Tag Archives: Virginia

Cavaliers Showcase Ineptitude on National Television

There are only so many ways to write this tale of woe. Different opponent, same result. Facing its third quality opponent of the month, the University of Virginia football team absolutely embarrassed itself on Friday night.  The Cavaliers’ 56-14 loss to Boise State in front of a national television audience was not the worst loss Virginia has endured under London’s leadership but it sure felt like it. It was a debacle of the sort that coaches don’t survive and I think that last weekend’s result included the knockout punch that will put an end to Mike London’s coaching career at Virginia.

Against Boise State the pressure of a completely ridiculous and fantastically overzealous schedule finally broke the Cavaliers.  In a game that Virginia absolutely had to have, the Wahoos stopped being competitive at the conclusion of the national anthem. After fourteen seconds, Virginia was down 7-0.  Boise State scored 10 more points in its first two possessions and led 17-0 before most fans had finished their hot dog.  Virginia’s first three possessions produced 2 interceptions and a three-and-out. Virginia, with a roster full of London recruits, the same recruits whose hype had likely saved his job previously, were completely, totally, and utterly non-competitive.

By every metric which can be used to assess a team’s performance Boise State destroyed Virginia.  Virginia was outplayed, outcoached, outhustled, outmuscled, outthought…outeverything.  Thomas Jones is one of Virginia’s most storied players.  He is Virginia’s all time rushing leader. He was the seventh overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft.  He had a twelve-year NFL career.  Like most Virginia fans, he tuned in to watch the nationally televised game.  As the horror unfolded, his pregame Twitter excitement turned to frustration and then embarrassment.

tjones
Virginia great Thomas Jones is uniquely qualified to comment on the pitiful state of Virginia’s football program.

Virginia fans are fed up–and have been for some time now–by the sorry state of the football program and last weekend’s result has them demanding that someone answer for it. Head coach Mike London is the obvious choice, but there is talk that Executive Associate Athletic Director Jon Oliver’s overzealous scheduling and micromanagement has put London in an untenable position. There was a time when fans accepted the notion that Virginia’s academic standards made fielding a top-25 football team a difficult proposition.  Those same fans now point to Duke’s football resurrection and shout, loudly, “See?  If Duke can do it, why can’t we?”  Northwestern University, another academic stalwart and the not-proud owners of college football’s longest losing streak (34 games from 1979-1982) currently is 16th in the latest AP Top 25 football poll. Notre Dame, Michigan, Stanford all are academically rigorous and have historically successful programs.  Even Virginia has done it before, rising from complete irrelevance to national power under George Welsh in the 1980s-90s. Virginia has everything that it needs to be successful except an exceptional coach.

London’s abysmal coaching record has been at least partially offset–in some people’s minds at least–by his recruiting successes and his good character.  However the highly touted  recruits aren’t developing under London’s tutelage and fans aren’t coming to the stadium to see the head coach showcase his good character.  Virginia fans want a coach who has good character, wins the recruiting battles AND wins games.  Winning sells tickets. Winning makes donors generous. Winning makes everybody happy.

Individually, these Cavaliers have talent.  Many of them were heralded recruits whose commitment to Virginia was viewed as confirmation of the program’s resurgence.  Collectively however, these Cavaliers are ineffectual.  Virginia’s offensive line has plenty of game experience.  It was expected to be an area of strength this year.  It’s not. The line play has been terrible. Someone–perhaps a Virginia fan–once said that all runners look the same when there is no hole.  Virginia’s tailbacks have nowhere to run and the quarterback has no time to throw. It wasn’t that long ago that Virginia regularly was sending lineman to the NFL as high draft picks. Not anymore. Is that a talent or a coaching issue?  Where does the fault lie for this ineptitude?

One need look no further than Athens, Georgia for the answer.  Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert is thriving as Georgia’s quarterback after struggling last year as UVA’s signal caller. Working behind a superior offensive line, Lambert two weekends ago set an NCAA efficiency record when he completed 24 or his 25 passes for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns.  On a better team, Lambert is living up to the hype that never was evident during his time in Charlottesville. Given this, do you think that Andrew Brown and Taquan Mizzell wish they had signed with another school?  Lambert looks like a champ at Georgia.  London sold recruits on the promise of early playing time and parents on hands-on mentorship.  These recruiting wins in turn fostered the belief that Virginia was turning things around.  It’s not happening for the team or the players. Rushing 7 times for two yards won’t get Mizzell drafted but completing 24 of 25 passes for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns will do that for Lambert. A team with no coaching won’t win any more games than a team with no talent will.

And let’s be clear. It is the coaching.  The mental mistakes that Virginia regularly commits game after game reflect a lack of mental discipline, a lack of focus, a lack of preparation. At this point Virginia’s players are so desperate to make a play, to cause a turnover, to do anything to jumpstart Virginia’s nonexistent momentum that they are taking reckless chances.  Their overpursuit leaves them vulnerable to the cutback, their desire to strip the ball causes them to miss tackles.  Virginia’s defense is among the worst in the country.

The players and coaches admit that last weekend’s loss is unacceptable.  They said the same thing about Virginia’s close win against lower-division William and Mary two weekends ago. They lamented not being able to finish against Notre Dame, when finishing–plays, drives, games–is the team’s stated mission this year. They say that, with the entire ACC schedule ahead of them, the goals of an ACC championship and a bowl berth are still in front of them.  The facts belie this, however.  Virginia has not won an ACC road game since 2012. London’s overall ACC record in five seasons is 8-24. He has never beaten primary rivals Virginia Tech and North Carolina. I think it would be impossible for Mike London’s ice to be any thinner or his seat to be any hotter. Barring a miraculous turnaround, I don’t see how the psychological damage can be repaired by anything other than a fresh start.

Oh Virginia

Oh Virginia.  Poor, poor Virginia. You know what Virginia football is?  It’s Rudy Ruettiger, the totally undersized kid who defied the skeptics and walked on to the Notre Dame football team in the 1970s.  He’d go to practice and get beat all to hell but he’d come back for more punishment the next day. That’s Virginia football. Overmatched, taking the beating, coming back for more. The school wants so desperately to be big time and for its football program to be as successful as the school’s other teams.  It’s not there yet and the schedule is not helping the turnaround effort. Whoever makes Virginia’s schedule has a very overinflated image of the current state of the school’s football program.

The football program is the outlier. The Cavaliers have had four losing seasons in a row.  The coach’s seat is so hot that he can’t sit down, not even for a second. So, in a season where Virginia desperately needs to post a winning record to change the losing culture and reverse the fan apathy that is taking hold in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers opened the 2015 season against two top-15 teams.  Hardly a cure.

