OK, well. I know I should be all kinds of disappointed this weekend, and, OK, I am, but instead of dwelling on the bad, we're going to start by accentuating the positive around here. There'll be plenty of times later to recap the myriad ways in which this latest football game could've been won. (No, one of them is not "more Phillip Sims" on a day when he was 3/7 for 10 yards.)
The larger point is that it could've been won. And while that's not as good as "actually did win," it represents an improvement. After nine games in a row, "an improvement" is consolation of the most miniscule sort, but there's a palpable difference between this and the other eight games that comprise this streak. The last three, of course, have been blowouts, and they all left you with the feeling that not only was the rivalry securely in the wrong hands, it wasn't leaving any time soon.
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The last time the game was this close was 2008, a near carbon-copy of this one, right down to the score, venue, and the game-sealing interception at the end. The main difference: 2008 really felt like a gut punch, because our team was lousy, their team was good, and we had a real chance to pull off a colossal upset. And it disappeared, and you knew it wasn't coming back because of the gimmicky fashion that got us that close in the first place; you'll remember 2008 as the game where Al Groh finally inserted Vic Hall as a quarterback, and Tech figured out only just in time how to stop him. (Which turned out to be: make them put Verica back in.)
Mike London has yet to come up with as good a surprise as that, but he almost didn't have to this time. Throw out the previous eight games and this one just doesn't have the gut-punch to it. That's because for the first time since 2003, Virginia went toe-to-toe with VT. And for the first time since 2004, Virginia lost, but without the ugly feeling of dread that next year will be no different.
Part of that has to do with VT, of course. Is there a magical rebound in store for the Hokies next year? They'll probably be better than 6-6, as their defense is still going to be good. But their invincibility is gone; their O-line is unimpressive and getting worse, and if Logan Thomas bolts for the NFL, Mark Leal is the QB-in-waiting and he doesn't put the fear of God into anyone.
That said, Virginia is still a program on an upward trajectory. Sure, it might be hard to believe when you reverse an 8-4 record in one year, but you don't turn an oil tanker on a dime, either. We'll get around to looking at what needs to happen to make sure that oil tanker doesn't turn into an oil spill, but the signs are still more positive than negative. After all, even a down-trending VT is an upward nudge for Virginia all by itself.
Further reactions in brief:
-- While the announcers and 90% of the fanbase made a thing of Mike London holding onto his timeouts after Rocco's interception, that bothers me less than you might guess. If we had 45 or so seconds to march down the field (against the wind), do you really, in your heart of hearts, think we'd have been able to pull that off - particularly after throwing a pick on exactly the kind of pass that would need to be replicated several times in quick succession? Also, Beamer would have been likely to try for a touchdown, given extra time and a chance to talk over a plan for it.
-- It's that pass that chaps my rear the most. This is why I think Bill Lazor's playcalling would be improved from the booth; the difficulty of completing that thing would've been much more apparent. Throwing it across the wind like that makes it a major crapshoot. Given our general inability to move the ball, the best thing would've been to play for overtime, thus putting us in scoring position automatically. (And giving us the exact same wind, every time, that Tech had.)
-- I couldn't help but note the irony of seeing the ESPN ticker mention the NFL considering outlawing all blocks below the waist just as Brandon Phelps was being helped off the field after a legal block below the waist. And I'm still not convinced the block on Brathwaite that took him off was completely legal.
-- Obligatory fake field goal thought: OK on the surface, but objectionable on the same principle whereby I hated the 4th-down plunge into the middle against UNC. Know your team's weaknesses and stop assuming they'll be fixed in the next twenty seconds. In this case, special teams is the reason we're not bowling this year, so why are you making them execute something that difficult?
-- Tech is held to less than 70 yards rushing. Largely through volume, this did not come true; taking out the fake punt, VT could not even muster three yards a carry, but they ran the damn ball 57 times.
-- Logan Thomas completes at least one pass of 50+ yards. Should've looked at the weather; if I had bothered to look at that there's no way I would've said this. The wind kept everyone from trying anything particularly bold in the passing game.
-- Minus the largest play, Thomas's per-completion average falls well shy of his 14.2 average on the season. This is where I get credit for correctly predicting a good day in pass defense. One reason I say the future is bright is that, by and large, the very young secondary had a very good year, and this game was one of the better ones. Thomas only completed 18 of 38 for a hideously bad per-attempt average of 3.1 and a per-completion average of half his season total.
-- Perry Jones gets five or six pass catches (or more) but is totally ineffective carrying the ball. Half right - the latter half - but only three pass catches.
-- We lose, and a special teams play is easily pointed to as a major culprit. I think it's perfectly fair to say a momentum-killing failed fake field goal fits the bill perfectly here.
So I finish the season 24-for-58, which is 41.4%. Wanna know how I did last year? To quote myself after last year's VT game: "Three for six gives me 36-of-88 in the regular season, which is a shade under 41%." And here's the part where I award myself a million points for calling the precise final score. Picking VT to win put me at 6-6 on the season, so I'm bowl-eligible for nothing at all, 2-7-1 against the spread.
Upcoming posts will include some seasonal postmortems, ACC basketball previews, one blast from last year's past that I just discovered, and a return to a mostly M-F posting schedule. I have a few ideas for recapping the season, a few of which will be split off into ITA articles so I can fit them all in before hoops season picks up for good and real. After an eight-loss season, I can't say I'm sorry to be shifting to winter mode. Chances are I'll be even less sorry come February when the spring teams begin play.