot off the gas against Boise State. Despite a couple of late game blunders after victory was in the bag, Virginia played to win for 60 minutes. Well conditioned Virginia fans, in any game where Virginia leads, start doing the math in their heads when it looks like Virginia might win. How many touchdowns does the opponent need to score divided by the time remaining…and what is the probability of the making the needed scores in the remaining time? No matter how improbable, Virginia fans have a fatalistic feeling anytime a win looks possible. Think Notre Dame. Think Louisville. Think Michigan, Texas, UNC, and a host of others.

Friday against BSU, Virginia was as focused and aggressive in the final minutes of the game as they were at the start. It was clear that Virginia’s players were intent on this win, on making a statement, that they were not going to let this one get away. How refreshing. How encouraging.

Friday’s win was a good win. The challenge now is stringing together multiple good wins to become a good team. Virginia gets an extra week off to rest and prepare before a solid Duke team comes to Charlottesville. This is an important game. It’s at home. It comes off a bye-week. It comes on the heels of 2 strong wins. Good teams win this game. Virginia gets a chance to take another step towards becoming a good team in 2 weeks.

Is the Virginia football jinx dead? Is the curse of Al Groh finally broken? It seems risky to ponder such things. When seeking guidance in life on important questions…investment advice, house purchase decisions, predictions on the fortunes of Virginia football, I find the Magic 8-Ball as good of source of truth as any.

Magic 8-ball, is the Virginia football jinx and the curse of Al Groh dead? “Concentrate and ask again”

Magic 8-ball, is the Virginia football jinx and the curse of Al Groh dead? “Signs point to yes”

Even though the Magic 8-ball said “my reply is no” when I asked if I should sell Sun Microsystems at $ 75/share many years ago, I think it is on the right track now, as is Virginia football.

I hope Virginia fans reward their team in 2 weeks by coming to the game, not just the tailgate. This team is vastly improved over last season. In Bronco Mendenhall’s culture of earned not given, this team has earned increased fan support. Let’s do what we can to deliver.

Sunny Day, but a Gloomy Loss in Charlottesville

The weather on Saturday was a glorious reminder that Charlottesville is a beautiful place to spend an (almost) early fall afternoon. Tailgating was a delight and the lots around Scott stadium were close to capacity. Revelry was in full swing. Once the game started, the weather was still glorious and the tailgating around Scott stadium was still in full swing. Many of the Virginia faithful chose to continue to enjoy the Charlottesville weather and not let a football game spoil the good tidings of the day. Smart move.

While last week, Virginia won pretty decisively on a gloomy day, this week was the inverse of last. While I am was not overjoyed with the winning performance against William & Mary, I am not ready to throw in the towel on the 2017 season based on this week’s loss.

While Indiana is no football power, they are losing their moniker as the perpetual doormat of the Big 10. They went to a bowl game last year. Looking at their schedule and their performance to date, they have a decent shot to go bowling this year as well. This was a solid test for Virginia, which it failed, though not as miserably as some might project.

Virginia was well prepared for this game. They were not surprised by any of Indiana’s offensive plays or strategies. Virginia’s defense did not give up big plays throughout the game that exposed an ineffective game plan. Virginia did not commit any turnovers for the second week in a row, though the ‘Hoos had some help from the officials keeping that streak alive. Virginia committed 5 penalties for a paltry 26 yards. Poorly prepared teams turn the ball over and commit stupid penalties. Virginia did none of those on Saturday. The defense was well prepared for the Indiana’s hurry-up offense and made plays early that showed they knew what they were doing against the fast-paced Hoosiers.

For three quarters, the Virginia defense was solid. They are not going to overwhelm anyone with their speed, but they were generally in position to make plays and made the most of the many bad positions into which they were thrust by the offense and special teams.

So where did Virginia go wrong? That would be the offense and special teams.

While special teams was a disaster for the second week in a row with the punt team matching the ineptitude of the field goal unit, the offense was not a disaster, they were just ineffective.

Virginia will not win more than 2 games this season if it cannot improve the field goal execution. No team can succeed if the maximum field goal range is inside the 10 yard line. This is embarrassing for a D1 program. Virginia has the worst kicking team I have ever seen at the college level.

