This game was never going to be easy. We knew that. Going on the road, to a tough environment, playing a good team. Still, if you'd told me we scored 33 points, I'd have assumed a win. If you'd told me we outgained BYU by almost 200 yards, I'd have assumed a win. Obviously, both of those things were true and yet it was a loss.
So, how did the Hoos dominate statistically a still lose. Well, losing the TO battle 2-0 doesn't help. Giving up big plays on special teams, yet again, doesn't help. Another issue is the continued lack of big plays on offense. For the game, the Hoos longest play was a 37 yard run by Greyson Lambert on the game's second play. BYU, on the other hand, had two pass plays of over 50 yards, not to mention the 99 yard KO return TD which was the deciding factor in the game.
UVA's Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta is famous for being one of the most aggressive defensive playcallers in the business. His defenses have generally been very successful, because they put pressure on the offense. He wants to dictate the pace of the game, the pace of each individual play. He wants to force the offense out of their comfort zone. As you may expect, this is much easier to do against inexperienced QBs. It's also easier to do at home. It's probably more difficult to do at 4000 feet above sea level and more difficult to do against a hurry up offense. In those conditions, against that offense, the Wahoo defense was going to tire.
I had hoped that the defense would substitute a bit more liberally, considering the conditions. I had also hoped that we would see more of the base defense, with 4 true down lineman, as opposed to nickel package we'd seen used almost exclusively over the first 3 weeks. I was wrong on both counts, although the nickel package worked just fine. In this game, as in the Louisville game, the defense was clearly tired towards the end of the game and it showed in their play.
In both games, the Hoos gave up back to back long TD drives (against BYU, long is a relative term) late in the game, after having been much more successful earlier. Against Louisville, the Hoos nearly blew a 13 point lead because the Cardinals were able to put together two long TD drives in the 4th quarter. This was largely because the offense couldn't get anything going, and had 3 consecutive possessions that lasted barely a minute each. That isn't enough rest for the defense.
The BYU was much the same. Of course, in this case the Cougars already had the lead. But following three consecutive very short drives from the Hoos, the defense was simply gassed. BYU went 73 yards on 10 plays for a TD, then followed that with a 6 play, 66 yard drive (which was mostly just 1 play).
This is going to continue to happen if the offense isn't able to hold on to the ball long enough to give the defense rest. The easy solution to this is to give the top defensive players some more rest earlier in the game, but this doesn't appear to be in the cards.
As always, some random notes in no particular order:
- When, oh when, are we going to have decent special teams again? The big punt return was a big factor in the game, and helped give BYU a lead they would never relinquish. There was also another fumbled punt from Khalek Shepherd and obviously the big KO return from Adam Hine. Sure, there were some good plays as well. Darius Jennings continued to have success on KO returns. And Ian Frye has become a very dependable kicker. But overall, special teams are still a problem. And they have been for the better part of a decade.
- Speaking of Ian Frye, man he's having a big year. He's missed one FG, and it was meaningless. He's tied for the national lead with 10 made FGs. He's also now back-to-back Lou Groza Star of the Week. Here's hoping his dad is ok.
- The offense is starting to come around. Both Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns completed about 60% of their passes, although once again Johns was more successful on a per completion and per attempt measure. Of course, Johns was in the game near the end when BYU had a lead and was playing a softer defense.
- I was impressed with Steve Fairchild's playcalling for the most part this week. The gameplan was solid, with a better mix of runs and passes. But the specific playcalls were impressive as well. Using Khalek Shepherd on runs off tackle and things like that worked better than Kevin Parks' runs up the middle and the edge runs with Smoke. He kept using those type of plays and was successful.
- All in all, I'm disappointed in the outcome, but not the process. That said, the outcome is the important thing this season, and the Hoos have now lost 2 winnable games against top teams due largely to unforced errors. They almost blew the Louisville game for similar reasons. This team is much improved over the past 2 seasons, but the margin of error is still small and the little mistakes are still too big to overcome. The coaching staff going to have to fix these problems if the season will be a success. Or else it'll be somebody else's problem next season.