September 6, 2016

Darkest Before Dawn

I'm not a good enough writer to organize these thoughts any better than just rattling off random shit as it comes to mind.  So bear with me on the formatting or whatever.  Here we go...

This was the first game of a multi-year rebuild.  It hits home just how far this program has fallen, how deep the crater that Al Groh / Mike London / Jon Oliver / Craig Littlepage blasted us into.  So mind your idioms and platitudes; Rome wasn't built in a day / It's always darkest before the dawn / Good things come to those who wait / What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger / The sun will rise tomorrow / We'll all be laughing about this soon / Tomorrow is another day / et cetera.

A week ago, I was 100% certain that Bronco Mendenhall was the right man for the job.  Now I'm somewhere around 85%.  Many diehard Hoofans on the message boards have already completely turned on Mendenhall, which is crazy to me.  He needs at least three years, at a bare minimum, to do what he needs to do to get this team to start playing well on a consistent, sustainable basis.

I went a little overboard thinking that Bronco could take chicken feathers and chicken poop and whip it up into chicken salad.  Instead, when I tried to eat it, I got a fucking feather stuck in my teeth and the chicken salad tasted like shit with some mayo mixed in.  If you got lost by my metaphor, here's what I was trying to say: Bronco failed to magically spin a shitty team into a good one, but it's hardly his fault that we have a shitty team.

However, Bronco made his job much harder by failing to woo back the fence-sitting fans and the casual followers in his first game.  Everything was a shit show, from the underwhelming hype videos to the disjointed team entrance to the shitty service at concessions to the woeful and embarrassing play on the field.  Shit show.  Shit.  Show.  Virginia is a world-class university, but when it comes to college football, it's a fucking clown college.

At some point, Virginia Football has to be fun.  If it wants fans, if it wants to be a profitable enterprise, it has to be fun.  Saturday was the complete fucking opposite of fun.  It was like a trip to the dentist.  (No, that's not exactly right... when you go to the dentist, you know you're going to the dentist; you know it's gonna suck.  Saturday was like expecting to go to Dave & Busters, but when you get there, instead of video games and a beer tower, you get a fucking root canal, a lecture from a hygienist, and a free toothbrush.)

We got our asses kicked by a FCS team.  No way to sugarcoat that fact.  Asses.  Kicked.  By an FCS team.  Jesus Christ.

I will say that Richmond is a really good FCS team.  Like, I'm fully expecting them to win the national championship this season, as long as Lauletta stays healthy.

Doesn't matter, though.  Virginia should never lose to an FCS school.  Never, ever, ever.  Never, not ever.

Here's my take on how the game went, drive-by-drive:
  • Richmond takes the opening kickoff and drives 64 yards on our surprisingly shitty defense.  We somehow luck out and hold them to a field goal.  3-0, Spiders.
  • Virginia fumbles the ensuing kickoff return.  NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
  • Richmond fucks around for 18 yards, but the D somehow again holds them to a field goal.  6-0, Spiders.  Holy shit, we got lucky!  Let's go score and turn this into a rip-roaring shootout that maybe our superior athletes can win!
  • Methodical, 11 play, 52 yard drive deep into Richmond territory.  Into the red zone.  Inside the 10.  We're gonna score!  Nope.  Taquan Mizzell fumbles on the 5, Richmond takes possession.
  • 10 plays, 95 yards later, and it's 13-0, Spiders.  ***And Virginia's glass jaw shatters.***
  • Except on the ensuing possession, we drive 63 yards for a touchdown, to pull the score to 13-7.  We would have been back in the game if our team weren't full of fucking sad sack headcases.  Like the badly beaten dogs we are, half the team had already laid down, accepting of the smackdown.
  • Richmond tacks on another FG to lead 16-7.
  • We piss down our leg on our next possession.  Punt.
  • Richmond drives 68 yards, deep into the red zone, but due to some shitty clock management, fails to score any points.  16-7 is the score at halftime.  Zero fun.  But hey, we get the ball to start the 3rd quarter.  We can get right back into this game, lickety-split!
  • Nope.  Three plays, nine yards, punt.
  • But the defense improved at halftime, seems like!  Richmond three and out.
  • Virginia on offense: five plays, 23 yards, turnover on downs.
  • U of R then rips off 11 plays for 70 yards and a game-deciding touchdown.  Spiders lead, 23-7.
  • But maybe we'll respond!  There's still 20 minutes left in this game!  We can come back!  Benkert throws an interception on one of his two bad passes of the game.
  • Richmond punts.
  • Mizzell's second fumble of the day leads us into the 4th quarter.
  • U of R touchdown.  30-7, Spiders.  We are really going to lose this game.  The fans leave the stadium en masse.  The diehards and the masochists stick around for garbage time, embracing the chance to launch some bronx cheers for the two meaningless touchdowns that come later in the game.

