Monday, November 30, 2009

requiem for an era: The Games That Mattered

You didn't think it'd be just a one-part series, did you? Today we'll look back at ten of the games that defined the Al Groh era. Five of the best and five of the worst. These are what I consider Al's greatest triumphs and failures.

We start with the bad: the five worst games of the decade. These are the ones that caused Al the most problems and UVA fans the most heartache.

#5: November 29, 2008
Virginia Tech 17, Virginia 14

Sadly, there's plenty of these to choose from, so you pretty much have to pick one. This is the one that got away. VT fans are still counting their blessings that Vic Hall graduates this year and that Poly managed to escape with that one; Hall befuddled the Hokie defense to the tune of almost 7 yards a carry out of the wildcat and scored two touchdowns. Tech went ahead by a field goal, but Hall peeled off a 39-yard dash sprint late in the fourth. Unfortunately, after it appeared the Poly D had figured out the wildcat, Marc Verica came in to throw a pass on third down, and chucked it unnecessarily into the end zone where, like many of his passes that season, it landed in enemy hands, effectively ending the game. If I could have one do-over play in all of Groh's tenure, that'd be it.

Where I was: At home in Michigan for Thanksgiving, watching this game on national TV.

#4: October 14, 2006
Maryland 28, Virginia 26

Nothing is sweeter than beating Virginia Tech, but nothing is worse than losing to Maryland. If that makes any sense. So when you have a 20-0 lead at halftime, and even a 20-7 lead at the end of 3, that's pretty good, right? Unfortunately, the Twerps knocked out two quick touchdowns, and then, for the coup de grace, returned a Jameel Sewell interception to the house to put the game out of reach. A late Kevin Ogletree touchdown wasn't enough to tie the game as the two-point try failed, and the biggest opponent comeback of the Al Groh era was complete.

Where I was: Newly arrived in Washington (the state) for about a year and a half and following on Gamecast because this one wasn't on TV out there.

#3: October 22, 2005
North Carolina 7, Virginia 5

Nothing illustrates the frustrating home-and-away dichotomy that's characterized UVA athletics like this two week stretch in October 2005. As a sneak preview, the previous game, a 26-21 win over then-powerful Florida State, is on the next list; this game followed it, and it was pure grade ugly. Ranked #23 after the upset, we rolled into Chapel Hill and played a game unfit for a team that has ambitions of being ranked in the top 80. The offense managed just three points and 199 yards, and the result was our prompt removal from the rankings, not to appear again for two years.

Where I was: Travelling, actually. I had a three-week stay in Rhode Island for a school and I had to go back home on that day. I learned about the score on the ticker in a damn rest stop. That is not how you want to learn about this stuff.

#2: October 16, 2004
Florida State 36, Virginia 3

The high-water mark. Actually, that was the week prior, when Virginia appeared at #6 in the rankings. We were an up-and-coming power and confidence boiled high among the fans: a large group of them showed up at our opening game at Temple with their chests painted S-C-R-I-M-M-A-G-E. The game in Tallahassee was #6 at #7 and totally failed to live up to the billing as Groh's team managed to roll up all of 20 yards on the ground. The defense failed equally spectacularly, and the team has never been ranked that high since. The regular season ended with a fairly respectable 8-3 record, but was followed up by a disappointing OT loss in the Whatever Bowl in Boise.

Where I was: Throwing things at the TV inside my Norfolk apartment.

#1: September 5, 2009
William & Mary 26, Virginia 14


Where I was: Sailing. I was invited to crew a long-distance race that weekend and figured I could pretty easily afford to miss this game. I was right in all the wrong ways. The race didn't go any better, either.

Well, that was certainly a fun trip down memory lane, yes? I didn't even have room for that pitiful loss to Wyoming. It's probably not good when the honorable mention is that damn ugly and the one that caused Beta Bridge to get painted to boot. Better times are coming, though. Here are some better ones.

#6: December 28, 2002
Virginia 48, West Virginia 22

You didn't think I'd actually put wins on the same plane as losses by having the same number of them, did you? Bonus win here. This win snapped a four-game losing streak in bowls. The team and fans felt slighted after finishing second place in the conference and being relegated to the fifth-selecting bowl in the pecking order, and took it out on the favored Mountaineers. More than 73,000 fans showed up to watch the game - the largest non-BCS crowd that season and would carry that title over for a few seasons more, too. Wali Lundy, then a freshman and a member of Groh's first real recruiting class, racked up four touchdowns. The game would catapult Virginia back into the national consciousness and made the fanbase confident that this still-new coach would live up to the promise he brought.

Where I was: Gathered at home with a couple high school friends who were also attending UVA and all home for Christmas.

#5: November 10, 2001
Virginia 39, Georgia Tech 38

There weren't any national implications to this game, at least not as far as we were concerned. A five-game losing streak had seen to that. This game is on here purely for the entertainment value. Georgia Tech came into the game ranked and it certainly looked like another loss was on tap. It was a pretty pedestrian sleeper of a game after three quarters, with Tech holding a 20-14 lead.

Then came the fireworks. The teams combined for a whopping seven touchdowns in the final quarter, all but the first (a Billy McMullen reception) followed by a failed two-point conversion. The offenses took turns parading downfield and gobbling up yardage in huge chunks. One Tech touchdown was answered with a 100-yard kick return. The teams combined for a total of 813 yards passing on 101 attempts throughout the game, and Bryson Spinner matched Tech's George Godsey throw for throw. The final UVA offensive play was a well-remembered hook-and-ladder from McMullen to Alvin Pearman, a weak desperation shove that Pearman caught at his shoelaces and took untouched to the house for the winning touchdown with less than 30 seconds to go, capping the frenzied final quarter. For pure excitement, there isn't a better game on this list.

Where I was: After the clock ran out, on the field.

#4: October 9, 2005
Virginia 26, Florida State 21

We carried a two-game losing streak into this game against the #4 team in the country that dropped us from the rankings. Marques Hagans made damn sure it stopped there. Hagans was the undisputed star of the game, passing for over 300 yards on 27-of-36, and perhaps more importantly, frustrating and tiring out the Seminole pass rush by scrambling around and making play after play. He orchestrated two scores with less than two minutes to go before halftime, turning a narrow 13-10 margin into something quite a bit more commanding. Withstanding a brief Seminole rally in the fourth quarter caused me to bounce drunkenly through the streets of Boston, yelling "UVA!" at anyone I thought cared, which was everyone.

Where I was: As mentioned, Boston, for the second week in a row, getting totally destroyed on what I later calculated was about 17 Sam Adams Lights. It's a mystery to me how I remember this game, but I do. I spent the previous week standing in Boston College's stadium in the pouring rain, watching us lose, so I consider this one my reward. A friend of mine had insisted we go to some bar or other that was the gathering place for Notre Dame alums as they watched another loss to USC; I agreed on the condition that we'd stay and watch UVA after that one was over.

#3: November 10, 2007
Virginia 48, Miami 0

Oops. It was Miami's party and they cried if they wanted to. The Hurricanes' last game in the Orange Bowl didn't go as planned. ESPN was on hand to record the moment, the Rock was a scheduled guest in the booth (he is a former Hurricane defensive tackle, for the unfamiliar) and a whole host of Hurricane luminaries were on hand for the festivities. We had already set some kind of record for games won by less than a field goal's margin and Virginia football had never, in its history, won a game in Florida. Lots of history to be made here, and we made it by handing Miami its worst ever shutout loss in that stadium. The defense dominated, the offense did whatever the hell it wanted, and the special teams even blocked a punt. To this day I have no idea how this happened, but damn if it wasn't fun to watch.

Where I was: Entrenched in my recliner in Washington, with my jaw on the floor for a solid two hours.

