10 Things I Learned … USC

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In one sense, the USC game is the type of game that you want to put behind you as fast as possible, whether you are a coach, a player, or a fan. Still, there was a lot to learn from the game, both in terms of how it was handled by the staff and how the players executed in the face of the most talented opponent they are likely to face this season. So before we move on, it is worth the time to take a quick look back.

1. The outcome never was in doubt. Going into the USC game, it was almost impossible for me to come up with a scenario that would have resulted in a Hoo win. Looking at the match-ups on paper, the simple fact was that Pete Carroll’s players could execute poorly on game day and still have a major advantage when it came to almost every conceivable match-up (and it only got worse when the players actually were on the field). The staff knew what was coming from USC going into this game … and it just did not matter. For UVa to win, USC was going to have to give them the game … and that just did not happen.

Given those facts, many Virginia fans are asking why this game was scheduled. There are a lot of answers to that question, some better than others. But two resonate with me. First, in a very real sense, playing a high profile game against a quality opponent never is a bad thing. Win or lose, you have played the kind of game kids want to play in, been on the stage recruits long to get onto. Plus, the experience of playing tough games often can pay off down the stretch in a season. For example, I am a firm believer in the theory that the tough games UVa played early in the 1995 season were a key to the upset of Florida State later in the season.

Second, this was not the team that Virginia expected to put onto the field against USC to start the 2008 season. A little more than a year ago, most that closely follow the UVa football program thought that 2007 might be a bit of a rebuilding year but that 2008 had the potential to be a breakthrough-type season. While the 2008 team would have to replace some stars like Chris Long , the overall roster pointed to 2008 being “the year.” A lot of experienced starters would be returning, including a quarterback going into his third year under center, and a lot of speed would be ready to break into the rotation, particularly at linebacker. Unfortunately, many key components of that expected