December 2, 2020

Independent analysis and commentary on UVA athletics

Tired Of It

No. 11 Miami 19, Virginia 14:

We are not even halfway through this season, and I am tired of it.

I am tired of the slow starts. It seems like the Cavaliers were trying to break their own record to see how quickly they could fall behind at the beginning of the game Saturday at Miami. Twenty-eight seconds? Really? Miami does not typically play smart football, and even it knew to go right for our weakness. Deep passes right out of the gate.

I am tired of the missed opportunities. How many times did the Wahoos have a chance to take the lead? I count at least six drives — and there were probably more — when they could have gone ahead with a TD, and it would have only taken a field goal a few times early when it was 7-7. Virginia hasn’t led since its first game against Duke.

I am tired of players being unable to come up with the “big play.” My mind wanders to Nick Grant doing a wonderful job of diagnosing what Miami was trying to do, then flubbing a golden chance at a pick-6. Along those same lines, I am tired of the physical errors. How many passes will TE Tony Poljan drop? How does he make that beautiful toe-tap TD reception in the back of the end zone in the first quarter, but drop almost any pass when he is getting hit as he is trying to catch it? He is 6-foot-7, more than 250 pounds, he needs to be able to hang onto the ball.

I am tired of the bad play calls by coordinator Robert Anae that take away momentum from an offense that badly needs it. Specifically, I am thinking of the Tavares Kelly reverse on second-and-9 inside Miami’s 40-yard line late in the third quarter when UVa was down 13-7. He lost 8 yards, and UVa couldn’t convert on third-and-17. How many times does that Kelly reverse or end-around go for something other than a loss or short gain? Ten percent of the time? Yet, we run that play week after week. And one time on second-and-3 with the offense rolling along fairly well, I believe, UVa ran a trick play, with Brennan Armstrong coming from a wideout spot to take a handoff and looking to pass. Granted, he should’ve completed his throw to a wide-open Kelly, but still, a trick play on second-and-3? That puts too much pressure on a struggling offense on third down if the trick play is unsuccessful. And sure enough, UVa did not get the first down on third down.

I am tired of the mental errors taking points off the board, such as the trip to the 10-yard line when it was 7-7. On second-and-goal at the 7-yard line, Poljan was offsides. After moving back to the 12-yard line, Armstrong was sacked. Then on third-and-goal at the 24, Armstrong did a great job of finding Ra’Shaun Henry in the end zone for a TD. But wait, TE Grant Misch was an ineligible receiver downfield, negating the score. The missed field goal followed by previously solid Brian Delaney. Just a collection of calamities right when the Cavaliers were on the brink of taking the lead.

And don’t forget Kelly taking ball out of end zone on the return after Miami made it 13-7. He only got to the 14-yard line, a mistake that cost the offense 11 yards. On the first play of the drive, Armstrong found Terrell Jana for a long catch-and-run that went for 49 yards to the Miami 37, where the drive stalled. Had Kelly not returned the kickoff out of the end zone, Jana would’ve made it to the 26, and maybe Virginia could have attempted a field goal at the end of the drive instead of punting.

I am tired of the blown calls by the referees. Jana gets popped in the head and has to go to the sideline, and the referees don’t even call targeting after the review? Grant plays solid defense by blanketing a receiver, and a ref more than 20 yards away throws a flag for pass interference on Miami’s last drive on third down, taking away the final good chance Virginia had to win?

I am tired of the timeout usage. It would’ve been great to have one or two left late in the game as Miami was bleeding the clock.

Man, I love me some Bryce Perkins. But I really don’t think he covered up ALL of this crap going on. Is it the accumulation of the other good players that graduated? Not just the standouts, Perkins and Bryce Hall. But also Jordan Mack, Eli Hanback, and the sure hands of Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois (some NFL team needs to give this man a chance, please). Did we undervalue those guys?

Listen, Perk was awesome, there’s no denying that. I do think, especially last season, he covered up Anae’s flaws. I remember being pretty upset at Anae’s play calling for much of 2016 and 2017, and even some of 2018. But I don’t think Perkins made up for the mental errors of other players, for the other coaching gaffes. I think those are happening at a greater frequency in 2020. Are the strange circumstances of the season playing a part, for Bronco Mendenhall, the coaches, and the players? Perhaps, but that is an excuse. Every other team is dealing with the same distractions. Just improve and execute better.

I am going to stand behind this team, and I expect I’ll keep watching every week, because that is what a die-hard fan does. So many of you are in my boat, hoping against hope to see some more victories. But there is a serious question right now about the ‘Hoos being able to beat anyone left on the schedule except Abilene Christian.

And it shouldn’t be that way. This season has been so frustrating because we know Virginia can and should be better. After 2018-19, we expect more out of this program. The makeup of this UVa squad isn’t drastically different from the 2019 version, but something is off. A dropped pass here. An untimely penalty there. A strange timeout here. A bad play call there. Something is always popping up to derail these Wahoos. I am watching the games now just waiting for something bad to happen, like I used to do.

And yet, it seems like the past few weeks, there’s just a handful of plays that make the difference. Virginia doesn’t need to play a perfect game to win in the ACC. But can it even play at a B+ level? Because right now, it can’t even do that. If the Cavaliers can somehow change the outcome of just a few plays a game, I think the wins could come. But I have very little faith that will happen. This team is just a broken record of mistakes right now. It’s unlike the Mendenhall-coached squads over the majority of the past two-ish years. Instead, this is more reminiscent of the — GULP — Mike London years.

Observations And Notes

  • The defense had a very bad opening drive, but the offense’s was very good. It featured a really nice pass from Armstrong where he rolled to his left and found Billy Kemp IV on the sideline for  a13-yard gain to the Miami 6. Also, Ira Armstead came in for a nice run for 9 yards and a first down, and the drive was capped with Poljan getting his left foot down inbounds in the end zone for the TD. My only question is, where was that type of drive the rest of the game?

  • Armstrong had a solid outing in his return to the field, completing 16 of 30 passes for a pair of scores while rushing for 91 yards. Most importantly, he did not throw a pick. Virginia didn’t record any turnovers (I am not counting the fumble at the end of the game), a great development.

  • Minus that first drive, the defense did play pretty well, holding Miami to 444 yards and well below its season average of 35.6 points per game. Hurricanes QB D’Eriq King was able to escape pressure quite a bit and pick up some big gains, but Miami’s rushing attack was pretty much held in check. King was sacked five times, the most this season. LB Zane Zandier, LB Charles Snowden, LB Matt Gahm, and DT Adeeb Atariwa each had a sack, and LB Nick Jackson and DB Antonio Clary were each credited with half a sack.
  • Snowden has been mostly quiet this season but finally had a big game. In addition to the sack, he had eight tackles, 3.5 of which went for losses. Jackson led the team with 16 stops, and Zandier recorded two tackles for losses.

  • Atariwa wasn’t the only James Madison transfer to get in on the action. Safety D’Angelo Amos also made an impact, blocking Miami’s 42-yard field goal attempt at the beginning of the second quarter.
  • Kelly’s first kick return was very good, as he caught the ball right on the goal line and got it out to the 36.
  • It was good to see Henry tally his first catch and TD of the season at the end of the game, especially after his earlier score was negated by the penalty.
  • Wayne Taulapapa had another solid outing, with 5.6 yards per carry, but he only received 10. I’d say get him more, but I know any such request is fruitless in Anae’s offense.

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