Sunday, October 11, 2009

what the hell?

In retrospect, maybe we should've seen this coming? For the third year in a row now, Al Groh's Hoos have picked a random game that looked just like any other going in - which is to say, trouble - and gone all SUPRISE BUTTSECKS on some hapless opponent. The only difference between Indiana '09 and Maryland '08/Miami '07 is the meaningless touchdown at the end. The shutout would have been nice, but it's the least of anyone's concerns. The point is that random, out-of-nowhere blowouts that make you scratch your head and ask yourself the above question somewhere around "27-0 in the second quarter" have been something of a hallmark of the Groh Decade.

It's so funny how I learn, every year, how quickly the fortunes of our football team can swing, mid-season. You'd think in my 10th year of UVA fanhood I'd have learned this lesson by now, but you'd be wrong; apparently I am not a fast learner. Two weeks into the season - actually one week, really, because eight days is all it takes to end up 0-2 - everything was DOOM. Two weeks after being 0-3 - again, actually just one week - I'm about to open my fat mouth about bowl games again.

Yes, bowl games. Before the Southern Miss game, you may recall I opined that our trip to Hattiesburg was a must-win game, because three out of the next four would keep us in bowl contention but UNC was already penciled in as a loss. One UNC upset and an Indiana-stomp later, here we are with a very good chance to pull off that 3-of-4 trick that looked very possible even at 0-3.

The lesson to be learned from Saturday is merely this: We will have an actual chance in every game left on the schedule - and in several cases much more than just a chance - because the defense is legit. I don't care if it was "just" Indiana or "just" UNC's bland, thoroughly predictable offense. Carolina has many problems but talent is not one of them, as evidenced by their ability to rack up large numbers of points against crappy teams. And Indiana has played Ohio State - one of the top ten defenses in the country - and wouldn't you know it, the defensive statistics match up pretty well. Hell, we're top-20 ourselves, and ninth (ninth!) in the country (the country!) against the pass, with opponents averaging just five yards per attempt. God, if only the offense could follow suit. For one fantastic Saturday afternoon, Indiana found out what happens when they do.


It almost makes no sense to analyze the game, because usually that involves "what went right" and "what went wrong." Yesterday it was what went right, what went right-er, and what went more-er right-er.

- The offense was absolutely sparkling. That's the first time we've been able to say anything nice about the offense without adding ten major caveats afterwards. Take away the bad snap over Verica's head (which is a "rushing attempt" only in the most technical sense) and we averaged 5.5 yards per carry. A less statistical way of saying this would be that I thought we'd be able to run pretty much at will against IU, and we did. The offensive line spent all day bulldozing the IU defensive line, and Messrs. Simpson, Jackson, and Mack reaped the rewards.

- Duh. It seems so obvious. Hm, Vic Hall is not outplaying Jameel Sewell at quarterback and our wide receivers aren't outplaying anybody? What to do, what to do. Huh. Hey, let's line Hall up at receiver and throw at him a lot. You'd think this sort of thing would occur to me earlier, but I'm glad it occurred to the coaching staff this week, because Hall's pass-catching was huge. The only other receiver that's shown enough flashes of brilliance to give me hope for the upcoming weeks is Kris Burd, who had just two catches against IU. But they were big ones. In any case, though, I like the idea of Hall at receiver and wholeheartedly endorse it going forward. He's got a little catching up to do but if he stays there the rest of the season, he'll lead the team in receptions.

- Sooner or later someone is going to figure out that they need to watch the running back who we just play-faked to.

- I do not fault Al Groh for having Simpson in the game just long enough to get hurt. I've always felt, if you're blowing someone out, you should keep your foot on the gas pedal until the fourth quarter. Or until you have a triple-digit lead, whichever comes first. And Simpson was not being overworked: 15 carries in 2 and a half quarters works out to 24 in the game, which isn't excessive. He's barely had any work this season. Last week was the first time all year he'd gotten a decent number of carries. After that drive would have been the right time to sit him, but seven minutes left in the third quarter is still too soon.

- I do wonder what the hell we were doing going for two in the 2nd quarter. I dunno, maybe Al wanted to work on something, but not only was that some bizarre timing, it was a whacked-out play that was doomed from the start. It couldn't have been more obvious we were going for two, and that being the case, why send the kicker out there? I don't get it.

- Two weeks in a row now the tackling has been impeccable. Big reason why our pass defense is so good. Enemy receivers are getting no yards after contact at all. That's how you turn third-and-four into fourth-and-one instead of first-and-ten.

So about that bowl thing. It's back on the radar, but it's still a long uphill climb. Of the opponents left on our schedule, three are ranked and four are not; getting to a bowl requires beating all those unranked teams and/or scoring a major upset. No slip-ups allowed. The good news is, does the ACC really scare you very much? Only two teams in the conference remain undefeated in ACC play, and one of 'em lost to William & Mary. Yay crappy conference. One week at a time, and if all goes well we too can aspire to play in a bowl game in Mobile, against a third-tier MAC team, sponsored by a bailed-out bank. Sounds like fun.


dj said...

What a performance. Sewell zinging those 2-3 long passes in a row, moving the ball at will. Although I have never seen us up against as bad a defensive performance as that. IU's tackling was non existent and everyone looked slow. Kinda reminded me of how our defense used to play a few years back when 'jumbo athlete' was in fashion. Anyway, given IU's past performances that had to be a one-off, lucky we were the ones to benefit.

Apart from Simpson's injury - which was the only (major) downside) - my only gripe was more burning of redshirts. Al must be well aware he's on the way out. But did they really have to burn even more red shirts after going 44-0 up in garbage time??

Bird said...

What do you do? Do you forgive Groh for the debacle of a start?

Brendan said...

We'll see how the other seven games go.