10 Things I Learned 2011 … VT

This weekend, the Hoos played Virginia Tech. Also this weekend, almost immediately after the end of the game against Virginia Tech, I got sick. Really sick. Like, turn-out-the-lights, leave-me-alone-in-my-bed, I-am-dead-to-the-world sick.

As far as I know, the two are not connected. As far as I know.

LaRoy Reynolds and the Hoos have plenty to be proud of in 2011.

1. 8-4. Despite the loss to Tech, and despite the fact that I am only beginning to stir to life again, I actually am not nearly as down as I think a lot of Hoo fans are, based on my quick glance at the message boards in the last couple of days. Why, you may ask?

8-4. Simple as that.

Don’t get me wrong: 9-3 would have been better. But on the flip side, does it really come as a big surprise that in less than two years, Mike London and his program have not been able to completely run down from behind the program that has been dominating the ACC since it first joined the conference?

So far this year, UVa has won twice as many games as last year, had a huge jump in conference wins, improved statistically (and by the eyeball test) in just about every offensive and defensive category, won for the first time ever in Tallahassee, beaten multiple ranked teams, had many players show obvious improvement in their individual games from year one to year two under the new staff, added important players to the depth chart at many key positions, recruited well, and played hard across the board. I would have loved if Virginia could have added beating Tech to that list, but it does not mean that the list is not impressive nonetheless.

The simple fact is that right now, on the field, Tech just is a better team and a better football program. There has been long-term stability on the staff, there is stability on the depth chart, and there is a culture of winning that is built on demonstrated performance. UVa is not there yet. Virginia was better in 2010 than it was in 2009, and it was better in 2011 than it was in 2010, but it has not caught up with Tech yet.

That fact, however, is not going to ruin this year for me. A lot of landmarks have been reached by the UVa football program in 2011 … just not all of them.

Coach London’s team continues the rebuilding process.

2. Learning To Win. Lost in Virginia’s 8-3 start, to some extent, is that fact that this UVa team still is learning to win in a lot of ways. This week’s game against Tech exposed that fact in a lot of ways. In fact, the comparison of the two teams hardly could be more stark.

Looking at Tech, for example, you have a team that is used to winning in recent years, but just as importantly is used to playing big games on big stages with big implications. Virginia, on the other hand, is not. So not surprisingly, which team looked like it was more able to control its emotions on Saturday afternoon?

As usual, the difference really showed up on defense. On Virginia Tech’s first defensive series, for example, the defenders were flying around the field, playing aggressive football but still playing their responsibilities and making sure they finished on their tackles. Even UVa’s one truly productive play – a sit-down to Tim Smith for a first down – was not so much a case of a blown assignment by Tech as it was a case of good execution in finding a hole by the Hoos.

When Virginia’s defense trotted onto the field, however, it was an entirely different picture in terms of the UVa players playing the game with fury … but controlled fury. Chase Minnifield , a young man who always plays with edge but usually does not let it affect the quality of his play, badly overplays and overmuscles the first route he faces, drawing a pass interference flag that is declined only because Minnifield gave up the reception, too. Then a couple of plays later, Minnifield gets close to jumping offsides only to make a bad situation worse by overdoing his jam and drawing a facemask penalty. In between those