The Tackle Lateral Haunting Of 2021

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No one wanted the sequel, but Virginia football fans got one anyway. From the program that brought you ‘The Great Timeout Caper Of 2012,’ came the latest rivalry gaffe: ‘The Tackle Lateral Haunting Of 2021.’ Judging by postgame reactions, this too is a box office bomb.

The Cavaliers have struggled against their in-state rivals from Virginia Tech. Struggled may even be too kind. The Hokies have won 21 of the last 23 meetings, taking a once even series – the series split was 36-38-5 in VT’s favor prior to this stretch – and making it a lopsided affair. The latest chapter ended with a 29-24 Tech win.

Sometimes it’s an unlucky bounce, an unfortunate play, or something understandable. Others, it’s something else entirely. Sometimes, certain moments live on within the futility. Saturday night’s latest disappointment likely will. Much like 2012, the immediate aftermath is full of alarm bells and furor.

In 2012, Mike London watched two minutes of precious time tick away while Virginia Tech set up a game-winning field goal. He finally called two timeouts with four seconds remaining, but Cody Journell made the kick and Virginia went home with a 17-14 loss. Fans fumed.

In 2021, there were frustrating moments to choose from but the signature play that raised the ire of fanbase came in the final two minutes as well. Driving for the potential game-winning score, the Hoos moved the ball to the VT 9-yard line where it faced a 3rd-and-8 call.

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae signaled in a tackle lateral play and Bronco Mendenhall allowed it. With five 500+-yard receivers on the roster, UVA didn’t take a shot to any of them on that play. Brennan Armstrong rolled right, stopped, and threw the ball backward across the field to left tackle Bobby Haskins at the 17-yard line. The Hokies were not fooled, easily made the open field tackle, and then won the game on fourth down.

The Tackle Lateral Haunting Of 2021. Fans fumed.

And just like that, a season of promise after a 6-2 start ended with a whimper. Four straight losses, falling short in the clutch against Pittsburgh with an ACC Coastal Division title shot still on the line and in the rivalry clash with Virginia Tech. Despite record-setting numbers from Armstrong, Dontayvion Wicks, and the UVA offense, the season ended exactly the same way as 2020. A .500 record. A disheartening loss to Tech.

Mendenhall, when asked, said “whether that’s squandered or not, I’m not sure I can put it in that category.” It’s hard to catalog it in any other way, though. UVA finished 6-6. It let a division title chance get away. It let the in-state rival take a game away too. It let halftime leads evaporate against UNC and BYU. It barely hung on against Miami and Louisville.

The Cavaliers made it to bowl eligibility in October and had some momentum building thanks to those narrow road wins. After all, they posted four straight seasons with at least four ACC wins for the first time since George Welsh’s teams did it from 1987-2000. However, I wrote then that if this season followed the 2017 path of losing out after the sixth win – only a bowl chance to stop the skid remains – then questions about the program’s position would be left “hanging in the air and possibly losing altitude.”

Well, here the Hoos are. That worst-case scenario is on hand. Mendenhall has built a program that makes it to bowls and rose to a division title once, but those positives are drowned out by postseason defeats and frequent losses in big games, especially in the rivalry showdown with Virginia Tech.

Consider that UVA has ended the season on a win just once since 2006. Consider that in the five most recent losses against the Hokies, the Hoos have rotated three quarterbacks on nearly every play in a 52-10 disaster, gotten shut out, lost in overtime after leading enter the final three minutes, limped through a listless effort, and then missed opportunities at home with ‘The Tackle Lateral Haunting Of 2021’ mixed in to rub salt in it.

To borrow Coach Mendenhall phrasing, the momentum gained through 2019 is slipping. Fan belief and enthusiasm is waning. Confidence is dwindling. Hope is withering. It is up to the Hoos to begin reversing that atmosphere swirling around the program after the latest loss to Virginia Tech. It may take all the way until next season’s meeting to even get that chance with some fans. If they can’t figure out a little more consistency and more importantly a way to beat Tech, then all the -ing verbs may end with -ed instead. To wit: Finished.

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20 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Allowing a roughing the kicker to take place in the the first half was just as bad, if not worse. All we needed was possession and that was in hand.

