Sunday, October 26, 2014

tipping point

It's not always you can tell exactly when the end comes.  You could call us fortunate in that regard.  We can debate for a long time why Mike London has not succeeded as UVA's head coach, and will not succeed as UVA's head coach, but at least now we know when it ended.  As soon as the ball landed in the hands of a UNC defensive lineman during a horribly ill-advised screen pass.  Flip the switch, turn out the lights, and start the search.

Kevin Parks talked about a knife to the gut, and it's extremely hard not to feel bad for the guy.  The ball was taken out of his hands by the coaching staff.  I don't get it.  The announcers spent the whole game talking about Parks and how the coaching staff raves about his character and talent - which is great, and I believe it 100%.  Now I'm just wondering when the staff plans on using that to their benefit.  Parks was left waiting for a pass that never got there, which is somehow sadly fitting.

Sure, there's four games left.  Anything could happen and so on and so forth.  I don't see it.  Not from a coaching staff that constantly puts its players in position to fail.  It's everything from the preposterous to the amateurish.  After five years, Mike London still can't figure out how to make sure the right number of players go on the field.  It's not even the first time, nor is it the first time a special teams unit ran pell-mell down the field without caring where the ball was.  You can look it up.  It's a pitiful disservice to his guys.

There's one thing left to hope for: sending him off with a win on Thanksgiving.  Maybe a bowl game in Shreveport or Detroit.  If the Hoos can figure out how to beat a Georgia Tech team that just dropped 56 points on Pittsburgh, or a Miami team that looks like the division's best so far.  Maybe the VT game can be a 5-6 Thunderdome match.  Two teams enter, one team leaves bowl-eligible.  Not what anyone envisioned, that's for sure.


Let's talk offense for a little here.  One of the most common complaints about Steve Fairchild is that the offense is "vanilla."  It's time to put that to rest once and for all.  Next time you hear someone complain that it's "vanilla," just know they're only saying that as a reflex action.  The design is actually rather good, and here's the thing: I really like it.  UVA ran a couple reverses and a tricky WR pass that Lambert caught, the second WR pass they've run this year.  There was plenty of downfield passing.  Lots of different players are involved.  This is not just some handoff-handoff-dump pass-punt crap.  This is pretty complex.

And here's what I like best: Most run plays are run from a look that could send the ball any one of three different ways.  You have a shotgun look with a running back next to the QB.  A receiver (or someone like Taquan Mizzell) goes in motion and the snap is timed so that the motion man arrives just about the same time the snap does.  This isn't easy; the quarterback needs a lot of reps to get that timing down.  Then the QB can hand to the motion man, he can hand to the RB, or he can simply take it himself.  I don't think this is ever read-option, even though it was called that when Fairchild first got here.  It just looks like one.  I think this is called by the coaches.  That's just fine.  The point is that the defense has to hesitate a split second before committing to a ballcarrier.  This has given the O-line room to execute a block, and in turn, the run game is fairly productive.  This is despite an O-line lacking badly in experience and held together with chicken wire and duct tape.

I have just about no problems with the design of this offense.  Given an experienced, healthy O-line and maybe a real explosion threat at receiver, which is missing right now, you could really see some fireworks with this offense.  However, I have huge problems with the execution.  Fairchild isn't too vanilla, he's too goddam tricky.  Too fast to abandon what's working, too quick to try and out-chess-match the other DC.  Here's how you coach the last drive** that ended in the screen pass pick: You call together your O-linemen.  You get in their faces and inform them - loudly - that the plan is to stuff the ball down the throats of those no-tackling pretenders over there and they'd better hit some SOB as hard as they can and the devil take the hindmost.  And then you three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust your way to a win.  Especially when you're one more first down away from game-clinching field goal.  When, on the other hand, the trick play you so desperately want to run is so damn predictable that the announcers had you pegged, you're doing it wrong.  I don't blame Greyson Lambert one bit for the pickoff.  I blame Mr. Tricky up in the booth.

(I do, though, think the first one was totally on Lambert.  You gotta know in that case: an incompletion is just as good as a dumpoff.  They both mean a field goal.  Some people called it bad luck that the ball landed in the hands of a defender, but, no, that's entirely predictable when you throw toward that many defenders.

**I know, I know: said the keyboard jockey who's never coached a game of football in his life.  But then, the guys who do coach for a living, aren't exactly doing a better job.


So, let's review some predictions:

- Greyson Lambert starts.  Yup.

- The UVA passing game generates over 300 yards.  Ah, bummer - they were close at 284.  And getting to 300 probably would've won the game.

- UVA passes more than they run.  The Hoos attempted 41 passes and were credited with 43 runs, but one sack by UNC makes it an exactly even split.  Still not good enough.