#2: November 23, 2002
Virginia 48, Maryland 13

Before this game, Ralph Friedgen claimed he expected to beat teams like Duke and Virginia. Groh finished 5-4 against him, so he doesn't say silly things like that anymore, at least not in public, but this at least shut him up for a year, and cost him the Orange Bowl besides. If the ensuing bowl game was what put UVA in the national consciousness for a while, this game put Matt Schaub in the UVA consciousness. He set a UVA record for pass yardage in a season, let only four passes out of 27 fall incomplete, and threw for three touchdowns in a brilliant upset of the #18 team in the country.

Where I was: At Cornell University on a ROTC trip. So I missed this game. Damn it. We heard the result on the radio and everyone else in that gym must have wondered what all that whooping and hollering was about.

#1: November 29, 2003
Virginia 35, Virginia Tech 21

I am letting personal bias get in the way of my so-called journalism here, but since this isn't actually journalism, screw it. Groh's sole win over Poly deserves a spot somewhere, and it was a fitting way to spend my last football game as a student. There was a very palpable feeling that this game was ours to win even before it started, and the game played out that way. It was just our day. Tech came in not playing well, and we took advantage. I can still see the solo Hokie, about four rows in front of me, gamely jingling the keys to his '88 Dodge Ram as we picked up yet another important third down for what seemed like the fourth time in a row - it's my own personal metaphor for futility. For one glorious day, at least. I don't know what possesses a Hokie to come to the game by himself and sit by himself in the student section, but this isn't Blacksburg so he left without any beer stains on his shirt and his wallet still in his pocket.

Where I was: Closing out my game-watching career at UVA the only place you should ever close out a senior year: on the 50-yard line when the clock ran out. Thanks for the memories, Al.

So there you have it. I was even more depressed than usual by the fact that I didn't even have room for all the really crappy losses during the Groh era, but I cheered up after I expanded the wins list and still didn't have room for the 18-17 thriller win over Maryland or the 37-27 comeback win over UNC, or a couple other fringe considerations either. Al Groh certainly brought us our fair share of losses we could really have done without, but the better memories outnumber and overshadow them.

Tomorrow: the players that helped make it happen.


Just a little bit of housekeeping - the recruiting board needs an update, so here it is. Life goes on even without a coach.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

requiem for an era: Let It Go In Peace

Now it's official. We can debate until we win a national title over what sealed it, but the Al Groh era came to its official end just under nine years after its beginning, less than 24 hours after the final game of the 2000 decade. Just as the '80s and '90s belonged to George Welsh and the '00s belonged to Groh, the '10s will belong to a new head coach. Or let's hope. Because if the decade has to be split any time too soon, we're in trouble.

There is no event in sports quite like the firing of a head football coach at a major Division I-A school. A coach in the pros is just a coach. A college coach is a coach, general manager, surrogate father, and public representative of an entire university. It's a rare event (and the rarer the better) and has the potential to permanently change the fortunes of the program for better or for worse, and every realm of possibility in between.

Besides that, for me, it's a little bit personal. My first year as a Virginia fan was 2000 - the last year of the Welsh era, and by that time, it was already more or less understood that Welsh was in his last year. Groh is, for all intents and purposes, the only UVA coach I've ever known. He's been around long enough that some of our most junior fans weren't even alive when Groh was hired. With all that said, this is the first in a week-ish long series looking back at the decade. Today I just get on my soapbox. In the coming days, we'll look at the games and players that made the 2000s what they were.

The voices in my head had a lively, sometimes angry debate around the FOV boardroom table about what kind of tone this post would take. That lasted weeks. Sometimes, I wanted to launch a full-bore, R-rated, profanity-laced assault on those who say things like this:

Too bad we'll never see them again as long as the Charlottesville Charlatan wears the whistle. Dump this a-hole already and get someone in there who can stop the bleeding or at least knows how to coach someone else to tie a f-ing tourniquet!
Because I hate that shit.

Another option on the table was just to ignore that there was any controversy at all, and write what would no doubt have been a very moving tribute to a man who wears his oversized UVA heart on his sleeve. Let the haters hate, I'll just be over here waving my flag.

Whatever the ideas that sprang to mind, they still had one common theme: In Defense of Al Groh. Because, you see, I consider myself an Al Groh fan. Maybe even an apologist, even though I crossed the line this year and put myself in the camp that was ready for the ax to fall. How can I not? How can I not want to shake his hand and thank him wholeheartedly for his efforts? Here's a guy who left behind a job that 100% of football coaches in the country would do anything for. Including Al. Head Coach in the National Football League. Only 32 men can say that. (31, when Al was coaching the Jets.) The Fortune 500 has 500 CEOs. There are 100 U.S. Senators. Hell, 400,000 people show up every year at the Indy 500 and only 33 drivers get to race in it. But only 32 people at any one time can claim to be an NFL head coach. Al gave it up to coach at the University of Virginia: his dream job. And then he spent every single day of the next nine years proving he damn sure meant it when he said at his hiring, "The University of Virginia is my school."

Well dammit, the University of Virginia is my school too. And anyone who's as good a man as Al Groh appears to be on all counts (I've never met him, but I've never heard anything bad about him from those that have) and has that kind of loyalty to my school, that's a guy I'll stick up for when I can. So let's run down some of the personality knocks on Groh. Arrogant. Curmudgeonly. Not personable, engaging, or particularly friendly with those on the "outside." Jerk to the media. This is the stuff that gets repeated. Occasionally, someone might even say something true when they're harping on this theme. It still gets old real fast. Look: the man hasn't changed. In 2003 when he was winning, he was still the same guy as he is now - the supposedly arrogant, curmudgeonly, prickly jerk that he is now, if you listen to the critics. Makes you wonder why nobody said anything then. No, wait, I know: it's because he was winning games back then. Now that he's losing, he's all that stuff and more.

Here's a better idea. Man up and say you want him gone because we're losing too much. Is that so hard? Sometimes, yes. It requires you to admit that the reason you want him gone is all about you. If we're losing games, you have to go back to work and listen to that stupid Hokie bastard in the office run his fat mouth off. Your autumns - especially your Saturdays - aren't as much fun. This would be selfish, so you decide that you want Groh gone because he's arrogant, because he's selfish himself, because he's narcissistic, nepotistic, and prickly. Not a good representative of the school, and after all, we're all about the school here, right?

The simple fact is, Groh is a fan just like the rest of us, and a man just like the rest of us (figuratively speaking, ladies) and the difference between him and us is he committed the cardinal sin of losing too many games. And for that he is, apparently, a charlatan and an asshole. I just don't get it.

So the Groh era is over with, and no, this isn't a plea for UVA fans to come together in some kind of bipartisan show of unity now that we don't have Al Groh to disagree over any more. Frankly, I'd be more interested in bagging up every fan who ever used the phrase "good riddance" or called Groh an asshole for the crime of losing football games, and chucking them over the same cliff they've been trying to punt Groh over for the past three years. "Good riddance"? The guy wears his UVA heart on his sleeve, leaves a Holy Grail job for Charlottesville, works and coaches his ass off every day of the year, involves himself in numerous charities, makes a thousand small gestures that mean everything to somebody, and inspires his players to pour their heart and soul out on the field for him, and "GOOD RIDDANCE" is what he gets for his troubles? And on top of that, the insult to injury of calling for him to return his salary and buyout? I would keep Groh and go 0-12 next year if it somehow made some of the greedier, selfish, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately fans open their eyes to the side of Al Groh that doesn't involve his wins-and-losses record.

Failing that, what I'd realistically like to see is an end to all that. It wasn't right before, but there was at least the thin veneer of wanting-what's-best-for-the-program to hide behind - even if the losses were simply an excuse to make stuff up. Now there's no point. Yes, it's still happening, the criticism and the name-calling and the good-riddance-ing, and yes, it's pissing the rest of us off and that's all it's accomplishing. So help me, if I see another good-riddance style post on any UVA message board the rest of the year, I'm gonna go off on someone. You got what you wanted - Groh is fired. You also got a 3-9 season to go with it, which has been just all sorts of fun, but hey, you got what you wanted.