Virginia went to UCLA two weeks ago and got a predictable result, looking overmatched in a 34-16 loss.  This past weekend the Cavaliers played host to Notre Dame. The Irish now are obligated to play five ACC teams per year as a condition of its ACC membership in all sports but football and either the league scheduling office hates Virginia or else the Hoos are just plain unlucky (more on that later) to have drawn Notre Dame in a season in which it already had games against UCLA and Boise State on the calendar.   Head coach Mike London has repeatedly said he has no input on the making of the schedule and that the schedule is what it is, but for a coach trying to hang on to his job, playing three ranked nonconference teams in the first month of the season has to have him shouting a very loud “WTF!” when he is alone.

Against UCLA, Virginia looked no better–and perhaps worse–than last year’s team. Virginia was unable to finish drives with touchdowns, Virginia committed silly penalties, Virginia surrendered long plays on defense. Virginia was in over its head. So it was somewhat surprising that Notre Dame came to Charlottesville as only an eleven-point favorite given that the Irish totally dominated Texas 38-3 in week one. Well, guess what?  The odds makers knew something that most fans didn’t.

In a game that could have gone a long way towards fixing Virginia’s problems, Notre Dame avoided a colossal upset when WR and All-America candidate Will Fuller got free behind the Virginia defense and hauled in a 39-yard game-winning touchdown pass from backup QB DeShone Kizer with 12 seconds left in the game. Prior to that, Virginia had put together one of its best drives in years, a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with an Albert Reid one-yard touchdown plunge. Leading by one point, Virginia tried and failed on the two-point conversion that would have at least allowed for overtime in the event of a last-minute Notre Dame field goal.  Instead, the Irish took advantage of some last-second confusion at the line of scrimmage and sent Fuller on a double move fly route that got him behind the defense and Kizer, in relief of starter Malik Zaire, delivered a perfect strike.

Hoping to post the weekend’s biggest upset, Virginia instead became internet cannon fodder. #SadVirginiafan was instantly a trending meme on Twitter.

sadvafan

The mantra for this year’s Virginia team is “finish.”  Finish plays. Finish drives with touchdowns and finish games with wins.  Finish, finish, finish.  In every media opportunity, Virginia’s players have talked about finishing. Yet for the fourth time in its last eight games Virginia lost the game when it couldn’t hold a late lead.  And for the second time in three games, it couldn’t hold a lead with under two minutes to play. A different result in those two games and Virginia’s football trajectory would be totally different. Up, not down. Hold a late lead against Virginia Tech last November and the Hoos would have been bowl-eligible and would have broken Tech’s silly stranglehold on the rivalry.  Beat Notre Dame last weekend and observers talk about Virginia perhaps being one of this year’s surprise teams despite the murderous schedule.

But Virginia didn’t win either of those games.  That’s the reality. Yes, there were plenty of positives.  QB Matt Johns was stellar, mixing pocket poise with an improvisational ability that allowed him to extend plays.  WR Canaan Severin was fantastic, hauling in 11 passes for 153 yards and consistently making contested catches. The running game was better and tailback Taquan Mizzell may be about ready to deliver on the hype that accompanied his commitment. Perhaps best of all, heavily-criticized offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild opened up the offense in a way that Virginia hasn’t seen during his tenure. The defense, which was identified as a potential weakness after the early departures of DE Eli Harold and LB Max Valles, has struggled to get off the field and will need to get better to give the Hoos a chance to recover from this 0-2 start.

It is said that good teams find a way to win.  Virginia may be a good team with talented players, but it doesn’t yet know how to win.  For the program to break through, it is going to have to find a way to win one of these close games. Run out the clock, stuff the run. Make an interception, force a fumble. Score 200 points. Sack the quarterback, break up a pass.  Hell, we don’t care.  We aren’t proud.  We’d be fine with the opposing player tripping over his own feet just short of the goal line or having the guy behind the bar at Buffalo Wild Wings turn on the sprinklers during a field goal attempt.  Whatever it takes, Virginia needs to finish a game.

Could Virginia be Kentucky’s Kryptonite?

As I write this Kentucky and Virginia are two of this season’s six remaining unbeaten college basketball teams. Both are having historically good, statistically great seasons. They won’t play in the regular but an eventual collision in the NCAA Tourney is of course possible. The Wildcats are, with good reason, the talk of college basketball this year. Every other team, including third-ranked Virginia, appears to be a national title afterthought.

Kentucky has lots to celebrate this year.
Kentucky has lots to celebrate this year.

However, as a lark and to pass the time until the day that they get to write about Kentucky’s predestined national championship, sportswriters are entertaining themselves trying to find a team that could perhaps, maybe, possibly, if-everything-in-the-universe-lined-up-correctly, derail Kentucky’s championship express train. Kansas couldn’t do it.  Texas either. Blueblood North Carolina wasn’t up to the challenge and neither was red-blooded Louisville. Could Virginia be one of the very few teams that might give Kentucky more than a brief test?  I graduated from UVA and was a hoops-addled student there during the Jeff Lamp/Ralph Sampson-fueled golden era of Virginia basketball.  I have lived in Lexington, Kentucky for the past 22 years and have been here to witness UK win three of its eight basketball titles. I don’t know him personally but Kentucky head coach John Calipari lives less than a mile from me. I think my perspective on a prospective UK-UVA matchup is unrivaled.

Kentucky, with its eight championships, is basketball royalty.  Virginia historically has been a pauper but for the period when it beat, ironically, Kentucky to win the Ralph Sampson lottery. Sadly, like many who find themselves suddenly rich, Virginia squandered its fortune and spent most of the past twenty years in various states of destitution until last year claiming the ACC regular season and tournament titles, plus a #1 seed in the national tournament. Virginia fans are hoping that the school has this time made a solid long-term investment in the form of head coach Tony Bennett and that it will pay off in regular tournament appearances and a permanent move into basketball’s upper echelon.

Many basketball observers have opined that this Kentucky team could be the greatest ever. Such an accomplishment would place them alongside the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, college basketball’s last undefeated team and, because of the restrictive shorts of that era, a squad that these Wildcats likely would beat by 40. Such hyperbole is not unusual for Calipari’s Kentucky teams.  The combination of his recruiting acumen and Kentucky’s storied history has turned UK into an NBA incubator program.   Like legendary UK coach Adolph Rupp 65 years ago, Calipari’s program has reached the point where it recruits itself.  For any coach in any sport, Calipari’s position is an enviable one.

