Virginia fans: There is no need to panic. The Cavaliers lost to a Georgia Tech team that managed to put up 477 yards – rushing yards, that is – setting a Georgia Tech record for rushing yards in an ACC game. There weren’t too many highlights, and plenty of recurring lowlights, but it’s not time to give up hope just yet, ‘Hoos. There’s a lot of football left in the season and the team is entering a key October home stand.
Virginia may be 0-3 against FBS teams this season so far, but let’s keep in mind that these losses have come to (a) USC Trojans, no additional commentary needed, (b) Florida State Seminoles, who have my vote, based on what we’ve seen from them this season thus far, as the clear favorites to win the ACC (despite my preseason commentary in which I said something to the extent of, "Seriously, we’re still picking FSU to win the ACC despite their utter disappointment the past several years?"), and (c) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, aka the reigning ACC champions.
What did Virginia do well this week?
- Continued "Never say die" mentality. Virginia is quickly shaping up to be a formidable second-half team, even when down significantly. This is good for Virginia fans – it means the game isn’t over until the fat lady sings, or perhaps the final 15 seconds on a 2-possession game. It’s nice to see the VIRGINIA FIGHT, but at the same time, it would be advisable for that Fight to show up a little bit earlier. Perhaps at kickoff.
- The red zone defense was clicking. Not gone unnoticed was that the Jackets were kept out of the endzone until late in the first half after multiple red zone trips. In their first three trips to the red zone, the Jackets were held to two field goals and an interception. Something is working there.
- Matt Snyder has skills. Granted, his two big plays – an athletic 39 yard reception and another crafty 40 yard reception – came at the end of the game after it had already been decided, but nonetheless there was a display there that was beyond beating a third string defender. He’s got putty on his hands, and that could be helpful later down the road.
That’s really all I’m willing to put into print at this time. Now, where is there room for improvement?
- Virginia MUST learn to make the tackles. The Cavaliers are missing entirely too many tackles – mostly in the backfield – to be able to pull off wins. Missed tackles are leading to big gains, and Virginia doesn’t have the luxury of allowing any of those. This is the exact opposite of what I said after the Richmond game, when I thought, "Wow, the Cavaliers have learned how to tackle!"
- Where is the protection? Marc Verica does not have the laser-precision accuracy, nor is he quick enough on his feet to dance around the defensive line. My question is, then, why is he always exposed in the back there? The offensive line needs to do a better job of buying Verica an extra few seconds to get rid of the ball. Assuming, that is, he is even willing to get rid of it. Verica should work on reacting more quickly and knowing when to just toss to the sideline rather than take a sack.
- Stop running the ball. Virginia offense actually made Al Groh’s run defense look strong on Saturday, and that should be a cardinal sin. Despite Keith Payne’s impressive and rather surprising season so far, a very noticeable issue over the past two games – against teams with a decent defense – has been that the production is simply not there. At the risk of residency at Interception City, I would like to see Verica air the ball out more often.
- Speaking of airing out the ball, I really do mean AIR IT OUT. A 3-yard pass when it is third and 11 is not exactly the definition of smart offense. I’d like to see Verica loosen up his shoulder and start throwing downfield.
In any event, with the Tar Heels, Directional Michigan and Miami at home, followed by Duke on the road, Maryland at home, and BC on the road, the Cavaliers have a pretty decent chance at going 4-1, possibly even 5-1 if Thomas Jefferson is smiling down on us. As fans know by now, the Hoos need to get seven wins on the season in order to go bowling, which means there are only two more allowable losses to get to the postseason.
Carolina has not won in Charlottesville since a 17-14 victory in 1981. In fact, the Cavaliers have won 7 of the past 8 and 10 of the past 12 games against the Tar Heels. With multiple suspensions and NCAA violations currently plaguing the UNC football program, the storybook this year appears to be setting up a favorable ending for Virginia.