Thursday, October 29, 2009

game preview: Duke

Date/Time: October 31, 3:30

TV: ESPN 360 (so, not actually TV)

Last matchup: Duke 31, UVA 3 (I most emphatically do not have highlights)

Last week: GT 34, UVA 9; Duke 17, Md. 13

Line: UVA by 7.5

Opposing blogs: none, really.

Injury report

(I always forget this. I probably shouldn't even bother. Tomorrow for sure.)

Al Groh is many things, and among them is this: Master of the Completely Improbable. We have both wins and losses of that variety. And not many of them have been more improbable than what happened last year against this team. Losing would have been surprising enough. Losing that way.....well, Al Groh's legacy will be stuffed full of games that didn't go the way they were supposed to. It would be really nice to erase the memory of last year with a nice result this year.

And I scarcely need mention that this is basically an elimination game for our bowl hopes.


- As Al Groh pointed out, Duke is a pass-first team. That's more out of necessity than anything, if you ask me. They can't run the ball. Can not run the ball. Take away the NCCU game (against a 1-6 I-AA team) and they're averaging 1.6 yards a carry. So I'm taking it for granted (dangerous, but I will anyway) that our defensive line will chew up and spit out their running game. That puts the onus on our secondary to shut down their receivers. Fortunately, we have some pretty good players back there, too.

- Take advantage of big opportunities. I think our defense will give us a few. I'm not sure the offense can capitalize. They will have to, or we'll be ripe for an upset.

- Jameel Sewell needs to take over the game. Duke's passing defense is the weak point on that side of the ball. They're giving up 7.8 yards per attempt, and that's having played stunningly brilliant offenses like Maryland, NCCU, and Army. We may or may not be able to run the ball, but if we can't take advantage of their porous pass offense with the worst pass rush in the ACC, the game will stay way too close for comfort.


- Let the game stay close by not doing any of the above. A good passing offense like Duke has is just the thing for breaking hearts with a really badly timed big play. Don't need any of that.

- Get outcoached. Look. Our players are better than their players, for the most part. But David Cutcliffe got tricks. He's a hell of an offensive mind and has quite a few players he can throw the ball to. Duke doesn't have a Torrey Smith or a C.J. Spiller for the defense to focus on, which strikes me as a dangerous combination with a coach who's known for being an offensive smart guy. The thing I worry about most about this game, besides our entire offense, is that Cutcliffe will be able to keep our defense guessing and off balance all game.


We'll win. I hate saying that, because it too often makes me look like a dumbass. But we're going to win this game, and there are two reasons. One, we're better on paper. Georgia Tech's defense looked deceptively bad because they'd played a bunch of good teams. Duke's looks bad and that's from games against Army and Maryland and such. Their running game is unbelievably atrocious. They likely won't hardly even bother, just come out passing the ball, and we have the best pass defense in the ACC, giving up just 5 yards per attempt. They're playing right into our strength.

Second, because win games like this is just the sort of thing we do. Duke has more wins than we do and it's making people think they're better and say crazy things. To the lay observer, it looks like an even-ish matchup between a couple pretty bad teams, and it's tempting to go with the one whose program doesn't look like it's hanging by a thread. No dice. This is UVA football, and we're going to win this game for the purpose of toying with the fans. Those whose primary desire is wanting Al Groh gone are going to enjoy the win** but be frustrated at the continuing possibility that Groh might extricate himself from this predicament yet again. Those who, like me, enjoy their blue and orange kool-aid, are going to be teased with the continuing possibility that we might just get into a bowl game despite having an offense that can't tell one end zone from the other. We win this game because UVA football exists for the purpose of driving its fans crazy.

**I hope there are none of you fuckers out there who root for us to lose because you want Groh gone or think things like "a loss is a win."


North Carolina at Virginia Tech, right now

NC State at Florida State, 12:00
Clemson vs. Coastal Carolina, 1:30
Miami at Wake Forest, 3:30
Boston College vs. Central Michigan, 3:30
Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt, 7:30

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

the replacements: Charlie Strong

Doesn't feel as weird doing another entry in this series now that our little win streak is over.

Charlie Strong

Main qualification: Multiple national titles as Florida Gators defensive coordinator


1986-1987: Southern Illinois (WR)
1988-1989: Florida (OLB)
1990: Mississippi (WR)
1991-1994: Florida (DE '91-'93; DT/Asst.HC '94)
1995-1998: Notre Dame (DL)
1999-2002: South Carolina (DC)
2003-present: Florida (DC; DE '03-'04; LB '05-present)

First, let's clear up the occasionally-proffered notion that Strong wouldn't want to come here. Keep in mind: as I pointed out a few weeks ago, if Groh is out, our job is likely to be the single most attractive in the whole country. We're a BCS school. We pay well. We're sitting on a pretty good recruiting base. And Charlie Strong, as you'll find out if you Google him because every other result is an article discussing this, thinks his race (he's black) or more specifically, that of his wife (she's white) is the reason he's not a head coach anywhere.

We can leave the politics out of it. In fact, please do. The point is, Charlie Strong feels passed over. He's interviewed for several head coaching jobs - six in one year if you believe Randy Shannon - and not gotten any of them. If a BCS school like ours came calling, he wouldn't turn up his nose.

Now, as for qualifications. As a head coach, Strong obviously has none. Nevertheless, whichever school hires him will immediately be in for a shower of praise. There is no other assistant in the country that has never been a head coach and yet receives so much press in connection with other jobs. Last year, UCF was the hot spot - that never materialized. Even Gator types are pretty resigned to the idea that Strong will eventually up and leave them. Florida even has an assistant DC in place. How many schools have an assistant DC? And in a world full of ambitious, Type A personalities that don't care for intrusions on their turf, why would you do that, if not because you think your regular DC will be pulling up roots sooner rather than later?

Strong's accomplishments are more or less the usual for the archetypical "assistant ready for his own gig." Except for the multiple national championships. Those are nice. Florida pilfered him from South Carolina, which was known under Strong for having good defenses after years of carrying the Shamecocks moniker. South Carolina didn't want to lose him, either, and with descriptions being tossed around like "ace recruiter," you can guess why.

Urban Meyer himself is a pretty good recruiter, and at South Carolina, Strong was working for another guy well known for connecting with players and pushing the right motivational buttons: Lou Holtz. The guy's been around nothing but the highest quality coaching most of his career (except for the Zook years.) And nobody would dare question his coaching ability either; not after 25 years in the business.

Downsides? A couple, and the most obvious being, there are always coaches that make great assistants but aren't cut out for head coaching gigs. And you never know who they are til you hand them the keys. Greg Robinson is the quintessential example; he was considered a brilliant DC at Texas and then got himself hired at Syracuse and absolutely cratered the program. Most guys aren't that bad. But it's a risk you take. And from the AD's perspective, this isn't quite as risky as it might seem. Hire a guy like Charlie Strong and nobody thinks you're taking a risk; instead, they pat you on the back for being able to lure such a prominent name that a lot of schools could have had.

Second issue is that Strong is likely to be upwardly-mobile if successful. Is this a problem? Well, yes. Sort of. Ask anyone what would be the perfect outcome of a head coaching hire and they'll tell you they want a guy who'll stick around for twenty years and become an icon. I think Strong would be more likely than some of these other candidates to, if he's successful, jump ship in four or five years to a higher-profile, higher-paying job. That's a problem, but one you don't worry about much in the afterglow of a new hire when everything's sunshine and roses. And if Strong is hired and does a good enough job that Tennessee or whoever comes calling, I think we'll be pretty happy with the way his tenure went and will have both the incentive and the ability to hire an equally good candidate.

I've stated my personal preference for 1) Tommy Tuberville and 2) Brian Kelly if he'll come and not wait for Notre Dame, and after that there's a sort of mishmash of good ideas, some better than others. Strong tends to rise up near the top of the mishmash. We'd get a lot of good pub for Giving A Deserving Man A Chance, which is a good thing and brings in donor money and is also the least of the reasons to hire Charlie Strong.

