I'd been preaching the past few weeks that it wasn't real likely that everything was gonna go right in the second half of the season, but I gotta admit I wasn't too sure what that would look like. No, I wasn't very excited to find out, thank you. In a nutshell, the answer is:
-- A really bad offensive game plan, badly executed
-- An opposing offensive game plan perfectly suited to nullify the strength of our defense
The latter is actually a little bit encouraging. The pass rush was taken entirely out of the equation, Anthony Boone wasn't touched, and the defense still only allowed 20 points. (Though aided somewhat by Boone's inaccuracy.) There are definitely worse offenses left on the schedule, one of which was on display Thursday night.
Our own offense was a massive disappointment, though. Yes, dropped passes hurt, and yes, Matt Johns missed some very open receivers deep. That's not the worst part, though. The worst part is that Duke's defense has been very, very amenable to jamming the ball down their throat, as evidenced by the fact that some of the shittiest teams in all of D-I football have done just that, and UVA elected to pass more than 60% of the time.
Let's put this in perspective: Duke has a very poor run defense and a very good pass defense. You have a senior running back and a sophomore quarterback.** You are presented with a wall of paper and a wall of brick, and you can either use a flamethrower on the paper or a rubber mallet on the brick. You chose the mallet.
So yes, Matt Johns was mostly off-target with sporadic displays of brilliance, but nobody blames the foot soldiers for the failure of Pickett's Charge. The coaches had an obvious chance to set their players up for success, and instead got outcoached on two weeks of preparation by a staff with one week of preparation. It's not hard to see why there's still plenty of angst about the future of the program.
It's a sobering reminder of where our ambitions should be. A division title would be cool, and jeez, even reachable, but we're probably gonna have to dial that back a bit. I don't like it one bit, but an offense that spins its wheels as much as this one hasn't earned much confidence in the future. 13 points against that defense is just - ugh, I'm forced to deploy the word of choice for drunken Saturday-night quarterbacks everywhere - unacceptable.
**And your senior running back routinely turns in awesome performances in the state of North Carolina, because he's pissed off that none of the teams there recruited him. GIVE HIM THE BALL!
-- Short-side east-west plays (the bane of my existence) and poor run-pass balance aren't the only coaching bugaboos to make a triumphant return. Crappy timeout usage was also costly. Not as costly as other stuff, but still.
-- I really do not like the orange helmets with gray facemasks. Really ugly when not part of a throwback. It's amazing how the wrong helmet turns one of the classiest looks we've ever had into one of the worst.
-- I don't want to do the research on this myself, because it'd take forever, but I wonder when the last time was that a college quarterback completed less than half his passes for over 300 yards. Johns was nine yards shy of the sophomore record (Matt Schaub, 334) and would've threatened (if not completely blown past) the single-game record of 393 (Schaub, again) with a little more accuracy on some of those deep balls. Or fewer dropped passes.
-- Another thing I hate: Receiving the opening kickoff. You basically have to score right there, on that drive, or else you've blown the whole advantage of it. Anything else - anything at all - and the other team, especially in their own stadium, gets to start the game on a momentum high. Another reason, by the way, that all that passing was stupid. Nothing would've been as perfect as taking the opening kick and spending the next seven minutes grinding out as many rushing yards as your heart desired. Send the message that we're gonna do this all day so you might as well lose hope now.
-- Kevin Parks runs for over 100 yards. Well, maybe if he'd been given any carries.
-- Greyson Lambert (or our starting quarterback) attempts fewer than 20 passes. I really need to stop making predictions based on what I would do.
-- UVA loses the turnover battle. This did happen, although the general point was to build a narrative where UVA was good enough to overcome doing so.
-- Duke's run game is more than a yard worse than their average. No, and Duke was surprisingly and annoyingly effective on the ground.
-- Quin Blanding has 10 or more tackles. Blanding had nine; it was Anthony Harris who had the big day in the secondary with 14
-- UVA wins time of possession by six or more minutes. The Hoos did win this battle, but not by that much.
New prediction stats:
14-for-35 on specifics (40%)
4-2 straight up
Two things happened over the weekend worth discussing. Well, Thursday and then Monday.
The Monday thing is Tony Bennett building up his 2016 class with the addition of Indiana guard Kyle Guy. As with Ty Jerome, the first member of the class, I'm gonna wait til these guys finish their junior years before even bothering with trying a profile. But know this: The Indiana schools normally have the state of Indiana on lockdown, and if not them, the state's high-profile recruits still choose a school close by. In 2012, for example, the state produced eight four-star prospects (by Rivals' reckoning.) Three went to IU, two to Purdue, and one each to Butler, Michigan, and MSU.
In fact, going back to the 2009 class, there've been about 30 four-star or above prospects (Rivals, again) to come out of the state of Indiana - exactly one of them went to a school somewhere other than the state of Indiana or one of its direct neighbors. Guy is the second.
The 2016 class is shaping up to be perhaps Tony's most heralded class of his UVA tenure; it now needs some lengthy wing types, as the only three on the 2016-2017 depth chart is Marial Shayok. Highly fluid is the world of basketball recruiting, which is why I don't cover it til after the commitments happen; that said, if you don't know the name Mamadi Diakite yet, learn it.
The Thursday thing was the VT game against Pitt, which I watched from start to finish, the first time I'd done so all year. I came away with a few opinions, naturally:
-- VT gets horrible safety play. Before the game I'd noticed, during my stat-digging, that they've been prone to giving up long pass plays, a surefire indicator that safeties aren't in the right place at the right time. Kyshoen Jarrett's awful angle on a long Tyler Boyd touchdown, as pointed out by the announcers, drove that point home. Their corners are more or less as advertised (which is to say, very good), but the safeties - woof.
-- Michael Brewer is a good quarterback about 25% of the time.
-- VT's offensive line is fun to watch, if you like defensive line play. Pitt's Nicholas Grigsby is not an elite defender by anyone's measurement, but on one play he blew untouched past VT's right tackle, McLaughlin. Eli Harold and Max Valles should have an enjoyable day on Thanksgiving weekend.
-- You would expect that at least VT's run defense would be up to snuff, but James Conner and Chad Voytik ran wild all evening.
-- Did the Hokies do anything right? Not a lot, when you're looking at no first downs in the first quarter-and-a-half. But besides their excellent cornerbacks, Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips make for a very impressive pair of freshman receivers. DT Corey Marshall did a nice job on one play of dropping back into coverage and it resulted in a pickoff, a dangerous thing for our short-tossing pass offense. (Though, most short passes go toward the sideline rather than dunkoffs over the middle.)
I'm really rooting for Miami in Lane Stadium next week - I mean, besides the whole thing about let's not root for Tech to win anything, VT is in the middle of their special scheduling handjob the ACC gives them literally every year. (Except last year, which caused them no end of distress about having to do something most teams routinely do.) Seeing them go 0-for-2 on Thursdays, well, it'd be no less than they deserve for the special treatment they get. Their next three opponents - Miami, BC, Duke - all have very strong running games, and if they don't get their run defense act together at least once, UVA will have the chance to deliver the death blow to their bowl eligibility hopes.