A win is a win, right? Despite a lack-luster effort, the Hoos came out on top. And, at the end of the season, that is all that matters. That said, if the Hoos continue to play with the same nonchalance and lack of energy, the season will be a(nother) disaster. But, as we saw last week, the team is capable of playing high energy, impassioned football.
The Hoos aren't the first team to play flat against a supposed lesser opponent. Just this week, we Ohio State struggle to put away Northern Illinois. There are countless other examples. Ohio State, of course, can be forgiven for taking it easy. They can afford to go on cruise control. The Hoos, with just 24 wins over the past 6 years (including this year), cannot be forgiven. Regardless of opponent, the Hoos need to be fully engaged, or they risk losing. Not just losing the game, but losing the support of the fanbase.
After last week's close loss to the Fighting Irish, fans were excited. The Hoos fought back from a deficit (twice!) and nearby knocked off a top ten team. People were talking about which games the Hoos would win en route to a bowl game. Now, after a "too-close" win over an FCS school, fans are talking about whether the team can win even one more game this year. Most likely, the truth is somewhere in between. They may win 6, they may not. They won't play as well as they did last week against Notre Dame every week. And they won't play as poorly as they did this week against William and Mary every week.
It seems most fans support the team. There is a small portion of the fanbase that is actively rooting for losses, just to hasten Mike London's departure. But most of us want to see them succeed. We're invested in the team and the program. When Maurice Canady takes a punt return back to the house, we're nearly as excited as he is. (Especially when we called it, as I did in my game preview!)
But when the team gets beat deep on yet another failed blitz attempt, we are disheartened. When the team misses tackle after tackle, getting gashed in the ground game, we are disheartened. When someone on the team commits yet another bone-headed and poorly timed penalty, we are disheartened.
When the coach wastes yet another timeout, we struggle with disbelief. When the team gets beat on a surprise on-sides kick for the 2nd time in 2 seasons, we struggle with disbelief. When the team plays back to back downs with only 10 defenders on the field, we struggle with disbelief.
Certainly, you can fault the players to some degree. Missed tackles happen. Malik Abdul-Saboor is a very good RB who could've played FBS football. But when it happens over and over again, you start to question whether proper tackling technique is being taught.
Sure Canady's punt return was great, but with another missed FG, the onsides kick, a blocked punt, and two long returns, special teams remain a disaster. Maybe it's unfair to blame the coaches for the team's failures and not credit the coaches for the team's success, but I'm giving most of the credit for the punt return to Canady, because he made moves, made people miss and outran the coverage. The onsides kick is 100% on the coaching staff. Obviously, opposing teams are seeing something in our return game that makes them believe they can recover a surprise onsides kick. A well coached team doesn't allow that to happen twice within 8 games.
In the week 1 game, Steve Fairchild took the brunt of the complaints for his uninspired play-calling. In the week 2 game, Jon Tenuta took the brunt of the complaints for the incessant blitzing that led to Notre Dame's big plays. In this week's game, both coordinators are under the gun.
The Hoos scored 5 TDs in the game. One came on the punt return. One came on Jordan Ellis' tremendous run, which was a poor play call that should've been stuffed for no gain. One came on another Canaan Severin one-handed grab. And one on Smoke's 80 yard screen. I would give Fairchild more credit for that if it wasn't simply his go-to play on 2nd or 3rd and long. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. The final TD was a well designed play-fake that left Connor Wingo-Reeves open for his first career TD.
So, I give Fairchild credit for 2 of the TDs (Severin and Wingo-Reeves). But, I also have to blame Fairchild for Canaan Severin never seeing another pass the entire game after his TD. I blame Fairchild for the team having just 12 rushing yards in the 2nd half (and that is after removing the sack and kneel downs). And I blame Fairchild for calling the same rushing play to Albert Reid twice in 3 plays at the shadow of the goalline. After he was stuffed on first down, what led Fairchild to believe Reid would be successful on 3rd down?
And, regarding Tenuta, I'm fed up. When Eli Harold was getting constantly double-teamed, the blitzes worked. Either offenses had to leave a free pass-rusher, or they had to keep extra blockers in. Either way, this was a win for the defense. Right now, there is nobody on the defense that offenses have to really worry about. So you end up with either one-on-one coverage outside, which teams are exploiting or open receivers underneath, which teams are also exploiting.
