Monday, November 3, 2014


I think it's interesting that, sometimes, a seemingly unremarkable play catches the eye of a lot of different people, all independent of each other.  On third-and-18 on UVA's opening drive (an ominous phrase in and of itself) Greyson Lambert threw a screen to Kevin Parks that picked up two yards.  Really explosive offense, this.

I decided, for reasons unknown to myself, to rewind and see what had happened; perhaps the play looked like it should have picked up a great deal more.  Perhaps I was just perturbed, which would be understandable given that our opening salvo exploded in the breech.  Upon a second look, it was easy to see what had happened: Conner Davis whiffed a block, badly.

At least one game thread picked up on that fact too, and quickly; the play became a matter of discussion to the extent that a game thread allows.  Even more interestingly, eminent Sabre philosopher JHoo picked up on it too, and provided one small note that I missed on my own reviewing:
So plenty of folks did their job well … … but guard Conner Davis, who had responsibility for the outside man on the play – here, cornerback D.J. White – broke one of those little rules on screen passes: he looked back to watch the pass and see the completion.
I'm normally very loath to copy and paste paywalled stuff, but there's a point to be made here.

A third look at the play confirms it completely.  Davis had eyes only for the backfield; when he turned around after the catch, he found a defender flying past him.

Think about the implications of this.  Consider:

-- Davis is not only a fifth-year senior, but also the most experienced player on his unit.
-- This is a big game.  The players know the deal when it comes to bowl eligibility, as well as their coach's job situation.  And they happen to really like their coach and want to keep him around.
-- It's the third play of the game.  Everyone's fresh.  Fatigue is not a thing right now.
-- It's early, so we're almost certainly on a script here.  This play has been practiced a hundred times and the players know it's coming.

A fifth-year senior doesn't have the mental discipline to carry out a simple assignment.  That's a sad commentary.

That is not to single out Conner Davis.  The point is: if this is the case with our fifth-year seniors, it's the case all up and down the board.  Attention to detail waved bye-bye to Mike London ages ago, assuming the twain ever met.  And if it's foreign to the head coach, it's not getting passed on to the team.  This explains London's puzzling approach to clock management.  (Why didn't he take a timeout when GT faced 3rd-and-23 at the end of the first half?  It probably didn't even occur to him.)  This explains (in a blast from the past) how it's possible that London can make a big deal out of accountability in a press conference, and then forget to remove a player from kickoff duties whose bonehead kickoff penalty cost his team three points.

You might say it's unfair to extrapolate a whole huge generalization like that out of one play, but it's not like there isn't a mountain of evidence of London's failure to instill any mental discipline in himself or his team.  And the end-of-half play provided another example of the same.  Let's break down this play.

First off, some perspective on how hideously badly this play was executed.  UVA sent three receivers downfield and left seven men back in protect.  GT rushed three.  Four seconds after the snap, GT defensive end KeShun Freeman is swiping the ball out of Lambert's hands.

Seven on three and we can't protect the QB for five seconds.  That is pitiful.  The play starts with Zach Swanson lined up as an H-back, and in motion from left to right, likely because GT has overloaded the right side with defenders and is showing blitz on that side while the linebacker on his side is backing off.  Swanson is supposed to handle Freeman until the cavalry arrives in the form of Ryan Doull, pulling around from left to right as if it were a run play.  Swanson whiffs, badly, jumping outside while Freeman jumps inside.  Fortunately, Doull arrives just in time to give Freeman a shove that uses his own momentum to carry him well past the QB.  Swanson sees this and turns upfield, apparently seeing if there are any delayed rushers.  Finding that eight men have dropped into coverage, he spends the rest of the play looking a bit lost.

Doull's shove has taken Freeman out of the play momentarily.  That's enough for Doull, who decides the play is over, and starts spectating.  Freeman, of course, does not oblige, and Doull is just in time to gather up the ball from the ground (and earn an attaboy from the announcers for a "heads-up play", which would've been nice if it were true.)

Doull's a third-year player, and older than most, having taken a post-grad year as well.  Quitting on a play - it's just an inexcusable lack of sharpness from someone with his experience.  But it's fruitless to direct your anger at Doull.  This is the attitude that has permeated the whole team.  How can we expect the players to be mentally accountable if the head coach doesn't demand it?  For every such event easily spotted on TV, you can bet there are ten or fifteen more that are impossible to see.

It's hard to imagine a coach less interested in attention to detail than London is, which means the next coach will likely demand more of it than now, which means the players are in for a rude awakening when he shows up.  It might not be fun for them at first, but the end result will be a lot more watchable.


Quick brief things:

-- Some people are bellyaching about David Watford being in the game at receiver while Jamil Kamara languishes on the bench.  Oh please.  Nobody has any damn clue what Kamara is doing or not doing in order to not earn playing time, and the fact that London does actually seem to demand some kind of minimum standard of behavior or knowledge of the offense or something in order to earn your way onto the field - that does not register on the list of things to complain about.  You actually find people bringing up how bad he was as a quarterback, as if that somehow affects his ability to stick his hands out and hold on to a flying football.

-- If I'm London, I don't queue up one inch of game film on Florida State.  What good is preparation - take it from a 1% to a 2% chance to win that game?  Just punt that game - the path to a bowl game is much easier through Miami and VT, and hyper-preparation for the latter is not something I'd be against.

Prediction summary:

- Kevin Parks runs for 120 yards.  My God, not even close.  And no, being down 14-0, 21-7 in the first quarter is emphatically not a reason to abandon the run.  Maybe the fact that it wasn't working would've been a reason, but going pass-happy because of a two-TD deficit in the first half is pure panic.

- Keeon Johnson has a big day, which these days means four or more catches.  No, but he was certainly targeted more than often enough to succeed.