I know as well as anyone it's time for the Groh era to end, because I'm just as guilty as the average fan of the sin of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. A winning record, five bowl games, and two ACC COY awards just aren't enough, you know? It's that time. I'm not happy about it. But I will remind everyone to be careful what they wish for. Al Groh was King of Charlottesville in 2003, but 99.5% of coaching hires end badly. All you can really hope for is for that bad end to come much later rather than sooner. At the time he was fired, Groh was tied for the third-longest tenure among ACC coaches - if the next hire lasts that long, it will be a success. Like this one has been.

Blogpoll ballot Week 13

Not a lot of heavy-duty thinking went into this one, I'm afraid, due to Thanksgiving travel and other Matters To Attend To that we'll get to not only very soon but also for most of the rest of the week. The point is that this might require a little more attention from the masses than usual.

1Alabama 1
2Texas 1
4TCU 1
5Cincinnati 1
6Boise State 1
7Oregon 1
8Ohio State 1
9Georgia Tech 5
10Iowa 1
11Penn State 1
12Virginia Tech 3
14Miami (Florida) 2
15Pittsburgh 5
16Southern Cal 3
17Oregon State 3
18Wisconsin 3
19Nebraska 3
20Oklahoma State 6
21LSU 3
22Brigham Young
23California 2
25Clemson 8
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: North Carolina (#18), Mississippi (#23).

Just a couple notes:

- Alabama replaces Texas at the top due to the appearance of Auburn on their resume and (yes even though Alabama needed a fourth-quarter drive to finish it off) the not-exactly-convincing win by Texas over A&M.

- Fine. I will rank BYU this week. Some of these four-loss chumps that couldn't finish off a rivalry game left me no choice. Utah can get bent, though.

- Wow - no one-loss teams at all this year, except for the future loser of the SECCG. Unless Cincy takes a dump against Pitt next week, or Texas fails to handle whatever B12 North putz stumbled into that championship game. (I guess that's Nebraska.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

game preview: Virginia Poly

Date/Time: November 28, 3:30 PM


Last matchup: VT 17, UVA 14

Last week: Clemson 34, UVA 21; VT 38, NCSt 10

History against the Hokies: 37-48-5

Line: VT by 16

Opposing blogs: Gobbler Country, College Game Balls, and don't forget to scroll down and check out the Q&A with GC.

I am shamed somewhat. As might have been kind of obvious, I've sort of been mailing in these previews. Football has been depressing me to the point where I start these previews and all I can think is, "we're going to lose anyway." I mean, I've been right, but as the Clemson game proved - or more specifically, the Simpson-at-wildcat formations and the trick plays proved - the coaches and players haven't given up at all. Say what you will about Al Groh, but when he says he's going about the business of coaching and not paying attention to the rumors, it's not just coachspeak. He means it, and it rubs off on the players. So if the game previews of late have been weak sauce, that changes this time around.

It helps, of course, that this week's opponent is who they are. It's hate time, people. I may have told this story before, but it's worth a retell. This is a true story. It's how you know I was probably destined to be a Hoo before I even knew it. This was back when I was looking at colleges - not even deciding who to apply to, but who to even look at and think about applying to. UVA was on the list. So was Georgia Tech. I thought to myself, Virginia, Georgia Tech....Virginia Tech might also make sense, right? Five seconds later I had forever disabused myself of that silly notion. I wanted to go to school in a college town, not a college trailer park. And besides that, I'd have to spend the rest of my life wearing colors that would make Helen Keller vomit, let alone the rest of us that actually have to look at that abomination, and cheering for a turkey. So that was out, and I never even bothered a second look.


- Empty the bag of tricks. I fully expect this to happen, actually. This is it for Al Groh. He's not showing it, but surely he knows it. There's nothing to save up for any more. Last year he brought out Vic Hall in the wildcat and Poly had no idea what to do with it. Last week it was Mikell Simpson, plus the pass to Torchia off the reverse. I was a little annoyed that it wasn't being saved for this week, but you have to believe Groh has more stuff ready to go. Remember, he used to pull this stuff out pretty regularly. Flea-flickers, hook-and-ladders, all that stuff. It's coming back on Saturday, and we'll need everything in there to get this done.

- Stuff Ryan Williams. There's a near-perfect correlation between holding him under 101 yards and Tech losing the game. Duke is the only exception. Williams is the key; Tyrod Taylor scares nobody.

- Want it more. We don't have the talent to match up, and can't win without this.

- Defensive touchdowns. Even if they bring the bag of tricks, the offense needs the help.


- Williams doesn't even need to break off big plays to beat us. He can do it four and five yards at a time. If we let him do that, over and over, we're not going to win.

- Turn the ball over. I think we can win if we do all the right things, even if VT doesn't turn the ball over a whole mess of times. But if we turn the ball over? We can't overcome that.

- Overreliance on boilerplate, vanilla pass plays. I don't mind if we hand the ball off a lot. Helps the defense, and Rashawn Jackson can carry the load, we know this. But we also all know how lousy the passing game has been. The pass should be sparingly and creatively employed. We can't win a shootout.


I don't know, and I hope that's a good thing. Obviously, the conventional wisdom is that we haven't got a chance, and so the more unpredictable the game is, the better. And I think it will be unpredictable. I think last week, with the new wrinkles, was just a sneak preview. Groh is cagey, and the Hall tactic last year was ever so close to working. There'll be more this year. Win or lose, I definitely think it'll be closer than the line says, and I'd bet on us to at least cover.


It's rivalry week in a big way.

North Carolina @ NC State, 12:00
Wake Forest @ Duke, 12:00
Clemson @ South Carolina, 12:00
Miami @ South Florida, 3:30
Boston College @ Maryland, 3:30
Florida State @ Florida, 3:30
Georgia Tech vs. Georgia, 8:00

That will likely be it for posting this week. I have an afternoon flight tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Don't forget to messily slaughter, stuff, cook, carve, and eat a turkey. Do it for the good of humanity.

combination roundtable and Q&A

I told you we'd be trying to cram as much bloggering into a tiny space as possible. Today that involves writing the ACC roundtable from work. Also, we've invited Chokie blogger Gobbler Country inside for a little Q&A session. Don't worry, he's housetrained and even wiped his feet. My answers to his questions will be linked as soon as he posts them. Which is right now. So, first: roundtable, which by the way is hosted this week by YANCSTSB, then: Q&A. Go.

1) The ACC scheduling gods really did their best this year to ensure a true "rivalry" week to conclude the season. Here in North Carolina, the two large state schools (N.C. State and Carolina) and the two smaller private schools (Duke and Wake) face off against one another. Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech all face off against in-state foes. Even the Boston College/Maryland game has a twinge of regional flavor to it, pitting the two northern-most schools of the ACC against one another. On paper, is this the best rivalry week lineup in recent memory?

I dunno, I mean, I sorta feel like it's this way every year. Problem is, there is absolutely nothing at stake outside of bragging rights. The ACCCG is already decided, and the teams in it aren't even playing ACC games this week. The coaches that are getting fired are pretty much already fired. Nobody's going BCSing except for the ACCCG winner. Hell, nobody's bowl eligibility is even at stake. By now, you're in or you're out. If these weren't rivalry games, all the down-and-out teams would be beyond caring and all the bowl teams would be just hoping to get through without an injury.

2) Clemson and Georgia Tech will face one another in the ACC title game. Do you think both teams facing out-of-conference rivals the week prior will help or hurt either team's performance in the big game, depending on the outcomes of these rivalry games?

Well, whoever wins will be pumped right up, but they both should win. I think the only real effect on the ACCCG will be potential injuries.

3) It's the tail end of the season and you know what that means: Coaching Carousel Time! I'm a firm believer in giving a coach five years to prove his worth before even considering a least I *was*, until I saw how quickly Paul Johnson and Brian Kelly turned their respective programs into top-10 squads. With an ever-increasing desire from fanbases to WIN NOW, is five years still "industry standard," or can coaches legitimately be expected to show marked improvement in four years or less before finding a pink slip in their inbox? How bad would a situation have to be to fairly jettison a head coach before year five?