I believe the offense was not bad much as it was just ineffective. Receivers were consistently open all day, and they dropped passes. One notable drop was an easy touchdown early that could could have changed the complexion of the entire game. Other times receivers were open and Kurt Benkert over threw them. In fact, Benkert over threw literally every pass beyond 15 yards notably missing a wide open Andre Levrone for a touchdown.

I blame the eclipse. It is unusual for both receivers and a quarterback to be that off at the same time. It is my feeling that such a condition was an outlier and will not happen again.

What was not an outlier was the poor play of the offensive line. I was concerned last week when Virginia could not manage 100 yards rushing against an enthusiastic but over matched William & Mary front 7. The Virginia line was exposed again with a meager 55 yards rushing against a solid, but not spectacular Indiana front line.

Jordan Ellis does not need much running room to be a very solid runner. However, he needs some room and for most of the day on Saturday he had none. The Virginia O-Line had was pushed around all day. I understand the new players on the line and learning new roles. It is time for the offensive line to step up and deliver.

Kurt Benkert attempted 66 passes Saturday on a day when he was not at his best. Not because that was the game plan, but because it was the only option given the running game was so hopelessly ineffective. Any game where Kurt Benkert throws over 60 times is going to be a Virginia loss. The Virginia O-line has to find itself or Wahoo fans are in for another long season.

The biggest exposure on defense was was that Virginia’s front 7 depth is shallow. That said, Virginia held Indiana 100+ yards under their total against Ohio St. The Virginia defense made some big plays Saturday, but the Virginia offense could not capitalize on presented opportunities. Juan Thornhill made a spectacular interception that gave Virginia the ball inside Indiana territory. Most teams turn this kind of play into points. Virginia went 3-and-out, and the defense was back on the field.

It was clear by the 4th quarter that the defense was gassed. They were consistently put in poor field position throughout the day. Several times they rose to the occasion in the first half and stopped the Indiana attack, but given enough chances over an entire game, even mediocre teams will find ways to score, which Indiana did.

The weather forecast is for another delightful day in Charlottesville next week I quit giving stock-buying advice a long time ago and I am not big on making predictions on college football games. However, I think Virginia’s performance this week against UConn matches the weather and Virginia comes away with a solid win.

When Virginia wins Saturday, they will be a crossroads. Heading off to play Boise St the following week, everyone expects a loss…everyone but me, but then again, I quit making predictions on college football a long time ago, for good reason.

Virginia Football – Let’s Try This One More Time

The pre-season might be the best time of year for many college football programs. It certainly was for Virginia football last year. Standing ovations for new head coach Bronco Mendenhall making an appearance at JPJ, followed by bullish statements about bowl games. Graduate transfers infusing talent into a program that clearly had holes to fill. Late summer ’16 was awash with optimism. Then the Richmond Spiders came to town and washed all expectations for a return to football respectability down the drain as Virginia suffered the first of its 10 losses for the season.

Here we are again. Late summer. The joy of pre-season excitement is in the air. I am hearing lots of optimistic football chatter among the Virginia faithful once more. Virginia hasn’t had a punt blocked in months, hasn’t given up a 4th & long since the Louisville game, and its record stands at a level 0-0. Is this the zenith of the ’17 football season for the Cavaliers? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

A lot has changed since the start of the ill-fated 2016 campaign:

Virginia has added experienced graduate transfer talent across the offensive line bringing much needed depth to an area of persistent weakness for the Wahoos.

Virginia has jettisoned teams like UCLA and Oregon from the schedule. While Virginia has one last debt to pay in its non-sensical scheduling over the past several years with an away game at Boise State, it is both prudent and hopeful to see teams like UConn, Indiana, & William & Mary on the schedule…where Virginia has a fighting chance for a win. Mercifully the ACC scheduling gods kept both Clemson and Florida State off the Virginia slate in 2017.

Virginia has 2 pre-season all-Americans on defense in Quinn Blanding and Micah Kiser as well as a potential early-round NFL pick in Andrew Brown.

The health of the team is good with few summer-camp injuries.

