First off, as kind of a foreword, I want to say that I feel terrible for Wahoos cornerback Bryce Hall. He came here as a two-star recruit, worked extremely hard and believed in Bronco Mendenhall and the program, and turned himself into a first-round NFL draft prospect. He could've skipped his senior season and made millions. But he came back to try to help the program take the next step. And he paid for that decision Friday night with a gruesome ankle injury. That sucks, and I just hope he makes a full recovery, whether or not UVa can benefit from his play again. His pro stock took a hit, but he still has a bright future. The team's loss was disappointing, but the worst part is its best player may have been lost for the rest of the season. The 'Hoos can recover and have a good year, but Hall's absence is likely to be felt on defense, and was on Miami's final touchdown drive, as the Hurricanes began to pick on De'Vante Cross.
Get well, Bryce. Now back to regular programming ...
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I felt like I was watching a Mike London-era offense during the Cavaliers' 17-9 road loss to the Hurricanes. The offenses during those years seemed to pile up yards, but when you looked up at the scoreboard at the end of the game, Virginia would have fewer than 20 points. Now, don't misunderstand, the offense has been far from great during the Bronco Mendenhall era, and I have complained many times about offensive coordinator Robert Anae in this space, but at least scoring has seen an uptick, with the offense more often getting into the mid-to-upper 20s as opposed to barely getting over the 20-point mark. But Friday night, Virginia had six trips inside the 25-yard line and came away with nine points. It was a throwback to an inefficient era. The yards didn't exactly pile up, but the Wahoos gained 318 and held the 'Canes to 265, as the defense put on an effort that was more than enough to win the game. And frankly, the offense moved the ball well enough between the 20s to win a close, low-scoring affair, too. Had Virginia turned two of those field goals into touchdowns, the contest would've had a completely different feel, and we could be talking about how the Cavaliers have a stranglehold on the Coastal.
But that's not what happened. A questionable fourth-down call. A blocked field goal. A fumble on a promising carry by a promising true freshman running back on a promising drive. A huge kick return by extraordinary speedster Joe Reed that turned into just a field goal. Bryce Perkins getting sacked five times after ending up on the turf eight times at Notre Dame. These are the things that happened instead. So instead of celebrating being 5-1, there's a segment of UVa fans acting like the end of the world is near. The question of what Mendenhall is going to do with the offense, especially Anae and possibly OL coach Garett Tujague, is a valid one, but one that probably won't be addressed until the end of the season.
So this is what we are left with for now. And I'm here to say the situation is not as dire as it seems. Yes, the offense isn't good, but it is still a step above what we had in the London years. Hiccups last season were common despite the spice Perkins brought to the unit. I predicted Friday's game would look a lot like the 2018 Miami-UVa matchup, and I was right. UVa's offense was really bad in that game last year. Perkins threw three picks and for under 100 yards. The difference is the offense did find the end zone once, and Miami is the one that kept shooting itself in the foot with turnovers, penalties, and just general mismanagement. As a result, UVa won, 16-13. But seemingly every bad break went against the 'Hoos on Friday. I really think Virginia was just a few plays or good breaks away from winning. The difference between winning and losing, especially in the Coastal, isn't that great.
This was the most visible offensive failure in a while since the Cavaliers put up so few points. Virginia has not scored a touchdown in six straight quarters dating to the second half of the Notre Dame game. It reminds me of the final stretch of the 2017 season when UVa didn't score an offensive touchdown in its final nine quarters. We have just reached the halfway point of the season, so the team does need to work things out and get out of these doldrums. But there were issues last year, too, and not just in that Miami game. The offense couldn't close out a victory over Virginia Tech. It had an untimely turnover against Georgia Tech that put the team behind in the first half. And the unit just wasn't very good against Pittsburgh and Indiana.
What we are seeing isn't new. But the offense also did good things last season, including putting up at least 27 points in each of its last four contests, culminating in the 28-0 Belk Bowl victory against South Carolina. My point is, the offense is inconsistent, but I bet it will get back to looking better, even though it will never be great with Anae.
But back to the Miami game and the state of the Coastal. The difference between the teams in the division is minimal. Outside of Georgia Tech, which does indeed look like the worst team, the rest of the squads are very alike. Virginia was a few plays away from beating Miami, and most of the games left on the schedule will probably play out similarly: Results will come down to a few plays, maybe final drives. That's good and bad for the Cavaliers. The good part is winning the Coastal is still possible -- more difficult after an ACC loss, but possible. Pitt was 6-2 and the champ last season. The bad part is if Virginia doesn't show up, it can be beaten in any game. And the same can be said for all of the six schools in the division that aren't Georgia Tech. It really does look like it's a matter of which teams show up in which games. At the end of November, the division will then be forced to sacrifice the team that emerges from the pile to Clemson in the conference championship.
This is not an everything-is-OK column. This is also not an oh-no-we-suck-again column. I hope this column speaks to reality. UVa is still capable of winning out, going 10-2, and capturing the Coastal. It's also capable of finishing 6-6 (or dare I say worse?). It depends on which version of UVa shows up. We've seen the good, we've seen the bad, and we've seen the ugly. But for winning the Coastal, Virginia doesn't need to be a juggernaut. At this moment, this team does not look like the top-20 squad that we watched in the first half at South Bend. But it doesn't need to be to win the division and accomplish the goals of the 2019 season.