That this year’s Kentucky team is so loaded is not the result of Calipari’s clever stockpiling of talent but rather of a malfunction on his NBA assembly line. Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, and twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison haven’t developed at the speed called for in Calipari’s production schematic. In an era where high profile players must “eat” to burnish their NBA credentials, Calipari found himself dangerously short of food (aka available minutes). To remedy this he came up with a unique platoon system where 10 players (9 now that Poythress is lost for the season) get relatively equal minutes and there is no distinction between what Cal painstakingly refers to as his “first” and “second” platoons. That he has gotten his highly-touted players to accept reduced minutes in pursuit of historical greatness may be his greatest coaching achievement.

If Kentucky is an assemblage of incredible individual talent, what then is Virginia?  It’s not Kentucky, that’s for sure. Kentucky runs talent, Virginia runs a system. That is not to say that Virginia’s players aren’t talented.  They are, but they are less heralded and their professional prospects are far less certain.  Virginia tried for years to land Kentucky-type talent but having to recruit against league heavyweights Duke, North Carolina, and other occasionally-great ACC schools was too difficult for a team seemingly always playing for next year. Six years ago Virginia determined that its best chance for prolonged success lay in the system approach. The Wahoos hired Washington State head coach Tony Bennett, the son of legendary coach Dick Bennett, creator of college basketball’s most perplexing puzzle, the Pack Line defense. Tony Bennett brought the Pack Line to Virginia and the results have been nothing short of astonishing.  Virginia has improved every year under Bennett’s tutelage, culminating in last season’s school-record-tying 30 victories and the program’s first ACC Tournament championship since 1976. Bennett and Virginia have accomplished all of this despite having exactly zero McDonald’s All-Americans and only a few players with NBA talent.  The system is the foundation for Virginia’s success. When executed correctly, the Pack Line and its focus on help defense covers up the shortcomings Virginia’s players may have against taller, faster, and more athletic opponents.

Now that Kentucky has dispatched all the teams on its nonconference schedule Virginia and Duke are about the only teams writers have left to offer up as possible spoilers. Could Virginia’s system neutralize Kentucky’s talent advantage? The easy answer is no. Players make plays and the Wildcats have more players than anyone. Kentucky’s guys would blow holes in Virginia’s D while locking down the Cavaliers defensively because it is the Wildcats’ defense that is terrifying and terrorizing opponents this year. Superior talent wins the day, right? Well, over the past year Virginia has posted a 33-3 record and throttled teams with far more talent,  but could they beat what is being touted as one of college basketball’s greatest-ever lineups? The matchup is more interesting than you might think.

Ken Pomeroy calculates pace-adjusted stats that give interested parties the means to compare teams across different playing styles. Applying Pomeroy’s methodology to the stats shows that Virginia and Kentucky have remarkably similar defensive and offensive profiles. Kentucky is harder to score on than Virginia, but not by much. The statistics bear this out. UK and UVA rank first and second nationally in scoring defense, allowing 47.8 and 48.2 points per game respectively. They also rank first and second in field goal percentage defense. UK’s opponents make just 29.7 % of their field goal attempts, Virginia’s opponents make just 32.6%. UVA ranks third in the nation in rebound margin at +14.4, UK ranks ninth at +10.5.  Kentucky allows opponents to score 82.1 points per 100 possessions and Virginia allows 84.2. That’s first and third nationally. Louisville is second.

Virginia’s Pack Line D is designed to deny the opposition close-in baskets and second-chance points. The way to beat Virginia is shoot over it. A team that makes its three-point shots will always give Virginia trouble because that’s the shot Virginia concedes in order to defend the paint. That doesn’t mean that Virginia is soft against the three, though. The Cavaliers’ 3-point field goal defense allows opponents a conversion percentage of just 29.2%.  With its interior size, Kentucky has not had to lean on the three-pointer this year. The Wildcats rank 182nd (of 345) in three-point field goal attempts per game and 228th in three-point field goal percentage at 32.1 %. Kentucky does have capable shooters in Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. Booker has made 49% of his 50 attempts and Ulis has made 52% of his small sample size 23 attempts. Aaron Harrison is Kentucky’s most prolific three-point bomber and despite a knack for making the big shot he has been statistically terrible this season, converting just 18 of his 66 attempts (27%). His twin Andrew has attempted a far more modest 28 treys but has found nylon only on 9 of them. Booker appears to be the shooter Virginia would need to be most concerned about.

Virginia likes shots like this one by Justin Anderson.

What about at the other end? Could Virginia overcome UK’s length? On offense, Kentucky ranks fifth at 115.4 points per 100 possessions.  Virginia averages 114.8 points per 100 possessions, slotting them right behind Kentucky at 6th. By contrast Louisville, Kentucky’s last opponent and formerly the rest of America’s best spoiler hope, ranks 55th at 106.2 points per 100. Virginia is a better offensive team than Louisville and it’s really not even close, as will become obvious in a minute. Virginia has the backcourt size to match up with Kentucky, running 6’2″, 6’5″, and 6’6″ at the guard spots. There is no team in America that can match Kentucky’s frontcourt size and that would be an issue for Virginia because the Hoos prefer layups to three-pointers. Virginia ranks just 322nd in three-point attempts per game and would need to shoot a ton of them against Kentucky because the Wildcats will not let teams score at the rim. The teams that have tried (Kansas, Texas) have gotten obliterated. Virginia is a marginally better overall shooting team than Kentucky, making 49.3 % of its attempts (20th nationally) to Kentucky’s 47.2 % (51st nationally), and a much better shooting team than Louisville (43.1%, 197th nationally). Virginia guard Justin Anderson, one of the few Virginia players with an NBA future, is torching the nets this season and has hit 61% of his 48 three-point attempts.

Kentucky likes shots like this one by Willie Cauley-Stein.
Kentucky likes shots like this one by Willie Cauley-Stein.

Would Kentucky’s height allow its skyscrapers to pass out of the post traps Virginia uses to deny opposing big men easy looks at the hoop? Given that Kentucky normally has at least two guys taller than 6’9″ on the floor at the same time, Virginia won’t be able to double all of Kentucky’s bigs. If the doubled man can pass out of the trap Kentucky’s other big man should have an easy look at the hoop. Virginia will have no answer if the post trap breaks down or if Kentucky’s guards can extend the floor by hitting the three and that’s why I think that Kentucky’s interior height and superior talent ultimately would prove too much for the Wahoos to overcome on a neutral court.