The staff has another year under their belts and a better understanding of the talent on hand. Comments from the staff indicate that they are making adjustments to both offensive and defensive schemes that leverage the skills of the team and cover deficiencies where they exist.

Virginia has experience across the offensive line, in the receiver corps, and at QB. The defense returns a mix of seasoned veterans and red-shirt freshmen ready to make their mark on Virginia football.

Anyone ready to book their bowl season travel plans yet?

In the words of Lee Corso ‘Not so fast!”

While it is great to have a stable of returning upperclassmen on the team, let’s not forget that those upperclassmen went 2-10 last year. Bronco’s recruiting class was ranked 57th nationally according to Rivals. The football tide is rising in the ACC and the biggest question for Cavalier fans is can Virginia keep up with the pace?

It is certainly possible that Virginia will post a respectable season in ’17. It is not completely ridiculous to think that Virginia could make a bowl game for the first time since 2011. However (you knew that was coming) Virginia needs some good luck.

The Cavaliers are woefully thin at many positions, most notably at quarterback. If Kurt Benkert gets hurt, guess how many combined snaps the backup quarterbacks have played at the college level? The unfortunate answer for those hoping to spend the holidays in Shreveport at the Independence Bowl, is zero. Making the quarterback depth chart more frightening is the fact that Virginia’s offensive line play has not been stellar the past few years. While the expectations are high for improvement in the trenches, if Kurt Benkert is running for his life the first few Saturdays in September, the Virginia season could come unravelled in a hurry.

Maybe the biggest asset in the Virginia arsenal this year is the simple fact that if any program in the country is over due for a little good luck, it’s Virginia. So Virginia fans, cross you fingers, go dig up that old rabbit’s foot, and look for some 4-leaf clovers. Virginia can put up a respectable season this year, but the fates are going to have to smile on the Cavaliers.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: Wikipedia

Spring Comes to Virginia Football

Spring has sprung for Virginia football, which means that spring practice has ended and the spring game…spring scrimmage…football festival (whatever) has mercifully passed. Now recruiting season kicks into high gear.

With all due respect to the 90,000 Alabama fans that pack Bryant-Denny stadium for the Red & White game, spring football is boring. It is a zero-sum game. If a great performance by your redshirt freshman running back is an indication that he is the next Heisman hopeful it also likely means that your run defense stinks. Many players sit out the spring healing from off-season surgery, quarterbacks wear red jerseys so no one hits them, and the new freshman class has yet to arrive. If you can find the fun in spring football, let me know. I’ve been to far too many spring games when I could have spent the day pulling weeds or stripping wall paper.

The importance, and the fun, of spring and summer for college football fans is recruiting season. For Virginia fans though, I think the fun of this year’s recruiting is going restrained. It might even be a little boring.

When Al Groh and Mike London arrived in Charlottesville, they each won big recruiting battles in their early years with the program. Al Groh brought consensus high school All-Americans Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham to Charlottesville. Mike London landed 5-star super stars Andrew Brown and Quinn Blanding. These recruiting wins, among others, brought excitement, optimism, and paper victories to Charlottesville. The thing about paper victories is they don’t always translate into on-field victories. At least they don’t for Virginia.

It is no secret that Bronco Mendenhall is facing strong recruiting headwinds. The program has been in a funk for the past 10 years. It hasn’t beaten Virginia Tech in over 10 years. Then there is Bronco’s coaching philosophy. Bronco is all about earned not given, running a hyper-disciplined program, and success in the class room in addition to the playing field. If you were a 5-star recruit with Alabama & LSU wooing you daily, telling you that you will be their next future first-round draft pick who cashes-in after 3 years in “college”, would you return a call from Bronco Mendenhall?

Therefore, the fun of recruiting under Bronco will not compare with the fun we had under Al Groh and Mike London. Bronco is going to recruit over-achieving 2 and 3 star kids who want to play in Bronco’s system and go to class at UVa. A scan of BYU’s recruiting classes under Bronco shows long lists of kids that weren’t recruited very hard by Southern Cal, Oregon, and UCLA. Virginia generally had higher ranked recruiting classes than BYU during Bronco’s tenure with the Cougars. The happy news for Virginia fans who worry about Bronco’s lack of recruiting star power is that Bronco won a lot more football games in the fall than recruiting battles in the spring. He certainly won a lot more football games than his two predecessors at UVa.

