So 2011 finished on a down note. But the nice thing about bowl games is that there really aren't any negatives to losing them.** Other than not getting all the awesome positives from winning.
Even the way we lost couldn't muster a lot of OUTRAGE and disappointment from me. It only lasted, like, half an hour. A far cry from the weekend-ruination that is a regular-season Saturday loss. It wasn't close enough for me to point to one or two lousy calls (though I could certainly beef with the refs if I felt like it, as they missed a lot of calls both ways) or spend all day Sunday going "if only we had...." And it wasn't, like, a total facewashing.
In fact, the offense played well. Very well. Well enough to win, if it hadn't been forced to play in comeback mode for over half the game. Mike Rocco was terrific. Rocco has surely cemented the right to go into spring and fall camp in 2012 as the unquestioned starter, and it ought to take a superhuman effort - I mean, like, Watford comes out looking like Vince Young - in order to unseat him by the first of September when the team takes the field against Richmond. The Auburn pass defense was exactly as advertised: shaky. But I'll tell you what: if Rocco starts the next two seasons and doesn't get hurt, he will break Matt Schaub's career yardage record. You can bank that. He only needs to average 2,415 yards a season to do it and he had 2,671 this year.
Our own defense could certainly have been better, and the stat sheet makes the following statement look silly, but - it didn't completely suck. Not like the stat sheet says it did. Unfortunately they ended up with a lot of short fields to defend. Which leads us to what you and I and everyone else can all easily pin this loss on.....
....yes, the special teams. Maybe I said the defense didn't completely suck because I was comparing it to the atomic fiasco that was the special teams. How many points do you suppose we gave up because of special teams? I count 22:
- 7 for the first blocked punt, which gave Auburn the ball in the red zone
- 7 for the onside kick, which gave Auburn the ball at our 41
- 3 because we couldn't execute a fake field goal
- 2 for the safety on the second blocked punt
- 3 for the field goal that came after Auburn's long return of the ensuing free kick
You could even get crazy and say 7 for the failed fake FG, and bring the total to 26. Auburn won by 19. I don't subscribe to the notion that "special teams are 1/3 of the game," because obviously you don't spend 1/3 of game time on special teams. But let it never be said they aren't important. They just cost us the Peach Bowl. Period.
I mean, the blocked punts drive you crazy because it's not like there's some mythical athleticism gap that caused them. Anyone who comes through as unblocked as all that will block the punt. And - really? A rugby punt in the end zone? When you have one-third fewer yards to work with? Coaching failures brought on those blocked punts, and a coaching failure led the team to be unprepared for an onside kick. And the kick coverage has been trouble all year, not to mention kicking the ball out of bounds on the kickoff.
So that'll be your number one adjustment for the offseason. It's a tough situation because your special teams coach is none other than UVA legend Anthony Poindexter, whose recruiting chops are crucial to our success. But nobody else on the staff has ever been a special teams coach, either. Idea lobbed in from the back of the peanut gallery: have London take over special teams himself until eventually someone leaves the staff and someone with special-teams experience can be hired. Cause that might've been the worst game anyone in the country has played on special teams, all year long.
I do have one last gripe. And if you have gotten, over the years, a good enough feel for my general, overall attitude toward college football, you might have guessed it already. If you don't know, and I tell you what that attitude is - it can be summed up in the four words "get off my lawn" - maybe you too can guess. Have you figured it out? If you guessed, "Brendan hates the orange helmets" give yourself a smiley sticker.
Look. First off, that makes us, by my count, the 52nd team in college football this year to play helmet reindeer games. 52 of 120 teams did not wear the same helmet in all of their games. So that doesn't exactly make us special, OK? We don't exactly stand out from the crowd. I hear this all the time, too: "Recruits like it." "The players like it." I'll tell you what else players really like: bowl games. But that doesn't stop the majority of college football fans (and annoying writers) from harboring the opinion that the bowls are a parasite that should be replaced with a playoff. The point there is that you can hide behind "players like it" all you want but when you see something that the players like but that's beyond your tolerance level, suddenly it no longer matters what they players think. So that's nothing but a copout.
For the record, I thought orange helmets over orange jerseys - not a great look. Worse yet: I didn't feel like I was watching Virginia. Suddenly it felt like another team was wearing our jerseys. Here's a fact: we are the only team in the ACC that uses navy blue as a primary color. That will change when the conference expands, but we will still be the only team that has true blue helmets. Why is that not good enough???
I get that we are in an age where people have microwaveable attention spans. Nobody's happy any more, everyone's bored, if you come out looking the same week to week. They want the newest, sickest, latest thing. They want wikked sikk warriorzz uniformzz from Nike, they want black, they want chrome, they want to be able to strut around glove-pimping for the cameras or watch their favorite player do it, they want new and different every year, if not every week, or else they get bored. All I ask is that one damn thing stay the same every now and again. As I said: we are the only team in the conference with blue helmets and with navy blue as a point of emphasis. Why that's not good enough, I have no idea.
(I know, I know: I probably just spent more words on the helmets than the special teams fiasco. Priorities, etc. Whatever, it's my blog. I have my rights.)
**Unless the other team's fans are assholes. I have no idea if that's the case here. I do know it was kind of a thing when I went to Purdue-Maryland a few years ago in support of my Boilermaker brother.