10 Things I Learned … Duke

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I barely know what to write. After a game like we saw on Saturday, it remains almost impossible to break down plays because you find yourself spending so much time breaking down the program. Still, maybe that is not the wrong approach to take – after all, when you lose 31-3 to Duke, something obviously is broken.

1. Struggling. If you are looking for words to describe the 2008 UVA football team, “struggling” certainly would be an apt choice … but that is not what I am trying to describe here. No, “struggling” describes my own state of mind as I watch this team, watching what they are going through and knowing the impact it has.

There is no question in my mind that there are fundamental flaws with this team – and this program – but it pains me to watch how the last two games have unfolded on the field. There are a ton of players on this team that are committed to giving maximum effort on Saturdays … and yet, as these games unfold, you can see it become increasingly hard for those same players to keep their intensity level where it needs to be. As that intensity becomes more forced and less natural, players just lose the feel for the game. Everything becomes a little more laborious, a little less comfortable. All of a sudden, instead of reading the game in front of them and reacting instinctively, players become mechanical and everything becomes a thought process. Players have to will themselves to be positive, they have to fixate on their assignments to keep a high concentration level, they have to manufacture enthusiasm when the feeling is just not coming on its own. Two games in a row, I have watched that dynamic play out … and it almost never results in high-level execution on the field.

For the coaches, things are no less pleasant. Setting aside the topic of responsibility for the current state of the program – plenty on that later – a streak like the current one eats at coaches. You lose a game like the team did on Saturday and sleep is almost impossible to find that evening as the mind just will not shut down. What if I had called this play here? Why didn’t I put us in this defense there? If only that had not happened at that point, how would things have played out? How could they not cover that … did I miss something in prep? You get in bed at 2 a.m., are haunted by these thoughts, get back up at 3 a.m. when it is clear sleep won’t