ACC roundtable #7

This time around, we're hosted by..... well, I'd link to Joe's site if he provided one, but in the middle of his outfit being bought out by corporate sharks, things along those lines are a little up in the air at the moment. But there's questions:

1.) Now that we're in the home-stretch of college football, we have enough material to begin campaigns for ACC coach of the year and player of the year. Who ya got and why?

It's hard to give it to Paul Johnson after he just won last year. The media will likely try and think of someone else. Then again, it's hard not to after the way the rest of the ACC has choked on its own vomit for most of the season.

As for the player side of things, I know everyone's all over C.J. Spiller's nuts for being the king of all-purpose yards blah blah blah. But I've actually been more impressed with Christian Ponder this year, somewhat against my judgment from the preseason when I called Ponder the one factor that might hold back Florida State's offense. In fact it's been quite the other way round. Whatever struggles TFSU's had lately, and they are indeed many, aren't Ponder's fault. Not when he's completing passes at a better than 70% clip with a yards-per-completion that stacks up to everyone else's (in other words, he's not dinking and dunking his way to that 70%.) Plus, 12 TDs and just one pick. If this was a prediction, I'd pick Spiller, but it's not, it's a quasi-vote, and mine's for Ponder right now.

2.) Would your 2009 ACC coach of the year stand a chance in the SEC battlefields of recruiting and gameday management against the likes of Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Lane Kiffin?

He coaches in Georgia and put together a pretty fine class last year. +1. His team got mauled by LSU in their bowl game last year. -1. All in all, though, I don't see why the SEC should be so special that it can handle the Johnson offense any better than anyone else.

3.) Getting away from the breathless week-to-week win/loss reactionssuch as "OMGZ!1!JUAN! WE WON, BCS NEXT!" or "WTF, WE'RE DA SUX. FIRE COACH!", where is your head coach in 5 years. If no longer with your school, how does the exit go down?

Retired, hosting the occasional fundraiser, and maybe consulting for the athletic department every now and again. Even supposing Groh miracles his way out of this fix, he'll be 70 in five years. Either it goes down this year in similar fashion (but more cordially) to the Leitao firing (in which Leitao was "asked to resign" and "resigned"), or the man just gets old. Smart money is not on the latter.

4.) Coffee is for closers only. Which means plenty of ACC teams are walking around with empty cups after failing to finish off opponents or lock up divisions. As the worst offender, who gets the steak knives?

I'm calling out Miami on this one. They even seduced me into wavering a little on my preseason ACC pick. Damn them for that. And then they went and got ruined by VT and followed it up with a loss to an Atlantic Division team. The Atlantic Division doesn't know its ass from a hole in the ground. The current occupant of the driver's seat is Clemson, which has 1) removed Miami from the driver's seat in the Coastal and 2) lost to Maryland. Neither should have happened. Miami's punishment is not to get fired or miss out on the Eldorado or anything - I sentence them to another at-home loss to UVA.

5.) Bob Griese wants to take you and Juan Pablo Montoya out for tacos. Where's the best joint in town?

Might as well be the Baja Bean. It's right there on the Corner. Don't even have to get in the car, which is good because Juan Pablo might think the other drivers are bumping him too aggressively and get us in trouble with the Charlottesville police.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

the recruit: Akil Mitchell

Name: Akil Mitchell
Position: SF
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
School: Charlotte Christian
Height: 6'7"
Weight: 210

Rivals: three stars
ESPN: 91, #35 SF
Scout: two stars

How big a sleeper is Akil Mitchell? How much information is out there on the Internet about him? Put it this way: when you Google up his name, this very blog - which up til now has had no information on Mitchell beyond "I dunno" - is third in the results list. Mitchell wasn't even showing up in all the databases until he committed a few weeks ago. (It really seems like a lot longer than that.)

Anyway. Tony Bennett, having stocked the cupboard for 2010 with four fairly-well known quantities (yes, even Harrell), had the luxury of going a little deeper into the well and picking out someone based more on their showing at camps and such rather than their track record. A project. And you won't find many players that fit the definition of a project better than Mitchell.

For starters, nobody can quite agree whether he's better suited for the three or the four. Right now, the answer is three for sure, where he says he feels most comfortable. And the scouting report here reads exactly like a three ought to read. Plus, he's a little short for the four. Right now our options at power forward are basically Scott, Meyinsse, and Tucker, and they're all taller. Mitchell might get taller his own self, though. He's skinny and certainly not done growing outwards - once he gets to UVA, Mike Curtis will set him to work bulking up. He might not be done growing upwards, either, and if he does that he'll be just right for the four.

The other term that keeps popping up for Mitchell is "late bloomer." I'm not sure if that's quite as fair. Mitchell was injured his freshman year of high school and so got a bit of a late start. Last year, his junior year, he was simply overshadowed by talented seniors on his team. Digging up old boxscores shows that Mitchell really wasn't the go-to guy most nights; the leading scorer for Charlotte Christian last year was usually a kid named Willis Hall, who this year will be a freshman at College of Charleston. So Mitchell wasn't the guy everyone was intending to see when they went to a CC game. And why should they notice the skinny kid who hadn't had much of a growth spurt yet?

It's hard not to like the scouting reports that have trickled down the pipe about Mitchell, but at the same time it's hard to know what to make of them. I mean, when's the last time an ACC team signed a player, whether in college he was a superstar or a yutz, whose scouting reports out of the camps said, "too slow, too small, won't rebound, can't shoot"? They're all the same sort of shining write-ups that often just seem to rearrange the words from player to player. But that in itself is encouraging - that Tony Bennett can run out and dig up one of these sorts of players (and ESPN has given him a pretty good grade) that can legitimately be called an ACC-caliber guy and yet hadn't had any looks from ACC teams. Plus, y'know, he's smart. Got that 4+ GPA at a tough school. Can't complain about that.

So Mitchell probably won't be the kind who comes in right away and jumps right into the rotation. As much as anything it'll be because the coaches will be figuring out where he best fits. Even now we know about what kind of players we're expecting Joe Harris and James Johnson and such to be. What I'm hoping for out of Mitchell is that he can develop into being a really versatile and really valuable bench guy that can be put in the game as either the small guy in a big lineup or the big guy in a small lineup, depending on the situation. Someone who might not be able to go toe-to-toe with the ACC heavyweight starters, but does a little bit of everything well enough to create matchup nightmares for other teams' bench guys. In other words, what Jamil Tucker might be if he could defend anyone.

Monday, October 26, 2009

weekend review

Sort of a little different one today, in that I don't have any high school results and stuff for you this week. Part of the hard drive recovery process is going to involve re-stocking the favorites bar where all that local news stuff was, and I chose to spend this weekend reconstituting my music collection instead. Here's a summary: K.P. Parks went apeshit again, as he always does, and ran for shitloads of yards and scored beaucoup touchdowns before sitting down sometime after halftime with his team up by zillions. You know what job I want? The West Rowan H.S. offensive coordinator. It's easy. Just script the first forty plays of the game as follows: Hand off to Parks. Then eat a donut and take a nap til the half. I would worry that Parks might get hurt in his remaining games this fall, but that would require he be tackled.

I do have the recruiting board back in action, and you can find it here as always. And there's changes and stuff this week too, ain't that special? Those would be:

- Dropped OTs Khamrone Kolb and Robby Havenstein. Damn it. Kolb jumped for Penn State, and just as I predicted, Havenstein dropped not very long after that. Unfortunately he dropped for Wisconsin. It might appear that there's enough depth on the offensive line since we'll ideally be adding three to this next class what with Conner Davis joining the two prep schoolers (Moses if we're lucky, and Cody Wallace.) However, given the utterly abysmal state of the offensive line right now, I'd like one more just to have options.

- Dropped LB Dominique Guinn-Bailey to red. Someone on the CavsCorner message board said he'd committed to some I-AA school or another, but that's the only place I've seen it, so I guess I'll just leave him on there until another couple months go by and nothing happens. Yay passive-aggressive board updates.

- It's the triumphant return of the blue section! Depending on what you read and who he's talking to, we're either in a top two or top three for Louis Young. Or maybe a top twelve given his rather interesting interpretation of the term "verbal commitment." My nagging feeling we're really not going to get Young clashed with the general rule that a top four or so is good enough for the blue section. Then I realized I'm really just despairing of ever seeing a verbal commitment ever again, and bucked up, chinned up, nutted up, and re-established the blue section. So there it is, and right now Young is the only inhabitant. Hooray for recruiting no longer being totally dead in the water.


