Mike London decided to insert quarterback Phillip Sims into the game for two second-half drives. Does the QB rotation plan have merit?
"Wild" doesn't even begin to describe every aspect of UVA's thrilling victory over the Nittany Lions at Scott Stadium on Saturday. From Sam Fickens's four missed field goals to the tumultuous weather (driving rain during Fickens' final failed FG attempt transitioned perfectly to brilliant sunshine when the clock hit 0:00), fans and viewers at home all seemed to have the same thought: "What in the world just happened?"
Thankfully, you have us here to
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Why did Phillip Sims enter the game for two late-game drives?
This is one of those issues that falls into the "inexplicable" category. Though I wouldn't say he was at his sharpest, Mike Rocco was not responsible for the offense's stuggles up to that point late in the third quarter; on the previous drive, he had completed a pretty 23-yard pass to Jake McGee before the offense turned the ball over on a fumble. There was simply no reason to roll the dice and insert Sims into a three point game. At the time, I figured that Mike Rocco could have been banged up and in need of a breather, as I couldn't think of any other reasoning. That wasn't the case, and Mike London's explanation in his post-game presser was just not good enough:
"At that point in time, right after the mucked snap, I just wanted him to get on the sideline and look at the game a little bit," [...] "Again, like I said, I brought Michael out to look at what's going on, to watch the game. I gave Phillip an opportunity to get in there. He was a little rusty with some throws. I also believe that Michael has done a nice job and runs his team well. We have another quarterback that's a good quarterback that you have to give opportunities to. There was no, 'You're coming out because you're bad', or anything like that. It was another way to give a guy some reps and allow Mike to see what's going on."
Mike London is the head coach and knows infinitely more about the abilities of his players than fans watching in the stadium like myself. But I have never heard of a quarterback getting benched to get a 'sideline perspective' on a close game. And while I agree that we have two good quarterbacks, I see no reason why it is a requirement that the backup QB takes some number of snaps. One of them is the better option to help the team, and I would rather London stick with whichever option he chooses. The rotation system does not work, allowing neither athlete to get into a rhythm. As they say, "If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks." This was a bad call that could have most the team the game.
Where is the biggest room for improvement?
Virginia turned the ball over four times, three of those on fumbles, and committed 10 penalties for 70 yards. These are aspects of the game that I put under the "discipline and focus" category. I don't count on winning any more games this season with a -4 turnover margin; the takeaways will (hopefully) come, but we cannot hand the ball to the other team on silly mistakes any more. Four false starts at home are similarly unacceptable. The good news is that these mistakes are correctable and will pay huge dividends going forward.
What was the most important stat of the game?
Negative 12 yards. The four chances that Penn State had after Virginia turnovers, all in plus territory, the Nittany Lions combined to net -12 total yards and, thanks to a couple missed field goals, 3 points. The defense's effort in this game has been overlooked amidst the fanfare surrounding special teams and Rocco's game-winning touchdown pass. However, considering the difficult positions that the unit was put into by mistakes on offense, the defense was nothing short of heroic.
We know Jake McGee was the player of the game...who else deserves a "helmet sticker?"
Cornerback Demetrious Nicholson played an outstanding game. He is a sure tackler and a newly emerging leader in the secondary who has stepped up to fill the shoes of graduated corner Chase Minifield. Nicholson is a sure tackler who increasingly finds himself in the right place to make plays on defense. Saturday, he notched 8 tackles and shows up in the stats with 3 passes broken up. Keep it going, Trey!
How were the fans?
Props to Wahoo fans for staying loud and engaged all game, especially in the vital final minutes. And, especially, props for treating our guests with respect, especially considering the circumstances of the last few months. There was plenty of media attention about how PSU would be treated on the road, and I am proud that in Charlottesville the only discussion of the issue could be about the football game itself.
The Nittany Lions obviously brought a large contingent of passionate fans. And props to all those who made the trip to Charlottesville, as anyone reading this blog could appreciate that type of loyalty and school spirit. However, why should those patronizing restaurants and bars in Charlottesville, on both Friday and Saturday evenings, have to listen to that incessant and mindless "We are...Penn State" chant and the like? Acknowledging the perils of overgeneralization, I'd easily place these guys in "Maryland/VT" territory of fan behavior. Did other people share a similar experience?