SCACCHoops, a simulation service, ran a simulated game between Kentucky and Virginia 300 times. Kentucky won 167 times and Virginia won 133 times. The average score was Kentucky 60.8, Virginia 59.7. Fewer than five points decided 101 of the games and 12 of the games went into overtime.   While these results lend credence to Virginia fans’ belief that the Cavs could hang with the Cats, simulations are just that.  I think fans of both schools would love to have the issue settled on Monday night, April 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Virginia Stumbles Into the OffSeason With Lots of Questions

Virginia's Kevin Parks is a man alone with his thoughts after concluding his college career with yet another loss to Virginia Tech. Photo/Ryan M. Kelly/ The Daily Porgress
Virginia’s Kevin Parks is a man alone with his thoughts after concluding his college career with another loss to Virginia Tech.  Photo/Ryan M. Kelly/ The Daily Progress

 

Well, that was quick. Whatever goodwill head coach Mike London managed to accrue after Virginia’s convincing victory over Miami last weekend evaporated in the frigid night air at Lane Stadium on Friday when Virginia coughed up a late lead and suffered a season-ending 24-20 loss to Virginia Tech. The game ended in the worst-possible way for Virginia—a sack on a 4th-down play that was ill-conceived, fooled no one, and had little chance of success. It served as a microcosm of the offensive shortcomings that have plagued the Hoos all year.  At the point of desperation and with the season on the line, Virginia dialed up play-action on 4th and 5 with 12 seconds left in the game. Play action?  Did anyone for even a second believe that Virginia would attempt a rush?

After a season of bizarre play calls like this one, Virginia fans are left to wonder if offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild hampered the offense or if the offense hampered Fairchild.   One thing is certain.  Virginia missed Jake McGee much more than anyone might have expected.  Virginia struggled terribly in the red zone this season and McGee, a sure-handed tight end, most likely was exactly the red zone weapon that Virginia so needed this year.  Reportedly at odds with the Virginia staff regarding his role in the offense, McGee opted to play his final season at the University of Florida.  Sadly for him, his Florida career lasted less than a quarter as he broke his leg in the first game.  It was the rare situation in which everyone involved lost–McGee, Florida, and certainly Virginia.

The Virginia Tech game offered the Cavaliers a chance at so many positives but it instead became another maddening chapter in Virginia’s increasingly long book of missed opportunities.   The maligned Virginia offense founds its rhythm just in time to execute a 10-play 89-yard that gave Virginia a 20-17 lead with 2:55 left in the game.  Virginia then turned the game over to its defense, the same defense that stifled opponents all year and kept Virginia in almost every game. In a bit of bitter irony that only Virginia fans can appreciate, the normally stout defense allowed Tech to score in just three plays.  “Sometimes I feel like we are just cursed,” said junior defensive tackle David Dean, echoing a sentiment shared for years by Virginia fans who struggle to explain Virginia’s futility in any other way.

With the loss not much changed for the Hoos in 2014. Sure, there were a few more wins and the Cavalier’s margin of defeat narrowed considerably, but the Hoos had a losing season. Again. It finished last again in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Again. It lost to Virginia Tech for the 11th consecutive time. It won no road games for the second year in a row. Yet against this backdrop of futility Athletic Director Craig Littlepage announced prior to the Tech game that Mike London would be back to coach the Cavaliers next season. “It was important to see improvement in our football program this season,” Littlepage said. “I’ve seen signs of progress in many areas.”  Never mind that this progress was measured against Virginia’s historically bad 2013 season when Virginia was rarely competitive and lost by an average of 21.6 points per game.  If 2013 is the standard then it is a laughably low one. Nevertheless London will be back for a sixth year despite an overall record of 23-38, an ACC record of 11-29, and a combined record of 0-10 against North Carolina and Virginia Tech, UVA’s biggest rivals. It is easy to understand why Virginia fans to have taken to every social media outlet to express their collective disbelief.

London will have every conceivable obstacle in his path next year-another difficult schedule, increased fan antipathy, the weight of his overall record as the Cavaliers coach and specifically his aforementioned record against Tech and UNC. London will need a heroic season next year to save his job. At the end of next season he will have one year left on his current deal.  Coaches don’t coach on one-year contracts because the uncertainty cripples recruiting.  So, either London and UVA will have a banner year and he will be extended or else London and the Cavaliers will part ways. With non-conference games against UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State, Virginia appears to have once again overscheduled. Throw in the annual game against Virginia Tech and Virginia could easily have four losses or more. I think  sevens wins will be the minimum required of Virginia next year given the displeasure fans currently have with the state of the program.  I expect season ticket sales and early home attendance to lag accordingly.

“I trust the plan Mike has in place and believe his leadership provides the best opportunity for Virginia football to be successful in the future,” Littlepage said in a press release.    “The staff has refocused its recruiting efforts to emphasize the need to attract student-athletes capable of helping the program compete at a high level in the expanded Atlantic Coast Conference,” Littlepage said. “We are seeing many of these student-athletes on the field right now and the staff continues to have success on the recruiting trail. We will continue to support the program in their efforts to maximize their recruiting success.” Littlepage’s support of London puts him in a potentially untenable position. It’s win and win big for London next year or else Littlepage will be held responsible for Virginia football falling even father behind.

Reflecting on his team’s season-long effort, London said, “We improved as a football team. We played better. We did a lot of things that you can look at and you can build on, but ultimately when we don’t have a chance to go beyond the regular season and into other opportunities, it hurts. You want to win football games. That’s the whole objective.” In reference to Virginia’s offensive line play against Tech, London admitted that some of his lineman were “overmatched there a little bit.”  After five years of bungling effort, indefensible clock management, poor personnel decisions, and overzealous scheduling, many fans feel the same way about London. However,  the players, London and Littlepage all feel confident that next year is THE year that all the hard work starts paying off. For the sake of everyone with an interest in the University of Virginia’s football program, I hope they are right because at this time next year there will be no debate about London’s job.  He either will or he won’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Thumps Miami, Eyes Virginia Tech

Khalek Shepherd and Virginia celebrate a big win over Miami. Photo by Matt Riley
Khalek Shepherd and Virginia celebrate a big win over Miami. Photo by Matt Riley

Saturday’s 30-13 Senior Night thumping of Miami was a vindication of sorts for those Virginia fans who have supported the team and beleaguered coach Mike London during this up and down season.  Shaking free of a four-game losing streak caused as much by Cavalier mistakes as by opponent play, Virginia put forth a mostly mistake-free effort that left fans wondering where this team has been for the past five weeks.  Like a procrastinator who functions best only when pressed, Virginia had run out of time and really had no choice but to play a complete game to avoid a fourth losing season in five years. The win keeps alive Virginia’s bowl hopes and momentarily quiets the speculation that Mike London is on his way out as head coach.

London has said all year that Virginia’s losses were attributable to just a few plays here and there.  Having been beaten by more than 9 points only once this season, the stats would seem to bear that out. Turnovers–and to a lesser extent penalties–have been Virginia’s undoing this year and those mistakes likely cost the team victories against Duke and North Carolina, so it was a relief to have Miami play the role of accommodating victim Saturday night. Miami committed the penalties that extended Virginia drives and Miami made the turnovers that Virginia turned into points. Virginia’s other glaring issue–red zone efficiency– remains a problem. Virginia twice had to settle for field goals after gaining first downs inside the Miami ten yard line. However, on this night the offense converted enough opportunities and the defense did what it always does and bottled up the opposition.