- UVA's season average for rushing yards allowed per attempt jumps at least a quarter-yard.  Remarkably, no.  I'm impressed.  It was very close, but didn't make it.  This is the point where I single out Max Valles for at least one ridiculously good play in which he got in position to discourage an option pitch and then ate up the quarterback.  Who the hell defends both options all by his own self?  Valles, that's who.  It was the football equivalent of Akil Mitchell's brilliant play on Jabari Parker from the ACC CG - you know the one.  Only, better.

- Lambert throws at least two more picks, one of which isn't his fault.  Tossing up a lame duck of a throw because he's being crushed by a pass rusher certainly qualifies.

Season prediction stats:

17-for-45 on specifics (38%)
5-3 straight up
4-2-1 ATS


Anonymous said...

The end of the Mike London era can't come soon enough. I find myself hoping that we don't become bowl eligible, just to ensure London is gone. It makes on yearn for the days of Al Groh, when he would alternate decent years with bad years.

London simply screwed himself over. He's a great rah, rah guy, perhaps a good coordinator, but he simply does not seem to be able to run the ship. I think back to the piss poor QB management of Rocco vs. Sims, and a part of me is almost glad that he screwed the pooch so badly on that, so that we didn't get stuck with him any longer than necessary. A couple decent years in b/w and we might be looking at 3-4 more years of this clown.

QB management isn't the only issue, as all know. In-game issues have been whipped to death, and Brendan has done a good job of pointing out the piss poor recruiting organization (that is, certain areas simply don't have a lot of depth). The sad thing is, there's some decent talent on the team. Eli Harold, David Dean should get solid looks from the NFL. I think Henry Coley will probably get a solid look as well, and guys like Romero, Canady, Phelps ... I wouldn't rule them out from getting a flyby look. There's enough first or second year guys that have talent to dream that, if all goes well, the NFL may come calling.

This is the perfect time to cut bait with London. Sure, you might lose key components from this recruiting class (Rasool Clemens and CJ Stalker leaving would be my main concerns), but honestly, a one year hit is okay. You can live with it, and the right coach could rescue some things.

The new coach would be walking into a fairly decent situation. The defense should be one of the better ones in the ACC next year, particularly if Nicholson is back. Sure, losing Coley/Romero hurts, but there's some LB depth and options. Offensively, I'm a bit concerned at RB, but there's receiving options, and a new coach can try to figure out if he can fix Lambert's mistakes, or to switch it to someone else. The offensive line is thin, but there's enough talent that, if healthy, they could be decent.

I find it highly unlikely that there would be an exodus of key players with a coaching change. The most likely guys would be young guys, but guys like Blanding and Brown have started the clock, so sitting a year or going to D2 seems debatable.

It's time. We've stuck with London a year too long for my tastes, but it's not too late to fix things and hope for a quick turnaround. I'd love to see a relative "outside the UVA box" move. I know this may seem ludicrous or idiotic, but I do wonder about Lane Kiffin as a fit here. That said, off the top, I seem to recall some criticism of his in-game management as well, so he may be more London. Dunno.

Anonymous said...

Agree with all of your points - very well put by the way - except for even considering Lane Kiffin. He has no loyalty, hasn't proven himself to be a great head coach, and is just kind of an overall douche. In all honesty, as much as I am done with London and so sick of watching our talent wasted week after week... I would still rather have London over Kiffin. It's not all about results. Part of it is about what our institution represents, and as terrible of a coach as London may be, at least he is a great human being.

Fortunately, I don't really think we are going to be in that situation, and I do have faith we will find a coach who is both a promising talent and fits in with UVa's culture. I would like to see somebody from the SEC though, and I think UVa might be just attractive enough of a head coaching gig to draw maybe a good coordinator away (see excellent talent pool in state, comparatively easy conference to win, recent struggles of primary in-state rival, overall pretty good facilities, and a great academic reputation/campus to recruit with).

Anyway. It'll be fun to see who we land!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't think they would consider Kiffin on fit anyways. Just a thought that had crossed my mind.

Actually, thinking about it now, while he probably wants to move up the ladder in the NFL, I wonder if Bill Lazor would be a good fit. Always wondered how Lazor's offenses would've done if he actually had free reign, instead of London making QB decisions for him (IIRC, in the Penn State game, London made the call to go with Sims before the half before notifying Lazor/Rocco, amongst other things).

BostonHoo said...

Before I read Brendan's column today I wondered why the players were not executing on the field. After all, they must know that they largely hold the key to their coach's future at this point, yet play after play results in mistake after mistake. They lament it themselves with the "we gotta execute" mea culpa that I heard from several players post game. So how is that happening. Brendan points it out: no one is teaching them how to execute and demanding that they do it right every time. Until GT the margin between winning and losing had been small. I had to wonder, how is that UVa keeps getting close but can never quite get over the hump to victory. Now I have some understanding and can appreciate what makes a successful coach successful.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis, Brendan. When you back off to the once-a-week schedule, I hope you'll continue to provide this sort of analysis from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brendan for actually putting in the time to analyze and confirm what I stated behind a pay wall. We are a sloppy team, not sharp across the board.

There was a behind the scenes that I think ESPN did during Brian Kelly's 2nd year at ND which I think insightful for this discourse. In particular there was one thing that he did that jumped out at me - he outlined where each piece of equipment should go in the players' locker. Every single piece of equipment for every single player. Sounds ridiculous until you hear his explanation.

Many of these young men have never learned how to be disciplined, to do things the right way every time down to the smallest of details. His thinking was that showing them how to do something right, even something that seems so inconsequential, teaches the players discipline and focus. Getting the details right if you will. It doesn't take an AG like task master to hone sharpness in teams.