    1. This. No play defines the incompetence of this staff more than the attempted punt block. No one on the field should have been in a position to even have the possibility of a roughing call. Unintelligent football, and that falls on coaching.

      1. Dead on, Balz. BM said something in his post-game presser about just what you said. Hoo wasn’t listening? Idiocy to call the play in the first place. Dr. Bob/Mr. Hyde calls the play – insane. BM OKs it – malfeasance of the worst sort. Brennan should have said, “Screw that stuff, I’m taking responsibility and calling something – anything – else.”

    2. ABSOLUTELY! We were moving the ball at will against Va Tech’s zone defense, and it wasn’t likely to change until the beginning of the 2nd half. A TD would have given us a two-touchdown lead while taking three points off the visitor’s point total. That was the difference maker right there.

      Why on Earth would you call for an attempted punt block when, minimally, you’re going to get the ball at your own 40 with ample time to move in for the kill. That was just as bad as the tackle-eligible call. And, as “Cov” said during the post-game, why we never shifted our aerial attack to short crossing routes to give our big-bodied receivers an opportunity to make yards after the catch is beyond me.

      Outcoached by an interim, first-time coach! ‘Nuff said!!!

  2. For the tackle lateral play to be deemed “third dumbest call”, well, that says something about the program’s coaching staff. Is it time for basketball yet?

  3. Two of those six wins were lucky – benefiting from opponents’ two botched field goals. So season on a whole was a downer. Major problem is surely with the defense – coaching there is suspect, but recruiting is likely the major problem. Wonder what is being done about that.

  4. Might as well add:

    Beaten by a program that fired its coach because he wasn’t living up to expectations. We are worse than the level VPI&SU views as unacceptable for themselves. This was a year we should have won.

    This just feels like the level we will be at. 6 wins, at least 2 of which are from weak programs, an unglamorous bowl, and a season of missed opportunities. It’s not just deflating the enthusiasm, it’s depressing. It’s a down year for the ACC. And Wake Forest just won the Atlantic.

    He runs a nice program and i like their character. It’s easy to like the team. But i don’t think we should expect more.

    bring back the coats and ties, the pep band, and make games a date function again. This pretending to be legitimate football program just makes it all more embarrassing.

  5. I generally look at the bright side of everything, but this article put the emphasis where it belongs..poor decisions. We have seen them throughout this season. The coaches can’t seem to get it right. Special teams: penalties, players out of position on kick returns, failure to field onsides kicks
    Defense: Last in the ACC. players out of position, broken coverages, lack of depth
    Offense: the one very bright spot ruined by an awful play call
    I come from Florida once or twice a year to tailgate with old friends, certainly not to watch the game. When I travel to Charlottesville, Miami, New Jersey or an NCAA destination to watch basketball, seeing old friends is a secondary benefit.

  6. Building a football program at UVa is a difficult task. The only person who has been able to do it has been George Welsh. I believe Bronco didn’t realize how difficult a job it would be. He had a built in recruiting pipeline at BYU which has never existed with us. Each coach has had to build it from scratch. Also a couple of years ago it was the defense that carried the team as the offense struggled. While this season was disappointing I believe he is finally getting his type of players into the system and it a matter of time when both offense and defense are in synch. The worst thing we could do is change horses now as I believe this coaching staff is close to getting it right.

    1. Can’t get there. After the VT game, little evidence to make me believe the coaching staff is “Close to getting it right”. The throw to Haskins and the punt block are two playcalls a D-1 head coach simply can’t make, or can’t allow a subordinate to make. Those two playcalls completely undermine my confidence that the staff has any idea how to perform at a successful level or make sound decisions. I’m sorry, but a competent coach and staff don’t make those types of calls. We’re not talking about questionable calls. We’re talking about absolutely indefensible playcalls.

      There are other red flags with the coaching staff’s performance this year. Over the course of the season, the problems plaguing the defense didn’t get better. The entire last half of the season, we were eaten up by the same mistakes. Deep crossing routes, poor run fits, failure by LBs to fill holes, failure by LBs to set the edge, all resulted in big plays or TDs against VT. Those were problems that were evident early in the season, and have been exploited by teams throughout the latter half of the season. The fact that the defense didn’t get better at any of those things speaks volumes. What are they doing in practice week to week to address consistent problems? Whatever it is, it is clearly not working.