Hoops! I have been completely blown away by Tony Bennett's efforts this summer. I give him an A++++++. If his teaching and his in-game coaching are half as good as his recruiting has been (considering that he wrapped up this #8-ranked class in six months), we'll win every game by 50. And the X's and O's were said to be his strong point. ACC, you might as well just roll over and die right now.

Apparently the media isn't as smitten as I am. Sylven Landesberg isn't happy about being left off the preseason all-ACC squad. And motivation is all well and good and I'm glad he's planning on proving folks wrong and all that, but maybe I'd prefer him to focus on something a little more team-oriented. It's not like the ACC media weekend in Greensboro was short of opportunities to be annoyed at what the media thinks about Virginia basketball. They have us 11th. In other words, they don't think a new coach and the loss of practically nobody of importance to graduation means any improvement in the standings.

This is nonsense. First off, the carnage wreaked upon ACC rosters due to graduation and departures for the draft is massive and widespread. More so than usual, I suggest to you. Nearly every team is replacing multiple huge pieces of the puzzle. Second, Tony Bennett Tony Bennett Tony Bennett. We will finish the season seeded higher than 11th in the ACC tournament. That's a rock-solid, etched-in-diamond guarantee. If that doesn't sound much like going out on a limb, then you get my point. Take out a second mortgage on the farm, withdraw every penny from your kids' college account, and hell, throw that firstborn up there for collateral. Better than 11th. I don't really know how much better. Sometimes I realize, man, we didn't score many points last year, did we? and I accept the idea that the CBI or maybe a charity NIT bid is progress and shouldn't be scoffed at. Other times I get all googly-eyed about what Bennett can do for this team - frickin' hell, he took a bunch of one-star recruits at a college way out in the hills to a 4 seed in the Dance. And that's when I start wondering if the committee will screw us with the draw like they did for baseball and make us travel out to Sacramento or something. The fun part will be finding out how it all plays out. But. Jebus damn it, better than 11th.


Al Groh's press conference transcript, as always, is a fun read. The best Grohisms:

- "That, against a team like this that always becomes an ongoing situation-by-situation decision. That is do we want to match personnel or do we want to leave the regular in there, because there is an overlap in what we can do from a coverage standpoint between the two. Not entirely the same, but because there is an overlap, we have that option. And in the past in circumstances like this we've worked that option both ways."

- "Well, yeah, clearly when you see the numbers of their frequency, what that also clearly indicates is that there is a strong commitment and they are a dedicated passing team."

- "Nate has certainly been exceptionally stellar to the half way mark of the season. He's certainly playing himself into that position. He's probably making a similar move on that, say that Alvin Pearman utilized his senior season to do."

- "Well, they lead in receptions because they're playing in the Duke offense. If they were playing (at) Georgia Tech, they'd probably not be leading the conference in receptions."

- "Now if you win, you usually get a big return on it. But you can also result in the quarterback having to hold the ball and not be in the rhythm that he wants. Coaches are certainly this way. I'm certain some people say hold it, don't hold it, throw it, throw it. Sometimes if you have effective man-for-man coverage, there is nobody to throw it to. That would be the dilemma for the quarterback. What do you want me to do with it? There is nobody open, and you don't want me to stand there, I understand that. I don't have anybody to throw it to, either. What should I do with it? So we're going to get a good combination of both."

>- "QUESTION:What did you see of the 'phantom' personal foul called on Saturday?

COACH GROH: What we had suggested is that for anybody who has ‑‑ most people Tivo the game in order to go back and take a look at it and write your stories based on what you see there. So, I just suggested that everybody look at their Tivoed version and come up with your own opinion. And if you have any questions since clearly I'm not the expert on this. If you have any questions, I'd suggest that you direct them to the ACC office and see what they might want?

QUESTION:Did you direct any questions?

COACH GROH: I have the same question you might have. I guess Halloween was one week early. You know, Ghostbusters or whatever."

In Groh-speak, that means he thinks the personal foul was straight-up blatant bullshit. And he's almost certainly right. Unfortunately nobody can take his suggestion, because replay it on Tivo is precisely what I did, and none of it was onscreen.

Oh, and the "circumstance" count for the conference: 10. Impressive.


Around the rest of the ACC, here's what we got:

- UNC pulled off a pretty impressive and really annoying choke job against TFSU, losing 30-27. I'm convinced this is the football gods' punishment for wearing those all-navy uniforms. They've deployed the navy pants and the navy jersey at separate times in the past, which was probably testing the football gods' patience, but the all-navy look was too much. Much like the signal they sent to Oregon when Oregon broke out the throwbacks and demolished California, UNC has now been warned that navy is not one of their primary colors. If they know what's good for them they'll never do that again.

- I told you this would happen. I told you. Maryland dropped one to Duke, 17-13, which has got Testudo Times ready for the bye week and criticizing Ralphie for his propensity to whine about not getting the breaks. And you might be interested to know we're not the only ones who've seen more QB draws out of their team than they care to stomach.

- We're not the only ones who had to deal with the triple option this weekend, and frankly I wouldn't swap our circumstance for Wake Forest's. They didn't win either: Navy beat them 13-10. Blogger So Dear is just pretending it didn't happen, which is probably wise. But dude: Check out the box score. Seriously. Navy never passed. Literally. 64 run plays, zero passes. They did that once last year, too, also in the rain. Lot of teams wear throwback uniforms, but nobody does throwback like Navy. You want throwback? We're going right back to 1903. We don't need wacky shenanigans and gimmicks like this "forward pass."

- Clemson's win against Miami put two teams squarely in the driver's seat for their respective divisions. Block-C doesn't hesitate to name C.J. Spiller the best player in all of college football. Which, y'know, maybe, but if they've got the best player in all of college football, what does it say about the rest of the team that provided Maryland its only ACC win?

- Finally, the Battle of the Catholics ended disappointingly. Final score: Congregation of the Holy Cross 20, Jesuits 16.

Normal-ish schedule this week. Tomorrow I will finally get around to profiling Akil Mitchell. Wednesday I'll have another coaching candidate lined up. Somewhere in between, I'll squeeze in another ACC roundtable. Gotta keep a sense of normalcy even though the season is solidly on the line on Halloween.

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.

Blogpoll ballot, Week 8

Here. Comments below. Grunt.

1 Alabama
2 Texas
3 Florida
4 Iowa
5 Boise State
6 Cincinnati 1
7 Southern Cal 1
8 Georgia Tech 1
9 TCU 1
10 LSU 1
11 Oregon 1
12 Penn State 1
13 Virginia Tech 1
14 Houston 1
15 Oklahoma State 2
16 Pittsburgh 2
17 Ohio State 2
18 Notre Dame 3
19 Miami (Florida) 11
20 Arizona
21 South Carolina 1
22 Wisconsin 1
23 West Virginia
24 Central Michigan
25 Mississippi
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Brigham Young (#16), Michigan (#20), Texas Tech (#24), Auburn (#25).

There was only one game this week featuring two ranked teams against each other, and the loser of that one lost so thoroughly that they fell out of the poll entirely. (That would be BYU, and it's not just because they lost - they also have that Florida State blemish and not much in the way of inspiring wins besides Oklahoma. Which isn't ranked at the moment.)

There wasn't much carnage atop my ballot from last week - Miami lost, and so did BYU, but that was about it. The bottom third or so took a beating. I am pleased to have been talked into removing Nebraska - and disappointed that their replacement also turned out to suck. Michigan and Auburn gacked too. And yes, they were playing top-15 teams, but you're supposed to be competitive, and anyway, third loss. So for the bottom of the poll, from #18 on down again, once again I applied my science (see last week's poll for description) to the contenders and came out with this. I really didn't think West Virginia or Mississippi would have the chops to make it, but those left out are:

- BYU (see above)
- South Florida (like Kansas and Utah, a massive fraud)
- California (marquee win is Minnesota, and played the role of dog meat to USC and Oregon)
- Navy (nothing but wins over bad teams)

So it's not like there are many other teams just clamoring to get in.