I think it's perfectly fair to shorten that to three or four years. By year four, you've got all your guys in place and there's absolutely no excuses about learning a new system. You should be hitting your stride. Industry standard should be four, and if after three years the program is still foundering and there appears to be no reason to expect any improvement in the next season, then dropping the axe is also fair.

4) Certainly the four-letter network likes to pimp the big rivalries--Ohio State Vs. Michigan, Texas Vs. Oklahoma, etc.--but I think the ACC has quite a few solid rivalries that never get the coverage they deserve. Where do you think your school's rivalry rates in terms of passion, prestige and what's at stake each season? What steps--beyond the obvious "win more"--could be taken to improve the visibility of your team's rivalry matchup every year?

Not very high. The combination of basically almost never having both teams be good at the same time and not having anything tangible to play for (i.e., Michigan/Ohio State lore is founded on the Rose Bowl as the every-year prize) combined to make the Virginia instate rivalry not too important in national eyes. And yes, "win more" would be a huge plus. But I think the right step has already been taken, and in 2007, it came to fruition, with the winner earning the ACCCG berth and the game on national TV. With the two teams in the same division, there's a good chance each year that the outcome of the game will have some kind of effect on the division title. That'll slowly but surely increase visibility.

5) Few rivalries in the South have as much tradition, passion and generated as much heated discussion as a good ol' fashioned barbecue debate. Here in North Carolina it's Eastern versus Lexington style, and a good many shouting matches have arisen between folks east of I-95 and those godless heathens that put ketchup and brown sugar in their "dip." No doubt similar verbal wars have been waged on behalf of your favorite barbecue, as well, so the question is this: In an all-out, Armageddon-type scenario where the righteous are separated from the unholy on the basis of what type of barbecue they bring to the judgment table, what style of barbecue are you bringing and who--among the purveyors of this style of 'cue in your state--will you select to be your Champion?

Alright, look, man. I might have gone to school in the South but I was born and raised in the North. And besides that, Virginia isn't really the barbecuing epicenter of the world anyway. You want barbecue debates, go to Alabama or something. It's not that we don't like barbecue, but damn if we don't find it a bit silly that you care that damn much. We don't really expect you to know the right way to order a coney dog or care which of the two rival establishments you get it from (and if you don't know what the hell I'm talking about or who these establishments are then you get the point), and we don't want to be pulled into a knock-down, drag-out fight over who has too much vinegar in their sauce.


And that concludes the ACC Roundtable portion of our program. Next is the Gobbler Country Q&A. VT is blessed with some of the highest-quality blogs in the entire footballin' world and GC takes a proud place in that lineup. F4H gives as good as he takes. If only more of the fanbase could read. Anyway, my questions, his answers:

1. Is this the year Bud Foster takes a head-coaching job somewhere?

I think it is and if it doesn't happen this year it will definitely be next year. I think he's realized that if he wants to be a head coach he can't just sit around and wait for a BCS job, that he's going to have to go cut his teeth somewhere else. He expressed interest in the Memphis job after Tommy West was fired. While I don't think he'll go to Memphis, just his interest in the job signals a shift in his philosophy that I think will lead us down to him ultimately taking a job in CUSA or the MAC if a BCS team doesn't come calling.

2. Speaking of coordinators, criticism of Bryan Stinespring has been way down from last year's record highs. This isn't surprising considering VT leads all ACC non-weird-offense teams in rushing. Has Stinespring been redeemed in the eyes of the VT faithful, or are they just biding their time until Ryan Williams isn't around to save his ass?

There's a certain percentage of Virginia Tech fans that will never be happy with Stinespring unless we're racking up 500 yards per game. I don't think he's completely redeemed and like you said, once he's back to not having a special talent like Ryan Williams around the criticism will go back to being a roar instead of its current level: The muffled ramblings of the drunken proletariat who have no knowledge of football.

3. You know you won't have Al Groh to kick around any more after this year. Deep down, is there anyone you're hoping UVA doesn't hire? Is there anyone you hope they do? (Other than Stinespring?)

Yeah, I can't think of one I hope they don't hire: Bud Foster. I don't know how receptive most Wahoos are to the idea of Foster as their head coach (Editor's note: Not very), but that's my biggest fear. As for who you should hire: Jim Grobe. He can't beat us, either.

4. Ryan Williams on Saturday: 35 carries, or 40?

Hopefully we'll be up 28 by the time he gets to 25 carries and Josh Oglesby can grind out the last 20 or so.

5. If you promise to take Cody Grimm off the field, I'll let you remove one player from our defense. Who'll it be?

Ras-I Dowling. That would set Jarrett Boykin free to make plays down field and keep you guys from focusing all your attention to the running game.

6. If I get invited to a backyard jacuzzi/raccoon-hunting party to be held in the bed of an '88 Dodge Ram that hasn't left its cinderblocks in six years and hasn't been detached from the trailer in eight, is it considered a faux pas to bring a highfalutin' fancypants beer like Sam Adams?

Dawdge is fer pussies [/spits into empty RC Cola bottle]. Get yerself a Ford. And as fer that Sammell Adams... pssh. We only drink Coors in cans with camo on 'em. Or the orange and maroon Bud Light cans. And we would never hunt Steve the Raccoon an' his kin. (Editor's note: But they do eat fried turkey legs at the stadium.) Besides, don't you know oh-possum is lower in co-lest-o-rawl? I thought you were one a them educated sumbitches from that lah-dee-dah university up in Shaw-lets-vull. In other words, yes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

the non-football weekend

It's Thanksgiving week! And that means it's time to carve a turkey if you catch my drift. But first, the other sports are starting to get exciting too. Today we'll just be talking about soccer and basketball. After that, I'm going to try and cram a whole week's worth of blogging into about two and a half days, since my flight out is on Wednesday afternoon. A couple things will be sacrificed, but don't worry: not if it has to do with that hayseed, Icehouse-swilling school (a term I use generously) down the road.

Soccer first. Weirdly, the NCAA set us up a guaranteed rematch in the second (third, actually) round of the tournament should we get past Bucknell. Which we did, by the way, in spectacular fashion. Will Bates, after a slow first month and a half of the season, has officially gone apeshit, and his latest contribution to the scoresheet is a hat trick to sink Bucknell on Sunday. Now, about that rematch: our opponent for next Sunday is Portland, which was last seen allowing us to score three goals in the opening game of the season. Their defense has been like that all season - it's very mediocre, ranking 30th of 48 tournament teams at basically a goal allowed per game, good for 50th in the country. Bucknell, incidentally, ranked 49th. Portland scores a bit more than we do, though.

It might be easy to take Portland for granted given that we rolled them to start the season and that that's not exactly a major-league school in a major-league conference - except you'd be wrong about that last point when it comes to soccer. Portland went just 4-4-4 in West Coast Conference action, but that's a conference that sent four of its seven soccer-playing teams to the tournament. (Ironically, it was the bottom four in the conference's preseason coaches' poll.) They have a couple other skins on their wall, too: a regular season win over tournament team St. Louis, and of course the two wins it took them to get here, including the one over NC State. Should we beat them? Yes, handily. They're still dangerous, though.

Time to switch gears and sing the praises of Tony Bennett. Let's get this part out of the way: We beat a MAAC team and a Summit League team, yes. But:

- Rider was coming off a season-opening upset of Mississippi State, and Oral Roberts had just knocked off Stanford. Are either one the cream of their conference? No, not by a long shot, but then, neither are we, you know. And Mississippi State was ranked in the preseason poll, and still might make the tournament.

- We kicked the crap out of both of them. And we did it playing Tony Bennett defense. That's what good teams do: play their system correctly and beat the snot out of sub-major conference teams. Not that we're a good team yet, but four games into the season I'm more than willing to accept a convincing imitation of one.

