Monday, October 11, 2010

that can't happen

I know it's a rebuilding project, yes. I know the talent level on this team isn't where it should be to compete for the ACC. I still didn't like what I saw on Saturday. Rebuilding isn't the same thing as building from scratch. You have to have something to build from, otherwise you're Georgia State, starting fresh and with no expectations whatsoever. I'd like to think that for UVA, that's the defense. That's what's supposed to hold firm and give the team a chance to win while the offense finds its bearings.

Despite an offensive performance that I'd call "almost adequate," the roles were reversed on Saturday. Georgia Tech is a mistake-prone team this year; those mistakes were the only thing standing between them and 50 points. Only under circumstances involving the phrase "I-AA" should the grinding, clock-chewing GT offense be a 50-point machine. I have no idea whether to pin the performance on the players or the coaches, which probably means it's a combination of both. I do know that the decision to open up a fifteen-foot gap at the line of scrimmage was a coach thing, and why Jim Reid would choose to do that against a triple option offense where option #1 is "hand off to a big-ass fullback and let him go in a straight line" is more puzzling than a 10x10 Rubik's Cube.

I've said repeatedly I don't think the 4-3 is a great matchup for that offense, and obviously in order to beat GT in the future either the talent level is going to have to vastly improve relative to GT, or Reid is going to have to scheme his brains out. It's not just scheme: the newness of our OLBs to their position was painfully obvious, and the MLBs were slow to get outside the blockers, leaving them easy targets to get sealed off the pursuit early on.

As for the offense, it wasn't awful, actually. Against FSU and USC I brushed off the last touchdown of the game as a product of less effort on defense and going against the scrubs; this time I'm willing to put that caveat aside because Matt Snyder was covered as hell on the two fine catches he made on the final drive and showed off some white-guys-can-jump moves that I didn't think he had. Whereas the FSU game might as well have been 34-7, I think the 21 points are legitimate.

Still, the running game, as ever, stunk. Hard. Perry Jones was bottled up except for the one run. With Verica, it's like he wasn't even a factor - an improvement over the FSU game, to be sure, and probably about as good as anyone can expect given the four sacks and lack of ground support. Losses always give a megaphone to the BACKUP QB NOWZ crowd that exists in every losing team's fanbase, but Verica's performance was the result of the poor play around him, not the other way round.

As we knew before the season, it starts on the O-line, the least effective group we have. This week you're starting to see the changes you'd expect for a unit with that label: Morgan Moses moves inside to guard, to back up B.J. Cabbell, and Sean Cascarano replaced the injured Landon Bradley at left tackle. Though this is presented a certain way by Mike London, seasoned football observers should be able to read the writing on the wall here: Cabbell's days as the starter there are probably numbered, and Bradley is likely to be Wally Pipped out of his job as well. That's not even to mention the loss of Joe Torchia for the season, ending his UVA career. Torchia has never been a very effective blocker, and his wonky shoulder almost certainly has a big say in that. It's a rebuilding project. You can't expect things to stay much the same as the season rolls on, and these are welcome changes with the exception of the premature end to a career.

These two losses make the UNC game a pivotal one. Bowl hopes, if you harbor any, depend on it. That's a team not unlike GT: doing the best they can with heavy personnel losses, and being competitive with what's left. I hope the GT game was simply a result of a bad matchup, but do you see how the narrative is changing here? It's how seasons go downhill and it's an old, old story: you go from confidently believing that misfortune was the result of something easily fixed, to hoping it, to realizing it wasn't. A good showing against UNC - that is, a win, not a plucky loss - can reverse that. Otherwise, there's little left to fall back on but the baseline "oh well, it was a rebuilding year," and that's no fun.

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