As always, you're supposed to tell me where I screwed up. I ought to let you know, though, that after the science is applied, common sense takes over and adjusts as necessary. Wasn't necessary this time. When mathematics and common sense agree, the result is a force to be reckoned with.

Friday, October 23, 2009

friday linkpile

Does it count as a pile if there's only two? How many grains of sand must you take away from a heap before it is no longer considered a heap? Anyway, have a couple quick links before the big game tomorrow.

- The ACC SJ hits the nail on the head with regards to Groh.

- Tar Heel Mania has the ACC roundtable roundup. One nice thing about a hasty roundup that not everyone had time to answer is that you get quoted more often if you do submit.

That's it for today. Friday's supposed to be my off day. I'm not even supposed to be here today, I've got hockey at two.

Oh. There is one more thing. My hard drive. It still won't hand over my data. I have one, maybe two options left and then it's game over. Sucks for me, but for you, it really doesn't mean much. I can easily reconstitute the recruiting board and depth chart, that's no biggie. I didn't have any games on there waiting to be turned into highlights except for the Maryland game, which is still on the TiVo so all is not lost, you'll get your Maryland highlights. The point is, other than a little rework, there will be no further crash-related delays on this blog. At least, none related to this particular crash.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

game preview: Georgia Tech

Date/Time: October 24, 12:00

TV: Raycom

Last matchup: UVA 24, GT 17 (Highlights!)

Last week: UVA 20, Md. 9; GT 28, VT 23

Line: Georgia Tech by 5.5

Opposing blogs: From The Rumble Seat

Injury report:

(I always forget to come back and post this once it's available. Let's see if I remember this week.)

This is the fun part. We're back at the table, and now we're playing with house money. Who really expects us to actually win this ACC thing? Nobody. Nobody thinks we're good enough. Fair enough: it's not like we've been beating good teams, really. Saturday's our first crack at that. Win, and we replace GT on the list of actual Coastal contenders. Lose, and we'll just do what we expected to do anyway, which is muddle toward a possible bowl game and probably, a new coach. A loss is not a win, but neither is it devastating. A win, on the other hand? Heady stuff.


- Obviously, it's all about stopping the triple option. We will be much better at that if the safeties can step up in run defense. Last week, the coaches showed all the confidence in the world in our cornerbacks as they left them in single coverage against Torrey Smith all game long. It worked. It needs to again. There's no doubt the coaches will again let the corners deal with the Tech wide receivers, particularly and obviously Demaryius Thomas, who is pretty much the only receiving threat on the outside. Thomas is an excellent receiver, but as long as the corners stay disciplined on play-fakes, there won't be any big plays and the safeties will be free to step way up and shut down the running lanes.

- The 3-4 is a little bit like the rock to Paul Johnson's scissors; it's a better scheme for defending this offense than a traditional 4-3. But it requires very smart, very disciplined linebacker play, particularly on the outside. Defending the option means taking care of your assignment and not running around like a fool.

- GT's defense is better the further away from the line of scrimmage you get. The less they're involved in the play, the better, so a simple, bread-and-butter offense with heavy doses of the screen pass and the shotgun handoff is the best game plan. Not so much the shotgun draw, however.


- No amount of discipline from the back eight will prevent the Tech offense from grinding out the yardage if the defensive line can't hold the line of scrimmage. If we lose the battle in the trenches the way we did last week, Tech will do what they do best, which is to triple-option their way down the field six yards at a time. That's a devastating, morale-sucking way to lose.

- Pass-block the way we usually do. GT's defensive line has caused their defense as a whole to be pretty porous, but if we let that be a strength instead of a weakness, all bets are off. Pressure on Sewell will cause him to make silly decisions into the teeth of a very good secondary, and it's not going to end the same way it did on Burd's catch against Maryland.

- Bad tackling. This would be bad against anyone but especially problematic against Georgia Tech, whose corps of running backs has no problem running right over you if you. Corey Mosley still likes to hit without wrapping up, which might be part of the reason why he's not a starter anymore - if that's how we want to tackle this week, we lose.


Decorum requires I point out that Heather calls for the UVA win yet again. She deserves her props: she's called every game in our streak so far. Myself? No prediction here as far as a win or a loss. This game is strength on strength (their offense vs. our defense) and weakness on weakness (our offense vs. their defense.) That's tough to call. GT is the better team on paper, except as far as defense is concerned, and you know what they say about defense and championships and whatnot. What with that, and the ugly weather forecast, another low-scoring game is in the cards, and that favors us. That means the game will come down to another couple key plays, and who's to say that can't be us making them again?


Florida State at North Carolina, going on right now

Maryland at Duke, 1:30
Boston College at Notre Dame, 3:30
Clemson at Miami, 3:30
Wake Forest at Navy, 3:30

ACC roundtable #6

I guess that's what we're on. Anyway, Tar Heel Mania hosts this week. A little hastily organized, but THM jumped in with questions that I just know they were saving in their back pocket for just such an emergency. Also, don't forget to scroll down for the Q&A session with the Georgia Tech folks. Here goes.

1. What player whom you were not even thinking about in August has made the most positive impact on your team? Conversely, what supposedly key player(s) has fizzled for reasons other than injury?

It's not like nobody was thinking about Jameel Sewell. Nobody ever ignores the quarterbacks. But in August, it was sort of hard to see how he was going to get on the field when he was coming off a missed season and the offense looked like it was ready to be handed over to the similar, but more athletic Vic Hall. But part of the reason for the improved offense over the past few games has been the stability at quarterback as the job essentially fell to Sewell.

For the flip side of the question, I could probably nominate the whole offensive line at one point or another, as their pass blocking has been, in general, atrocious. I'm going to pick on Landon Bradley, though. He's clearly still learning the ins and outs of his position and has been getting absolutely abused by opposing defensive ends. Bradley will be in a depth chart dogfight next year and frankly, it wouldn't surprise me to see Oday Aboushi steal the left tackle job this year.

2. UNC’s performances, and in particular the two losses, have felt like the ghost of Carl Torbush is roaming the sidelines. What part of your team’s past, positive or negative, has this season drudged up?

Let's see, how about last year, and the year before that? Even outsiders can see that Groh appears to be embarking on his now-annual job saving rampage through the ACC. Plenty of drama left in this one, though.

3. Because this is the ACC, no team is truly out of the conference race yet; 5-3 can still win the division. Find your inner optimist, no matter how bruised, and tell us why you’re still holding out hope for your team. (This is NOT the best-case scenario question; rather, what your team has shown to indicate success in the immediate future.)

First off, 5-3 probably is only going to be good enough to win the Atlantic. Actually, given the abysmal record Atlantic teams have against Coastal teams, 4-4 might well do the trick. Anyway, the answer is defense. The offense continues to scrape by on a game-by-game basis, but the first-team defense has now gone three full games without allowing a single touchdown. The only touchdown in that span was a meaningless one scored by Indiana against the second-string. That's beastly defense and it's been a treat to watch. As long as we have a fired-up defense like that and it stays healthy, there isn't a single team on the schedule we don't have a good chance against.

4. What remaining conference game not involving your team do you look forward to most and why?

I tried to think of one and couldn't. It's still just way too early to decide which games are gonna be the biggies. Part of the major problem is that the three teams generally considered contenders in the Coastal - GT, VT, Miami - have all finished playing each other already, and managed to end up with the hideous one-loss-each round-robin that calls for obscure tiebreakers.

5. Now for what Block-C would call the “shits and giggles” question.Offense in the ACC is…well, offensive. To solve this problem we’re putting four ACC offensive coordinators into Thunderdome, where only one man will emerge to smear a football field with his tactics again. Bryan Stinespring and John Shoop are shoo-ins. Nominate at least one more offensive coordinator (preferably, yours) and tell us why he deserves a 75% chance of doom.

Despite the apparent failure of the fancy new spread, I'm not tossing Gregg Brandon into the Thunderdome. I don't think the problem is the offense or the coach, I think it's just another exhibit in the growing case that in general, you can't shock the system with a radical new spread offense and expect it to be immediately successful. Georgia Tech is the exception, but Auburn was a particularly high-profile example last year, and Michigan was too.

