September 12, 2013

A Weekend of Football

Last Friday night, I took my 5-year old son to a high school football game (Monacan @ Godwin).  We had a great time, probably the best father-son bonding event the two of us have ever shared.  And in the process, I was reminded of all the reasons I love football.

I don't want to use this space on a Virginia fan blog to gush any more about the experience, but I will say that just being there with my boy, being easy, forgetting the day, and just absorbing a football game - the basic strategies, the playcalling, the execution, the desire the players showed - made it a really great evening.

It was simple.  It was fun.

Saturday's game in Scott Stadium against the Oregon Ducks was a really weird juxtaposition from the high school game from the night before.  Instead of a cool evening, it was a hot day.  Instead of breezy night air, it was jabbing rays of sunlight stabbing my eyes.  Instead of a loose, easy, fun experience, it was tense and uncomfortable, sad and sobering.  Comfortable simplicity gave way to the angst-twisted consideration of football politics.  Why were we playing this game?

I'm never going to love Mills Godwin as much as I love UVA, and I'll never be a fan of the Godwin Eagles more than I'm a fan of the Hoos.  But Saturday was painful.  And confusing.  And if I'm being honest, I did not have fun at that game.  And if I'm being even more honest, the fact that I didn't have fun really pisses me off.  I've elevated the importance of Virginia Football in my life to a point where failure is pain and stupidity is agony.

Here it is: Playing Oregon was stupid.  It was bullshit.  It was a clumsy money grab, at the expense of the fragile confidence the team is trying to build, at the expense of the flimsy pride UVA fans are trying to cultivate.  We whored out a certain loss to the highest bidder, and we didn't even notch a sellout (58,502 announced for a 62K capacity, and at least 12K were nouveau riche Quack Attack fans; we had an announced attendance of 64,947 against USC in 2008).  Really, our stadium was only about 90% full.  This has to be considered an epic-level backfire by the administration.

I hate that we played Oregon.  And no matter how much I try to tell myself that playing the Ducks will harden our team and help us get ready to ascend to the big-time, while showing recruits that we have real gridiron ambition, the courage to play against the best, and a desire to join the national elite... that candy coating just won't stick to this log of shit Jon Oliver is asking me to eat.

This ain't no candy apple.

After a Sunday spent watching NFL opening weekend football, fretting over the Pink Nightmare (my fantasy football team), and staying up way too late watching the Sunday and Monday night games (including the late-late Texans @ Chargers game on Monday night), I'm feeling a bit of football overload.  Like, a little too much of a good thing.  Toothache after a candy apple.  Still, I feel the need to circle back to Saturday's cashgrab bloodbath and share with Wahooze Nation my impressions and interpretations.  Godwin Football is my new Friday relaxation technique, Virginia Football is my lifelong heated obsession.  It's a jarring juxtaposition, but I'm comfortable with it for now.

Pop open the season stats, and let's break it down by position.

David Watford... well... so far, he sucks.  The good news here is that Greyson Lambert looked even worse than Watford when he came in late.  That was a relief (we don't need a QB controversy!), but it was also a bit unsettling.  (Maybe Watford won the job because the competition was just wretched?  Like, the lesser of the two evils instead of truly winning the job.)  But look, the elite-level defenses BYU and Oregon threw at us would have made any young QB look terrible.  I still have hope in Watford, but he needs to calm the fuck down.  And the gameplan and playcalling need to do him some favors by guiding him out of the pocket and by demanding the ball go a bit further down the field.  3.75 yards per passing attempt is a joke.  Also, knowing that Watford has some speed, I want to see some smart, scripted runs.  1 yard per carry is putrid.  Our good-enough-and-maybe-better-than-expected 1-1 start will give way to a 3-9 record quickly, if we don't get more from our quarterback.  After three weeks to prep for Pitt, I'm expecting to see much better results.

Running Back
Where to start?  KP is getting ~20 carries/game so far.  That's good.  But other than his late 13-yard touchdown run against BYU, his carries haven't been anything better than ho-hum (3.2 ypc).  This would be a huge problem, if all of the other backs weren't struggling in the same way.  So I bullishly credit the BYU and Oregon defenses here.  Khalek Shepherd has actually looked pretty good as the #2 guy, even if you take away the 45-yard TD against the Ducks.  Smoke remains a bit of a disappointment.  I thought he'd have more speed, quickness, and wiggle than what he's showing, and I thought we'd target him in the passing game more than the 6-or-so passes he's seen.  Facing weaker defenses, this trio should be able to step up and provide the offense with a bit of a backbone --- it's clear we're going to be - and going to NEED to be - a run-first offense this season.  These guys need to produce.

