Sunday, November 7, 2010

i really hate it when they're right

Last year about this time, UVA played Duke and lost and Michigan played Illinois and lost and it happened on the same weekend and both games were such nuclear disasters that in one Saturday my football give-a-shit-o-meter totally and permanently flatlined for the season. The discouragement oozed onto the keyboard in a depressingly prescient prediction that none of my three favorite football teams (UVA, Michigan, and the Lions) would win a single game for the rest of the season. And lo it came to pass: I would witness nothing but losses for the remainder of the year. It sucked.

So I guess you'd call it progress that I don't think the same thing this year, on a weekend when the matchups are repeated.

But at least half of that is because Michigan plays Purdue next week, a likely win for the good guys, and half the rest is because the Lions only play stupid football in stretches this year instead of all the damn time. As for the subject of this blog, the schedule is still fairly favorable to possibly grab another win, but don't kid yourself: a winless November is now well within reach.

It's really irritating, too. Obnoxious it is, to talk confidently of future success in the face of what looks like uninformed schlock from the media only to see the schlock be validated. I hate that. I know UVA's better than Duke, you know UVA's better than Duke, but unfortunately the rest of the world doesn't see it that way, and they have proof. And we don't. I guess that's what they call bias.

Of course, the world could be excused for seeing major issues for UVA to overcome. They're there, plain as day. I don't mean the penalties (11 of them for over 100 yards) and turnovers (the bog-standard three interceptions from Marc Verica) and the cringe-inducing 4th-and-a-marathon conversion by Duke with UVA clinging to a 1-point lead. If you want to blame the Duke loss on that stuff, you're welcome to, but a win would merely have hidden the underlying problems. To ignore those is to whistle past the graveyard.

Because frankly, 48 points should have been more than enough to win. The offense did what it should. Verica can't be blamed for a loss in which he threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns. The offense was nearly as prolific on the stat sheet as the eye-popping Michigan offense, and Michigan went to three overtimes. UVA was playing Duke; a good team should rack up 600+ yards and 48 points on them. But it shouldn't lose; lose it did, however, thanks to the defense.

Here, you have your wake-up call. The defense is officially horrible. Duke averages under 3.5 yards per carry on the season; UVA's defense allowed six, if you take away the sacks. By now it's happened too often to be a fixable aberration. The only team that hasn't run wild on us is VMI. What we have is no less than one of the nation's worst run defenses - the worst if you don't count that VMI game - and it's not attributable to the previous coaching staff. Most of the talent from last year remains, and as you recall the standard complaint was that the offense was letting the defense down and tiring them out by repeatedly putting them back on the field too quickly. The dysfunctional offense is gone, and that's refreshing, but it's been traded for an incompetent run defense. This is a mess that, somehow, Mike London and Jim Reid have created.

I don't know how it got there (it's still early enough to hope that it's due to the change in defensive philosophies and all the position switches, but I can think of a number of counterarguments), but let me offer a theory: remember how one of the biggest criticisms leveled at Al Groh was that he meddled in the offense too much? That he didn't let his offensive coordinators do their jobs, especially when Gregg Brandon was hired to run the spread and Groh unilaterally ditched it three games in? Jim Reid is a 3-4 guy, you might recall, but London told him to run a 4-3. Michigan is seeing the fruits of a defensive coordinator running a defense he's not familiar with (among other problems); the result there is the worst defense in Michigan's 130+ years. London got a free pass because he's not Groh, and because if you don't give new coaches a little breathing room you're just asking for failure. But he does have his DC running a defense he doesn't know as well.

Trying to use a 245-pound defensive tackle as a run-stopper probably has something to do with it also. Just sayin'. Like I've been sayin' all year.

It's too early, of course, for a couple of stupid things we could do but shouldn't:

- Start someone other than Verica at QB
- Fire Reid

In time it will be appropriate to do these things. For the former, that's the beginning of 2011. For the latter, that season's end - if it's a poor one. London asked for a minimum 2-year commitment from his assistant coaches, for continuity purposes, and there's obvious wisdom in that. At the same time, though, a hideously underperforming defense can't be allowed to derail the program-building. Al Groh didn't make this mess; the defense was doing just fine under his watch, and the players are mostly the same. Banged-up cornerbacks didn't cause this mess; if you're relying on your cornerbacks as the foundation of your run defense you're already in trouble.

As for Verica, the other casus belli among UVA fans sniping at each other on message boards, a commenter hit the nail on the head with a sledgehammer: London's job is to instill a winning attitude in the team, and that's impossible to do if you turn around and suggest it's OK to lose this season by playing a quarterback who clearly doesn't give you the best chance to win. Sure, you could "develop" Mike Rocco or Ross Metheny for the future; you could also lose your team forever. It's not hard to sniff out the hypocrisy involved in telling your team to have a winning attitude with your words but telling them it's OK to lose with your actions. This huge debate is raging on message boards and such, but ten bucks says Mike London's never given serious thought to starting Rocco or Metheny once Verica established his grip on the job.

Besides: It's Maryland week. If there's one thing UVA fans can agree on it's that Maryland needs to be buried. And London has already accomplished something that wasn't the case last year: he's kept us interested in November. Progress, amigos.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't envy you for having to write a post-game post for games like this one. This loss HURTS.