No, I'll toss Jimbo Fisher inside instead. Here's the thing: It's pretty widely known that Bobby Bowden is at least half figurehead in Tallahassee. He delegates. A lot. Florida State is his team in name only for the most part. His assistants are generally believed to do most of the actual coaching. So why do people think getting rid of him is going to solve anything? It seems to me that the team is mostly Fisher's, and that the debacle currently going on in Tallahassee is also mostly Fisher's. Not that I don't enjoy watching Florida State flounder, but Fisher is the "offensive coordinator" most in need of replacement in the ACC.

Q&A with From The Rumble Seat

It's Georgia Tech week, which means it's time for another Q&A session with Winfield, Bird, and Dane at From The Rumble Seat. This is the second year for this (last year they went by the moniker TheLegacyX4), which in the realm of the blogowebs makes it the equivalent of a hallowed tradition by now. FTRS has my answers to their questions about Virginia, and here's what they told me about Georgia Tech when I asked.

1. We beat you last year in Atlanta. What makes you think things'll be different this time around?

Tech fans generally feel that the team is playing much better on offense at this point in the season versus last year's squad. We've got more running backs contributing and we actually have some semblance of a passing game. Also, Josh Nesbitt has made huge strides in his decision making (e.g. his TD:INT ratio increasing from 2:5 to 4:3).

2. And on the flip side, what, if anything, scares you about the current version of UVA?

You guys are currently on your 8-game "Save Al Groh's Job" streak, which is a similar phenomenon to the "7-win Gailey Constant." We are concerned that Al Groh will pull out all stops to beat Tech this weekend in order to ensure his career at UVA extends for at least one more topsy-turvy season. We're expecting Hail Mary's, hook and laterals, double reverses, and flea flickers. No Tech fans are writing this game off at all.

Also, let's look at rushing yardage from your top rushers against Tech over the years. Peerman in 2008 and 2007 had 256 rushing yards at around 4.8 yards per carry. Lundy, Pearman, and Snelling from 2003-2005 averaged a combined 122 yards per game and rushed in excess of 4.5 yards per carry. We lost all of those years. We won when we totally shut down the UVA rushing attack in 2006 and 2002. Our offensive performance didn't appear to be a factor while the one constant was stopping UVA's running game = GT Victory.

Since our defense can't really shut anyone down, this is a major concern for Tech fans. GT doesn't have a solid anything defense besides a defensive end that has to double teamed and a safety that is good at picking off errant passes. The rest is sub par for ACC football.

3. What do Georgia Tech fans attribute the team's inability to win in Charlottesville over the past two decades to? Working off bad karma from the big win in 1990? Bad luck? Tough stadium? Chan Gailey? Or just one of those things, no sense in worrying because the law of averages will catch up to it?

Let's go year by year. 1992 - Bill Lewis was a terrible head coach. 1995 - O'Leary was in a transition year taking over for Lewis. 1997 - Evenly matched teams, home team won. 1999 - Terrible Ted Roof defense couldn't protect a 17 point lead (sounds familiar, eh Wommack?). 2001 - Freak hook and lateral works 1 time out of 100. 2003 - Matt Schaub > Reggie Ball. 2005 - Chan Gailey was a terrible coach in November. He didn't adjust his offense mid-season and lack of depth due to poor recruiting always hurt us. 2007 - Walk on punt returner muffed a punt to give UVA easy score, freshman defensive end playing wingback on FG team had a false start negate game winning kick. Can I just attribute this to poor decision making from the coaching staff?

Honestly, we should have won in 1999, 2001, and 2007 but freak stuff happens. That's why we love college football.

4. That was a pretty big win last week for GT. Prime time against a top-ranked opponent, gives you a clear path and clear rooting interest (Miami must die) to get you to Tampa this year. So...biggest win of the decade? Biggest since the national championship season?

It's up there. It's really hard to say, because Paul Johnson is completely authoring a new era for Georgia Tech. He has one of the highest winning percentages of any Georgia Tech coach so far (.750), ended the 20+ winless years against FSU (including getting our first win at Doak Campbell stadium), defended Dodd's legacy by beating the mutts at Sanford for the first time in seven years, and this latest accomplishment - the first home win against a Top 5 team since 1962 is just another notch in his Pootie Tang belt. The one sure thing about last week's win is that it will be remembered as the moment where Georgia Tech turned the corner in terms of restoring it's former glory.

5. Does watching Rudy piss you off?

Dane has never seen it and hates Notre Dame. He's a terrible Catholic.

Rudy's story doesn't piss us off. The futility that was Georgia Tech football in the 70's pisses us off. The constant scheduling of GT by Notre Dame during our years of futility pisses us off. The running up of the score on Georgia Tech by Notre Dame over those years really pisses us off. The game in the film was really a story within a story as it was the rivalry between Pepper Rodgers and Dan Devine that really threw gas on the Notre Dame-GT fire.

Rodgers coached at Kansas and Devine coached at Missouri before landing their "bigger" jobs. Hence, the constant blow outs by Notre Dame of GT in that era. GT fans in their 50's on down can't stand Notre Dame because of the series. So in short, watching Rudy doesn't really piss us off. The end of the movie pisses us off** but we're glad that era is behind us and that Notre Dame is terrible. Seriously terrible. We beat them 33-3 at home with Chan Gailey.

**Editor's note: This part is basically what I was getting at. I have some GT-alum friends who absolutely cannot let the topic of that movie come up without pointing out that Rudy was offsides.

6. What's with the white jerseys at home? You're not supposed to do that. I'd hate that about LSU if the alternative weren't purple, but GT always looked sharp in gold. And speaking of which, what do Tech fans think of that big uniform change you made last year? Is the mustard yellow supposed to be closer to an older, more traditional color combination than the gold you used to have?

Wearing white at home was a Yellow Jacket tradition during the Dodd Era. After losing some ground over the past couple of years, it was reestablished under the new coaching regime. Not sure who exactly made the call to bring it back. It is definitely an on-the-field example of the regime bringing back some of our storied football traditions.

Our first gold tops were in the sixties. Here's a pic.** We dropped our gold hats and started wearing white hats. The problem mostly revolved around trying to create a metallic gold that matched our helmets and jerseys. We still haven't really perfected it but this year's shade of gold is a helluva lot better than last year's attempt at a mustard.

The old fogies are never happy. If you mention the words "navy" and "uniform" in the same sentence, you better be packing heat 'cause a couple of six shooters and blunderbusses are about to open fire. Black...out of the question (ala Bill Lewis era uniforms).

**Editor's note: The picture is the perfect accompaniment to the answer, because it clearly shows in the affirmative what I was wondering - the "mustard gold" is in fact a lot closer to being historically accurate than the true gold they wore before.

7. Pick one:

- Georgia Tech sweeps through the ACC with relative ease and doesn't lose another conference game, including the ACCCG against whatever Atlantic Division patsy tiebreaks its way to Tampa. You also win the Orange Bowl against a major-league opponent, like ohhh say Florida. You're ranked something like #7 at the end of the season and are major favorites again next year to set up an ACC dynasty. But you lose to Georgia.

- Georgia Tech drops this one to UVA and also loses on the road to an upstart, fired-up Duke team, sending the Jackets to the C****s S****s Bowl against a Big Ten team, which you also lose. People start to wonder if Paul Johnson can do something other than occasionally pull a big ACC win out of his hat (last year against FSU, this year against VT) and then proceed to gack it up in bowl games that aren't rewards for an ACC championship. But his supporters point out he's now 2-0 against Georgia....

Gotta beat Georgie. Winning that game is more important than anything else for the fans of GT. If the athletic department wants dollars, football has to beat Georgie. If the athletic department wants to win recruiting wars with the only other I-A school instate, they've gotta win that game in November.