Billy Skrobacz (Skrobags!) is the smallest "fullback" I have ever seen.  That is all.  Oh, wait, one more thing: Put Connor Wingo-Reeves on the field!  We're burning his redshirt, let's let him play from scrimmage, see what he can do.  If our offense is going to be predicated on power running, get our best lead blocker on the field at the fullback position.  I have no reason to doubt that guy is CWR.

Wide Receiver
It's a frustrating group, but with so little going downfield, it's hard to judge.  Nobody on the team has more than 64 yards receiving, total, after two games.  The stats aren't there, but DJ has passed the eyeball test so far, and I'm expecting pretty big things from him now as he assumes WR1 duties.  Tim Smith caught the deadly Dominique Terrell Type-2 Stonehandsius Dropsies virus, but it looks like Dom has been vaccinated and healed his hands.  We'll see.  All of these guys are small, and quicker than fast, so the ceiling is somewhat low.  But until the passing and playcalling get out of the 1940s, the receivers will be stuck to the floor, anyway.  I definitely want to see more of E.J. Scott and Adrian Gamble.  Scott can catch, and Gamble offers a size/speed combo the three starters lack.  But with less than 4 yards per passing attempt, the receiving personnel is a non-factor.

Tight End
Zack 'Black Swan' Swanson has been a mini-revelation so far.  Homeboy looks like he belongs as a starter at this level.  Jake McGee is trying to get on track, and he made some Anquan Boldin-style angry-looking catches against Oregon.  This unit should emerge as a strength of the team in short order.  I just want to see them catching more than the occasional "oh shit" dumpoffs.  (Again, credit BYU and Oregon.)  I also want to see a bit more of Rob Burns.  That big dude running around throwing blocks and catching passes would be a real menace to defenses.  Also fits in the power running scheme, right?

Offensive Line
Pass pro has been slightly better than expected, run blocking has been [obviously] horrendous against two fast, aggressive, attacking defenses.  Admittedly, I haven't spent much time focused on watching the OL, but KP doesn't average less than 4 yards per carry if there are holes to run through.  If the book on us becomes "these bozos want to run, but can't block run blitzes and can't/won't throw deep," then we are fooked.  Double-o, fooked.

Defensive Line
These guys have been impressive.  Beyond impressive, even.  √úberimpressive.  Eli Harold was a whirling dervish against the Cougars, and Urban Legend has been big and powerful in both games.  David Dean and Jake Snyder have played their supporting roles well, and with a mean streak I certainly appreciate.  I still worry about a lack of depth, but as long as this group can eat blocks and still generate pressure in the backfield, the defense has a chance to be very good.  I do want to see more Trent Corney, and I suspect I'll get my wish against the Keydets.  Likewise, we need to be putting Mike Moore on the field as much as possible, to get him ready for his greatly increased role in 2015, when it's really going to be shit-or-get-off-the-pot time for Coach London.  (One early stat line to highlight: Eli Harold's 2 sacks, 3.5 tiffles, a forced fumble, and 12 total tackles.  He's a stud.)

I want to start with Daquan Romero.  He's flashing some serious star power as a tackle machine.  Working behind our d-line, I really like him in the hard-hitting cleanup role.  Henry Coley has looked fast and effective, but he gets himself out of position a little bit too often (Oregon's speed and misdirection makes many Mike backers look stupid).  Brim has kind of disappeared from my consciousness so far, and his three total tackles in two games would explain why.  That's 13th on the team, by the way... behind the entire rest of the starting defense and the nickel corner.  Yikes.  I'm not sure if the Sam backer has a huge role in Tenuta's scheme, but this seems like a sucking lack of production from the position.  Especially when you consider Romero's 20 tackles and Coley's 15 tackles.  Brim needs to step up.  I want to see more of Mark Hall and Kwontie Moore moving forward, as well.

Anthony Harris was named national defensive player of the week in week 1.  'Nuff said.  He won that BYU game for us.  And then all he did against Oregon was deliver 7 tackles and a pass defensed.  He's a baller, no ifs, no buts, no coconuts.  Propers to Mike for calling Ant's star turn this season, even though the whole thing was my idea.  But between Harris and Romero, we have a pair of new stars on our defense.  The starting free safety, Brandon Phelps... is a slightly different story.  A badly blown assignment by Phelps (I think) led directly to Oregon's first touchdown, that fun 71-yard Marcus Mariota romp through the middle of our defense.  Calling for Rijo Walker is the cool thing for UVA fans to do, and I'm close to joining the in-crowd on this one.  Phelps needs to show us something against VMI and Pitt.  PICK SIX OR BUST!

I don't really have much to say about these guys, other than they've done some solid work so far.  Neither BYU nor Oregon really tested us downfield a whole lot, so jury's out.  But I have nothing but faith in the Nicholson/Hoskey/Canady trio over the long haul.

