Sunday, September 26, 2010

have we learned anything?

Here we are, a month into the season. UVA's got wins in the games that were supposed to be wins, and a loss in the game that was supposed to be a loss. In this respect they're no different from 90% of teams in the country. The problem with that is it makes it awfully hard to tell what things will look like going forward, and it makes the weeks interminably long. You want to find out how the team really looks against the competition that matters.

Which is a vast improvement over 2009, which was over as soon as it began. Losing to William & Mary tends to clarify the picture in all the wrong ways. Better to wonder how you'll look against Florida State than know you're going to lose to Duke.

Right now, though, wondering is about all there is. I'd fret about the running game's relative inefficiency against VMI, but it looked good against USC. I'd celebrate Marc Verica's mistake-free day and the quality outings from freshmen Ross Metheny and Mike Rocco, but VMI makes superstars-for-a-day out of a lot of people. I did like to see the defense allowing just 49 yards on VMI drives that started after the first quarter - helluva number - but I said beforehand that the Keydet rushing attack stank to high heaven, so I can't claim to be pleasantly surprised.

(Well, mostly mistake-free from Verica, anyway. Verica's capable of some beautiful throws and they were on display on Saturday, but he's also usually good for one really bad idea per game, and his Dipshit Decision of the Day came on UVA's second drive as he turned a 6-yard sack into a 17-yard sack by hauling ass toward his own goal line. Much better than an interception, though.)

So the real test of the season comes in the next three weeks, and those weeks just ooze with intrigue. Florida State, whom we haven't seen for four years. Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where UVA typically struggles but handed GT their last home loss on the most recent trip. Al Groh coaches there, you know, but I bet nobody will mention that at all during the run-up to the game. And then there's UNC, at home, with a big streak to protect. Seems like every season I manage to identify a crucial series of games - this is it here. Even a single win would protect our bowl hopes, even with the requirement to win seven. And that's the best news of all, because all three games are totally winnable.

Thoughts that didn't fit....

- Does Keith Payne ever actually get tackled, as in wrestled to the ground? His runs seem to end mostly in a large standing gaggle of shoving players that eventually grinds to a halt, thus ending forward progress, rather than an actual tackle. Sometimes this gaggle crawls slowly forward, gathering players like a weird helmeted version of Katamari Damacy, and in this way ten yards are gained and the strange career of Keith Payne grows in legend.

- I don't like monochrome uniforms and never have, but this version of blue-on-blue is an improvement over the last. But I don't think the white-on-white will be.

- Was that a kickoff return for a touchdown? Like, all the way to the end zone? Do you know how long it's been since we did that? So long that I thought it'd been since my student days. The last one I could think of was the Marquis Weeks runback against UNC in 2002 to spark that big second-half comeback. Right opponent, right player, off by two years. So it's actually been six years. Again: usual caveats about VMI vs. opponents that can be expected to put up some resistance. It was still fun.

- Speaking of not learning anything, garbage-time action didn't do any better than training camp did when it comes to picking a backup quarterback. Both Metheny and Rocco looked good. Rocco was up and down - more up than down. I fault him on the interception, for this reason: it's nigh-impossible for the observing fan to determine whether the receiver or quarterback is at fault for a bungled throw like that. So I have to give the benefit of the doubt to the veteran receiver instead of the rookie. And the ball shouldn't have been thrown even if the receiver had been there: that safety would've ensured the ball was never caught. Can't lock in on the route so hard you forget about the personnel.

Then again, Rocco's arm motion doesn't look like the ball is coming out of his elbow. Metheny's weird like that. But both look accurate. And Metheny's arm strength must be halfway decent: his one incompletion came with an especially duck-like motion and off his back foot, falling over, and he still managed to overthrow the receiver.

- Lastly: Rocco. A fanbase still pissed off (sometimes rightly, sometimes not) about Al Groh's extensive use of true freshmen in 2009 had alarm bells go off when the true freshman quarterback stepped onto the field to get some garbage time in once the game was out of hand.

This amused me. There is, of course, a very, very vocal contingent of the fanbase that despises the ground Groh walks on, and largely sees Mike London as the anti-Groh and is inclined to defend him on those grounds alone if they have to. London is a very different coach, but not so different as to have none of Groh in him. If I were to tell you of a UVA coach that burned a freshman defensive back's redshirt on special teams and autocratically told his coordinator to run a different system from the one he specialized in, Groh would come to mind first; London didn't fall far from the tree in those two respects.

As for Rocco, I'm not the least bit upset to have seen him play yesterday, and it has nothing to do with London or Groh. Anyone who dislikes the call is reasoning that it'd be better to have Rocco as a fifth-year senior - theoretically his best year - than for a few plays as a true freshman. But this is making an assumption about the year 2014, which in college football is two eternities and an eon away. Nobody can even say with 100% certainty that there'll even be an ACC as we know it by then, let alone that Mike Rocco will be/would have been UVA's starting (or even) quarterback. But we do know this with certainty: next year, Marc Verica will not be the starter, and we'll need a new one. And we know that we have no idea who that new guy will be, and further it'll be the single, absolute most important decision Mike London and Bill Lazor will have to make. Why not give yourself as many evaluation points as possible to make the choice? Playing Metheny exclusively gives him a leg up on the competition and halfway anoints him the 2011 starter; what if he can't take advantage? Then you've hurt yourself by not developing Rocco (or whoever) to the fullest in preparation for the job. Here's hoping for another blowout this year, maybe against EMU or Duke, and for another chance to see them both in action.

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