So that's the kind of weekend that will do something for me that football has failed to do for many long weeks now: make me look forward to the next game like a kid who asked Santa for a new bike. I spent yesterday and today wishing I was watching us take on Stanford right now. Dammit, that's how these things should be. I don't think I've had that feeling about the football team all year.

Now, this ain't the Stanford you remember. This isn't the Stanford team that went to the NCAAs every year but one between 1995 and 2008 and only twice had a seed lower than four (including four one-seeds and five two-seeds.) This is the Stanford that went to the CBI last year and then graduated four seniors. This version of Stanford has had its frontcourt depth destroyed by injury and academic problems. They get all their scoring from their guards, and remember what I told you about teams that don't get any scoring from their big men? About how our chances are better the smaller the opponent's lineup? And Rider proved it.

Somebody will have to work very hard to contain the Cardinal's Landry Fields. This guy torches people. And if we're not careful, we'll get destroyed by Stanford's three-point shooting. They have a few guys who can launch 'em, and Tony Bennett's pack-line is a little bit vulnerable to getting beat from deep if the defenders aren't really on point as far as being in the right place at the right time. Oral Roberts was proving that for the first few minutes, and Stanford is better at it than they are. They kind of specialize in it, because they're not going to get hardly any production at all from down low.

Still, Mike Scott should have a monster game, and if they have Fields, we have Landesberg. This is a very, very winnable contest. If we want to play in any kind of a postseason tournament, this is a terrific opportunity to prove we're more than just a team that beats up on sub-majors and mid-majors. We're 3-1, which is a nice start (and the way things are going in South Florida, we might get that other one back eventually as far as the record books are concerned) and well on our way, I think, to doing what we need to do in order to get into the postseason in some flavor.

the problem with having advertising on a blog on which you write about your hated rival

Click for big.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blogpoll ballot Week 12

Check it.

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

Dropped Out: Stanford (#18), Boston College (#23), Arizona (#24).

Attention fellow voters: If you continue to insist on ranking BYU, especially over Houston, please slap yourself in the face immediately. Consider: Texas Tech (which lost to Houston) just bitchslapped Oklahoma. BYU's marquee win until this week was a one-point luckfest over OU. Oh, and Houston also beat Oklahoma State. Yes, Houston has a couple goofy losses. And BYU got housed at home by Florida State, which just became bowl-eligible by squeeeeeeking past Maryland. At home.

I didn't really intend to lump all those ACC teams in a row, but that's the way the science came out.

LSU losing to Mississippi caused me to take an actual hard look at their schedule, which is surprisingly fraudulent. They took quite a fall given they lost by just two to a halfway decent team, but they really don't have anything to hang their hat on. They're right where they belong, IMO.

new video finally up

My second season in the fourth circle of football hell is mercifully approaching its unwatchable end. By this time next week, it'll all be ended and I'll more than likely be trying to forget there even is such a thing as football.** To that end I've finished up the Maryland highlights, now available on the videos page. Just to get it done before football finishes its long agonizing swirl down the drain. It would have been up a month ago, actually, but this is what I was doing when my old hard drive put a shotgun in its mouth, so, yeah: late.

**Technically the Lions are still playing and will be doing so for another month and a half, but that team sucks so fucking bad it's basically like they're not even really participating in the league.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

game preview: Clemson

Date/Time: November 21, 3:30 PM


Last matchup: Clemson 13, UVA 3

Last week: BC 14, UVA 10; Clemson 43, NCSU 23

History against the Tigers: 8-36-1

Line: Clemson by 21

Opposing blogs: Block-C, Shakin' the Southland

Do you know what you're going to be doing in 2013? I sure as hell don't. This might sound like a repetitive theme but it is weirder than weird that we share a conference with this team and it'll be four years until we play them again. We never even played against the Jeff Jagodzinski edition of Boston College. The four year gap ensures that, barring a medical redshirt for someone at some point, nobody who takes the field in Saturday's game will do so the next time these two teams meet. It's less weird when it's an expansion opponent like BC. This is a founding member of the ACC we're talking about. Someone really needs to rejigger the rotation. I might have some proposals for this in the nearish future. Anyway, Clemson.


- I'll defer to Block-C here, and their answer to the question about how they lost to Maryland: " seemed like we just didn't prepare at all for that game....We just didn't take them seriously and it severely bit us in the ass." So there you have it. If Clemson doesn't prepare or take us seriously. Not that this isn't possible, but Clemson has something very important at stake here, so it's unlikely.


- The usual, obviously.


Well, Clemsonians like to point out that their defense is among the best in the conference, which it is, and therefore likely to stop us in our tracks every time. This is true, but my answer is, how much worse can they make our offense? We can't move the ball against anyone - Clemson ain't special. BC did about what I said they should do, which is run the ball lots and lots. Clemson will do the same and would love the chance for their Heisman candidate to rack up the stats. Montel Harris carried 38 times last week; I wouldn't be surprised if C.J. Spiller tops 40. No disaster of Miami proportions, but this has all the makings of a game where we just get the fight coldly and efficiently strangled out of us and lose something like 27-3.

Two small things:

- This game is on national TV because every game other than UNC/BC is likely to be an even bigger stompfest, and because Clemson is likely going to clinch their spot in the ACCCG. So get ready for the C.J. Spiller Show and a 50/50 chance of the announcers even acknowledging Clemson has an opponent. I put the odds at 2 to 1 in favor of hearing "Rashawn Johnson", "Steve Green", or "Ras-I Downing" when referring to our players.

- Marc Verica is out on the injury report, Hall is questionable, and Sewell probable. And Clemson has the kind of defense that makes quarterbacks have very bad days. Saturday might see the Riko Smalls debut.


Duke at Miami, 12:00
North Carolina at Boston College, 12:00
Maryland at Florida State, 12:00
NC State at Virginia Tech, 3:30

Q&A with Block-C

So as previously mentioned, a Q&A session has been conducted with Block-C, the preeminent Clemson blogeteers in the business. My answers to their questions will be linked whenever they're up over there - should be sometime later today. (That time is now. Here it is.) That is recommended reading. Meantime, here's what they told me when I pinged them mercilessly about Clemson football:

1. The Al Groh era is coming to an end in Charlottesville. What is your least favorite Clemson-vs.-Groh memory?

That would definitely have to be the Thursday night game back in 2004. We had to play in Charlottesville, in the rain, and got stomped 30-10. Are you enjoying this? (Ed. note: Yes, I am. You get to enjoy Saturday, I'm taking my turn now.)

2. Barring an ACCCG matchup, there won't be another UVA-Clemson game til 2013. Opinion on the ACC schedule that makes that possible? Also, will Dabo Swinney still be coaching?

Well, it swings both ways. We'd like to pick up a relatively easy win for the next few years, but it would make our strength of schedule go down. No knocking on you guys or trying to sound like an arrogant prick, but you guys have your work cut out for you and it'd be nice to capitalize on your growing pains.

3. UVA's president and administration (as well as the Virginia legislature) lobbied the ACC for the addition of Virginia Tech to the invite list when ACC expansion was going on. But Clemson's main OOC rival remains OOC - would Clemson fans have liked to see South Carolina re-admitted to the ACC instead of one of the three teams that did get in? Or is life better when you don't have to share a conference with those you hate?

At first it might be better to have them in lieu of Boston College, but it really is better that they are out of conference. I don't know why, but it really is just nice not to have them in the ACC. Of course, we do get the run of the mill little brother argument that the SEC is harder than the ACC, but they regularly turn around and drop embarrassing losses to us.

4. What's your take on the monstrous abomination that is purple jerseys with purple pants?

They were pretty damned cool the first time we brought them out for Game Day back in 2006, but since then they've been kinda "meh." It's like an internet meme that's being forced now. We wear all purple, we lose. They are definitely garish and have been known to cause seizures, but I'm sick and tired of "Fad-Outs." Stick with the all orange combination for special occasions and that's good enough.

5. Seriously, how in the hell did you lose to Maryland? I ask so I can rip off the answer for the "How we can win" section of my game preview.

