2009 Virginia Game Analysis: Hokie Talent, Adjustments Conquer Hoos, Groh

It
was a surreal environment in Scott Stadium on Saturday evening. The game was no
longer in doubt as a close battle early transformed into a little bit of
chippiness and a lot of frustration. By that point, a near 50/50 split in the
stands had become dominated by Hokies – same as the game on the field. As the
clock ticked off its final seconds, my eyes were on UVa’s soon-to-be-ex coach Al
Groh.

Sure it was enjoyable watching the Hokies beat the rival Hoos for the tenth
time in eleven years, but I have to admit that I felt some sympathy for a man
that knew he was about to be fired from the one place he loved the most. Despite
the years of arrogance that irritated so many and the post-game moment of poetic
self-absorption that puzzled all, this was still about a coach coaching his last
game at his alma mater. It’s a harsh business and the reality of that business
was telling as the scoreboard read 42-13 and Al Groh quickly hustled off the
field and out of Scott Stadium for the last time.

A lot has been said about Groh’s nine years in Charlottesville, and the job
search is now underway at UVa. My job is to analyze the game on the field, so
that will be the focus for the rest of this article. When it was all said and
done, the difference on the field was the overall disparity in talent – Tech was
better at the skilled positions, they were faster and they were deeper. It’s
hard for a team to overcome that, but UVa did a great job of that for the first
2-1/2 quarters. That’s not unusual, particularly in a rivalry game. Going in,
many of us felt that the UVa players would be motivated and they would play
extremely hard … and they did.

Between the whistles, there were a lot of interesting aspects to this game.
The UVa offensive game plan certainly deserves some quality analysis space, as
does the Tech offensive game plan. Bud Foster is known as a master of in-game
adjustments, and his best often can be categorized as “simple yet
effective”. That was the case in this game. We will spend some time here
breaking those down in a little bit of detail.

And then there were the big plays. It’s been a season of big plays,
highlighted by the dynamic duo of Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams. Once again,
those two would play a prominent role in the Hokies eventually pulling away in
the second half.

When it was over, the Hokies had a blowout victory that many would consider
“closer than the final score indicated”. There is good reason to
follow along with that thought, but it’s also true that the fourth quarter was
totally one-sided … in other words, the Hokies took complete control when the
game was on the line.

Let’s break it down and sort through how it all developed.

Answering the Call

The key for the Hokies was to survive the initial punch, remain focused and
let the talent eventually take over. Momentum is a major factor in sports,
especially at the college level where the game is played by teenagers and young
men. The Hokies did an excellent job of responding each time the momentum angled
in UVa’s direction. This was a classic example of “hanging in there”,
absorbing those initial body blows and allowing the talent to take over down the
stretch.

Mikell Simpson’s fumble in the 3rd quarter was easily the key turning point
in the game. But that was just the final tipping point on the momentum scale.
There were two earlier sequences that impacted game momentum … said more
precisely, there were two earlier sequences where the Hokies stymied UVa’s
attempt to take control of the momentum. Let’s cover those as well as the fumble
that tipped the scales permanently.

Key
Sequence #1 – first two series of the game. UVa’s offense had struggled
mightily all season, but they took the field and promptly ran the ball right at
the Hokies for a rather easy 10 play, 73 yard TD drive. The UVa sideline was
fired up, their crowd was fired up and many Hokies (at least those in the...