If there is such thing as an ugly win...we saw that in a chilly, breezy Scott Stadium this evening. The Hoos took an early lead, then bumbled and blundered for 3 quarters while the Idaho Vandals hung in the game and eventually forced overtime. The new version of the Cardiac Cavs had the ball first in OT and scored, then stopped Idaho on a heart-stopping 2 point conversion attempt to hold on. We'll have lots of coverage and discussion on this one, but here's some of my immediate thoughts on what went wrong, what went right (something must have gone right, we did win...), and where we go from here.
The Defense: I figure I should start with a bright spot: the defense had no responsibility for this debacle. The unit was put in some bad positions by the offense and special teams and held their own. Quarterback Brian Reader gained just 193 yards on 17 for 41 passing and the rushing attack combined for 103 yards. They allowed two field goals, both on drives that started around midfield, and were not responsible for the Idaho touchdown. Idaho went 3 for 17 on third downs, converting just 11 first downs overall. Finally, Dom Joseph had an interception in the end zone and Chase Minifield had a great pick at midfield in the 4th quarter, in which he tipped the ball up in the air to himself. There was a lapse or two, notably resulting in Idaho's overtime touchdown on a nicely thrown ball, but good game by the D.
Quarterbacks: I have no idea how our QB rotation works, but it clearly is not too effective. Mike Rocco started the game and led the team to two quick touchdowns before being removed for David Watford. Rocco then retook his spot until the 4th quarter, where Watford led all but one drive, including overtime. The offense was stagnant much of the game and were harmed by two fumbles and an interception. Based on the stats, Mike Rocco was the better option (20-30, 240 yards 1 TD vs. 10-20 95 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), though Watford did lead the game-winning overtime drive. The plan seems to ruin any sense of rhythm in the passing game. I also found it puzzling that despite the two QBs having pretty different skill sets, they run pretty similar offenses. What do we do about this? What if we start Rocco and play Watford occasionally on some specialized wildcat or option-type plays?
Puzzling decisions: I don't mean to pile on criticism of the coaching staff...but their in-game management does not inspire confidence in fans. With 6 seconds left in the first half, we passed up a 37-yard field goal attempt and ran had Rocco drop back to pass instead. This was baffling, to put in lightly. There was simply not enough time to take a shot at the end zone there, and, unsurprisingly, the clock ran out as Rocco scrambled. The loss of these 3 likely points could have cost the team the game! I'm also noticing a propensity for allowing the clock to run while we are on defense in order to save timeouts for when we are on offense. This happened again tonight when Idaho lined up to punt with 1:40 to go in the 4th. Why?!
Special Teams Problems: Anthony Poindexter's unit was a mess. Blocking a punt was probably the only way that Idaho would manage to score, and that's exactly what happened. They blocked a field goal too, and Robert Randolph pushed another just barely wide right. Punt returns were a problem also; Dominique Terrell allowed a couple early ones to bounce in front of him, and when we tried to adjust, they bombed two over our heads. Work to be done here.
What does it mean?: This was just about the least enjoyable win possible. This young team has lots to work on. When it comes down to it, averting disaster and getting the W is all that matters. The Hoos have 7 games left this season, all in-conference, and must go 3-4 to be bowl eligible for the first time in four years. UVA has the week off before hosting Georgia Tech October 15th. We'll use the week to break down this game, discuss what the team has to do going forward, and more.