Sunday, November 25, 2012

i'm not mad, i'm just disappointed

OK, well.  I know I should be all kinds of disappointed this weekend, and, OK, I am, but instead of dwelling on the bad, we're going to start by accentuating the positive around here.  There'll be plenty of times later to recap the myriad ways in which this latest football game could've been won.  (No, one of them is not "more Phillip Sims" on a day when he was 3/7 for 10 yards.)

The larger point is that it could've been won.  And while that's not as good as "actually did win," it represents an improvement.  After nine games in a row, "an improvement" is consolation of the most miniscule sort, but there's a palpable difference between this and the other eight games that comprise this streak.  The last three, of course, have been blowouts, and they all left you with the feeling that not only was the rivalry securely in the wrong hands, it wasn't leaving any time soon.

The last time the game was this close was 2008, a near carbon-copy of this one, right down to the score, venue, and the game-sealing interception at the end.  The main difference: 2008 really felt like a gut punch, because our team was lousy, their team was good, and we had a real chance to pull off a colossal upset.  And it disappeared, and you knew it wasn't coming back because of the gimmicky fashion that got us that close in the first place; you'll remember 2008 as the game where Al Groh finally inserted Vic Hall as a quarterback, and Tech figured out only just in time how to stop him.  (Which turned out to be: make them put Verica back in.)

Mike London has yet to come up with as good a surprise as that, but he almost didn't have to this time.  Throw out the previous eight games and this one just doesn't have the gut-punch to it.  That's because for the first time since 2003, UVA went toe-to-toe with VT.  And for the first time since 2004, UVA lost, but without the ugly feeling of dread that next year will be no different.

Part of that has to do with VT, of course.  Is there a magical rebound in store for the Hokies next year?  They'll probably be better than 6-6, as their defense is still going to be good.  But their invincibility is gone; their O-line is unimpressive and getting worse, and if Logan Thomas bolts for the NFL, Mark Leal is the QB-in-waiting and he doesn't put the fear of God into anyone.

That said, UVA is still a program on an upward trajectory.  Sure, it might be hard to believe when you reverse an 8-4 record in one year, but you don't turn an oil tanker on a dime, either.  We'll get around to looking at what needs to happen to make sure that oil tanker doesn't turn into an oil spill, but the signs are still more positive than negative.  After all, even a down-trending VT is an upward nudge for UVA all by itself.

Further reactions in brief:

-- While the announcers and 90% of the fanbase made a thing of Mike London holding onto his timeouts after Rocco's interception, that bothers me less than you might guess.  If we had 45 or so seconds to march down the field (against the wind), do you really, in your heart of hearts, think we'd have been able to pull that off - particularly after throwing a pick on exactly the kind of pass that would need to be replicated several times in quick succession?  Also, Beamer would have been likely to try for a touchdown, given extra time and a chance to talk over a plan for it.

-- It's that pass that chaps my ass the most.  This is why I think Bill Lazor's playcalling would be improved from the booth; the difficulty of completing that thing would've been much more apparent.  Throwing it across the wind like that makes it a major crapshoot.  Given our general inability to move the ball, the best thing would've been to play for overtime, thus putting us in scoring position automatically.  (And giving us the exact same wind, every time, that Tech had.)

-- I couldn't help but note the irony of seeing the ESPN ticker mention the NFL considering outlawing all blocks below the waist just as Brandon Phelps was being helped off the field after a legal block below the waist.  And I'm still not convinced the block on Brathwaite that took him off was completely legal.

-- Obligatory fake field goal thought: OK on the surface, but objectionable on the same principle whereby I hated the 4th-down plunge into the middle against UNC.  Know your team's weaknesses and stop assuming they'll be fixed in the next twenty seconds.  In this case, special teams is the reason we're not bowling this year, so why are you making them execute something that difficult?

Prediction summary:

-- Tech is held to less than 70 yards rushing.  Largely through volume, this did not come true; taking out the fake punt, VT could not even muster three yards a carry, but they ran the damn ball 57 times.

-- Logan Thomas completes at least one pass of 50+ yards.  Should've looked at the weather; if I had bothered to look at that there's no way I would've said this.  The wind kept everyone from trying anything particularly bold in the passing game.