I really don't know. I even went to that game and it seemed like we just didn't prepare at all for that game. It was obviously the team still trying to get on the same page as a unit. We just didn't take them seriously and it severely bit us in the ass. We've been waiting for another trap game and I think that was our one for the year.

6. C.J. Spiller carried 14 times for 18 yards in last year's game. Tell us why that won't happen again.

Well, partially because he was splitting time with James Davis who at the time was the number one back in our offense. That and he's grown so much since this time last year. He really has stepped it up and actually filled his shoes in terms of the caliber of player he was projected as when he first stepped foot on Clemson's campus.

7. We have a really brutal offense. I'm setting the over/under on UVA's total yardage at 190, which was last year's total. Over or under?

I gotta say under because looking at the trusty conference stats, you guys are bottom-rungers in most offensive categories and we're near the top of the heap in terms of defenses in the conference. Our defense is definitely the cornerstone of our team and this would be a great game to make a statement for the bowl committees if we don't go the BCS route.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

the replacements: Jim Grobe

Wednesday again, and that means another look at a potential next head coach. But first, a few articles about the current one. The ACC Sports Journal weighs in, as does Jay Jenkins of the CDP and Doughty in Roanoke. Two games left means it's time for the media to start writing the postmortems.

Jerry Ratcliffe outdoes them all, though. His analysis of "what went wrong for Groh" is Pulitzer stuff. Seriously. Columnists are on deadlines, and a lot of the time they just mail it in. This is not one of those pieces. It's the sort of above-and-beyond stuff that UVA fans would be well advised to arm themselves with the next time they find themselves in yet another shouting match about the head coach.

I don't agree with 100% of it. So our tough academic standards are being held against us in recruiting? I don't doubt recruits are being told, "You don't want to go to Virginia. Players there run the risk of getting kicked out even though the NCAA says they're eligible. You'll set your career back." But there's a simple response: "Son, I don't care what Coach Beamer or Coach Friedgen say. We don't think you're too stupid for UVA. Maybe they do."

Most of it, I'm entirely on board with. For example, Littlepage was wrong - dead wrong - to unilaterally dismiss Peter Lalich last year. That's the coach's call, not the AD's. As I've harped on in the past, it sends the message that the coach isn't in control, and further, as Ratcliffe points out, it put a giant monkey wrench in the staff's plans.

Anyway, go read it if you haven't already. Finally, also check out the list of Harris poll voters - there's a nice UVA presence with Dick Bestwick and Jim Dombrowski. It's also a fun list to scroll through and see a name you remember and go, "hey, that guy!" Besides the UVA names, for me those were Touchdown Tommy Vardell, the former Lions fullback, and Danny Kanell. Besides being the guy who handed off to Warrick Dunn only to watch him get stuffed at Scott Stadium's 2-yard line, Kanell resurfaced all of a damn sudden as the broadcaster for the Duke game a few weeks ago. Weird. Now, the rest of this space belongs to:

Jim Grobe

Main qualification: Unfucked Wake Forest's program. Also, is UVA alum.


1975: Virginia (GA)
1978: Emory & Henry (LB)
1979-83: Marshall (LB)
1984-94: Air Force (LB)
1995-2000: Ohio (HC)
2001-present: Wake Forest (HC)

Let's start with the good. Wake Forest, before Grobe came along, was a graveyard of a program. They wallowed in the bottom of the ACC, told all their opponents except Duke and UNC to "just wait til basketball season", and were thought of as basically automatic. Grobe didn't actually turn that perception around right away, but in the middle of this decade he delivered a surprise ACC championship to Winston-Salem. For the latter part of this decade, people have actually been taking Wake Forest seriously, which is going to be Grobe's legacy there as long as this not-so-good year is an anomaly and not a new pattern.

Grobe is solid people and a solid head coach and not the kind of guy it's easy to bash. Plus he's got that Virginia sheepskin. So it's with a bit of trepidation that I write the rest of this. Grobe is simply the wrong choice for the next head coach.

First off, the similarities between he and Groh run deep. Virginia alums, head coach at Wake Forest, 9th year on the job, basically the same name even - it's kind of eerie. In fact, if Groh had been fired two years ago and Grobe been poached at that time, the general feeling would be that we had replaced Al Groh with Al Groh's good side. But we had that inconvenient 9-win season, which makes it tough to fire a head coach. Now, in my book it's not a bad thing to be compared to Al Groh. Both he and Grobe are quality individuals. But, part of the reason Groh is on the hot seat is that the donor money is drying up and fan interest is dwindling. Littlepage specifically mentioned fan interest in his "we're firing the head coach after the season but I'm not saying that right now" press statement of a couple weeks ago. To be sure, there are still many fans who believe we'd be getting the 2006 version of Jim Grobe and not the 2004 or 2009 one, but overall this isn't a hire that would energize the fanbase much. Or the checkbooks, which is what the administration listens to.

Because here's the thing: Winning record is another area where the two coaches share similiarities. Groh is 59-51. Grobe is 56-50. The difference in total games is, of course, bowl games, which Groh has been to more of. The general argument from Grobe supporters is "look what kind of program Grobe had to work with at Wake Forest." True, they were kind of the dregs and don't have much history. But history matters only a little. What happened in 1975 or 1985 doesn't affect what happens in 2005. (Thank God.) What does matter is what happened in the year or two prior. That's where rebuilding projects are born. Let me show you a set of four season records:


The first two are Wake, 1999-00. The second two are UVA, 2008-09, assuming the last two games go as expected. Would Grobe really be walking into less of a rebuilding project than he did at Wake? The assumption of course is yes - I'm not so sure. And here's what the first five years of that rebuilding project looked like:


If Grobe is hired at UVA and his first five years look like that, there will actually be no fifth year. There may not even be a fourth year. Dave Leitao was punted two years after earning a #4 seed to the NCAAs. Groh was in hot water for going 5-7 once. The 2006 season 5-7 year was so horrendous, Beta Bridge was painted after game 1 of the following season, and the campaign that followed was perceived as a miraculous job-saver. The above is not what we're looking for.

Grobe is essentially the safe hire. Fraidy-cat, even. It's playing Marco Polo in the shallow end when you could be having fun on the diving board. At least, it's as safe as you can be when you run the risk of pissing off a fellow conference denizen by poaching their coach. The reward isn't worth the risk. Grobe will be 58 when next year rolls around, so we'd get, what, maybe seven years out of him if you really stretch it? If we want to go for an older, established coach, Tommy Tuberville is looking for a job. If we want an alum, at least have a look at Derek Dooley, whose remaining coaching usefulness is measured in decades, not years. Grobe could probably get us back to a bowl game in pretty short order, but hiring him would be an acknowledgement that the next coaching hire isn't far off, and in the meantime, a self-consignment to bowl games in Washington, DC and Mobile. I want to shoot higher than that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ACC roundtable

This time around, Block-C is hosting; you may recognize them as this week's trading partner of questions related to Saturday's game (although such recognition may be difficult as that hasn't happened yet.)

Also, bulletized thoughts on last night's USF game. Which didn't really go as planned.

Anyway, here goes.

1) Let's just say, not trying to jinx anything here, but let's just say the Tigers make the ACC Championship game versus Georgia Tech. Who wins, and why?

Jinx away, fellas, jinx away, it's a good week to do that. But in any case, it doesn't matter who GT plays, GT wins. I said they were the best team before the season, I said they were the best team during the season (except for a short lapse when Miami had me duped into thinking they could be a national powerhouse) and they'll be the best team after the season. No way I'm going back on that prediction now.

2) Has the ACC taken the form that you thought it would at the beginning of the season? If not, what didn't you see coming? Disappointments? Pleasant surprises?

Pretty much about what I figured, except that Florida State isn't as good as I thought and we were supposed to be bowl eligible. And BC's better than everyone thought. The ACC as it is now almost always provides some week-to-week surprises but on the whole it looks about like I, and probably most folks, expected.

