You know that feeling after you've come back from a huge vacation in a foreign country and you're back and home and everything feels normal again? You've got that sense of security, that the vacation was fun, but it's good to get back into the routine. Let's call that...Saturday. The first three games of October were fun and all, but everything just sort of...feels "right" again, after the 34-9 thrashing by Georgia Tech on Saturday.
I've gone on record for years saying that Charlottesville is the most magical place on earth. I stand by this assessment. This Saturday was the first time it's rained in Scott Stadium on game day since November 16, 2002, against then-ranked No. 22 NC State. In the minds of most Wahoos, we were all just thinking, "Let this be a repeat of last week's game against Maryland. Let this be a repeat of last week's game against Maryland." This, of course, interspersed with, "Groh's last game? Groh's last game?" It was confusing at best.
In any event, it hardly seems fair to blame all three units on the breakdown we saw Saturday. For one, our special teams wasn't terrible. Robert Randolph tied his career number of field goals in a game at three, from 49, 19, and 30 yards out. That 49 yarder was his career high, and really it was just a 48.5 yarder, as it bounced off the cross bar to tie the game at 3. But, you figure it was in the rain and mud, and you've got to be pretty impressed with the kid. This was Virginia's longest longest field goal since 51 yards by Chris Gould in 2007.
Nor was Jimmy Howell terrible at punting. He averaged 38 yards per punt. This is slightly above the team's season previous average of 35.61 yards. The rest of specials teams was able to contain the #1 punt returner, and the #1 punt returning team, in the country.
Also not terrible? Our defense. I know what you're thinking. "How can a defense who gave up 34 points possibly be considered not terrible?" Well, it wasn't 35. Just kidding. The fact is, Georgia Tech is good. Their triple option threat is among the best in the country, as evidenced by the fact that they are second in the nation in rushing offense. Watching the game, while the D had their fair share of missed tackles, most of their woes seemed to be associated with this monster option.
Also noticeable was that in the first half -- which is to say, before our D was worn out -- GT was held to only two of eight third down conversion attempts. They finished with 8-of-17, below their season average. Also, the Yellow Jackets fumbled three times in the first quarter: a muffed punt they were lucky to recover, a dropped snap to the upback that doomed a fake punt attempt, and a no-one-touched-him bobble by Nesbitt that was recovered by the Cavaliers. OK so sure, none of that was really our doing, but I'm going to give our boys credit for that anyway.
The real issue came with the time of possession. Georgia Tech held the ball for 42:43 compared to our measly 17:17. During the fourth quarter, we touched the ball for less than three minutes. That is atrocious. And that is why I don't think we can blame our defense for not putting up the numbers we were hoping for.
Honestly, I don't even want to review the numbers here. But that wouldn't make for a very good rest of this story. The Cavs for the first time this season failed to score when they were in the red zone. This came off of Randolph's missed 35-yard field goal attempt (his first miss of the season after connecting on his first 11 attempts) on a drive that started on Virginia's 47 yard line but only made it 31 yards down. Virginia only got a total of 11 first downs on Saturday, one of which automatically came from a penalty. This is nothing to write home about, folks.
"The game was a case of third downs," Al Groh said. "Clearly we did not make enough third downs today to do what’s necessary to stay out on the field. We allowed them too many conversions after we had experienced good plays on first and second downs. That was really a key thing."
"We controlled the game on offense," said Georgia Tech Head Caoch Paul Johnson. "And once we got in the red zone on defense, not to give up a touchdown was big. As long as you do that, you're going to win a lot of football games."
That's right. UVA wasn't able to get a single touchdown. And it's starting to get embarassing. Sure, we've scored on 11 of 12 trips to the red zone, but the overwhelming majority of them have been field goals. Simply put, we are leaving too many points on the field. This includes settling for 3 on drives that included a first-and-goal on the 6 yardline and a first-and-goal on the 2 yardline. TWO YARD LINE.
Virginia faces Duke next week. This shouldn't be a problem at all for us, though I did hear the announcers say, during the Duke-Maryland game, that "Duke's passing game is one to be feared in the ACC." I'm not sure what that means. Is there passing game really good? Or is the ACC really, really bad this year? I'll let you decide. I do know that Virginia currently has the 5th best pass defense in the country to date. (Note, though, that Duke currently leads the ACC in passing offense.)
Senior quarterback and leader Jameel Sewell is ready for them. "This is a team that never quits. We have to watch film...and then put this one behind us and start preparation for a big home game next week."
Saturday's loss marks the end of a seven-game winning streak by the Cavaliers in the month of October, dating back to 2006.