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Tiki's Game Breakdown: Louisville

The Hoos finally won a real game. A big game at that. All these losing streaks were broken. Now we seem like a real football program again. The defense may be as good as anybody in the country. The rest of the team remains a work in progress. But at least it's fun to be a Wahoo again.

Greyson Lambert shouldn't be worried about a QB controversy anymore.
Greyson Lambert shouldn't be worried about a QB controversy anymore.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a QB. Sure, the story of the game was not Greyson Lambert. Far from it. The story of the game was the defense. And the special teams. And Ian Frye. And Mike London. But after two seasons of QB controversy and two games of QB rotation, Lambert has taken the job and (quite literally) run with it.

It wasn't the opening play 50 yard pass to Miles Gooch (a throw that I don't think Matt Johns can make). It wasn't the corner fade to Gooch (a throw that Matt Johns can absolutely make). And it wasn't the 10 yard TD run (a play that ironically works better with the less mobile Lambert). It was the leadership. It was controlling the pocket. It was controlling the game. With a defense as good as the Hoos, Lambert doesn't have to go out and win football games. He just needs to not lose football games.

He still made some bad decisions. The fumble on the lateral pass was a bad decision. Louisville had the play snuffed out, and Lambert should've either eaten the ball, or thrown it away. The interception later in the first half was also a poor decision. He made a couple of other poor decisions. Of course, none of those decisions were as bad as Matt Johns' interception.

I spent part of the game sitting in the front row, right behind the UVA bench. I had a great view of the team. After one drive, Zach Swanson was mad about something (I don't know what). Lambert pulled him aside, calmed him down and Swanson was fine. This is a redshirt sophomore QB who very nearly lost his starting gig talking to a 5th year senior. That's not how it's supposed to work. But Lambert just seems to have that thing that some QBs have. That trait that makes the rest of the team look to them for leadership.

There's going to be a point, maybe this season or maybe later, when Greyson Lambert is going to have to win a football game for the Hoos. He's going to need his OL to block for him. He's going to need his WRs to make plays for him. And, for the first time, I'm confident that not only is he going to get the help he needs, but he's going to make the play.

Speaking of players winning games, Ian Frye is a bad man. No emotion. Just doing his job. Making the biggest kick a UVA player has made in 3 years. I didn't have a single doubt about that kick. That kick, from 42 yards, was no gimme. Tough kick, under pressure. And he nailed it. No doubt about it. As soon as he kicked it, he knew it was good. It's a refreshing feeling to have that much confidence in your PK.

OK, I've now written 6 paragraphs without mentioning the defense. The defense that is now ranked 17th in the nation in rushing and 24th in passing efficiency. They're 93rd in passing yards allowed, but when teams can't run on you, they're forced to pass. And also a lot of those passing yards came late in the Richmond game, when nobody cares anymore.

After Max Valles batted down his 4th pass of the game, on 1st down of the Cardinal's final drive, I began thinking about how maybe Valles is the best player on this defense. Apparently, Eli Harold did not like that very much. Because on the very next play, he proved me wrong. Eli Harold makes this defense go. Statistically, Henry Coley has been the best player on the defense. And maybe he's the best all-around defender on the team. But Eli Harold is who ACC offensive coordinators are having nightmares about right now. You simply can't underestimate how important that sack was. That was basically a game-winning sack. On 3rd and 10 from the 13, Louisville has options. They can run it, knowing they're going for it on 4th down anyway. They can run a quick pass and hope for a broken tackle. They can try to hit a big play, again knowing they'll still on 4th down. But when it's 3rd and 20 from the 3, there's no options. You've gotta throw, and you've gotta pick up a big chunk of yards. Huge play from Eli.

That Eli is the best player on this defense should not be seen as a knock on Valles. He's just a sophomore and he's still learning the game. He should've had his first career INT, but it was negated by a somewhat questionable roughing the passer penalty. In two years, Valles is going to be the best player on this defense. Maybe. Because Quin Blanding will have something to say about that. He's already becoming a force in the secondary, in just his 3rd career game.

And here is where I try to put things into perspective. The Hoos won a game. A big game. Against a good team. But voting for the Hoos in the top 25 polls seems a bit premature. It's still just 1 game. BYU is a tough opponent, in a tough environment. And they are looking for payback after last year's game. The Hoos need to take care not to get too high after this win.

As always, some random notes:

  • The offense was good enough. That doesn't mean it was good. After the opening drive of the 2nd half, the Hoos didn't pick up another first down for over 20 minutes of game clock. This is why Louisville was able to get back into the game. The defense was tired. They'd been on the field almost the entire 2nd half. That's why Louisville's muffed punt was so big. Not only did it give the Hoos the ball in FG range with 5 minutes remaining in the game. But it kept the defense off the field for another few minutes. It's not crazy to suggest that the extra rest led to the stop on the next Cardinal's possession.
  • Does anybody have any idea what happened following the end of the first half? There was a scuffle. Benches emptied. Penalty flags were thrown. Then, as far as I could tell, nothing ever came of it.
  • Steve Fairchild was better. He made some great calls. Greyson Lambert's TD run may have been the best playcall of Fairchild's life. On first down, I think Todd Grantham would've bet his game paycheck that we'd be handing the ball off for a run up the middle. The defense sold out to stop Khalek Shepherd (I think it was Shepherd). And Lambert went untouched into the endzone, thanks to a great block by FB Connor Wingo-Reeves. I also liked the use of the jet sweep and the reverse. But Fairchild is still far too predictable at times. On 2nd down following a decent first down run, we're going to run it again. And on 3rd and long, we're going to run a screen. These are tendencies that opposing defenses will pick up on. And I still don't like the constant substitutions. Every single play involved 3 or 4 guys coming in and out of the lineup.
  • While we're talking about substitutions, there wasn't nearly enough on the defensive side of the ball. I don't think Eli Harold came off the field at all. There is enough depth on this defense that we can afford to give guys a breather once in a while. Even if it's just for a play here and there. Not all at once, of course, but its easy enough to slide Mike Moore back out to DE opposite Valles and give Harold a breather. Or vice versa. Coley can take a break by bringing in an extra safety (Wil Wahee) for a play. Playing in Provo, at high altitude, guys are going to need some breathers.
  • It's nice to see Miles Gooch have a big game. He stuck around through 4 years without much playing time. It's paying off. At the end of last season, I was doubtful that Gooch would even return for his 5th year. I'm glad I was wrong.
  • The WRs as a group have been playing very well this year. In and of itself, this is not surprising. What is surprising is that Keeon Johnson is barely seeing the field. Kyle Dockins isn't playing much more than Johnson. And Jamil Kamara can't get on the field at all.
  • The OL is beginning to gel. There are still problems. A missed assignment almost got Lambert decapitated at one point. And Louisville was able to get a lot pressure with power rushes straight up the middle. Teams with good DLs are still going to cause problems for this offense. Lambert (and Fairchild) are going to have to realize this, and plan to get rid of the ball quickly. Attacking the edges with sweeps and traps is a good way to slow down those interior pass rushes as well, and the Hoos did a good job of that this week.
  • This may have been the best performance from a Wahoo punt return unit we've seen in a decade. Five successful returns for an average of over 6 yards per return. No fumbles, no turnovers, no close calls. On the other side, the muffed punt was obviously the key play in the game, but punt coverage beyond that was terrible. Two big returns (one called back by a penalty) almost blew the game.