We scored a couple of TDs in garbage time, but Richmond scored one of their own, and we're left with the 37-20 final score.

At this point, I have to confess that I'm at least somewhat embarrassed about how excited I was for Bronco Mendenhall.  7-5 in 2016, are you fucking kidding me?  Ridiculous.

Which brings me to my next point, and a very sad realization: There is no magic pill.  There is no quick fix.  Bronco has to turn over this roster, all while playing as much the role of sports psychologist as head football coach.  He has to find a way to firm up that glass jaw for which Virginia Football has become [in]famous.

Bronco's got to turn over this roster, but his recruiting - at least so far in the 2017 cycle - isn't turning any heads or capturing any imaginations.  It's a reasonable assertion that he's got the most naturally gifted roster he'll have during his time at Virginia this season, and it's only going to sink from here unless he can find a way to recruit at a top-35 level, which he has not done so far.

I still have 85% faith in Bronco Mendenhall.  I think he'll find a way.  But I also think Hoofans have to be patient.  Which really really really fucking sucks since we had to be patient waiting out the end of the London era.  Now we're being asked for more patience?  It's hard.  And by the time Bronco is ready to start winning at UVA, there might not be any fans left.

Me?  I'll admit it --- I've considered bailing out on this shit, shutting Wahooze down and declaring my UVA football fandom dead, because it's simply not a source of happiness.  It's a source of consternation and depression, and that's not what you want from your "entertainment."

Dammit, I'm stuck.  A Hoofan for life.  Bleeding orange and blue.  Doomed to stupidly care about Virginia Football 'til the day I die.  Fuck my life.

I'll hold back on bashing the players right now, other than to say this: Daaaaaaaamn, Taquan Mizzell.  7 carries for 10 yards and two fumbles.  Good lord, man.  That's almost impressively bad.

I think it probably goes without saying that we also need a bit more from Andrew Brown and Quin Blanding.  Marquee recruits, supposedly cultivated into difference-making players, doing nothing to help the team win.  For Christ's sake guys, make some fucking plays.  Playmakers gotta make some plays.

It wasn't all bad, though.  I liked at least some of what I saw from:

  • Kurt Benkert -- He's legit.  Best Virginia quarterback since Marques Hagans.  And no, it's not too early for me to be declaring this.
  • All of the receivers -- We've got some weapons for this spread.  (Now send them a little bit deeper, Robert Anae.)
  • Olamide Zaccheaus -- I know he did something bad to get suspended for the first half, but... he's our best player.  I know that now, and so should you.
  • Jack Powers -- On a day when our d-line really sucked ass, Powers came in and provided a badly-needed physical presence.  I'm ready to see Andrew Brown benched in favor of this guy.
  • Donte Wilkins -- He was trying, really really hard.  Maybe he wasn't that effective, but he was trying.
  • Jordan Mack -- Young fella looks small, but he's fast and hits.
  • Micah Kiser -- He's a machine in the middle of the defense.  The one guy from whom opposing offenses try to steer away.
  • The young corners -- They did not have a good day, but all of them passed the eyeball test, which is a start.

The answer.


One last point I'd like to make: Richmond's o-line is legit.  So I did a little digging.

  • LT Alex Light -- Junior // 0☆ recruit in 2014 // Salem, VA // Light interest from Virginia, no offer.  Also recruited by NC State and Virginia Tech, no offers.
  • LG Marius Young -- Junior // 2☆ recruit in 2014 // Richmond, VA (Hermitage) // No interest from Virginia.
  • C Nicholas Vergos -- RS Senior // 0☆ recruit in 2012 // Memphis, TN
  • RG Thomas Evans -- RS Senior // 0☆ recruit in 2012 // Franklin, NC
  • RT Patrick Kliebert -- RS Junior // 2☆ recruit in 2013 // New Orleans, LA
This offensive line is big (average weight: 301), tough, and effective.  Certainly much better than our shaky, piecemeal offensive line.

USUALLY, when a FBS school struggles early against an FCS school, they'll try to put the game in their offensive line's hands, to calm things down and exert their will via power running.  Let the bigger, stronger, better athletes of the FBS line bury the smaller, slower, less athletic defense of the FCS team.  We couldn't do that, because our o-line is garbage.  Richmond, however, could do that to us... because they had a good o-line, and our d-line ain't great.  On Saturday, Richmond had the FBS o-line, and we had the FCS o-line.  Ballgame.

