Sunday, October 25, 2009

we now return you to your regularly scheduled doldrums

So it was fun while it lasted. The driver's seat turned out to be more than our plucky little team could handle, and we got out and swapped drivers with Georgia Tech, who had just about the best Saturday they could have had. We can now stop pretending we were a contender for anything. Our position atop the standings was the result of a happy confluence of events that had us playing two of the crappiest ACC teams on the schedule (maybe the worst two) and everyone else playing all the good ones. Deep down, no doubt we knew that, but as long as they hadn't played the rest of the games yet, it was fun to play king of the hill.

Well, we know now who the king of the hill is. And not to brag, but actually yeah, to brag: I told you this at the beginning of the year. I let myself sorta believe we could swing a few key plays in our direction and pull off the upset, but deep down it's the same thing I've been saying all year - that was the best team in the ACC that just slobberknocked us. Clemson helpfully untied the messy knot in the Coastal by upsetting Miami, and Georgia Tech now needs only a pair of wins over Duke and Wake Forest and their ticket to Tampa is punched.

It's not a fun day when both your teams show up in the Yahoo college football headlines following the word "rips." The funny thing is, though, despite the similar losing scores for Michigan and UVA (35-10, 34-9) UVA put up one heck of a better fight. The game was closer than that. I will insist this. I know the defensive box score doesn't say so. But we were down 13-6 at the half, and if the offense wasn't a complete disaster, we'd have gone in there with the lead. Then, kicking a lamesauce field goal on our first drive of the second half would have felt less like a fraidy-cat copout and more like the smart play to get the points we need to be right there in the game.

Because, see, the thing about that 10-minute drive GT put together is that Paul Johnson does that every so often. It shouldn't come as a surprise. Back when he was coaching Navy, the Middies were in a bowl game against New Mexico and got the ball on their own 1, up 31-19 and 2 minutes to go in the third quarter. At 2:07 of the fourth, New Mexico finally got the ball back. The funny thing about a drive like that is, it can't happen unless you're getting stops. New Mexico held Navy to three yards or less on eleven plays in that drive. We did the same to GT nine times in their drive. Normal teams punt when you do that. We got our stops on that drive and we got our stops all throughout the first half. But the offense....

The offense let the defense down. Three trips to the red zone should result in more than two lousy field goals. (One field goal came after getting to the 21 and then going backwards.) I was mad that we didn't go to a power-I formation on the goal line and kept tossing it outside (and to the short side of the field no less - one of my major pet peeves) but really, every run play in your inventory longer than a QB dive should be good for two yards. When it mattered most, the offensive line rolled up and died. They even pass-blocked well all day, helped out by the new wrinkle of rolling Sewell out to his left and setting up a new floating pocket out there, but once in the red zone - gack. And the wide receivers - gack too. Kris Burd is supposed to be the one guy performing well and he drops a pass in the end zone.

This is now the part in the show where I come out and tell you What It Means Going Forward. Well, what it means is we're in a real scrap for bowl eligibility, and I have no idea whether we're going to get there. This game told us everything we need to know, and none of it's any use. The defense? Beastly, still, despite the 34 points. If they can keep us in that game they can keep us in any game. Any game, even Miami and Virginia Tech. They'll give us a chance in all of them. The offense? If they can't keep us in that game, what game can they keep us in? By now it's painfully obvious that the wide receivers can't get open and nobody's a guarantee to catch whatever's thrown at them; the line can't protect the quarterback and can only sporadically open holes for the running backs; the quarterback's accuracy is fair but not above average; and the playcalling is occasionally frustrating beyond belief. These are not issues that are going to be fixed. It's hard to see where we're going to get three of the next five, not with an offense that can't score a touchdown unless the defense hands them the ball on the one-foot line. That is literally how it's been the past two weeks. Forget the IU game - that was the one random, unexpected blowout that's allotted to us each year, and it came against a defense which just choked away a 28-3 lead against Northwestern.

So I dunno. What are you supposed to predict with a defense that looks like it's going to kick everyone's ass and an offense that couldn't find its way to the end zone with an atlas? It's gonna be a weird ride for the next five weeks - with any luck it'll end up in the E*******k Bowl or something.

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