- UNC also passes for more than 300 yards.  They did not, which is rather a credit to the defense.

- Zero sacks again for UVA, but not zero turnovers.  Half right is wrong.

- UNC averages fewer than 4 yards a carry.  UNC's running game was absolutely stuffed.  Very good work there by the defense, again.

New stats:

16-of-41 on specifics (39%.)
4-3 straight up
3-2-1 ATS


Anonymous said...

Do we get poetry this year?

BostonHoo said...

For me the tipping point was the 12 men on the field at the end of the game. Of course, it is not likely that the Hoos could have driven for a score at that time but it was the coaching staff that took the ball away from our offense not the other team. At least with a few ticks left on the clock there was some chance to win if we had the ball, but, alas, we did not have the ball because some highly paid assistant screwed up.

pezhoo said...

I go back to Tennessee when I was at grad school. They had a plastic blanket with eleven circles on it that the players had to stand on before special teams plays. I used to point and make fun of the players saying they couldn't count. Then again, I don't recall Tennessee getting called for 12 men on the field the two years I was there.

Anonymous said...

My problem with outside analysis is that there's no way to verify it by actually putting it on the field, so you can say anything remotely possible and...I don't know, that's pretty much it, you can just say anything remotely possible.

For instance here I would say that I wholeheartedly disagree with the three yards and a cloud of dust approach to that (sadly) last drive. Parks was getting stuffed at the line all through the second half, triple-optiony thing notwithstanding. I like the triple-optiony thing too, but it was adjusted for at the half and to simply attack the defense up the middle with our pillowy O-line would, I propose, have resulted in a three-and-out and UNC possession that results in the same pitchforks-at-gate fanbase we have today anyway. Tentative football at its worst, etc. etc.

Am I right? Who knows?! Who cares. What happened happened and it didn't work, and you either agree with the approach, as I do (at least that drive featured different approaches and the screen looked off to the right before the pick, and I stress the "at least" part), or you don't.

What we have now is a set of concrete results. With that you can make your case for either keeping ML or letting him go, and we are both solidly in the same camp on that one.

Burn Parliament!


Anonymous said...

Brendan, three questions I'd be interesed to see you address in some future post:

1) Do you have a list of your ideal coaching candidates? Or at least the type of coach you'd like to see next?

2) Where do you think the bar should be for the next coach? How do you define success?

3) Would you keep anyone from the current staff? I really like Tenuta, and (not that it should matter but) he's an alum. Not sure the next guy would want him but I love watching his defenses play, even if they do get burned once or twice a game.

Jaehl said...

Anon is right about the second half, we were unable to run the ball. That said you still don't do a trick play there that starts 5 yards behind the line, period. Even 3 yards and a cloud would allow our defense to defend 80 yards at least vs the 40 ish they got. I like our chances to stop them in that setting.

Again that would be putting our guys in position to succeed though. Perish the thought.

Brendan said...

I'm working on #1 but it's gonna be a bit before I'm ready to take and run with it.

#3, I'd love to keep Tenuta if we could, and whoever he thinks is worth keeping, but I'm resigned to the idea that he's gone if London is gone. I hope people aren't actually surprised if the next coach wants to bring in his own DC. I'll consider it a pleasant surprise if he stays.

#2, that's easy. The bar doesn't change just because London couldn't clear it. We should be competing for ACC championships, period. We're in the ACC; we should either try to win it or move to the Sun Belt. 6-6 should be failure, not "progress." 7-5 should be the bare minimum of acceptability. If we average 8 or 9 wins a season, that's where we should be - and that means sometimes beating that number.

spinozista said...

The game Saturday was the fourth "coach loses his job" game I have ever attended (3 at UVA, 1 at Auburn). It's been a long time since the last one, but I know one when I'm there to see it. I have been uncertain most of this season whether London might somehow be retained, but there is no question now. When Va Tech is our only, and improbable, hope for a win this season, any doubt about what comes next is gone.

And after that? Since we're now back exactly where we were five years ago, nothing but pure good luck - the off-chance that we might stumble onto another Dan Mullen (at the incredibly fortunate extreme), or even just another George Welsh (lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice) - somebody who can start to make at least something out of our present limited resources and then maybe build bigger after that.

As I read the stats, in five of our six "serious" games so far, we have scored two touchdowns in the second half - one each in the first two, and zero in the last three. (BYU in the middle was the outlier, but the two late TD's there were meaningless, it has not been repeated, and it is most unlikely to be.) I'm sure there are other equally telling details about this season, but this one will do for me.

Well, as the song says, you don't have to go home but you can't stay here.