      Lastly, personnel on the field has to be a major concern. We had several “super seniors” who have consistently performed below an ACC starter level for several seasons. The fact that those guys aren’t now better, and were not eclipsed by someone younger is a problem. Either we don’t have young talent at an ACC starter level, we can’t develop young talent to an ACC starter level, or we are not properly evaluating who should be on the field. All of those are program derailing issues.

      The offense, progression of QBs and receivers are the only positives this staff can point to. In year 6, that’s simply unacceptable. At best, the outlook for the longterm looks like a reflection of this season. A great passing game with little else. This staff needs to re-evaluate in a major way. Some of the staff need to be replaced, and there needs to be a major emphasis on demonstrating that the staff can build a pipeline of defensive talent, field a team that can execute basic fundamentals of football(such as tackling and setting the edge), and make rational gametime decisions that don’t handicap the team.

    2. I agree with mfj45 100%! Firing BM and changing the staff at this stage would prove with absolute certainty that UVA is clueless in its handling of the football program. Was Saturday’s game an extremely tough pill to swallow? Indeed, it was, and I was as ticked off (keeping the language family friendly here) as I could be to see us lose to VT again, in a year when we should’ve not only won, but we should’ve spanked them. Were the Tackle Lateral and Punt Block horrible play calls? Uh, yeah, total head-scratchers, especially the Punt Block (for the reasons already described by others above)!! HOWEVER, I’ve been loving what BM has done with the program, thus far, and I am totally behind him and his program. It’s not like bone-headed calls like these two have been the norm – just the opposite is true. Brennan’s injuries and the resulting limitations on what he could do were major impacts on how the game played out in the 2nd half, and we needed the offense to be on its A-game to make up for the fact that our D was sub-par this season. I believe that we win that game handily if the Punt Block fiasco had not occurred. BUT, all that said, with Brennan back for his final year, Foston potentially injecting a stud RB into the offense, Lavel Jr., Wicks, Rawlings, etc., we should have close to the same potency on offense in 2022. So, if we can get the D back up the Standard (or even just improve a few notches), we stand to have a serious squad next season. Mendenhall has done and is doing an outstanding job with the program, and I’m looking forward to seeing the continued evolution and ascension of the program under his management. The absolute worst and most foolish thing UVA could do now would be to knee jerk after a tough season (which, btw, followed the weird Covid-season) punctuated by a very frustrating Commonwealth Cup finale, and make a change to the coach and staff. It would put an end to the progress and upward trajectory that BM has facilitated to this point…that just makes zero sense. BM is a defense guy…it will improve and when it does, it will complement the major progress he has made with the offense and form a serious contender, and we’ll all be singing the praises of BM along with the Good Ole Song. P.S. The Tackle Lateral was a really bad call, but I would’ve hated it a lot more if that’s what was called on 4th down – it was 4-down territory there, so by calling it on 3rd, we still had an opportunity to run another, more conventional play. Again, I hated the call and i’m not saying it was good, but it wasn’t used for the score-or-lose final play. Now, let’s never call that play again!!!!!

      1. You’ve got to be kidding. We were 2 botched FG’s from a 4-8 season. With arguably one of the best QB’s in the nation, throwing for school record yardage, and eye-popping scores every game. What more do you need to see the problem?

      2. If Bronco is a defense guy, then he needs to get a new DC, or do the job himself. The performance over the past two years – and especially the failure to improve over this year, as noted above – is disqualifying.

        Also, does anyone remember way back when we had a running game? Just saying.

  7. With UVa Athletics overall consistently running a deficit (per the cavalier Daily), it’s critically important that football elevate its status, and consequent revenues, or every other sport will suffer. Face it, once we became “State U” in practice if not attitude, the failure to field a perennially winning football team represents an institutional failure. How do our state university rivals in USNWR rankings Michigan and Cal and highly rated privates Stanford and Notre Dame do it and we can’t? Football is no longer frivolous.

  8. It’s called playing to win in my judgment. You win by taking calculated risks. We did that. Everyone would have loved both the punt block and the tackle eligible had they worked. We have a great coaching staff. Again, both were aggressive calls playing to win. Keep it up Bronco.

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