We've been playing in the ACC for 31 years. We've been playing Georgie for 113 years. The instate title must be won. Secondly, GT has never won a conference/national title without beating Georgie in the same season. A lot of GT fans were incredibly upset about the 2006 ACC Title game because Georgie had beaten us and could've had a victory over the possible ACC Champ. I think in a lot of subconscious ways, GT fans were relieved when we didn't represent the ACC in the '07 BCS bowls because it would've tainted our ACC Championship.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the replacements: Derek Dooley

The old hard drive still needs to unhand my data, but for blog purposes the computer is functional again, so we press forth. Al Groh is still on the hot seat, so speaking of pressing forth, we're continuing this series. How do I define "still on the hot seat" in any given week? Suppose we lose this weekend's game; it is a given that the Groh-bashers will open their flaps for the rest of the weekend. If it's possible to respond to "groh sux" on Sunday following a loss with "dude, look at all we've accomplished this season, it's been a great year" and not have that sound completely silly, then Groh is off the hot seat. That is not yet the case.

This week we have the alumnus option.

Derek Dooley

Main qualification: Has UVA degree

Coaching resume:

1996: Georgia (GA)
1997-1999: SMU (WR)
2000-2004: LSU (TE/recruiting '00-'02; RB/ST '03-'04)
2005-2006: Miami Dolphins (TE)
2007-present: Louisiana Tech (HC)

I would probably never have bothered with this but for Dooley's alumni status, to be blunt about it. Dooley is all of 41 years old and has, as resumes go, a short coaching career. He has never been a coordinator, which is usually considered a prerequisite for a head coaching gig. And, though so far he's had in general more success at Louisiana Tech than Louisiana Tech usually enjoys, he hasn't exploded the Bulldogs onto the scene the way, say, Cincinnati or Houston has.

That's not to say Dooley hasn't opened some eyes among a lot of people. Dooley's followed in his famous father's footsteps (dad is legendary Georgia coach Vince), dual-hatting as both football coach and athletic director at La. Tech. He managed to impress the Tech president enough in one season as football coach that he was asked in the spring of 2008 to head up the whole department. Lot of people around Ruston, Louisiana love them some Derek Dooley. Terry Bradshaw loves him some Derek Dooley. Dooley is a made man at Louisiana Tech if he wants to be.

Dooley also beat out some impressive names - names now very familiar to football fans - when he was hired there. Among the interviewed candidates were Jimbo Fisher and Kevin Sumlin, both assistants at the time at big-time programs. Fisher, as you know, landed a slightly higher-profile gig not too much later as the coach-in-waiting at Florida State, and Sumlin has landed the Houston Cougars in the top 25 and even more prestigiously, is a likely future subject of this very series. He's a certified branch of the Nick Saban coaching tree, an association which by itself guarantees he'll be a subject of interest in coaching rumors from now until he leaves Ruston, and which probably helped get him that job at Tech despite having no coordinator experience. His experience is on the offensive side of the ball, primarily as a tight ends coach, though Louisiana Tech's mini-renaissance under Dooley has come without any noticeable uptick in offensive production. It's their defense that's improved.

One thing Dooley can point to is coaching the Bulldogs to their first bowl win in program history since 1977. And they weren't even I-A back then - the Independence Bowl invited Southland Conference members in its first years. They returned to the Independence Bowl last year - the only I-A bowl they've ever gone to except for one Humanitarian Bowl visit in 2001 - and won it. However, they will have to scratch and claw and pull off an upset or two in order to go back to a bowl game this year - the kind of sustained success that Boise State has had in the WAC takes a while.

Dooley's UVA ties are to the George Welsh era, naturally. He played wide receiver for Welsh in the late '80s; wasn't exactly a superstar. Might have been overshadowed a bit by the man who would become his brother-in-law: Patrick Jeffers.

So: verdict? How would Dooley fare? Quite possibly very well. He's impressed a lot of people at Louisiana Tech, he worked under one of the best coaches in the game for seven years, and he can call up one of the legends of college coaching and say, "hey Dad." As an alum, he would almost certainly listen if UVA called, despite having put down a few roots in Louisiana by taking up the AD job. And he'd have to listen to his wife too, who is also an alum. Hiring Dooley would be a major, major risk, though. His coaching career is short and in the cold, hard results department, he's got a nice resume bullet or two but can't even tie the shoelace of most of the rest of the (my) candidate list. In the end, we don't really know what we'd be getting. Maybe we'd have a guy who'd be a UVA lifer, coach 20 years, and get his bust next to George Welsh in the stadium. Maybe he's just that good a coach and nobody knows it yet because he's at frickin' Louisiana Tech. As a Saban acolyte, that's not outside the realm of possibility. Or maybe we get a guy who took the leap into the deep end of the football pool before he was ready.

Monday, October 19, 2009

computer update

Tuesday update: I have my computer back with a fresh new, non-broken, bigger, hard drive. Instead of posting, this evening I'm working on the question exchange with From The Rumble Seat and recovering the data off the old hard drive. This is....let's say "possible." I'm not yet ready to call it "likely," but with time and luck the hard drive will cooperate and I can rescue my files. Cross your fingers and wish me luck.


Go back and read the last post if this is new to you. The whole post is pretty good if I do say so myself, so hey, might as well read the whole thing, but the part that's relevant to this is the bottom part in italics. Where I detail my wonderful computer issues.

If you have read that, then here's a ray of sunshine through the clouds: I have coaxed the ol' laptop into working condition and put it on the Internet. Well, not me, my computer savvy ran out and the tech support folks did it, and I spent 45 minutes on the phone with the helpful friendly folks who do this stuff for a living. The things I do for you guys.

Anyway, regular posting will resume. There may be something of a dropoff in awesomeness as this laptop is about five years old. There will definitely be a distinct lack of highlight videos. The recruiting board isn't going to get any updates til I get my regular compy back and neither will the depth chart. Said compy, by the way, is currently sitting at the technician's shop awaiting a new hard drive and for all the data (I hope) to be cloned from the old, broken hard drive onto the new one. That damn thing. If I'm lucky I get it back tomorrow. If not....well, I'll likely get it back pretty soon no matter what, but the luck will be whether or not I get my stuff too.

the view from the driver's seat

Jameel Sewell dropped back to pass, and like so many times before, his pocket collapsed almost instantaneously and another split-second decision was unwillingly forced out of him. Like the unwanted, skull-masked guest at the masquerade, the blood-red-clad defenders were crashing the party again. Sewell made his choice. As his doom closed in, he let the ball fly; an ill-advised throw. On a graceful arc it soared toward failure; two more blood-red saboteurs locked their greedy eyes onto the ball and leaped expectantly for the prize.

When the ball finally came to rest, it was gripped tightly and safely in friendly hands. Call it Providence, call it luck, or call it the same slippery, ungrippable ball that both teams had struggled with all day. By any name, Kris Burd held in his hands the salvation of the season. There was more work to be done, but the fickle rain gods were done smiling on Maryland. A few short minutes later, the Maryland lead was cut in half; a few short minutes after that, it was gone for good.

A football game in the rain and muddy swamps is not won by proving your superiority time and again, nor with crisp, perfect execution. That's for sunny weather. You try to gut it out each and every play, you try to make something happen, and you take what you're given and do something with that. Kris Burd took what he was given. Nate Collins took what he was given. You try not to be the ones doing the giving - at this, Maryland did not succeed.

So here we are atop the conference. How weird is that. There's only one team in the ACC that has yet to lose to any other ACC team this season, and it's not Virginia Poly, not Georgia Tech, not Miami, and definitely not Florida State, as weird as all that sounds. And yet, to the outside world, we've proven nothing. We've won our first two ACC games and they were both on the road - that's huge. As far as the outside world goes, they care little for that. The ghost of William & Mary still haunts this team. As it should. Because this is a team that can't rest on its laurels. What have we to rest on? We've proven we're not totally crappy by beating three crappy teams. "Not crappy" isn't going to get it done next week. We're sitting in the driver's seat, but there's an intersection in the windshield. One of the signs says "2007" and the other says "2008." I know which road I want to go down, but we're not gonna find out til Saturday.


Part of the reason it's so much fun to beat Maryland is because Maryland insists on being so fun to beat. Early in the game I thought "man, it's hard to stand out for douchery at such a douchey school, but Alex Wujciak is succeeding." This was because of his "we'd never wear stuff like that" quote from the previous week, and then the "look at me, I'm a fierce tribal warrior, RAHHR" eyeblack he had on during the game. Schmo.

