Fandom in Charlottesville, at it relates to UVA's football program, has always been beset by the deepest of fair weather fans. When they're winning, Scott Stadium is packed. Not so much when they're loosing. To be sure, the football program has left much to be desired, especially after last years less than stellar performance. Yesterday's attendance was announced as 44,000+. But judging from the empty seats that number was probably was based on ticket sales not literal attendance.
This season's opener against #7 UCLA was beset by the usual plethora of "Really? Are you kidding me?" prognostications - anticipating a steam rolling blowout - much like what was witnessed against the likes of Oregon and Clemson last year. And I confess that I was one of those prognosticators.
Happily Mike London and his crew were able to Silence the Fans and bring a game to the season opener. Loosing is never a good thing but to loose by 8 to the #7 team, when you're a 21point underdog is certainly, as Coach London says, "nothing to hang your head" about.
The Cavs should take away from this game numerous positives and a few negatives.
First the defense was spectacular. Yes, UCLA's offense was "only" ranked 20th last year. But where was UVA's defense ranked last year? UCLA's Bret Hundley was continuously harassed to the tune of 5 sacks. Yes he made some good plays. But for the defense hold a Heisman candidate to 7 points is mission accomplished.
Second - clearly Lambert is not ready. At 6'5" he has the size to be a highly effective helmsman in the offense. Unfortunately, whether due to starting game jitters or other unknown factors, he was reduced to handling off the ball or screen passes and short dumping passes. All his passes appeared to lack zip. Many of his passes almost appeared as "lobs" which makes it difficult on the receiver and easy on the defense.
Third, Matt Johns is ready. Coming in relief of Lambert he showed no starting game jitters and effectively and swiftly drove down for UVA's first TD of the season. Both of his TD throws were difficult throws and difficult catches. Credit to both the QB and receivers for their execution.
Fourth, UVA's play calling selection could use some major overhauling. The "dive up the middle" is an effective play at the right time. But Tikki Barber is gone and so is D'Brickashaw Ferguson. One of the major preseason concerns of the program was the inexperience of the offensive line. That inexperience was further compounded by preseason injuries.
To stress a running game you need both - a power running back and an effective offensive line. No disrespect to either Parks or Mizzell or the offensive line. The patchwork offensive line deserves high praise for being effective yesterday as neither Lambert nor Johns were sacked. Both Parks & Mizzell are smash mouth type runners who will come at you all day and wear you out. But Parks & Mizzell, indeed the offense as a whole, could benefit from a little play action - regularly. By the 2nd quarter the fans, and yes, no doubt UCLA, knew that on 1st down UVA was going to run the ball - up the middle. Very predictable.
Last year the Cavs opened the season with a spectacular upset of BYU. Hopes ran high that the season would be equally as spectacular.
This year the Cavs play Richmond next then newcomer Louisville. The Richmond matchup is one dominated by UVA over the years. Louisville, however, coached Bobby Petrino, should not be taken lightly and will come to Scott Stadium ready to play.
Let's hope the Cavs can assimilate the positives and negatives from the UCLA game and use that to help them carry through these next couple games.