I kinda dreaded writing this article ever since about the 5 minute mark of the first quarter of the game. So I kept postponing it and postponing it. But I was finally able to watch some of the game on my DVR (not much, but some), and put together a few paragraphs on it.
This game was disappointing on many levels. Missed opportunities, a strange gameplan, and some atypical mistakes were all components of the loss. Still, none of that really mattered. We were simply outclassed by a team that was firing on all cylinders, and we couldn't match their skill or intensity.
Let's take a look at what transpired.
The first thing I want to mention is the decision to eschew the FG and go for the 4th and short at the 6 yard line. At the time, I thought it was a terrible decision, and we should've taken the points. In retrospect, it probably didn't matter, but that was about when I decided we had no chance to win the game. That early in the game, with a chip shot FG, you simply HAVE to take the points. This was, in my opinion, the worst decision of the Mike London era. I love Mike London's aggressiveness in going for 4th downs, but generally those have been 4th downs where we were giving up a punt or a long FG.
I think coaches, especially in the NFL, are far too conservative, because they want to avoid blame. Mike London knows he needn't worry about blame, so he can play aggressively. But this was far too aggressive. Take the points. Get on the scoreboard. Give the fans a chance to sing the Good Ole Song. In that situation, with a short field, VT's defensive speed gave them a big advantage. It was the wrong decision, and it set the tone for the entire game.
The fumble by Michael Rocco on our last drive the half was also disappointing, but for a different reason. On that play, we were set up to easily defeat the Tech pass rushers, but we simply failed. Several players made mistakes on the play, and I'm not going to harp on who made what mistakes, but the point is that Rocco was under pressure from the moment he took the snap, and simply had no chance. As much as the failed fourth down conversion set the tone for the game, this play really ended our chances.
Obviously, if these two plays had changed, every subsequent play would've changed as well. That said, if we had taken the 3 points, and ended up with 3 on that final drive, we could've been down just 14-6 at halftime, and I would've been ok with that.
We had been moving the ball through the air pretty well, and while we hadn't run the ball very well, we at least were able to run the ball 13 times. As I mentioned last week, the number of carries is almost as important as the number of rushing yards. We must be able to keep the defense honest, by having the threat of running. In the first half, the Hokies knew we could run the ball on any down, and we accumulated 166 total yards. That isn't a bad half, and only the two plays I discussed kept us off the scoreboard. In the second half, with no threat to run, we gained less than half of that.
The Hokies managed just 46 yards rushing in the first half. This is, of course, more than the 30 rushing yards the Hoos managed for the game. But, it was also well below the 183 they would end up with. Our defense was playing reasonably well, save for a couple of big pass plays and allowing Logan Thomas to run for a TD. These were typical of the UVA defense all season long. Getting beat deep and letting QBs run against us is nothing new.
The second half, unfortunately, did not go as well. David Wilson managed to get a crease and scored on a 27 yard TD. The game, at this point, was no longer in doubt. The rest of the 2nd half was predictable. The Hoos could no longer run the ball, and were forced to throw against a very good pass defense. The defense was forced to stay on the field far longer than they should've been, and the Hokies took advantage.
As always, some thoughts and comments:
- I don't think the Hokies tried to run up the score. Prior to their final drive, in which they employed all backups, the Hokies attempted one pass in the 4th quarter, and that was on 3rd and goal from inside the 10. I can't say with any certainty that we would've stopped a run, so I don't mind the pass. Up 28-0, you could argue that the starters didn't need to be in the game, but its not terrible.
- In the first half, there were plenty of highlights. Both Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins made some very good plays in the Hokies' backfield. Rocco had completions of 32 yards to and Max Milien, as well as a couple of other good completions. We were competing with them, even if the scoreboard didn't show it.
- I was disappointed that we didn't try to exploit the overaggressive VT defense with a slip screen, or something similar. The play that worked against Miami, With Darius Jennings going 53 yards for a TD, I felt was there numerous times.
- I also felt that we relied far too much on trying to run outside, and didn't allow our offensive line a chance to simply man up and push the Tech defense back. The couple of times we did that, it was predictable, and we didn't get much out of it. But we still managed to pick up a couple of yards on those chances. More of those type of runs, and we might've gotten a big play. This was an ongoing theme, I felt, throughout the season. Despite having backs that can run between the tackles, and having 3 very good interior OLs, we didn't do enough inside running.
- To be honest, I didn't watch very much of the second half. I couldn't bear it. Still, I think it is an outlier, the team was disheartened after their solid play in the first half was unrewarded. There were some bad breaks, including a missed FG and a tipped ball interception, and I think the team may have given up a little bit.
- I'm tired of not beating Tech.