-- Minus the largest play, Thomas's per-completion average falls well shy of his 14.2 average on the season.  This is where I get credit for correctly predicting a good day in pass defense.  One reason I say the future is bright is that, by and large, the very young secondary had a very good year, and this game was one of the better ones.  Thomas only completed 18 of 38 for a hideously bad per-attempt average of 3.1 and a per-completion average of half his season total.

-- Perry Jones gets five or six pass catches (or more) but is totally ineffective carrying the ball.  Half right - the latter half - but only three pass catches.

-- We lose, and a special teams play is easily pointed to as a major culprit.  I think it's perfectly fair to say a momentum-killing failed fake field goal fits the bill perfectly here.

So I finish the season 24-for-58, which is 41.4%.  Wanna know how I did last year?  To quote myself after last year's VT game: "Three for six gives me 36-of-88 in the regular season, which is a shade under 41%."  And here's the part where I award myself a million points for calling the precise final score.  Picking VT to win put me at 6-6 on the season, so I'm bowl-eligible for nothing at all, 2-7-1 against the spread.

Upcoming posts will include some seasonal postmortems, ACC basketball previews, one blast from last year's past that I just discovered, and a return to a mostly M-F posting schedule.  I have a few ideas for recapping the season, a few of which will be split off into ITA articles so I can fit them all in before hoops season picks up for good and real.  After an eight-loss season, I can't say I'm sorry to be shifting to winter mode.  Chances are I'll be even less sorry come February when the spring teams begin play.


Anonymous said...

Interesting, 30 fewer predictions overall this year, more than for a third less than last year, but the same success rate. I feel like that means something, although I have no idea what that might be.


Anonymous said...

This is exactly what I've been thinking the whole time. This is why I come to your blog. For Christ's sake, being on The Sabre's football forum makes you want to slit your wrists, all the pollyanna whinging and calls of doom.

Anonymous said...

I agree that a three point loss in a competitive game is far better than a 38 to zip blowout. However, how much of that is because we are better or VT is worse is open for debate. The real, burning question is ML the right guy to bring our program all the way back? From what I saw in Blacksburg and over the course of the season there are serious lapses in his game planning, game management, and maybe even his ability to motivate the players to perform at high levels for all games. I wouldn't push the eject button just yet but if next year is not a significant improvement, ML should be history.

Brendan said...

I think of the 41% success rate statistic as a sort of Rohrshach inkblot. I have no idea what it means either, but someone might.

Anonymous said...

Don't really understand your take on London with the timeouts. Icing the kicker statistically doesn't work, especially on what was basically an extra point. 40 seconds into the wind is better than nothing, especially when one big play or Tech penalty could get into field goal range, like the one that should have been called on Exum on the pick. Agree with the take on Lazor, the offense did nothing in the 2nd half, and the fake field goal downwind was ridiculous

Anonymous said...

Without the win, there's no easy way to rationalize nine straight losses to these guys. We couldn't beat their worst team in 20 years, their recruiting is on the upshot, and they return 10 starters on D next year. I read somewhere we haven't had 300 yards of offense in any of the 9 loses. Just disappointed.

Anonymous said...

I'm very disappointed in the season, and have been chewing out London here for his poor QB decisions.

But if we're going to note how VA Tech is returning so many guys next year, it should be noted that ... IF we get the QB position settled, there's a lot of talent around. The defense should be markedly better, with Brathwaite and Harold taking on key roles up front and Canady perhaps emerging as our shutdown corner. LB athleticism should be good, but the guys will be raw.

Offensively, you saw some flickers from Terrell, and if Terrell/Smith/Jennings can build upon this year, they could be really good. Some of the problem was the QB'ing, but a lot of it was on the WR's learning. McGee should get bigger and better. If we can settle the OL down (LT really, not that worried if Moses bolts, although he shouldn't), we have the horses in the backfield (as I've said before, Mizzell really should be red-shirted if he was any other prospect, but as an elite prospect, he'll probably play. That said, KP/Richardson (what a wasted year)/Sheperd/Morgan is a good grouping.)

Of course, I have zero confidence in London's decision-making at QB. Doesn't mean things can't go well, but it's up for him to show that he can figure it out after two years of dumb decisions at the position.

Brendan said...

More succinctly, the point about the timeouts is this: yes, it wasn't a great decision, but worse decisions were made along the way that should be getting more scrutiny. First among them: the decision not to play for overtime on the drive where Rocco threw the pick.