All that stands now between Virginia and bowl eligibility is Virginia Tech in the annual battle for the Commonwealth Cup. What appears to be a relatively unexciting game between two also-ran 5-6 teams actually is a game with extraordinarily meaning. The winner becomes bowl eligible and denies bowl eligibility to the loser. That in itself should be reason enough for both teams to approach this game with an intensity that belies the circumstance. Virginia Tech has been to 21 consecutive post-season bowls, the second-longest active streak in the country. Virginia would love to end that. Virginia Tech has won ten straight games in this series and would love to extend that streak to eleven and salvage some pride in what otherwise has been a bad football year in Blacksburg.

This has become a rivalry game in name only. Not only has Tech won the past ten in this series, but it also has won 14 of the past 15, and 17 of the past 21 contests. Virginia seems to have closed the gap in the past few years, losing by 10 points last year and by a last-second field goal in 2012. However, victory–and the associated bragging rights–have eluded Virginia since winning the 2003 game 35-21. While it would appear that Virginia has its best chance in years to put this losing streak to bed following the impressive showing against Miami, a complication for Virginia is that London is 0-4 vs. Tech and the Hoos have yet to win away from Scott Stadium this season.  Simply put, there will be  an inordinate number of streaks in play when these two teams square off in prime time on Friday night.

Virginia players have been careful in interviews this week, understanding that trash talk from players on teams mired in long losing streaks looks foolish.  Virginia senior running back Khalek Shepherd sounded like a graduate of diplomacy school when asked yesterday about the animosity between the two teams.  “You respect every team that you play, but you fear no team. We respect Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech’s a great program, a great team under Coach Beamer,” he said. Virginia fans have had to fall back on their school’s supposed preeminence in the state’s higher education hierarchy as a rebuttal to Tech’s football dominance.  As football taunts go, this one doesn’t pack much punch but until the football Cavaliers give fans something  more powerful to lob at the Hokies,  this vapidity is all they have to counter ten years of gridiron futility.

Finally, there is widespread speculation that Mike London might be coaching for his job in this game. Absent a breakout season that quieted all doubts concerning his status, beating Virginia Tech would serve as a very tangible measure of the “progress” Athletic Director Craig Littlepage has said he would use to assess London and the program by. Virginia whiffed on the chance for that breakout season in losses to Duke and North Carolina so this game serves as London’s last best chance to achieve a pre-season benchmark that everyone said was vital to his job security.

Virginia vs. Virginia Tech at 8 pm Friday. Smashmouth. “Let the pads do the talking,” said Virginia linebacker Daquan Romero. This game may not draw much national interest given Tech’s record this year, but for residents of the Commonwealth and fans of both teams, there are subplots aplenty. Winner gets the Commonwealth Cup.

Virginia and Georgia: Compare and Contrast

Sanford Stadium is one of college football's greatest venues.
Sanford Stadium is one of college football’s greatest venues. Photo by author

I was among the 92,000+ woofing, screaming, deliriously happy Georgia fans at this past weekend’s tackle football contest against the Auburn Tigers.  I knew that this big game between two ranked opponents, in the nation’s best football conference, would give me lots of data that I could use to compare the football programs at Virginia and Georgia. I know that ACC football in general is about a 90-yard field goal away from the product put out by the SEC’s schools, but I hoped to find some common elements that would give me reason to believe that Virginia’s problems are not insurmountable. That’s what I hoped, anyway.

The comparisons are pretty easy.

Both schools play Division 1 football.

That’s about it.  There is little else about the two programs that is comparable other than the fact that both schools have been playing football for more than 120 years.  UVA football is free Tuesday night Shakespeare-in-the-Park.  Georgia football is a Led Zeppelin reunion concert.  Georgia plays before sellout crowds year after year. Virginia plays to half-empty stadiums filled with listless and frustrated fans. Georgia has won 768 games in 122 years, Virginia 632 in 126 years.  Virginia’s record is distorted by success in the late 1800s and early 1900s, periods that only Wahoo homers would trot out in support of Virginia’s football relevance. Virginia played football for almost 100 years before qualifying for its first bowl game in 1984.  It has but two conference co-championships to show for 61 years of ACC football effort.  Georgia, meanwhile has been to 49 bowl games and has won two national championships in its history.

Georgia has demographics that Virginia does not. Georgia’s Sanford Stadium seats 92,746 and is the 5th-largest on-campus stadium in the country. Virginia’s Scott Stadium, by contrast, seats 61,500, making it the nation’s 27th-largest on-campus stadium, a surprising fact given Virginia’s historical football mediocrity.  Athens, with a population of 112,000, is better able to support the home team than is Charlottesville and its 44,000 residents. Georgia has a strong alumni base among metropolitan Atlanta’s 6.2 million residents, who are just 70 miles away.  Virginia’s total population, by contrast, is 8.2 million and UVA must cobble together a crowd from all over the state. While Georgia’s Atlanta fans wouldn’t think of missing a game, Virginia’s non-Charlottesville fans are decidedly more, ahem, cavalier.  Noon games may be too early, night games may be too late.  August and September games are too hot and by the time good football weather rolls around, Virginia may be out of contention for…anything.

Georgia’s success has created demand for the product.  Now, to be fair, I was at Georgia for a night-game against a ranked and hated conference rival in what is billed as the deep South’s oldest rivalry, but I also have been in Scott Stadium for night games, big games, and big night games against ranked opponents.  I was in the crowd for what probably was Virginia’s biggest game ever, the 1990 game against Georgia Tech when Virginia was the #1 ranked team in the country.  I was not in the crowd for Virginia’s biggest night win ever, the 1995 Thursday night victory over Florida State.  I’m sure that the atmosphere was electric at that game almost 20 years ago, but what I experienced at Sanford Stadium last weekend is not an anomaly–it’s the norm. Virginia may not ever have had–even at the program’s peak in 1990–an atmosphere comparable to what I experienced Saturday night in Athens.

According to the Georgia Athletics website, “Georgia’s average home attendance has ranked among the nation’s top 10 for 23 consecutive seasons and among the top seven for 21 of the past 24 years. Virginia has not played in front of a sellout crowd since last year’s Virginia Tech game, and only then because Tech fans bought all the unsold tickets. It was hardly a home game sellout atmosphere.  Georgia fans did not sit for one second of game action Saturday night, allowing themselves a brief rest only during timeouts. Virginia fans will stand only when exhorted by the team or when a big play is coming. Shakespeare vs. Led Zeppelin.