A glance at the offers out to the high school seniors in Virginia’s 2018 recruiting class is a manifestation of things most fans already know. Virginia is woefully under-staffed on the offensive line. The defensive line is in better shape, but only marginally so. Bronco has over 60 active offers out to shore up his depth and talent in the trenches. Virginia also needs to upgrade it’s team speed. Virginia needs playmakers who can turn a short 4-yard slant into a long TD run.

A little deeper analysis of the current commit and offer lists shows that Bronco and staff are looking for kids they can develop, that might be a bit under the radar, and can survive the rigors of Bronco’s system and UVa’s classroom. Bronco is not recruiting a lot of kids with offers from the top of the Big 10 or SEC. Bottom line, there aren’t many 4-star and 5-star recruits on the 2018 offer list and there aren’t any on the commit list.

The glass half-full reality for Virginia fans is that UVa is not going to have to beat Clemson and Florida State for any of their recruits this summer. There are no Terry Kirby’s or Chris Slade’s committing to Virginia this summer that will make Virginia fans giddy and Hokie fans jealous. Bronco is recruiting kids that seem to align with the mold of players he recruited at BYU. The great news for Virginia is that Bronco won a lot of games with those kids. The sour pill for Virginia fans is that this requires still more patience. Instead of high-fiving big recruiting wins, Virginia fans are going to have to trust that Bronco and staff know what kind of kids thrive in their program and can win games of Saturdays.

Spring practices and spring games are inherently boring. Spring & summer recruiting is not. While the path that Bronco demands for his program might make for a subdued recruiting season, if Bronco gets the kids he wants, the fall should be a lot more exciting than the spring…and much more successful than the past several falls.

Can Bronco Deliver Before Moses?

Moses wandered 40 years in the desert leading the Israelites in search of the promised land.

Since it decided to relieve George Welsh of his duties leading it’s football program, Virginia has wandered for 16 years in the wasteland of college football. 15 years were essentially wasted chasing false prophets. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 24 years for Bronco Mendenhall to find the promised land. Unfortunately, watching the debacle in Blacksburg on Saturday, 24 years looks about right.

Just for a little comparative ACC perspective, it took David Cutcliffe 5 years to start winning at Duke after decades of football futility. Dave Clawson didn’t start winning at Wake Forest until his third year leading the program. Heck, our own football legend George Welsh went 2-9 in his first year at Virginia. So before we all panic and assume that Bronco Mendenhall should have stayed in Provo, I think it is safe to say that fan expectations were well ahead of reality for Bronco’s first year leading the program. 

That said, I have seen some bad performances by the Virginia football team in my decades as a fan, but I would have a hard time coming up with one worse than this year’s drubbing against a pretty good, but not great, Virginia Tech team. The players made mistakes early and often on both sides of the ball. I don’t have the space nor the stomach to review Saturday’s on-field miscues.

I am most perplexed however, by the decisions of the coaching staff. When your team is 2-9, there is nothing wrong with going unconventional. There is a difference between unconventional and stupid. Calling a flanker option pass on 4th & 1 is unconventional. High risk & high reward. Rotating quarterbacks with similar skill sets based on down situations is stupid. If we were going with stupid, why didn’t we play barefooted or with our helmets on backwards. At least that would have given us a legitimate excuse for the results on the scoreboard.

I’d love to know who on the staff thought that the situational quarterback rotation with two pocket passers would be an effective strategy for an upset win. Oh, and let’s toss in a QB option run with our 3rd string quarterback, also a pocket passer. Who wouldn’t have guessed that play along with this game would end in tragedy? Maybe this was Bronco’s way of throwing in the towel. Letting Matt Johns play in his final game with the team, but not letting him be the sole scapegoat for the inevitable embarrassing loss. I can’t think of another reason for such an inexplicable strategy.

