[Ed. Note: Special to HOOS Place, Robert Elder of The Guys In Ties Podcast wrestles with his dismay over the loss to Virginia Tech yesterday. And he didn't kill any trees to do it.]
Stop looking at the trees, and start looking at the forest.
That’s probably my favorite saying I’ve picked up on through my brief post-grad time in the finance world. It’s also one that feels appropriate as I sit back and try to process my thoughts on the most recent loss to Virginia Tech in football.
On Friday night we witnessed a budding tree grow incredibly ugly in the patch that hosts Bronco Mendenhall’s other 37 trees (aka games) at Virginia. But that’s only part of the forest.
I don’t want this article to sound like a dismissal of the Virginia Tech loss, because it’s not. Admittedly, that was the most frustrating loss I’ve witnessed as a Virginia fan. Not just because it was cold and miserable (as always) in Lane Stadium, or because of the cowardly play calls (and post-game comments, for that matter) by Robert Anae, or because of the countless missed opportunities to win in regulation, both on offense and defense.
What really killed me is that this was a game where Virginia had the opportunity to claim real, tangible momentum, in terms of recruiting, fundraising, and gaining legitimate belief and optimism around this football program. It was a missed opportunity to not just end Virginia Tech’s bowl and Commonwealth Cup streaks, but to really put Virginia on the map and show the college football world this is indeed a New Standard in Charlottesville.
And Virginia had the chance to do so. With 3:42 remaining in the fourth quarter, Charles Snowden made a play that great players make in big games, batting up Ryan Willis’ pass and picking it off, setting up Bryce Perkins and the red-hot Virginia offense at the Virginia Tech 11-yard line. That was the opportunity to punch ahead for the TD, as thousands of Tech fans thought Virginia would as they headed for the exits. Instead, Anae put his tail between his legs and wasted that opportunity – not just for this game, but also for the program’s reputation.
There’s no need to rehash the subsequent events, which entailed some late game heroics from Virginia Tech’s players (nothing but props for Dalton Keene’s 45-yard reception) and some dumb, unfortunate luck (you feel for Brenton Nelson being unable to recover Steven Peoples’ fumble in the end zone).
I’m not saying there weren’t other opportunities to win aside from that sequence that led to the Virginia field goal to make it 31-24, because there were many. But that’s the one that will always stand out and define this game, if not this season.
And it’s a shame, because all things considered, Virginia had a nice season. Not perfect by any stretch, but a respectable one that most fans would have welcomed after being picked last by the ACC media.
But if this New Standard is real, Virginia needed to do better down the stretch. It lost three of its last four games, with all losses coming against Coastal rivals. And Mendenhall is absolutely right – the Virginia Tech game does mean more than other games. It is disproportionately more important to beat Virginia Tech than any other opponent on the schedule.
However, after all of that said, I think it’s important for Virginia fans to focus not just on that one, ugly tree. The loss Friday night put the development of the program on pause, and potentially even set it back, by not finishing the deal, but it doesn’t have to be program defining, either.
By and large, this is a respectable group now running the football program. And no major changes will happen this offseason. Robert Anae will keep his job, and the coaching staff will likely remain fully intact, as it probably should.
And for the first time in Virginia Tech’s 15-year winning streak, Virginia has a competent athletic director in place that will hold people responsible. It has a dynamic quarterback in Bryce Perkins who is respected (even in Blacksburg) and just delivered one of the most inspiring performances from a Virginia player in my lifetime – on a bum ankle, nonetheless. It also has real organizational management, real succession plans in place (anyone else relieved Brennan Armstrong will keep his redshirt this season?), and real player development (remember, Bryce Hall was a two-star cornerback / wide receiver).
This loss stings. It hurts. It paused the development of the program, and it should not be forgotten. It was the biggest missed opportunity of the Mendenhall era. Carla Williams should absolutely take this into consideration when she evaluates the performance of this coaching staff.
But don’t let one bad tree ruin the growing forest. Be bitter, be mad, be angry – I am. Be sure to hold this program and the entire athletics administration accountable for their continuing failures against Virginia Tech in football.
Just don’t forget to take a step back every now and then and see the major institutional changes taking shape at Virginia. They’re noticeable. And if speculation is any indication, Bryce Perkins could really wow us and the ACC next season.
This isn’t supposed to give relief to your agony. Just a reminder that the forest is still growing.