On a cold, windy, Blacksburg afternoon, the Virginia Cavaliers ended their 2012 campaign much the same as they started: The team played well enough to win, but were held back by a comedy of errors that kept the game barely out of UVA's reach. Virginia's losing streak against the Hokies stretched to 9 games when Cody Journell's 29 yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, giving Virginia Tech a 17-14 victory.
Despite a fantastic effort by the Wahoo defense that should have been enough to earn a win, all focus on this game will be on Mike London's end-game coaching.
It started when, with the clock stopped at 3:42 remaining, Mike London used his first timeout to ice Journell, who would miss a 42 yard field goal. Icing the kicker has been demonstrated to be an ineffective practice; doing so with time remaining on the clock, when a time out may come in handy, is without precedent..
The Hoos took over on their 24; however, Mike Rocco threw an interception on 3rd down, floating a pass outside the numbers that Antone Exum nabbed, despite a potentially missed illegal contact call. There, the Hokies picked up one first down, then ran the ball to 4th and 9 on the Virginia 12 yard line, where they kicked the game winner. Despite having 6 opportunities to use the team's two remaining timeouts, Mike London allowed the clock to tick to 4 seconds, instead choosing to ice the Virginia Tech kicker twice. If London had kept the earlier timeout in his pocket and used all three, the Hoos could have taken over possession with 2 minutes to play. Instead, the team banked on a missed field goal and conceded the game.
We'll have plenty more to report on the late game clock management, especially after London and his team have a chance to respond. But suffice it to say that it will be difficult for any explanation to satiate Wahoo fans desperate for a win at Virginia Tech. There is no reason to allow the opposition to run the clock out rather than save time for the offense (maybe London thinks that icing the kicker is extremely effective? And doing it twice doubly so?), and his failure to do so today cost his team.
During the other 59 minutes of the football game, things happened too, and I'll try to address a few:
Don't overlook the defense: If it weren't for the unfortunate finish, the story of the game would have been an extraordinary effort by the Wahoo defense. The unit frustrated Hokie QB Logan Thomas all day, as he finished 18 for 38 for 129 yards, adding 89 yards on the ground. The Hoos won the battle in the trenches, stuffing the Hokie ground game all day.
In a low-scoring affair that looked to hinge on which side would make a big play, the Hoos made the play of the game. Eli Harold broke through, sacking Thomas and forcing a fumble that Virginia took back for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
Another questionable decision: Leading 14-7 in the third quarter, UVA lined up for a 38 yard field goal on 4th and 8, but ran a fake, coming up about a yard and a half short. The three point final score margin makes this decision especially glaring.
The fake is certainly defensible, as a success and a potential touchdown would have obviously been an enormous lift. However, kicking the field goal and turning a defensive struggle into a two possession game could have led to a different outcome. The play's design seemed to favor 3 to 4 yards to go situations, not 8 yards. Notably, the wind was at the offense's back, making the field goal attempt much more reasonable.
Eliminating the intensity gap: In last season's 38-0 Virginia Tech victory, the gap in intensity between the two squads was palpable. The Hokies took it to us, out-playing and out-physicaling the Hoos in all phases of the game. This was not an issue this year. Virginia came out ready to play, hit hard, made tackles, largely avoided penalties and mental errors, and won the battle in the trenches. This was a Cavalier team that wanted the win badly. The Hokies' biggest hits were two dirty cut blocks, one illegal, that injured Chris Brathwaite and Brandon Phelps.
Wind and cold eliminate offense: The weather played a major factor in neutralizing both offenses, though it probably favored the Hokies' more rush-heavy attack. Mike Rocco took the vast majority of snaps after Phillip Sims went out with an injury, limiting what UVA could do offensively. Because Rocco lacked the arm to drive the ball through a swirling wind at Lane Stadium, VT was able to load the box and stop Perry Jones and KP Parks on the ground. Rocco's interception on a floater outside the numbers was an example of his trying to make a throw outside of his skill set in the weather.
What's next?: Nothing. The Hokies are bowl-bound, but Virginia's season is over at 4-8. Despite many strong performances and reasons for optimism, Maurice Canady and Eli Harold among them, focus will unfortunately be on the negatives. UVA has lost 9 straight against VPI, and did so this time as a direct result of coaching blunders that will be remembered for years to come. We'll have plenty more here at Streaking the Lawn on today's loss, the 2012 season, and the winter sports to come.