I wanted to illustrate this above, because I want all Hoofans to understand how easy it is to build a good offensive line, especially when you have 85 scholarships to toss around instead of just 63 (FCS programs get 63 scholarships to use, FYI).  Devote 18-20 scholarships to the o-line, and let the best players bubble up and form the starting unit.  Bring in at least four OL recruits every season, without fail.  Do this, and you come away with a good offense, despite whatever else you might have or not have at quarterback, running back, and the receiving positions.  You become bulletproof to the type of upset we saw on Saturday.

Mike London made a lot of mistakes, and suffered from a lot of sputtering incompetence as the head coach at Virginia, but his negligent handling of our offensive line was by far his biggest crime.

It's also the unit that faces the steepest uphill climb in terms of being rebuilt.  How Bronco Mendenhall handles this o-line rebuilding is, to me, the thing that will ultimately determine his success or failure at Virginia.  I believe he'll get the defense fixed.  I believe his offense will take advantage of its weapons.  I think he'll get the team's psyche corrected.  But if he doesn't fix the offensive line, we won't win.

Fuck you, Mike London.


  1. Say what you will about mike london and what he did to the program, There is no excuse, for us to get spanked by any fcs team. This was the worst game that i can remember as a uva fan. Richmond ran over us like they were florida state. I know that this is Bronco's first year, but i don't want to hear that rome wasn't built in a day crap. Tom Herman improved Houston in 1 year. Jim Harbaugh did the same for michigan. Im not saying that i expect our team to win the acc or anything like that, but for heaven's sake, you cannot lose to richmond in a blowout. When Bronco was hired I was probably the only uva fan that wasn't very excited. I was about 50/50 on him. I think he is a good coach that will improve us from a discipline standpoint, but i feared that he couldn't recruit well. But more than anything, I hate, hate, hate, the spread/air raid offense. For the life of me i cannot understand why people overhype this offense. Don't get me wrong, this offense can score points and it can be exciting to watch, but there is a residual effect that people don't consider. Most teams that run this style of offense usually have average to horrible defenses (ex: the entire big 12 conference). The defense becomes soft when it has to practice everyday against a spread offense. Also, it is difficult to run the football with power in this offense. There's nothing that i hate more than these teams running the ball out the shotgun over and over again. We wasted Kevin parks career by running out of the shotgun the majority of the time. Bronco use to run a pro style for a time at byu, i wish he would go back to it. The last thing i want is for our team to become another texas tech, score 45 points in a game and still lose. When i look at what we are doing in recruiting, i can't help but to shake my head. It is clear to me that bronco believes that this program can be consistently good but not great. He believes that he can take 2 star players who give great effort and make them good enough for us to perhaps become a 7 to 8 win team. This scares the hell out of me because if bronco consistently wins 7 games a season, he will be here forever. You have to be able to recruit talent if you are going to compete for championships, and that should be the goal. Why is he sending scholarship offers to guys in hawaii and utah. There's talent right here in virginia, ask florida state. You also have the dc/maryland area. The carolinas, georgia, florida. I just don't understand his recruiting philosophy. Im a uva fan for life, so im going to support the program, but i don't have a good feeling about this working out.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      Would you mind if I tackled a response as a full-fledged blog post?

    2. Sure, I would love to hear your thoughts.

    3. Awesome, thanks. Look for it in the next day or two!

    4. Sorry dnice! Ran out of time this week!

      But thanks again for the great comments on the post.

  2. My dentist doesn't even give a free toothbrush, anymore. I liked the free toothbrush.

    1. You need a new dentist, Bertholemew!

  3. I disagree with your point that Bronco needs to recruit at a top 35 level-we have been doing that already and see where that has gotten us. He needs to recruit the right players-apparently he needs to be recruiting the type of players Richmond has-you gave a good example of their offensive line. Richmond is just a better team with better players-period, end of story. Before we all go crazy lets see what happens at Oregon Saturday. If Bronco is what we hope this game should be more competitive-he is surely making adjustments as we speak.

    1. Point taken.

      My premise was that if you recruit lots of OL - no matter their star ranking - you'll end up with a serviceable offensive line.

      The working number in college football is 15-17 scholarship OL. I think that at Virginia, that number should be 20. At least until this thing is rebuilt and we're attracting more "can't-miss" level OL.

  4. "Dammit, I'm stuck. A Hoofan for life. Bleeding orange and blue. Doomed to stupidly care about Virginia Football 'til the day I die." Amen. Thanks for doing my venting, Kendall.

    I'll keep on cheering for this team because, better or worse, they are still and will always be my team. What CML and his staff did to our offensive (apt description, huh) line is incomprehensible. Hell, I remember Welsh talking about aiming for 4-5 per class then redshirting them all. Unfortunately, I think we are looking at something similar here. Not so good in year 1, even worse in year 2, and then better in year 3 and beyond.