3) If your team is not in contention for the ACCCG, what are the necessary changes your program has to make to get your team into the game next year? If there's still a shot, what do you guys need to have happen in order to find yourself in Tampa? Non-team specific writers, pick your flavor of the week and go with it.

There is absolutely no way to fix this offense so it's good enough for a division championship in just one year.

4) If you could point to one player as the brightest spot on your team, who would that person be? Extrapolate a little for us please.

The whole defense has played pretty well all season, but Nate Collins is the guy who stands out the most. I said it in a previous roundtable and I'll say it again: there isn't a better complete defensive lineman in the league. Some are pass rushers and some are run stuffers but Collins is the only one who consistently does both.

5) Swap one player on your team for a player from your hated rival. Who you got and why?

It'd be oh-so-easy and obvious to snag running back extraordinaire Ryan Williams, but when you think about it, what would be the point? He'd still have to run behind our offensive line, and that would cut his yardage in half. I'll take one of their younger offensive linemen instead. We need to fix that unit. I'll take right tackle Blake DeChristopher, who's young enough to provide us with a couple years' worth of better pass blocking than we're getting right now. They can have our backup punter. This seems cruel to Nathan Rathjen, who occupies said position on the depth chart, but consider it like a Mormon mission, where the goal is to spread not a religion, but the gift of reading.


Hey, it's basketball season! As if I haven't reminded you enough. Fear not: if things go the way they went last night, I'll be looking forward to baseball/lax season soon enough.

No, actually, despite the ugly score, I wasn't discouraged. Much. But I do have opinions:

- The score was a function of two things: 1, obviously we need Assane Sene back pronto - and I'm not even sure that would have changed the outcome because he is one guy and USF has a bunch of big dudes. Any time we face someone who can throw two big dudes out there at the same time like that, we're in deep trouble. And 2, the jump shooting. Reverted right back to last year's atrociousness. That sounds like another problem that's going to stick with us all year. This whole paragraph is Why We Won't Be Good. Unless a steadier rotation puts our players in a better mindset than last year, neither of these are anything Tony Bennett can fix.

- With the bad out of the way early, let's focus on the good - or at least, the rationalizeable. Starting with the defense. Despite the over-.500 shooting percentage from USF, it was, on the whole, excellent. Especially to begin the game. The first, oh, about twelve minutes or so were impeccable, and frustrated Augustus Gilchrist to the point where he threw an elbow that very easily could have been called flagrant. Bennett called for a lot of double teams down low - it was the only way Mustapha Farrakhan was going to ever successfully guard anyone who's 6'11", 240 and yes that matchup happened a couple times. Eventually of course that's the sort of thing that's going to turn out pretty disastrous. And the kind of effort being given for the first quarter of the game is tough to keep going for 40 minutes - but that's what they'll have to learn to do, and Bennett will be hell-bent on making sure of it.

- We got our face caved in on the boards, but that was because we missed so many damn jump shots and we didn't crash the offensive glass. The players were clearly instructed to forget about offensive rebounding and hustle downcourt to set up on D; wise, because it would have been a futile effort anyway and resulted in a zillion fast break points. Given the challenges we faced on defense and the boards, this would have been a really good game to live up to the Tony Bennett stereotype and waste the first three-quarters of the shot clock in order to reduce possessions. It was not a good game for Sammy Zeglinski to jack up the first open jump shot he had, wherever he might have been on the court - unfortunately, he did just that a couple times.

- What a ridiculously chintzy foul call on Mike Scott.

- We forced a lot of turnovers. Very nice job in the turnover department.

- Going forward, the general rule of thumb this year will be: the more an opponent's offense goes through its big men, the less our likelihood of winning. Florida State, with Solomon Alabi and Xavier Gibson, is going to kill us. VT is a very guard-oriented team and therefore is eminently beatable.

Monday, November 16, 2009

weekend review: of hoops and soccer

So, while we wait for the NCAA to get back to us with the soccer bracket, a little celebration is in order for our ACC champion soccer team. I wish they would have ever put any of these games on TV. Seems like the sort of thing that ESPNU was invented for, but what do I know? I guess more people are so starved for football they'd prefer to watch yapping talking heads debate over and over what Tony Pike's injury means for this week's epic clash with whatever random crappy Big East team is on the slate this week. Or whatever. Such is the midweek programming on ESPNU. This is basically the reason I stopped putting anything related to soccer up here. How often can you look at a boxscore and say "gee, I wish we'd score more"?

Funny thing is, that's what our opponents have been saying. All season long. The last goal we gave up was almost exactly one month ago - October 17 in the 13th minute against VT. That's about 837 minutes, give or take, of shutout soccer. The last time we gave up two goals in a game was last year. Unbelievable.

So - the bracket. It's our 29th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance - the longest active streak in the country, by the way - and (unless Tim Weiser is involved) winning the ACC tends to give you a nice seed in the tourney. In our case: 2nd. We'll get the winner of Bucknell/Princeton, and then if we win, a rematch against NC State. There are seven ACC teams in the NCAAs, four of which are seeded. It speaks to the depth of the conference - that, and the fact that the ACC final was the #5 vs. #7 seed.

Now. Hoops! I don't know about you, but I'm really digging on the notion that we're now in basketball season instead of wishing it would start. I don't know how long this happy optimism will last - it might be that that particular bubble gets burst tonight after South Florida's twin 6'10" and above towers expose our donut hole in the middle. I'm willing to enjoy it while we're still undefeated, though.

It would have been really cool not to have been outscored in the second half against Longwood, but for right now, we'll take it. You know Tony Bennett'll get rid of that defensive sloppiness. Not tonight, surely, and probably not even this year entirely, but every indication out of the JPJA is that this is a team that has bought in to what Tony's selling. Two things I think we can count on this year: we will both lose a game and win a game we're not supposed to.

The Good Ol' Blog singles out Farrakhan and Landesberg as two players whose defense stood out, and the writer goes into more depth about those two on the boards (that's "message boards" not rebounding) as well. Mu also racked up 17 points. I bet he never gets that many again all season, but it doesn't matter: Playing defense Coach's way will get him a nice concrete niche in the rotation, and we'll get our answer to the question of whether or not that'll bring about more consistent shooting. And obviously it's nice to see that the guy who'll play the most minutes this year is also the one playing quality defense.

For a little bit of South Florida preview action, in case you read this in the hour or so between now and the game: USF is a Big East team, but only in the most technical sense. It doesn't mean they're good, it means they have no say in the matter of being dog chow for UConn every year. They are also 1-0, having squeaked past SMU 67-61. SMU is a bad team in a mediocre conference - you don't beat them by six if you want to make the NCAAs. (You also don't get outscored by Longwood in the second half but that is entirely beside the point.)

However. We are, of course, without our 7-footer for another two games, which is unhealthy when your opponent starts one player who is 6'10" and another who is 6'11". We still don't have a grasp on what kind of strategy Bennett likes to employ in situations like this, but here's my best guess: We'll start four guards again, that much is likely, and attempt to run the Bulls out of the gym from the get-go. On Friday that was portrayed as a reaction to the way Longwood likes to play; tonight, we'll try and make USF react. Outside shooting is huge. If the game goes well, our guards will dominate our side of the scoresheet.

If the shooting is cold and their bigs aren't tired, and we can't defend two big men at once, we'll see a lot more biggish guys rotate in and try to rough it up a bit. We could see Will Sherrill if for no other reason than he brings five fouls to the court. Spurlock should see a bigger role regardless. Meyinsse and Scott are going to have to pretend to be centers. I'm willing to bet that the number of minutes played by "post" types (not that we have many true ones, but for now, these are Scott, Meyinsse, Sherrill, and Spurlock in a great big emergency) vs. the number of minutes played by guard types (specifically the reserves, Jones and Evans, and maybe Farrakhan too) will be a great predictor of the outcome. More guard minutes? Win. More post minutes? Ehhhhhhh maybe not so much.

One fun thing: South Florida's roster includes freshman guard Jordan Dumars, the son of Pistons great Joe.