Interestingly, Virginia’s and Georgia’s football paths crossed when Virginia coach George Welsh retired following the 2000 season.  Georgia also was looking for a new coach following the dismissal of Jim Donnan.  Both schools pursued then Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt, with Georgia winning the bidding.  Spurned by Richt, Virginia seemingly pulled a coup in convincing then New York Jets head coach and UVA alumnus Al Groh back to Charlottesville.  Seemingly. While Georgia got the coach it wanted in Richt, who has gone 134-47 in his time at Georgia, Virginia is still searching for a worthy successor to Welsh.  Groh and his successor Mike London have gone but 81-90 since Welsh’s fateful announcement in 2000.

If winning cures everything then Virginia needs to start winning again. Virginia must find another George Welsh. Like it or not, college sports have become big time businesses and universities must push back against the academic community’s revulsion of sports and embrace that fact. Football success and fundraising success are linked.  Football is the flagship product and UVA must find a way to win without sacrificing the academic standards that it holds above all else.  Difficult, but not impossible.  Virginia alumni want a team that they can be proud of.  In a time of dwindling state financial support, alumni support is needed to bridge the gap.  A winning football program spurs alumni support not just of the football program , but of all areas of the school.  Virginia cannot afford to play to a half-empty stadium of listless and disenchanted fans.  The financial repercussions are too great.

Virginia Continues to Beat Itself

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Virginia has been its own worst enemy this year. Kyle Green/The Roanoke Times

Turnovers have been both the boon and the bane of Virginia’s football existence this season. In fact, with better ball security I think that Virginia would be 6-4 or 7-3, not 4-6. The Cavaliers almost certainly beat themselves in losses to UCLA and UNC and probably did so again Saturday night in Tallahassee against a Florida State team that is undefeated but not invincible.  Virginia’s defense has played well enough to give the team a chance in every game this year but the offense has given the ball away at a rate that nearly matches the defense’s ability to get it back. What’s even more troubling is that Virginia’s turnovers have come not in the middle of the field but rather when Virginia is either in the red zone or in the shadow of its own goalposts. It’s hard to blame turnovers on coaching but with the staff on exceedingly thin ice, you can be sure that the boobirds are finding a way to pin Virginia’s turnover problem on embattled coach Mike London.

stats

The Cavaliers’ 24 takeaways places the team 10th nationally in turnovers created. However, its 22 turnovers places the team 116th out of 125 teams in a ranking of ball security. Overall, Virginia’s +2 turnover margin is good for just 51st. As I wrote last week, only Appalachian State among FBS teams has more red zone turnovers than Virginia’s five. When you couple that with Virginia’s propensity for turning red zone chances into field goals rather than touchdowns it is obvious that Virginia has let slip way too many scoring chances. As a result, Virginia’s promising 4-2 start has become a 4-6 spiral. The Hoos have an bye week to try to get the offensive line healthy before taking on Miami at home and Virginia Tech on the road in an attempt to break Tech’s ten-year stranglehold on the rivalry. The Tech game, for many reasons, will likely decide London’s fate. Beat Miami and Tech and London and the Cavs will be bowl eligible and he will finally have beaten Virginia Tech. That’s measurable progress. The Cavaliers undoubtedly are an improved team this year but the statistical improvement is not translating into wins.  If Virginia beats Tech and loses to Miami, the case for London’s retention becomes more questionable. With five wins–Virginia Tech being one of them–a case might be made that the incremental progress plus London’s recruiting ability should be enough to give him another year. But has London’s recruiting actually matched his reputation as a recruiter?

Mike London’s supporters have—in the absence of on-field success—pointed out that Virginia has made great recruiting progress with him at the helm. Virginia is a state that produces an outsized share of high major talent and the Tidewater area of the commonwealth is a hunting ground for every major program in the country. London’s predecessor, Al Groh, famously alienated many coaches at the state’s top high schools, with the result being that Virginia Tech and out-of-state programs became the destinations of choice for the state’s top talent.  Every recruiting analyst will tell you that state schools must be able to retain in-state talent. Under Al Groh Virginia had lost that ability. In-state schools—for a variety of reasons—should have an advantage over other schools when recruiting local talent.

Mike London must be given credit for repairing the damage Groh caused.  His message of ‘faith, family, and football” has resonated with recruits and their parents, who often are anxious about having their children away from home and are looking for a coach who will look after their children both on and off the field.  In Al Groh’s last recruiting class only one of the state’s top 30 players, Henry Coley, signed with Virginia.  Last year Virginia signed four of the state’s top 30, but two of them–Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown–were rated among the top recruits in the nation. Virginia has taken commitments from 91 players under Mike London.  Sixty-seven of those 91 recruits have been accorded three stars or less by ESPN.  Predicting college success for high schools players is a notoriously inexact science.  Two three-star members of Virginia’s 2012 recruiting class, Max Valles and Canaan Severin, now star for the Cavaliers while the top signee in Virginia’s 2013 class, Taquan Mizzell, has yet to become the star that his ranking would suggest.   London’s reputation as a recruiter seems to have been bolstered by a few high-profile in-state signings because the majority of his recruits are only of average ability per the ESPN rankings.   To London’s credit, his recruits appear to be good citizens.  His demand for personal accountability is a very real component of the recruiting process and has tended to weed out problem players.   Would Mizzell already  be a star at another scho0l like Alabama?  As a 5-star recruit he certainly could have gone anywhere he wanted to play football. Has Virginia’s weakness along the offensive line hampered Mizzell’s playmaking abilities? A recruiting class that is top heavy with a few stars but weak on the back end won’t fix Virginia’s problems.

London’s pitch to recruits has been the possibility of early playing time and the chance to help turn the program around.  That message works until recruits realize that the program is not in fact improving.  Playing in a losing program is a mentally taxing and hurts a player’s chances for a professional career.  When the coach’s job security becomes an issue, recruits go elsewhere and the coach’s recruiting reputation suffers.  London isn’t a bad recruiter and his connections to the state have allowed Virginia to get back into the mix with the state’s best players, but I don’t think that his recruiting record is such that Virginia will retain him if the Cavaliers post another losing record.