I changed my mind, though. Wujciak, despite his proclamations of dominance (you'd think they won the game the way he speaks) is just one douche rocket in a sea of douche rockets. The attitude is pervasive throughout the locker room.

Torrey Smith: “I feel like we’re better than Rutgers, I feel like we’re better than Middle Tennessee, I definitely feel that we’re better than UVa.” (Yes, he said this after losing to all those teams. Some of them twice.)

Wujciak again: "We just shut them down. They got one lucky pass where the guy is half out of bounds, they called him inbounds. I don’t even know what to say about that." (You were halfway across the field, dude. How would you know?)

Chris Turner: "Any other day if it wasn’t a torrential downpour and the balls were dry it would have been another outcome. But shoulda-woulda-coulda, you can’t make excuses, that’s just the way it was." (I think that qualifies as an excuse. Guy sounds like Charlie Weis: "I'm not complaining but...." And I didn't realize the sun was shining whenever Sewell threw the ball.)

With all that crying about how much better they think they are, that sure sounds like a reflection on the coach. But he wouldn't be dumb enough to say stuff like that in public, would he?

Yes he would: "I don’t think these teams that are winning are better than us, but we just keep shooting ourselves in the foot."

Douche. Bags. This is why it's so much fun to beat these guys. They provide enough humor to let the glow of victory last all week. It's not about getting credit or respect for the win; I don't need it, it's etched in the scorebook for all time. It's the laughs. Schadenfreude is twice as freude-y when it's Maryland. Here's a prediction: Duke is going to beat this team next week. Book it. Come back to this page next Sunday and see if I'm right. Why? Maryland doesn't think they need to get any better. They think they're good enough. Five times now, it's been just the rotten breaks that keep going against them. They don't need to get any better, they just need the world to stop turning against them. Duke is a hungry team with a new attitude. They gave Virginia Poly hell and they crushed NC State. They know they need to keep getting better, and they are. Maryland thinks they're good enough already. Hell, they're better than we are, if you listen to their players. An ironic attitude coming from a school whose fans hate us because they think we think we're better than them.

That said....

- We didn't exactly win the battle in the trenches. Especially not on offense. And we didn't get much pressure on Turner, except for certain key moments. If we'd done what I said to do, which is make liberal use of the blitz, given what happened when we did get to Turner I think we'd have had a lot more success on defense and turned the game in our favor earlier.

- Nate Collins is a hoss. The ACC thinks so too.

- To clear it up: Yes, Groh absolutely should have gone for the score. Did you see what happened the last time we had first and goal on the 1? No cutesying around with kneeling the ball. Punch it in, take the points, put 'em down two scores. Maryland had a timeout left and would likely have gotten the ball back with a chance for a miracle. Never turn down the points when all they need to do is score once and they're on top again. Right play call, right time.

- Not only was Burd not out of bounds, but the officials could legitimately have called pass interference on Maryland. Check the tape; the defender that didn't leap into the air knocked Burd out of the way. If that was single and not double coverage, the refs would call that every time.

- Argh one shotgun draw too many.

- Speaking of what happened when we had first and goal at the 1, I'll tell you what happened: Landon Bradley singlehandedly murdered that opportunity. First with the false start and then repeatedly getting blown into the backfield. Next year's training camp is going to see a fierce competition between Bradley and Oday Aboushi for that job, and that's just if Morgan Moses doesn't show up and stick his nose into the fray.

- We didn't really miss Mikell Simpson. No way Simpson could have been effective on that field. What we missed was Cedric Peerman. Having graduated him, Rashawn Jackson would be the guy we needed; why he wasn't given the ball more often and allowed to just bull his way ahead all the time is a mystery. It was pretty damn effective in the fourth. Also, Peerman would not have whiffed that block that resulted in a Sewell fumble, but that only partly matters: Bradley should not have been doubling down on Pasztor's guy, not with two guys lined up outside him that clearly weren't in pass coverage. That might have been how the play was supposed to be blocked, and you have to tip your hat to Maryland's defensive coordinator for really mixing up his blitzes especially well. But Bradley was ineffective all day.

- This might just be the best defense we've ever had in the Groh era. Seriously. It's weird because we don't have Clint Sintim or Darryl Blackstock, those pass-rushing OLB's that do a lot of great things in this 3-4 defense. The linebacking corps is not getting much attention, outside of Steve Greer who's playing very well. But this defense is beastly when it counts. The 3-4 means not much attention goes to the D-line, but I think they deserve the lion's share of the credit. The secondary is playing exceptionally well, that is a fact. And the aforementioned Greer has been a nice addition. But the defensive line is making plays and winning battles, and the 3-4 defense cannot be successful without that. Matt Conrath has been having a terrific season. Let's hope he's not hurt too badly. But if he has to miss time, then the defense will simply adopt Groh's next-man-up mentality, and Zane Parr is that man. Parr has also played well and can fill the hole left by Conrath.

Aaaand I'm done babbling. This week: BIG GAME. Are we legit? We'll find out. Also, see the note below for some programming info.

Editor's note: This is the column I'd planned for Sunday. Unfortunately, in the middle of putting together the highlights from the Maryland game, my computer decided it didn't want to do this anymore. It is down so hard. It does not do things any more. It's not even that old a computer. In computer years, it's right in the middle of its angsty teenage phase, which now that I think of it, I suppose would explain things. Anyway, that means a severe disruption in posting. I'm doing this from work, in bits and pieces because actual work keeps getting in the way. Today I'm going in to get the data on the hard drive recovered and hopefully, get the hard drive fixed too so that it boots up again. If that doesn't work.....well, I don't know what to tell you; a new hard drive will be in order, I don't doubt. As long as my computer is out of commission, going forward the only thing I can guarantee you is a Q&A session with the FTRS boys and that beyond that, there won't be anything other than my thoughts barfed onto the page whenever I get the chance here at work. Actual research until the situation is fixed, like the weekend review post that normally happens today and won't: highly unlikely. Je suis désolé.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Blogpoll ballot, Week 7

Ballot below. Suggestions, as always, welcome and encouraged - but do read not only the ballot but my feeble explanations.

2Texas 2
4Iowa 6
5Boise State 2
6Southern Cal 1
7Cincinnati 1
8Miami (Florida) 1
9Georgia Tech 2
10TCU 4
11LSU 1
12Oregon 1
13Penn State 2
14Virginia Tech 12
15Houston 5
16Brigham Young 2
17Oklahoma State
18Pittsburgh 6
19Ohio State 13
21Notre Dame
22South Carolina 1
23Nebraska 7
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Oklahoma (#19), South Florida (#21), Kansas (#22), Utah (#25).

OK, I know what you're thinking. At least, I know what you're thinking if you really did peruse the ballot with a critical eye. You're wondering why the bottom of the ballot is weird. Why did I drop a team that won (Utah) and add in a few teams that lost, some ugly? (Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Auburn.)

The answer is because this: The first 17 teams are not so hard to rack and stack in my head. After that, it's a big ugly soup of uninspiring wins over crappy teams and losses that shouldn't happen. So I went back to using my patented, copyrighted, trademarked method which everyone should use. I took all the teams in the soup (there are 14), ranked each team's games from 1 to 6 (or 7) and then ranked all of each team's best games against each other, second-best games against each other, etc. So for example, Ohio State's best win is 31-13 over Wisconsin, and South Florida's best win is 17-7 over Florida State; respectively, those are the best and worst "best wins." South Florida gets a 14, Ohio State gets a 1, everyone else gets something in between. Lather, rinse, repeat for the other five. (Teams with seven games, their fourth-best gets cut.) Add together all the rankings and each team gets a sum; lowest sum, highest ranking. Very scientific.

And it confirmed some things I sort of thought already. Kansas is a fraud. I told you that last week. Out of the 14 teams I ranked, they came out 14th. Utah is also a confirmed fraud and probably shouldn't even have been in last week's rankings. It put Ohio State near the top, which I sort of thought might happen. So they get to stay ranked, albeit with a major crash, and I don't have to justify dropping them out entirely.

