It was the best of offenses. It was the worst of offenses. Virginia fans everywhere were left stunned. "Who is this team? Where did it come from? Where has it been last year? AL, IF YOU ARE PLANNING ON SAVING YOUR JOB, CUT IT OUT!" Unfortunately, despite the trickery and fanciful work in the first half, the 'Hoos were unable to maintain the momentum for a full four quarters, and ultimately fell to No. 18 Clemson last Saturday 21-34 in Death Valley.
The game opened similarly to how every Virginia game has started this year. The Virginia Offense slipped, turning the ball over by fumbling on its first possession. Prior to this, UVa had gone 130 offensive plays without a fumble. But again, as has been the case, the Virginia Defense refused to budge, making a goalline stop on fourth down and holding the Tigers to zero.
From there things got interesting. Perhaps it was because the Clemson team had gotten word that BC had lost, thereby solidifying their spot in the ACC Championship Game. Perhaps it's just because our players have a "never say die" attitude. Whatever it was, a Virginia Offense that we had never seen before stepped onto the field.
Virginia found success in the first half by way of the wildcat formation (apparently, we've given up on calling this the Hoocat formation), and Mikell Simpson became the fourth UVA quarterback this season to take a snap. But what truly caught the fans' eyes was the generous use of trick plays, including one drive that had employed three of them, including a 30 yard pass from Vic Hall to Jameel Sewell on a hook and ladder, followed immediately by 4-yard touchdown pass coming off a reverse from Sewell to Hall. This became Vic Hall's first touchdown pass of his career. Hall has now scored a TD four different ways in his career (passing, rushing, receiving and interception). Is a touchdown fumble recovery in the works next week against Virginia Tech?
Things looked bleak when Virginia fumbled the ball with only 2:10 to go in the first half and down 14-17. Clemson would recover and turn it into a touchdown a mere 18 seconds later, perhaps the worst way for a half to end. But Virginia had an answer, using the final 1:52 of the half and a downright impressive 2-minute drill to hit the touchdown with 0:00 left on the clock.
"We wanted to move the ball down the field and try to get into scoring territory and try to get into the end zone," coach Groh said.
Despite being down 21-24 at the half, for perhaps the first time all season, I was enjoying watching the football game. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers (and for me), Simpson suffered an injury during the first half, effectively putting a stop to the wildcat, the one offensive scheme that was proving successful.
The second half was more of the same...of what we've seen all season. Without Simpson under center to run the wildcat offense, Virginia offense looked helpless on the field. The offensive line was simply unable to protect Sewell as QB, leading to four straight three-and-outs in the second half, after having none in the first (impressive, considering Clemson is leading the nation at forcing three-and-outs).
When asked about Clemson's defensive adjustments in the second half, Groh said, "I thought that the most significant thing in all of these schemes is all runners look the same when there is no huddle, but they did a better job with the screen and controlling the line of scrimmage. Then the absence of the one scheme [the wildcat formation] that had been successful for us was an issue."
The one thing we learned from this game is that the Virginia players have not quit on their coach, regardless of what Groh's future may be at the University.
At Monday's weekly teleconference with Groh, one reporter asked if Groh could share his thoughts on his job security.
"No, it's really not about me. It's about the team and it's about the players. You know, that's all I'm really thinking about, so I don't really have any thoughts on it."