For the rest of the week, look for the following things: ACC roundtable, Q&A with Block-C (as it's Clemson week), Jim Grobe, Clemson preview, and probably every basketball thought that pops into my head, unfiltered.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

it's hard to get angry at a bad team

Toward the end there, I was really starting to want that game. Obviously, you want the win; as a bonus, it would have knocked Boston College mathematically out of the ACCCG, which, sorry BC fans, but a third straight BC trip to that game would be awful for the conference. So there was a nice double whammy going, and damn if it didn't look like it was going to happen for a while there.

Then, of course, reality sank in, and here we are. And it didn't even suck too bad. Which, is that a bad thing in itself? If we were in contention for anything - anything at all - I'd have spent this whole day and probably most of the rest of the week brooding over the myriad single plays that could have swung the game the other way. If Randolph hadn't missed a field goal; if Vic Hall (of all people!) hadn't dropped a pair of passes on the same series; if we hadn't let BC out of a first-and-25 on their scoring drive; and most obviously, if Sewell could have picked up just six more inches. This is the stuff I'd have been brooding about all day. Instead I played a bunch of Civ and watched stock cars go round and round. I've come to the placid acceptance that the season is a wash. That combined with the beginning of basketball season and the happy glow from a surprise ACC soccer championship would seem to be therapeutic.

(The soccer would be a million times more exciting to me if they would ever televise a soccer game, ever. You'd think that's what ESPNU is for, but no, they'd rather broadcast "Inside the Big East" and replays of random shitty MAC games from the previous Tuesday. As it is the best I can do is nod happily.)

Anyway, this newfound numbness over losing is all well and good, as long as it's short-term and followed by a "change in the program's direction" in the offseason. You might remember I once opined that Al Groh's greatest contribution to the program has been to keep our expectations high. He might not always have met them, but he's done more than well enough to keep us wanting more. This is healthy. The last thing we want is to go the way of North Carolina, post-Mack Brown. Carl Torbush came in and let things slide, and people there lowered their expectations and stopped really caring, and it got to the point where six years of John Bunting seemed perfectly acceptable even as he flushed the football team down the crapper. I am hoping that expectations next August do not match those for next week.


- BC fans ought to be furious this week. Livid. Here they are trying to stay alive for an ACC championship and their coaches came thisclose to pissing it away. I don't know who was calling the defense on our final almost-scoring drive, whether it was Spaziani or DC Bill McGovern, but they need first to be slapped and after that to learn how to scout the opposition. You are up against the second-worst offense in the entire country - worse than all the shitty Eastern Michigans, Washington States, New Mexicos, Ball States, and all the rest - and you have given up three points to that offense all day, and just because there are only two short minutes left in the game, that is the time to switch to a soft prevent zone? We haven't moved the ball like that all year because teams insist on never playing zone against us. Imagine that. It turned out OK for BC in the end, but it damn near didn't, and it would have been the Bad Decision of the Year for the Eagles. Hint to all future opposing defenses: Never ever deviate from man coverage and we will not score any touchdowns.

- Let's just agree to not play any running backs this season except for Rashawn Jackson.

- Special teams at the beginning of the season were just sort of crummy in a really boring way. Randolph has been near-automatic this year, which is nice, and Howell's a decent punter, but the return and coverage units were just wandering about in the wilderness. Somehow the special teams have made huge improvements and at the same time, regressed horribly. Now we block punts for touchdowns, return punts for touchdowns, and don't kick the ball out of bounds any more. It looks great. At the same time, we negate our TDs with the world's stupidest penalties and rough the punter on 4th-and-22. I don't know whether to give Ron Prince major-league credit for coming up with innovative punt rushes and improving the return blocking as the season goes, or rip him a new one for neglecting to coach his guys not to block in the back and dialing up all-out bumrushes on 4th-and-22.

- Putting us on national TV next week seems like a really nutty idea, but keep in mind: it's all about Clemson. They win, they set up a rematch with Georgia Tech in Tampa. Prepare yourself for the C.J. Spiller Heisman campaign as brought to you by ESPN, and for the announcers to be not entirely sure which team he's playing against. Besides, once you get past the ESPN2 game (BC-UNC) the next three games are disasters. I want to know where I can get the three-way parlay on TFSU, Miami, and Poly to each win by three touchdowns.

- It's basketball season, and Tony Bennett is 1-0.

Blogpoll ballot Week 11

Here you go. Comments welcome as always. My own after the ballot.

4Georgia Tech
7Boise State
8Oregon 1
9Ohio State 3
10Pittsburgh 3
12Iowa 2
13Wisconsin 4
14Penn State 4
15Houston 7
16Oklahoma State
17Virginia Tech 2
19Southern Cal 9
20Clemson 1
21Miami (Florida) 6
23Boston College
24Arizona 1
25Oregon State
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Utah (#20), Navy (#22), Auburn (#24), Notre Dame (#25).

So, I really wish, this week, it was a 20-team ranking, because I sort of had to hold my nose to rank these last five. There's nobody especially deserving. Some notes:

- I'm not sure I dropped Houston far enough. Would have liked to drop them more, but then I'd have to push Oklahoma State further down the ballot too and they don't need to be any lower than they are.

- I have told you time and again that Utah is a fraud. I'm pleased they showed as much yesterday. Bye-bye.

- Cal, Arizona, and Oregon State have a little circle of death going in which they're all 1-1 against each other. I hate when that happens. Of the three, I decided to rank the two that were competitive in their losses and didn't become somebody's chew toy.

- Fellow voters in the Blogpoll, coaches' poll, and AP poll: STOP RANKING BYU. I have kept them off my ballot these many weeks because they haven't done squat. Once Oklahoma ceased to be Oklahoma, you might as well rank Temple or Central Michigan. Seriously. Either of those two teams is a better choice than BYU. In part because neither of them have five-point wins over 0-10 teams. Step away from the BYU button.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

game preview: Boston College

Date/Time: November 14, 3:30

TV: ESPN360 (it's the new ESPNUVA)

Last matchup: BC 28, UVA 17 (2005)

Last week: Miami 52, UVA 17; BC bye

History vs. the Eagles: 0-3

Line: BC by 4

Opposing blogs: BC Interruption, Eagle in Atlanta

I hope you enjoyed last year's game against Wake Forest. Even though we lost. It'll be the last one until 2013. Such is the downside of the ACC schedule - it's pretty simple to figure out if you can remember how the conferences sort out, but the permanent rival thing means you spend more years not playing half the conference than playing them. Four years ago. Just think about your own life and what was happening four years ago. This was weirder last year when it was Clemson, but still.


- This basically doesn't change for the rest of the year. Throw out the matchups and all that stuff, it doesn't matter any more. The offense is not good enough. It doesn't match up well with anything. The answer to the question "how can we win?" is the exact same for the next three games: the defense needs to be as bad-ass as it was against UNC and Maryland. And those were some pretty bad offenses themselves. The defense has to win it with big plays. Maybe block another punt. The offense can't be counted on for more than about 6, maybe 9 points if they're given some field position that's not too far away from the 50.


- The usual, of course.


Badly, as usual. On paper, if we're going to steal another game this year, this'd be it. In terms of yards per game, the two teams we beat are 10th and 11th in the conference. BC is 9th. They're actually a bit better than that - yards per play is what matters, where they're 7th, and the margin between them and Maryland/UNC is actually pretty sizable. So. And their defense is pretty stingy too. BC, if they're smart, won't give Dave Shinskie the chance to have another game like the last one he had in the state of Virginia - they'll just give Montel Harris the ball over and over and over and over and keep our defense on the field, watch our offense go three and out, and repeat until the fourth quarter, at which point our defense will be too tired to be effective.


Georgia Tech @ Duke, 12:00 (GT would clinch the Coastal with a win, by the way)
Clemson @ NC State, 12:00
Florida State @ Wake Forest, 12:00
Virginia Tech @ Maryland, 1:00
Miami @ North Carolina, 3:30