The Hoos right now rank 101st in total defense and scoring defense. They have forced 0 turnovers in 3 games. They have 6 sacks, which wouldn't be all that bad if they weren't blitzing on every down. On the Tribe's 2nd TD, the Hoos sent 7 pass rushers on 4th down and 3. That is crazy. Nobody does that. There's a reason that nobody does that. And that reason is, you don't need a big play from your defense on 4th down. You don't need a sack. You don't need to force a turnover. All you need to is stop them from picking up 3 yards. Why was Andrew Caskin wide open? Because there were only 4 UVA defenders available to cover 5 William and Mary pass routes.
If Mike London doesn't realize that the incessant blitzing is hurting the team, he needs to go. If he does realize it, and won't (or can't) stop Tenuta, he needs to go. If he doesn't realize that special teams are killing the team, needs to go. If he does realize it and can't (or won't) do anything about it, he needs to go. If he doesn't realize that Steve Fairchild's playcalling is unimaginative and predictable, he needs to go. If he does realize it and can't (or won't) remove Fairchild from that position, he needs to go.
London, for all his faults as a coach, is a good man. The kids the love him. They want to play for him. He inspires them. You could see it on the sidelines during the Notre Dame game. They were in. But if that is going to be his calling card, he needs to be able to energize the team for William and Mary. He needs to be able to bring the team back up after the devastating loss to the Irish. If his calling card is enthusiasm and energy, we need to see it on the field every game and not just for the Notre Dames of the world. If he can't do that, he needs to go.
What's the common thread here? I think you know.
As always, some notes:
- On William and Mary's final TD, they lined up in a spread formation with 3 WRs to the left side of the formation. The inside man was Devonte Dedmon, who was clearly the go-to guy in the passing game for William and Mary. The two outside guys were matched up in press coverage. Dedmon was not. When I saw the formation and the coverage, I said to myself, "Dedmon is going to run an out and score". Sure enough, that's what happened. How can London or Tenuta not see the same thing I saw? Of course, with no TOs left, there may not have been anything they could've done about it even if they had seen it.
- On fourth down, on the goalline, why is UVA in man coverage? And why is Quin Blanding in single coverage on W&M's best WR? And if he is, why isn't he in press coverage? If we're going to play nickel defense all game long, why isn't there a CB covering their best player on one of the biggest plays of the game? I suppose we should be thankful there was anybody on him, considering the previous 4th down the Tribe converted.
- One of the chief complaints about London is that he doesn't seem to get basic football concepts. On the Tribe's possession following Canady's TD, they faced 3rd down and 6 at their own 35. They picked up 3 or 4 yards on the play, but were called for holding on the play. Last week, I faulted Notre Dame's Brian Kelly for accepting a similar penalty. But that was late in the game, with the Hoos trailing and sure to go for it on 4th down. In this case, with more than a full quarter remaining, and in their own half, William and Mary likely would've punted on 4th down. London, like Kelly, chose to accept the penalty, bringing up 3rd and 16. While the Hoos held and forced a punt, this was still the wrong decision. If Jimmye Laycock wants to roll the dice on 4th down from his own 40 yard line, the Hoos should relish the opportunity to get the stop and give the offense good field position.
- Albert Reid is supposed to be the Hoos' "power back". But he's smaller than Jordan Ellis. And Ellis looked way more explosive. Reid is averaging 2.8 yards per carry on 24 carries this year. Ellis is averaging 10 yards per carry on just 5 carries. Maybe it is time for Ellis to get more touches.
- Daniel Hamm looked tentative running the ball. When he was successful in the past, he was getting north-south quickly and hitting the hole hard. Yesterday, he seemed unsure of where he was going. I don't know if it's rust, or if he doesn't trust his body after two injury plagued years, but maybe Jordan Ellis should get his touches as well.
- In the 2nd half, Matt Johns threw 7 passes. Not one of them was a downfield pass. After having success in the first half with passes to Severin, David Eldridge and Keeon Johnson, Fairchild went back to his calling card of short, safe passes. Short, safe passes that don't work. How does Canaan Severin tear up the 29th ranked defense in the country a week ago and then not see a single pass in the 2nd half against an FCS team? Steve, what are you thinking?
- When isn't a good time to run play-action? If you said "right after being stuffed on a first down run", you're right. On the Hoos final drive (not including the kneel downs), the Hoos first down play was a very predictable run off-tackle with Smoke. I actually don't mind it too much, you want to run clock. Obviously, you hope to block better and pick up 3-4 yards. But, after being stuffed for no gain, the next play was a play-action pass. The play-fake fooled exactly nobody. The Tribe were all over Matt Johns for an 8 yard sack. The problem with the play-fake is that is forces Johns to keep his back turned to the defense, so he can't feel the pass rush. Also, you'll be shocked to hear that the play-call on 3rd and long was a screen pass to Smoke.