The Hoos got a chance to celebrate a big win this weekend.
Do I think Mike London and his staff are making progress? Uh … yes, and this week, the whole country heard about it. Now we get to break it down.
1. A Signature Win. Mike London and the staff wanted this win … bad. The team did, too, and it showed.
This was about as good a week of practice as the UVa squad has had all year long. The focus was there, the effort was there, and the execution was there. When you get all three in the same week, you cannot help but have a good feeling about how things might go.
Admittedly, Miami was the more talented team – in fact, the much more talented team – and that makes it hard to be truly confident about pulling out the win. But the staff and team managed to find ways to minimize the talent gap. Take special teams, where Miami had a ridiculous advantage when you break down a lot of the match-ups. As good as Miami’s punts were, for example, UVa managed to pin the Hurricanes inside the 20 on four of six punts, only allowing the Canes to try three punt returns (which gained all of three yards on average). In other words, while Miami averaged more gross and net yards per punt, the Canes did not take advantage on punts the way they needed to and arguably should have, with the exact same dynamic playing out on kickoff returns (Miami averaged only 15.5 yards per kickoff return). That was a big win for the Hoos simply because it was not a big loss.
As for the win in general, there are a lot of different ways to look at it. Is it a “signature win”? I would argue that it can be. This was a big recruiting weekend for the Hoos, both for trying to grow the class and trying to hold on to what we have. Beyond that, it was a time in the season where it could feel like things were getting away a bit if UVa lost another ACC game. But more than anything, it was a win that made a team – and many that follow it – feel like progress is being made, just like the prior staff got a boost from its first season win over Penn State.
Could some of the luster come off the win as the season wears down? Sure. After all, Virginia has three of its last four games on the road and in none of the games will UVa just outmatch its opponent in terms of talent (a point on which some may disagree). So Cavalier fans absolutely, positively should not get ahead of themselves thinking this win was more than it was, just like UVa fans absolutely, positively should not have gotten ahead of themselves in thinking the USC loss somehow was more than it was. But you worry about what is next … next. Right now, you do not stress a win, as they say. And this was a good win.
Mike London going for it on fourth down early helped set the tone.
2. Fourth Down. When you are coaching a team and you see the opposing coach going for it on fourth down on the first offensive series … on his own side of the field!!! … you know you may be in for a long day. The signal that is being sent is clear: I may lose … but I am going to use every bullet in the gun to try and win.
Think back to how the first half played out. In the first quarter, Mike London decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 on its own 40-yard line, picking up the first down in the process. I can assure you that this conversion caused some eyes to roll on the Miami sideline. When you are an opposing coach seeing this, for example, you now know that the coach on the other sideline could go for it on fourth down in just about any situation. But the effect can be greater than that. When a coach who is handling the defensive play calls sees an opposing coach go for it on fourth down that early and on his own side of the field, a 3-yard gain on first down starts to feel like you might be giving too much. That is an unsettling feeling that absolutely can affect playcalling if a coach is not careful about it.
Then, as the game moved on, the feeling continued. The UVa staff clearly was willing to go for it on fourth down to start the second quarter, for example,...
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