Whatever the reason for the quarterback carousel, the fanbase is not amused. Virginia fans are tired of being the doormat of the ACC Coastal, which is the doormat division of the P5 cartel. If Virginia had a solid game plan and played their hearts out but just lost to a better Virginia Tech team, I think Virginia fans could have accepted that result. However, the team played like the plan for the game was to throw the towel early. It is too bad Virginia couldn’t have just gotten on the bus back to Charlottesville at halftime and saved everyone a lot of time. There was no fight, no adjustment in game plan in the second half, just more of the same nonsense that didn’t work in the first half. In poker I think that is called throwing good money after bad or doubling down on a pair of 2s.

I suppose the good news is that what should be the worst season of Bronco’s tenure in Charlottesville is over. Like lousy corporate earnings from a prior year, the comparison for next season is based on a pretty low bar. Let’s hope that Bronco and staff can double the number of wins and show some heart in both play on the field as well as game planning & strategy.

While Virginia fans are generally a patient bunch, they do not have the patience of Job and are tired of directionless wandering. I’ll renew my season tickets for 2017, but may not have 24 year’s worth of patience left to see this program get back to relevance.

E-mail David at david [dot] rayner [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: Wikimedia

Getting It Mostly Right, Unfortunately


In a new twist to keep myself entertained during a 2-9 season, I wrote this “game summary” at 9:00 Saturday morning, 3 hours before kickoff. I was hoping I would be dreadfully off base in my musings. However as I wrote this I had visions of Matt Johns overthrown passes going for picks. Visions of 2015 danced in my head. For the first half it looked like I was going to be dead wrong. Then we played the second half and I got this one more right that I had hoped:

While I don’t think any Virginia fans expected the ‘Hoos to be 9-2 eleven games into the 2016 season, I don’t think many expected 2-9 either. If this is the process of getting back to football respectability, at least we have 1 year under our belts and can look forward to improvement in 2017. George Welsh was 2-9 in his first season at Virginia as well, so at least we have that going for us…which is nice.

Listening to the team, especially the seniors, speak about the season that is about to conclude, you would never imagine that the won/loss record was so abysmal. The chatter is optimistic. It is about winning. It is brimming with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, when you have a young defense that has sustained more than its share of injuries going up against the triple-option of Georgia Tech, execution is more important than enthusiasm. Virginia learned that lesson in a big way on Saturday in Atlanta. Hopefully Saturday’s loss will help them when the Jackets visit Scott Stadium next year.

Ga Tech’s unique offense always carries with it the advantage of style. Very few teams run the triple option and defensive coordinators struggle at times to alter their schemes for the “one off” game against the Jackets.While not dominant, the Georgia Tech offense was “effective enough” and most importantly, effective when it had to be. Virginia continued its trend of giving up big plays at inopportune times. Usually following tackles for loss or in 3rd and long situations. Georgia Tech’s triple option was good enough when it had to be and Virginia had no answer on ether side of the ball.

In true Virginia fashion, even the upside of Virginia’s game against Ga Tech has a downside. While I think most if not all Virginia fans think the world of Matt Johns and were glad to see him have solid game in a return his role as Virginia’s starting QB, the fact that he was back leading the Virginia offense did not speak well of the performance to date of Kurt Benkert, Virginia’s opening day quarterback.

I was glad to see Johns running the show again. By all accounts he is a great kid an outstanding leader with a bright future ahead of him. His penchant for picks at just the wrong moments however, is the reason his future prospects do not include holding a clipboard on the sidelines on Sunday afternoons. At this point in a 2-9 season, that is beside the point. Johns helped keep Virginia in the game for a half and made the ‘Hoos competitive in the battle for boxscore stats. Well done Matt, Virginia fans sincerely wish you great success next week and beyond.

If Virginia football collectively won the Power Ball lottery, I bet it would forget to pay its taxes and end up in jail. It seems that no matter what happens to Virginia football that on the surface, appears to be good, it ends up being bad. Once again, Virginia failed to convert opponent miscues and Virginia accomplishments into points on the scoreboard. When really good teams are presented with opportunities to crush their opponents, they get it done. Virginia failed to capitalize on several opportunities both presented and earned throughout the game.