 

 

 

Virginia Not Making Meaningful Progress

Virginia made all manner of mistakes in losing 35-10 to Georgia Tech on November 1.
Virginia made all manner of mistakes in losing 35-10 to Georgia Tech on November 1. Photo: Mike Stewart

Oh boy. Virginia fans knew that the team’s 2014 football schedule presented opportunities early and that the team would need to seize those opportunities if it were going to make meaningful progress after last year’s 2-10 disaster. When pre-season favorite North Carolina and its porous defense was exposed early, that home matchup became the opportunity for the all-important sixth win that everyone looking at the schedule was trying to find. “Meaningful progress” is the standard that head coach Mike London supposedly is being held to this year and that term is just nebulous enough to invite debate. Some have insisted that six wins and a bowl game are the minimum standards for meaningful progress. Others believe that merely being competitive is the threshold following a season in which Virginia’s average margin of defeat was three touchdowns. Still others maintain that as long as Virginia defeats Virginia Tech this year then the record shouldn’t matter and that Mike London should be given more time. Athletic Director Craig Littlepage is tightlipped as to what constitutes his standard of meaningful progress, but what is clear following yesterday’s game at Georgia Tech is that this Virginia team no longer is meeting the standards that anyone has for it—not the players, not Mike London and his coaches, and certainly not the fans. Virginia, having let its two best chances for wins five and six slip away against Duke and UNC, now faces a November schedule that offers no handholds for a team trying to avoid falling headlong into the abyss.

I was among Mike London’s supporters at the beginning of the year. For a number of reasons I felt that this team would be markedly better than last year’s. It would have more upperclass leadership and more talent after the addition of an impressive recruiting class that included several players who were expected to contribute right away. The players would be more comfortable with the new offensive and defensive schemes that were installed last year and they would have the extra motivation of playing for a coach they love and whose job security depended on their play. Early on, I looked pretty smart. Even in losses to nationally-ranked UCLA and BYU, Virginia was game. As the team’s confidence grew, so did my belief that we could win almost any game on our schedule. The importance of confidence to on-field performance cannot be overstated and as Virginia stood up to its nationally-ranked opponents, I could sense that this team was vastly improved and comfortably within the parameters I personally had established for meaningful progress.

And then came the bye week. Virginia’s seemed to come at a good time. Starting QB Greyson Lambert was nursing an ankle sprain and the team needed to address some deficiencies while preparing for a very important road contest against a Duke team that has owned Virginia under Mike London. Well, what looked like good timing for a bye week in hindsight wasn’t. For Virginia, the bye week broke the team’s rhythm. Post bye-week Virginia has looked very much like the fumbling, bumbling, stumbling 2013 Virginia team and nothing like the 2014 team that started 4-2. What the hell happened?

Virginia’s offense is going backwards. The Cavaliers haven’t scored a second-half touchdown in four games and have only 6 points total in those eight second-half quarters. I believe that the offense’s shortcomings were masked early by the help it was getting from the defense. Virginia scored 190 points in its first five games, but 72 of those points (38%) came after the defense either forced a turnover and scored or presented the offense with a short field or an unsettled situation. Virginia’s defense has been far less helpful during this three-game losing streak, generating just two turnovers that the offense has turned into exactly three points. Without the defense’s help, the offense has been exposed. Two of Virginia’s first five opponents were inferior and the Hoos took advantage, inflating its offensive stats by posting 45 points against both Richmond and Kent State. The offensive line, thought to be a weakness, has yielded but 8 sacks this season, giving the impression that it is better than it is. Virginia, however, wants to run the ball and it has gotten an uneven effort from the line in that regard. Virginia’s quarterbacks, lacking game experience, are having to learn on the job and are continuing the struggles Virginia has had at that position since since Matt Schaub graduated in 2003. Among FBS teams only Appalachian State has committed more red zone turnovers than Virginia’s five this year. Clearly, the offense has struggled when tasked with producing points on its own.

When a team is confident and playing well, the game’s breaks fall its way. Conversely, stumbling teams can’t seem to get out of their own way or catch a break. There was abundant evidence of this in Atlanta yesterday. When a team (Georgia Tech) is playing well, it gets a favorable spot on a 4th down play in the red zone. When a team (Virginia) isn’t playing well, it can’t convert an interception deep in its opponent’s territory into a touchdown because a wide open receiver inexplicably drops the pass. When a team (Virginia) isn’t playing well, it commits an illegal shift penalty that negates a first down throw early in the 4th quarter when the game is not yet entirely out of reach. The resultant punt into the wind travels 23 yards, giving the opponent a short field from which it did put game away. When a team (Virginia) isn’t playing well, it compounds its misery by going four straight second-halves without a touchdown. Virginia, quite simply, is doing this to itself.

Virginia and Duke were once the laughingstocks of college football. The schools made fortuitous hires in George Welsh and David Cutcliffe and everything changed. Virginia seems to have in place everything it needs to be successful except the right head coach. Mike London was not untested at this level but he was unproven when Virginia hired him. His ties to the state and his established recruiting contacts were valuable assets to a Virginia team that was whiffing on in-state recruits under former coach Al Groh, but now Virginia needs a leader who can change the losing culture. For all of his admirable qualities Mike London doesn’t seem to be the man for that job. Virginia’s early-season meaningful progress has evaporated and with it has gone London’s job security. Never will a school more reluctantly part ways with a coach whose only shortcoming is that he doesn’t win.  And unfortunately that’s the bottom line. 

Mike London is a Great Guy, But…

UVA head coach Mike London reacts to a late-game penalty that sealed UVA's fate in a loss to North Carolina. Photo/Ryan M. Kelly/ The Daily Progress
UVA head coach Mike London reacts to a late-game penalty that sealed UVA’s fate in a loss to North Carolina. Photo/Ryan M. Kelly/ The Daily Progress