Special Teams
Other than one shank and one blocked, Voz has been great.  He's north of 40 ypp, even with the two gaffes.  He's been great placing the ball inside the 20 (heck, inside the 10) so far, as well.  Ian Frye, meanwhile, hasn't missed a kick.  His connection on the 53-yarder to end the first half against BYU was clutch cargo.  Frye's kickoffs have been fine.  The coverage units have also been fine.  20 yards/kick, 8 yards/punt, totally fine.  All I care about is zero touchdowns allowed.  And finally, our own return units... well... not bad, but not really good either.  Larry Lewis is obviously working wonders for the third phase, but I want to see more big returns to set up the offense on a short field.  Oh, and Khalek Shepherd, HANG ON TO THE FUCKING BALL.

In Closing
While I wish we had been a bit more aggressive offensively, we were never not going to get stomped by Oregon.  It's fine.  What's also fine is that we just played against the two best defenses we'll see all year.  I truly believe that.  All I care about is getting to six wins, somehow, some way.  BOWL GAME OR BUST.  That's the official stance of Wahooze for this season.

What I want to see against VMI:

-- A win.

-- A win by 40+ points.

-- 250+ yards rushing.

-- 500+ yards of total offense.

-- A competent-looking David Watford, playing loose and fast (and turnover-free) in a confidence-building performance.  And I'm not talking about his confidence, I'm talking about our confidence.  If the fans turn on him, bad news.

-- Smoke looking like the Smoke we expected.

-- Less than 50 rushing yards for VMI.

-- Less than 175 yards of total offense for the Keydets.  Our D needs to dominate this game.

-- Zero turnovers for us, 3+ turnovers for VMI.  Show me we can generate those big, game-changing plays on D while protecting the ball on offense.  That's our only recipe for success this season.

-- More tackles for Harris and Romero.  I'm greedy.

-- Sacks for Eli Harold.  Sacks.  Plural.

-- KP up over 100 yards rushing, and up over 5 ypc.

-- Darius Jennings asserting himself as our best wideout and go-to guy in the deep/intermediate passing game.

-- A deep/intermediate passing game, period.

-- A completely and totally empty student section, so we can just go ahead and drop the facade and quit pretending we actually have student fans.  UVA students suck at football.  (Those 500 kids at the Godwin game were better than our student fans, no shit.)

-- Jake McGee dominance, and some obvious chemistry with Watford ('specially on rollouts).

-- Pick six for Brandon Phelps, see above.  I'm holding you to this, 21.

-- A win.  A big, glorious, magnificent, blowout win.

Wanna see what happened the last time we played VMI?  BOOM.



  1. With Brim, it's hard to completely judge numbers because of how much nickel was played specifically for the 2 spread offenses thus far.

  2. ^ That's a great point, but he was on the field for 88 snaps in the two games. Three tackles.

    Not trying to bury the kid, I'd just like to see a bit more. Base defense should prop up his tackle numbers against VMI.

  3. one of your best articles, and this is why i visit this website

  4. I think somehow Harris might be being undersold in this offense. His play in the nickel package serving as a defacto linebacker-safety hybrid has really let that package be the strength of the team. I can't even think about how good he'll be at the end of the season and next year. He fits this defense perfectly.

    1. And by offense I of course mean defense.

  5. Couple of things to keep in mind about the Oregon scheduling I think has been lost by the anti crowd.

    1) This was a replacement game at PSU. That's $0 and a 50/50 chance of winning at best
    2) PSU would never have been replaced by a sister of the poor team. Never
    3) Oregon was one of the only, maybe only, team left that was worth replacing PSU with.
    4) a lot of the angst is about not making a bowl... What if we do?

    So net net take the surefire exposure, bring recruits on ground, and not Maryland our athletic program or 50/50 shot at a bowl? To me it's a no brainet.

    1. 1) Fair point. But once PSU backed out, it was ours to do with as we pleased.

      2) Not talking cupcake, I'm talking bran muffin. Lower-rung BCS conference team. Think Iowa State, Kansas, USF, Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, Kentucky. I wouldn't have cared if we went on the road this season in order to arrange a return trip later.

      3) Not buying that. Schedules can always be juggled.

      4) If we do, then we get a month of extra practice, huge for a young team. Not to mention the fact that a bowl game, any bowl game, is a giant boost to confidence and fan interest. I can tell you it's a helluva lot better than finishing 5-7 and fuming over this scheduling failure.

  6. No dude I meant what would you say if we make a bowl anyways. Then we get the best of both.

    Btw we canceled the PSU game not the other way around. So yeah only muscle milk no muffins would do.