The only problem is it turns out some surprises. You kind of have to adjust a little for common sense. Notre Dame came out ahead of both Ohio State and Michigan, which ain't happening because Michigan beat them. So they get a bump. I wanted to common-sense Auburn right out of the rankings, but that's impossible because common sense does not allow for any of UConn, USF, Ole Miss, BC, Utah, or Kansas to be ranked either. Yes, Auburn just clunked one to a crappy Kentucky team and yes, Boston College just housed NC State, but we Blogpollers are not distracted by shiny things like the media is. Objective comparison of the resumes means Auburn is still better than Boston College. Besides, if I were a shiny-things voter, I'd put THE ONLY CONFERENCE-UNDEFEATED TEAM IN THE ACC in my ballot.

Some other bullet points:

- Oklahoma has lost by a grand total of five points to three of these ranked teams and two top ten ones. However, you only get so many chances. 3-3 is not a rankable record. Wins matter. It's why Boise State is above USC now, and why Cincy is above Miami and such. By this time in the season, being undefeated carries some hefty weight, and losing too much, no matter to whom, is highly frowned upon.

- It's also why Iowa took a bigger jump than you might expect given their fairly pedestrian win over a fairly pedestrian team on Saturday. That, and Michigan's mildly surprising return to the rankings.

- Likewise, USC drops mainly because Ohio State drops.....but not too far because Notre Dame is now back. However, the 6-12 section is the squishiest of the ballot and probably the most vulnerable to change brought on by a convincing argument.

- Texas/Florida gave me some pause. Of all the wins the two teams have, Florida's over LSU is the best. However, Texas has the two next best (Texas Tech, Oklahoma.) And I compared games where the teams have struggled (Colorado, Arkansas) and Texas ended up grabbing the Ralphie by the horns, so to speak, while Florida needed a missed field goal to help them beat the Razorbacks. So.

- I kind of wish someone else would defeat Houston. They have a very nice win (Oklahoma State) and another one that's not too shabby at all (Texas Tech) but of all the one-loss teams in the whole country, and that includes surprises like Idaho, their one loss might be the absolute worst (UTEP.) UTEP is just horrible and I wish they hadn't beaten Houston because then I'd have Houston up there with the Boise States of the world and carry no qualms about doing it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

game preview: Maryland

Date/Time: October 17, 4:00


Last matchup: UVA 31, Maryland 0. Highlights here! Also, 2007 highlights.

Last week: UVA 47, IU 7; WF 42, Md. 32

Line: UVA by 3.5

Opposing blogs: Testudo Times of the ACC Roundtable, Turtle Waxing

Injury report:

(coming soon)

There's never a good time to lose to Maryland. There are bad times to lose, and worse times. This would be one of the worst. If indeed we harbor any postseason hopes, this is not the kind of game we can afford to lose. And it's Maryland. The turtle must die a long and excruciating death. Just look at that damn thing: it's flashing you.


- Maryland has exactly one weapon on offense: Torrey Smith. We have a secondary of doom. If the secondary of doom shuts down Smith, good things will happen. Smith is but 6'1" - decent but not great size for a receiver - and our corners are 6'2". When the corners are as big as the receivers they're covering, that's advantage: defense. Unlike last week where it wasn't worth it to give up yards at the line of scrimmage against the opposing receivers, playing a little bit soft works to our advantage this time by allowing our corners to better use their size on the deep balls that Maryland probably will look for. If we limit Smith's effectiveness - he doesn't even have to be shut completely down, just limited - Maryland doesn't have the playmakers to make up for what we took away from Smith.

- The weak point of the Maryland offense is their inexperienced line that can neither pass-block nor run-block especially well. I'm all for generous use of the blitz here. Take their weakness and exploit it to no end - there's no reason to fear what Chris Turner might do on the run. He can move around a little in the pocket, but he can't break a big one and his decision-making outside the pocket is spotty at best and disastrous at worst. Dial up various confusing blitz packages just as we did against UNC and apply liberally.

- Pound the ball. By and large, you can run on Maryland. They've shown flashes of respectability, but amidst long stretches of incompetence. I would like to have Mikell Simpson back, but our O-line has the decided edge against their D-line in the run game and it won't matter if we have to lean on Rashawn Jackson and Torrey Mack instead. I'm not sold on any aspect of Maryland's defense, actually, but they're usually weaker against the run than the pass, and we're usually better at running the ball than passing it, so the matchup is obvious.


- Turnovers, again. Being turnover-free has been a major, major reason why we're all of a sudden on a winning streak. On paper, this is a mismatch in our favor; the way you equalize mismatches is through turnovers. Don't do that.

- Fail to take advantage of opportunities. Another equalizer of mismatches. Upsets happen when the favored team turns the ball over and kicks field goals when they should be scoring touchdowns. And there will be opportunities: bad teams always give them to you. It might be a key turnover deep in their own territory. Might be a play we run intending to pick up 5 yards and we pick up 50. A killer instinct is huge on the road. Maryland is lousy, but if we let them hang around, they're good enough to take advantage of their own crowd; ask Clemson, who forced two turnovers (one on downs, one fumble) late in the fourth quarter, started those drives deep in Maryland territory, and came away completely empty-handed with two missed field goals. That's the blueprint for losing at Maryland.

- Give in to the ghosts of our past. This is what makes me nervous. Way more nervous than anything Torrey Smith can do to me. First, it's a road game. We all know our road game history. No need to go down that path. But these are rare circumstances for UVA. A situtation we don't often see: coming off a big, big win and going into a game against a team we're clearly better than. Not that it hasn't happened, but it's rare, and furthermore, we've responded poorly when it has. What do I mean? 2007: we came off a thrilling 18-17 win over these same Terrapins and went to Raleigh to visit 2-5 NC State. And lost. 2005: after a huge win over Florida State, we hocked up a 7-5 clunker of a loss to 2-3 UNC in Chapel Hill. How about 2002 when we were 6-2 thanks to that comeback from down three touchdowns against UNC, and laid an egg against 4-3 Georgia Tech in Atlanta the next game?

Way back in 2000, after our first season, a good friend of mine who I also went to high school with commented that we were the Detroit Lions of the ACC. This was before the Millen years, mind you: the Lions were a playoff team more or less every other year, and in the '90s, had a habit of winning big games, like against the Cowboys on Monday Night, and following up with a pathetic loss to teams like the Cardinals. How prescient that turned out to be. Through this decade we've made a living on winning games we weren't supposed to, and then, just when we were getting the respect that comes with that kind of success, we flub an easy one. I see every sign of that, right here and now. We've erased much of the bad press that goes with losing to W&M. We have a chance to jump into the ACC driver's seat. All we have to do is get past one of the worst teams in the conference. We need to do what good teams do, and that's treat bad teams like bad teams. We did that last week. Our past says, here's where we drop the ball. We can't let the ghosts into Byrd Stadium on Saturday.


Well, Heather says we win, but she foresees a close one. And despite the dire storm warnings of the above paragraph, I think we win too, and I don't think it'll be a close one. I'm really tempting the football gods here. I acknowledge this. But it shakes down like this: Their offense is bad. Our offense is bad. Their defense is bad. Our defense is studly. We rank near the top of the country in every meaningful defensive category. Maryland ranks near the bottom; in fact, second-worst only to Florida State (!) in the conference in just about every measurable. They have one really good receiver, one marginal one, a couple of marginal running backs, a terrible offensive line, and a terrible quarterback. There's no reason Maryland should score as many as the 17 points Heather offers up; in fact, there's no way they should be able to notch two scores of any kind, barring egregious mistakes by our own offense and special teams. On paper, we own this matchup. But the intangibles? Our history? Not on our side. If we lose, it means we came out flat. This team is not flat, or it shouldn't be - how do you get jacked up like crazy to beat Indiana and not the Twerps? This is Virginia. You can't. And they won't. I will play with fire here, and expect another big win out of our boys on Saturday.


Wake Forest at Clemson, 12:00
NC State at Boston College, 3:30
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, 6:00
Miami at Central Florida, 7:30