There was a universal theme in my conversations with agitated Virginia football fans after Saturday’s devastating loss to North Carolina. “Mike London is a great guy, a terrific role model, and a fantastic recruiter but…” What followed was some variation of “he’s not a very good head coach.” That “but” was once again on display this past weekend as Virginia made mental mistake after mental mistake in gift-wrapping and delivering a victory to a UNC team that was statistically inferior and beaten for 55 minutes. UNC head coach Larry Fedora put it best when he stated that his team was fortunate to find a way to win. Virginia has been far too generous this year in helping teams overcome their own mistakes. Complaints about mental preparedness have dogged Mike London’s Virginia teams and unless the Hoos execute an unexpected turnaround, Mike London almost certainly will be Mike Lon-done by the end of the season.
London’s perceived shortcomings as Virginia’s head coach were again showcased in the late game meltdown against UNC. London’s few remaining supporters might offer that it’s the players who block, tackle, run, catch and throw. True enough, but London, however, is the coach and “coach” is sports terminology for “teacher.” As such London and his staff ultimately are responsible for teaching players how to react to stressful late-game situations in which time is compressed and the effect of mistakes is magnified. Preparation and repetition are teaching fundamentals and Virginia has looked unprepared in failing to handle late-game stress in back-to-back losses. Virginia committed what basically were game-ending penalties in both games, drawing an inexcusable defensive substitution infraction against UNC and an equally-inexcusable 4th down delay-of-game flag against Duke. These types of mistakes—and the losses caused by them—identify Virginia as a team lacking mental acuity.
London admitted as much in a postgame press conference at which he made no attempt to hide his exasperation. “We coached poorly at the end and played poorly,” said London. “We did not recognize things that we should have. It is disappointing to have an opportunity to win a game down the stretch and have all the miscues that occurred. We beat ourselves. I did not do a good enough job coaching. Coaches didn’t do a good enough job coaching their players and the result is a loss.” Statements like this have been a familiar refrain during London’s time at Virginia and do not give his proponents much to work with in trying to counter the argument that London is not the man for this job.
The Cavaliers have lost 4 games by 8,8,7, and 1 point and have had a second half lead or a tie in 3 of those 4 losses. It is one thing to lose to a physically superior opponent but Virginia has beaten its opposition statistically even while losing. The Cavaliers have yet to be physically overmatched this season despite playing one of the nation’s most rigorous schedules. I find it curious that London has struggled so at Virginia but was 24-5 at Richmond and won a national championship. What is missing from London’s Virginia teams that was not at Richmond? Football at the FCS level is still football, so why the disparity? The rules are the same, the field is the same and the seconds tick off the clock at the same rate. Did his Richmond teams have more talent? Richmond currently has three players in the NFL and none of them played for London. Observers of the Virginia program seem confident that London’s teams have more talent than any Virginia teams in the last 20 years. Are FCS coaches less savvy than their FBS brethren? Hard to make that case. Were London’s Richmond teams not subjected to late-game stress? Certainly not. If London’s coaching philosophy is the same as it was at Richmond and Virginia has comparable talent and we assume that FCS coaches are just as capable as FBS coaches then what is it? Did London have a better staff at Richmond? Even though Virginia’s current staff has more than 38 years of head coaching experience critics insist that it has weaknesses. His staff is full of talented coaches but for whatever reason it just isn’t working out for some of them in Charlottesville.  The wholesale changes he made to his staff several years ago seemed to have brought improvement early in the season but now this Virginia team is looking very much like the teams of the past two years.
No teams play error-free football but the best teams find ways to overcome mental miscues. Virginia has been unable to overcome its own stupidity largely due to a continual problem with offensive efficiency. Virginia’s touchdown odds in the red zone are no better than a coin flip. The Cavaliers have 17 touchdowns in 34 red zone trips. Exactly 50 percent. Fans have chided offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild for the predictability of his playcalling. In a televised game earlier this season, commentator and former Virginia head coach AL Groh made sport of calling Virginia’s plays as the team broke the huddle. Either Groh is a soothsayer or Virginia is indeed too predictable. Couple this with Virginia’s inability to itself adjust to the adjustments that its opponents make at halftime and you are left with a team that is 4-4 despite being statistically superior to its opposition all year long. Against UNC, a team that allows 43.3 points per games (second most in the country) Virginia looked good early and terrible late. This is a pattern. If teams are consistently able to outmaneuver Virginia after halftime, does that not fall on the coaches?
Put it all together and it adds up to a perfect storm of ineptitude. Virginia can’t put away its opponents after halftime, leading to close games and late-game stress. Mental mistakes have a much bigger impact late in the game because there is less time to overcome their effects. Virginia’s players and coaches are desperate to turn things around and the stress of trying to avoid mistakes is having just the opposite effect. In a tragi-comedy that has come to define UVA football under London, defensive end Eli Harold made a vicious hit on UNC quarterback Marquise Williams, separating Wilson from his helmet. The rules mandate that a player who loses his helmet has to leave the game for at least one play, so UNC had to turn to clipboard-toting reserve QB Mitch Trubinsky on a game-deciding 3rd and 15 from the UVA 16-yard line. You know what happened. Virginia blew the coverage and Trubinsky found a totally-uncovered receiver for the 16-yard touchdown that gave UNC the lead and ultimately the game. Snake-bitten UVA fans knew it was coming. It was as inevitable as the sunrise.
If karma is a thing, Virginia has none of the good variety and plenty of the bad. As difficult as it might be in the short-term, the only way to change that might be with a new coach. Unless Virginia executes a stunning turnaround, that’s what is going to happen.

A Must Win Game for Florida State

This weekend, the #2 Florida State Seminoles play the #5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Doak Campbell Stadium, and with the lack of quality opponents on Florida State’s schedule, the rest of the Seminoles season hinges entirely on the outcome of this game.
As I’m sure every Florida State fan is aware of, the Seminoles don’t have a very strong schedule this year. With the only other two ranked opponents on the Noles schedule besides Notre Dame already in the rear view mirror, this game will be one of the last chances for Florida State to come out and make a statement. Adding to this, in the previous two opportunities that Florida State has had to make a statement against a quality opponent in Oklahoma State and Clemson, the Seminoles were not very convincing. If the Seminoles want to make everyone believe that they are the real deal, and don’t want to be on the outside looking in to the playoff picture, this is a must win game. If the Seminoles were to lose this game, they don’t have the comfort in knowing they have other chances to redeem themselves against a high quality opponent, unless there in an ACC team that reels off some wins to make the ACC championship a compelling match up. After Notre Dame, the Seminoles play Louisville, Virginia, Miami, Boston College and Florida, none of which are currently ranked, or especially talented. If the Seminoles play the football that they are capable of, and win this game, then they will have a good chance of regaining the #1 position in college football, and will remind everyone why they were favorites to repeat coming into the season. The outcome of this game will make everyone watching either believe that the Seminoles are the best team in the country, or believe that they are not who we thought they were when the season started.
The preseason #1 ranked Seminoles have experienced multiple bumps in the road so far this season, including a lot of trouble surrounding star QB Jameis Winston off of the field, and numerous injuries occurring to vital players on both sides of the ball. As a result, the Seminoles haven’t exactly lived up to the expectations that were set out for them prior to the season starting. The Seminoles have sputtered against every opponent they have played except Wake Forest, specifically having trouble against Oklahoma State and NC State. Not to mention the game against Clemson where an inexcusable fumble by Clemson late in the 4th quarter basically lost Clemson the game. Now, after the great start to the season that Mississippi State has had, the Seminoles find themselves ranked #2 for the first time all season.
I believe that the Seminoles are completely aware of the stakes of this game, and will be extra motivated by the fact that they were moved down to the #2 spot in the rankings. These Seminoles are tired of hearing all of the distractions that have been surrounding Jameis Winston, tired of hearing all of the doubts surrounding whether or not this team has what it takes to stop a mobile quarterback and most specifically are tired of hearing that they aren’t the best team in the country.