None of us are thrilled about how the Virginia Cavaliers have started the 2015 season. But remember, we expected a likely 1-3 start considering the team's schedule and probably expected the same types of coaching shortcomings too. I asked the members of the Streaking the Lawn team: What has surprised you through one-third of the season, positively and/or negatively?
Brian H: I guess this will come across as me being naive, but I really expected the staff to resolve the procedural issues that plagued them the last few years. And yet, there are STILL problems with plays getting in late, wrong personnel on the field, false starts and offsides penalties, etc. These are simple things to fix, and yet the staff cannot seem to figure it out. It is stunning.
Paul W: I'm with Brian. My negative surprise, although it shouldn't have been one, is that this coaching staff seems to have gotten worse in its decision making. With Fairchild, slamming running backs senselessly into holes that aren't there is just what you get; that's not a bug, it's a feature. Same with Mike London: there's just going to be awful clock management. But those two seem to have infected Jon Tenuta as well (although Notre Dame fans suggest his blind insistence on blitzing, even when he doesn't have the tools for it, dates back more than just four weeks).
My positive surprise is Matt Johns. I was #TeamGreyson from the get go, and still believe he's a more talented quarterback. But Johns, while not as physically talented, has the right mentality to be QB1 for this team. I love him for getting visibly frustrated when the coaches can't get plays in on time. And I'll take the mistakes that are part and parcel of him looking to make plays downfield. This team isn't going to win by being consistent, because the coaches are too inept to win with the small margin that a consistency-first team gets. If it's going to win, it's going to win by moments of brilliance and Johns has shown he can provide those.
Brian S: I've been pleasantly surprised by our passing game too. Obviously, things didn't go too well for Johns against Boise State, but he started the season strong in games that weren't quite so out of hand. UVA doesn't need much from their QB, because the WR corps is probably the team's biggest strength - Severin has been fantastic, Thrope will be a weapon, and even Smoke could line up spread out and make plays. If we figure out how to utilize these guys, the offense could be pretty good.
Biggest disappointment is probably the secondary. That's the part of the D that has the most experience and talent, but they've been burned too often. It's not all their fault, as the youth of the D-line and linebackers puts a lot of pressure on the secondary, but they haven't stepped up to date.
Drew: The biggest surprise to me has been one coordinator's ability to adapt to his personnel, and one's failure to change anything. Oddly enough, Steve Fairchild is the most innovative coordinator on the staff, and Tenuta is sorely lagging behind. Virginia entered the season as a "power running team", and of course that went out the window at UCLA. Needing to dramatically shift the offense's identity in a hurry, the Hoos began to air the ball out against Notre Dame. Though UVa came up short, the offense showed very well against a top ten defense. With receiving weapons like Severin, Smoke, Thorpe, OC, and Keon Johnson, all hope is not lost for this offense to actually be pretty good... assuming of course Fairchild does not shy away from this strategy.
Tiki: Pleasantly surprised by the passing game? I don't know about that. Didn't we know coming into the season that the WR corps would be the strength of the offense? And yet, other than Severin (23 catches), the rest of the WR corps has 14 total catches. Teams have already started focusing their attention on him, and nobody has stepped up to provide a threat opposite him. Thorpe had the big play this week, but that was his only reception of the game. Maybe as he gets up to speed, he'll help. But guys like Keeon Johnson and Andre Levrone continue to be disappointing.
My biggest surprise is the DBs. This was supposed to be the strength of the defense. And yet they've struggled. Quin Blanding is a preseason All-American, but he's arguably been outplayed by Kelvin Rainey. Tim Harris hasn't developed and Tra still looks hesitant. Canady has been our best defender, probably by far. And yet he got beat on the most important play of the season against ND. Some of this is scheme, and some of it is quality of opponent. A lot of guys are going to get beat deep by Will Fuller and as we've discussed, Canady shouldn't have been in that position. But earlier in that drive, Canady had a chance for a pick that would've sealed the game. And he was a hair slow. That seems to be the story of the Hoos defense this year. A hair slow. The pass rush is a hair slow. The run defense is a hair slow. And the pass coverage is a hair slow. That's why the Hoos have the 100th ranked defense in the nation, and that's why they've yet to force a TO.
Caroline: The biggest surprise has been the defense. I knew losing guys like Harris, Valles, and Harold would be a huge knock, but I didn't think it would be this drastic a difference. They haven't had much success stopping anyone, which forces the offense into a shoot out, which I don't think anyone wants a part of.
On the positive side, I am enamored with Canaan Severin. He's been so consistent and just a delight to watch. I, too, am a fan of Johns. I think he's the guy, even though he struggled against BSU. I like his leadership, and if he's given some space, he can make a play.
Tiki: I was negligent in not mentioning Johns. He's been better than expected. When he's had time to throw, he's been much more accurate than last year. He's continued to make plays with his feet. He's hampered by a poor OL and no running game, and yet is the 55th ranked passer in the nation. He's only made one really egregiously bad decision, and that was the 1st INT against Boise State. The rest of his INTs have been poor throws rather than poor decisions. You can live with poor throws.
Danny: The 1-3 record is what I expected after four games. However I thought the blowouts would be UCLA and ND, not Boise State, especially after the Broncos struggles and injuries. Our defense has been hugely disappointing, ranked near the bottom nationally and has not created a turnover yet, which led to the close W&M game. The pleasant surprise has been the play of Matt Johns, who was looking like UVA's first consistent good QB play in a decade before the Boise State game.
Ryan: On the positive side, I am going to say Taquan Mizell. Nobody ever doubted that he was fast, however he never seemed football fast to me. He would too often get beat to the ball or beat to the hole. This year the explosion has been there. Look no further than the slant he caught for a TD against Boise State. The ball led him just enough, but as soon as he caught it, he looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he took off.
Negatively, I have been disappointed by the way this team has carried themselves. When Littlepage retained London last year, he did so remarking how much of an Ambassador the coach is for the University. Unfortunately, I saw the opposite on Friday night. Between the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, to the showboating after tackles, to the demonstrative body language displayed by the head coach after penalties, it was an embarrassing display and one I didn't think we would have to endure as fans of Virginia.
Chime in: What has surprised YOU this football season?