For what seems like every game this season, Virginia showed it could hang with their opponent, for about a half. Virginia has been in most every game this season (Oregon excepted) up to halftime and some times beyond. I am not sure if this is a depth issue, a lack of confidence, or just providence (see last year’s column) but Virginia just cannot close. Turnovers have been a problem all year and have contributed mightily to Virginia’s tribulations. If the Virginia team were a salesman in Glen Gary, Glen Ross, we certainly would not be in the running for the new Cadillac or the set of steak knives.

Next week Virginia gets on more shot. One more chance to close the deal. It would seem that just once this year the ball might bounce our way, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

 

E-mail David at david [dot] rayner [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Virginia Lays an Egg in Winston

Did you ever have one of those days on the golf course when you snap hook your first drive out of bounds on the first hole? The hooks plague you until you fix it with a power slice into the trees. No matter what you do, it’s wrong and the things you look forward to the most are the last putt on the 18th green and cocktails in the 19th hole. Ever have one of those days? Kurt Benkert had one of those days on Saturday against Wake Forest. 

I am not here to say that Benkert is not our best option at quarterback. He has a cannon arm. He can avoid pressure and extend plays with his legs. Some of his throws are nothing short of spectacular with a high degree of difficulty and perfect execution. Then there are days like Saturday.

Benkert had a dreadful day. His throws were erratic, at best. His decision-making was the only thing worse than his passing accuracy. While the offensive line didn’t have one of its best days either, at least three of the five sacks yielded were the result of Benkert holding the ball too long and not feeling pressure in the pocket. He tried to force difficult passes when he had yards of running room in front of him. Later in the game, when he realized he’d missed multiple first down runs by forcing passes that fell incomplete, he started to take off running, when there was no gain in sight.

It was simply one of those days. Benkert couldn’t do anything right, so he started to press. I mistakenly thought that his first interception throwing into triple coverage would be his last. I was wrong. A second pass into triple coverage that had no chance for success was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Bad decision, bad throw, bad result. Game over.

The problem for Virginia is that the margin for error in 2016 is razor thin. If any team cannot afford erratic quarterback play, it is Virginia. The depth charts are shallow. Multiple injuries have forced too many freshman into prime time minutes. Some have made remarkable plays that give Cavalier fans glimmers of hope for the future. The problem with freshman however, is freshman mistakes. For all the hope the first year kids have provided, they also get sucked into fakes, miss coverages, and blow routes. They are talented, but they are freshmen.

It is completely unfair for the burden of the program to rest on the shoulders of Virginia’s quarterback in his first year as a starter. Sometimes life isn’t fair. Since the Oregon game, when the defense grew up in the second half, the key variable for Virginia’s win/loss margin has been quarterback play.

Without the two interceptions which resulted in 10 points for Wake Forest, Virginia gets a nice comeback win on the road when it wasn’t hitting on all cylinders. That’s what good teams do. ‘Bama didn’t have its “A-game” against LSU, but they left Baton Rouge with a win. Virginia endured a long bus ride home with the all remaining hope for a bowl appearance gone. That’s what rebuilding programs do.

The cherry on the sundae for Benkert’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, the final putt that lipped out of the hole on 18 was the sack on the last play of the game. Working for an unlikely Hail Mary to tie the game, taking a sack was the worst possible outcome. It was the final in a string of bad decisions. Virginia fans hope that we left all the bad mojo in Winston Saturday, with a beatable Miami team on the docket for this coming week.

As tough as this game was for Benkert, there is no reason not to continue with him at quarterback. When he has been good, he has been very good. He has the tools. He has the moxie. Both of the options to replace him are seniors. Bronco’s priorities this year are: 1) Laying the foundational pieces that will turn the program into a winner in the coming years, 2) Developing existing players and recruiting new talent that fit into his systems – systems that produced winners at BYU for 10 consecutive years, and 3) Winning games in 2016.

Benkert is part of the foundation that Bronco is laying. Sometimes when laying a foundation, players who are new starters lay an egg. Unfortunately, in 2016, if Benkert lays an egg, Virginia loses. I felt bad for Benkert on Saturday. He never quit fighting, but it was simply one of those days when the best outcome for him was to be on the bus riding home, thinking about winning out the rest way.

E-mail David at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: 

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