I am angry.
Angry that Virginia posted its third straight losing season. Angry that we missed a bowl. Angry that my friends from Virginia Tech get bragging rights for the 11th year in a row. This must stop.
I’ve tip-toed around expressing my true feelings this season, opting to fixate on annoying statistical tidbits and analysis instead. For example, after the collapse against North Carolina, I didn’t use my column to rant; I used it to discuss how the Cavaliers just couldn’t seem to score any points in the second-half.
In one column this year, I blamed play-calling and coaching decisions as the reason for a loss. That’s because there have been so many bright spots for this team, especially compared to last season. The defense, lead by the likes of Anthony Harris, Max Valles and Henry Coley, ranked 30th in the country. Kevin Parks gave inspiring performances every week. I wanted to focus on the good of the season, since I was so excited that there actually was some to write about.
Now that the season is over, I regret taking this approach. I wish I would’ve called out the dink-and-dump offense Virginia employed all season. I wish I said something about how a run up the middle on first down and a screen on third down nearly every single possession is just a baffling way to run an offense.
I called it “conservative,” but that was my nice way of saying “bad”.
The only thing that keeps me from wishing I could completely redo this season is that the fact that this was a special team, and they deserve praise for what they accomplished. The Cavaliers more than doubled their win total from 2013, and probably more impressively, gave fans hope that they could win every week.
This is why I’m so upset. This team had the potential to win at least eight games. If Virginia played the way it did against Miami against North Carolina, Duke and Virginia Tech, the final outcome would never have been in question. And the Cavaliers would be in the post-season.
I could drive myself insane thinking about the what-ifs. What if London didn’t choose to go for it on fourth down in the third quarter against the Hokies in a game that was almost certainly going to be decided by one possession?
(Ian Frye would’ve hit the 33-yard field goal, and Virginia’s final possession would’ve been played to get three points instead of six.)
All we can do is look to the future. Unfortunately, many do not see the future as a very bright place. Go look at any pro-Virginia article, or better yet the Cavaliers SB Nation blog Streaking the Lawn. People are absolutely furious, and threatening to not buy tickets for next year, which is a concern as Scott Stadium saw its lowest attendance numbers in years with at least 20,000 empty seats every single week.
I’m not going to get involved in this “London should be gone” discussion, because it doesn’t matter what any of us think; he’s coming back for another year, so my opinion is irrelevant. All I know is that he absolutely has to make drastic changes if Virginia hopes to avoid finishing last in the Coastal Division, as it has five times in the last six years.
The players on the roster are incredibly talented. The offensive line is extremely young and outperformed expectations this year, and it is in position to be a strong point of the team moving forward. The same goes for the receiving corps, which returns Canaan Severin — who everyone now knows from his superhuman catch. Defensively, Valles, Eli Harold, and star freshman Quin Blanding will all be back. Virginia is no cupcake.
The coaching staff needs to figure out how to use these talents more effectively and ensure they are disciplined enough so that they aren’t penalized for 12 men on the field at critical moments anymore.
Six of eight assistant coaches have expiring contracts. I’m not here to lobby for anyone to lose their job, but bringing in some new blood to challenge the status quo wouldn’t hurt. Heck, just ask Nick Saban. Bringing in the aggressive, pass-minded offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to complement the Tide’s usual bruising rushing attack has worked out pretty well for the nation’s top-ranked team.
I wish I had some sort of optimistic pun to end this final column with, but I don’t. I hope the program has learned lessons from this season and will use them to improve next year. It will need to be better than this year, with games at UCLA, as well as against Notre Dame and Boise State. Most importantly though, I hope we can take down Tech. Eleven years is an absurdly long time to lose to a bunch of turkeys.