Well that was certainly a lot more fun than the previous game. The weather even cooperated long enough for fans to enjoy most of the game. By the time the rain was really a factor, the game was long since decided.
We all knew that VMI was bad. A team that loses, at home, to a DII school isn't likely to put up much of a fight on the road against an FBS school. So, that made the 1st quarter quite deflating. In fact, when Doug Moore intercepted David Watford's pass on the goalline, he had a lot of green in front of him, and it looked like perhaps VMI would take a 7-0 lead on a 100 yard interception return. Thankfully, that wasn't the case, as the Hoos were able to catch up to Moore and bring him down after just a 39 yard return.
A 3-and-out kept the game scoreless, but at this point, the Hoos were losing the field position battle, having started back to back drives on their own 16 yard line. A second interception meant that VMI was starting their drive in plus territory. Again, it looked like the Hoos might fall behind the underdog Keydets. Once again, however, the defense stiffened and bailed out the struggling offense. This may become a theme this season.
Watford's two interceptions were both very disappointing. An interception that is a bad throw is favorable to an interception that is a bad decision. You can forgive physical mistakes more easily than mental mistakes. Throwing into triple coverage is a terrible decision. Watford is still developing as a QB, and the game is still too fast for him. This does not bode well for our continued success this season. Watford's biggest pass play of the game was the 38 yard TD to Tim Smith. While the throw was certainly good enough, the catch was a better one. Smith wasn't really open, and had to make a tremendous diving catch to secure the TD. Watford made a few other poor passes, and even his TD to Jake McGee wasn't a great throw, and necessitated a tough catch from the TE. As a runner, Watford looked much better than he had previously.
I've been disappointed with Steve Fairchild all season long. The offense is far too predictable. Way too many quick WR screens and flat passes. Passes downfield are far too few. I still cannot recall a single play this season when a receiver caught a pass with his momentum going up the field. Where are the quick slants? Where are the posts or seam routes to the TEs? Everything is either a WR screen, or a stop route. There were situations this week when the entire middle of the field was open, and the Hoos simply refused to attack it. We finally saw some use of the read-option and it was successful. I hope that is a theme going forward. It can be a real weapon, and it can help make Watford comfortable.
After a 61 yard run by Kevin Parks entire Virginia offense seemed to relax and things started working. The Hoos would score on 7 of their next 8 drives, with the lone stop being a missed FG by Ian Frye. (There was also a "drive" that ended the half, but that was merely a weak Hail Mary attempt.) It may just be that VMI's defense was beginning to tire, as they had been on the field for nearly the entire game. VMI's defense is not deep.
Despite scoring 49 points, the story of this game is the Virginia defense. Again, this may become a theme. The Virginia defense is very good, and is only getting better. VMI had 79 total yards. Their offense is bad, but 79 yards is ridiculous. Richmond's defense shut VMI out, but still gave up more than double the yardage. The Hoos harassed Eric Kordenbrock into a dreadful 9-27 performance for just 38 yards. You may recall that Kordenbrock needed 277 yards to become VMI's all-time leading passer. He is a quality QB, but he was simply overmatched in this game.
In fact, the entire VMI team was overmatched. There is little to actually be gleaned from this game. Nonetheless, it's always fun to watch your team dominate.
As always, some notes from the game:
- Ian Frye's missed FG obviously didn't matter too much in this contest. And it is possible that the weather played a role. Kicking a wet ball on wet grass can't be easy. Still, he can't miss 37 yard FGs. The Hoos are going to play some close games this season, and they may come down to FGs missed or made.
- Speaking of Ian Frye, every single time he kicks off, it goes to the same exact spot. This is enabling teams to set their kickoff return units too easily. It hurt us last year when Maryland's Stefon Diggs returned a KO for a TD. The Hoos were 2nd to last in FBS last year in KO return yardage defense. While they are 57th this season, half of the KO returns they've faced came in this game. Unless Frye starts changing things up with his KOs, somebody is going to break a big return against us. Until this changes, this is going to be a running theme in my notes. I'm disappointed that Coach Larry Lewis hasn't figured this out yet.
- Speaking of big returns, Dominique Terrell looked awfully dangerous returning the first couple of punts. Then, for some reason, he stopped running north-south, and started running across the field. I think he got excited about the first couple of returns, and was trying too hard to take one back to the house. He needs to just get it and go. A 10 yard return is better than a small chance of a TD. He was close this week to breaking one, and he'll eventually get there.
- Seven penalties isn't great, but only 50 yards lost isn't too bad. One was a questionable holding penalty that called back Kye Morgan's long TD run. One was a kick-catch interference penalty while I also thought was questionable, as it appeared the VMI player was interfered with by a teammate.
- The play of Daniel Hamm was a revelation, for sure, but let's not get carried away. His runs were decisive, but they came against a poor, tired defense. I do not think we will see much of Hamm going forward, assuming Khalek Shepherd and Smoke are healthy. I am disappointed that Hamm was getting so many touches ahead of Morgan. Hamm was a redshirt candidate, while Morgan is a scholarship player who has already redshirted. Isn't it possible that Morgan could've done the same thing against that defense?
- Along those lines, I can't even begin to justify pulling the redshirt off LaChaston Smith. Yes, he provides a different look at RB than any of our other backs. But if that was so important, he would've played in non-garbage time situations. He looked good, but again the competition must be taken into account. If Smith continues to get carries, then maybe I will change my mind. But I do not expect that to happen, and therefore I am disappointed in the decision. Still, his hurdle was impressive and very cool. He jumped clear over the 6'2" Canaan Severin.
- I can't really complain about the other burned shirts. If the freshmen OLs (Eric Smith, Eric Tetlow and Sadiq Olanrewaju) are truly the 2nd best options at their positions, then they need to play. Now, if that is the case, then there is a problem with our OL development. Guys like Ryan Doull and Sean Karl should be getting those reps. The fact that they have been passed by true freshman is scary. I never thought Olanrewaju would be redshirted, especially after the injury to Sean Cascarano. There simply aren't enough OTs on the team.
- And Max Valles was another burned shirt, but he already spent a prep year at FUMA (which is much like a redshirt year) and he was actually announced in the starting lineup, although the Hoos began the game in a nickel package. Valles came in later, mostly in passing situations and often replacing DT David Dean. Valles would like up on the line, in a two-point stance, and rush the passer. He looked good doing it. I suspect we'll see more of this with Valles (and perhaps with Mark Hall as well).
- I mentioned the "Hail Mary" at the end of the first half above, but what was the point of that. The chances of completing that pass were likely lower than the chances of blocking a punt, or having Terrell take one back to the house. Watford does not have the arm strength throw the ball 60+ yards into the endzone. Very few QBs do. Head-scratching decision there.
- The high point of the day, in my opinion, was the honoring of 99-year-old former UVA football captain and Naval Commander John Leys. The standing ovation that he received from the crowd was touching.