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Best Seat Blog: 12-17-Jay James
So with all of this conference re-alignment stuff going on, there is a lot of money on the line. Million’s of dollars for a conference to release one of their member institutions. The price tag for Maryland to leave the league, is 50 Million dollars. At first, I was on that bandwagon to make Maryland pay every red cent of it when the case goes to trial in a Charlotte court room. Maryland was one of two ACC schools who voted against the mandatory exit fee, but the majority vote prevailed, and all schools are subject to the vote, that is of course the ACC’s argument. However, does Maryland have a leg to stand on? I actually began thinking about this when the 7 Catholic Schools began their plan to exit the now fledgling Big East Conference. That number 7 is ironic, given that the ACC has taken a now 7 teams from that conference. So if you’re Maryland, you have an athletic department in total disarray and struggling financially, needing the guaranteed money from the Big Ten Network. The ACC has taken the teams it wanted, why can’t the Big Ten Conference and Jim Delany do the same? All is fair in conference re-alignment right? It’s hard for me to see the validity of the ACC holding MD to the fire when they have basically dismantled the Big East. Now all of those schools saw the writing on the wall, and left the Big East, but so did MD. Apparently the TV deal is more guaranteed money in the Big Ten, than the shared revenue from the ESPN deal with the ACC.
So technically Maryland is liable under the agreement between the member institutions of the ACC, and there is a good chance Maryland knew their intentions to leave when they voted against the exit fee. However, the ACC may be expressing the frustration of getting a taste of it’s own medicine, after making moves to keep the Big 12 and the SEC from coming after Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Florida State by taking Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame, and now Louisville from the Big East. Taylor Zarzour, host of “The Sports Drive” on WFNZ the Fan in Charlotte joined the Best Seat In The House, and he couldn’t make sense of the Maryland move “ the little sister to Duke and Carolina and Virginia and all these others, well guess what, you’re going to be in the same exact role with Ohio State and Michigan…” Taylor agreed that the ACC can’t blame Maryland for leaving given their recent activity, but he does believe their moves will definitely help the conference. “ The ACC is going to own college basketball, with Syracuse and Pitt, Notre Dame and Louisville and all these other schools entering…from a football standpoint they’ll still be fourth or fifth, but as long as they're in the game, as long as they have a seat at the BCS table that’s all that matters…” So will the ACC get its way with Maryland? Many believe they have to get the money to show the other schools not to try the Maryland move. The only trouble with the lawsuit, is that imagine if the Big East had taken the same stance with all of the schools that have left for the ACC. This outcome will certainly be very interesting in Charlotte.
Progress Report- UVA Football: Jay James, WINA Sports
So Where is the program at this point? In the high stakes world of TV contracts, recruiting budgets and the like, the increasing demand for results is always rising. While it’s nice to idealistically say it’s about the student athlete, ultimately in the minds of fans, and administrators, it’s about winning, and how fast you can do it. Mike London is 16-21 as a head coach at Virginia, so where is the program right now?
Of course you feel the pain of the Va Tech game, close, but no cigar ect. Well, let’s check the progress so far in all areas. First, London inherited a toxic environment with the fan base, poor academic relations, with players being declared ineligible, a program coming off of a 5-7 season in 2008, and a 3-9 season in 2009. As we know, things take time to change with football programs, but the question is, are you willing to wait, to go through the growing pains to get what you want? It’s been so long since UVA was a consistent performer atop the ACC that fans have grown impatient, but let’s look at London’s entire record.
The fans love the guy, he speaks at just about every community event, alumni and fans feel like he has embraced them, and they have embraced him. Same with the media, they love working with him, always open, always honest, and ready to evaluate himself openly. As for the player development piece, he has produced three straight top 30 classes. Including the Gatorade state player of the year in Demetrius Nicholson, the top player in the state in Eli Harold, and for next year, the first 5 star recruit the program has garnered since 2005 in Taquan “Smoke” Mizell. Plus Virginia is beating Virginia Tech in the recruiting battle in the 757, so the playing field is leveling in the game, and in recruiting because these kids and their parents love London. They trust their sons with him and he does not disappoint. UVA has had the highest academic standing in the program in the last 10 years since London got here, you’re not hearing about kids getting in trouble, you’re seeing good citizens in interviews and events. These are the things that must happen first.
On the field, one year removed from the ACC Coach of the year, and beating Miami and FSU on the road in the same season for the first time that any ACC team has done that, plus taking Virginia to the Chik Fil A bowl in Atlanta; things didn’t go as well this year. But the program is still on track, 70% of the team are Freshman and Sophomores, or Redshirt Freshman and Sophomores. So people get tired of the “youth” argument. It’s not an excuse it’s a reality. We all saw the development of kids like Dominique Terrell who caught 9 receptions for 127 yards against Miami, Darius Jennings fight through injuries and still produce, the emergence of tight end Jake McGee. Defensively Eli Harold, plus guys in the secondary like Anthony Harris and Maurice Canady all stepped up in big ways. Dequan Romero and DJ Hill, showed flashes playing behind Greer, Reynolds, and Henry Coley at line backer, plus Michael Moore and Chris Brathwaite up front, produced. So you saw the potential against Va Tech, Miami, NC State, but you saw the youth and inexperience against Maryland, Wake, and Louisiana Tech.
So many things need to be corrected, the pass rush must continue to improve, the secondary needs to continue to improve, both units showed progress toward the end of the year. The special teams had awful moments, but actually finished decently, with no major blunders. Offensively, a quarterback must emerge. Sims will have a season and a spring practice to see what he has, and the potential of a David Watford with great arm strength and 4.4 speed throwing to 6-4 receivers Adrian Gamble and Canin Severin, both freshman is out there too. Of Course Michael Rocco, the most experienced of all the quarterbacks returns for his senior season, but I think we have seen the last of the two quarterback system. The O-line needs work, but you have decent development in Jay Whitmire stepping in for Oday Aboushi, Whitmire is a 6-6 300 pounder with good feet, and Ross Burbank and Cody Wallace at Guard are guys that seem to be developing well. Hopefully Morgan Moses realizes that he needs another year and returns. The recruiting of the O-line needs to pick up, and UVA must decide what it’s identity offensively is, power running, or short to moderate passing pro game, or maybe introduce some spread, read option techniques to use the faster receivers like Terrell and Jennings.
For the situation UVA deals with, the program is on track, just have to fix some of these areas, but long lasting successful programs don’t turn quickly, they are like battle ships, they turn wide and slow, but London’s the right guy, he’s just got to make sure he finds the right scheme offensively and defensively, and a quarterback. He has what you need to win, PLAYERS and TALENT, and he’s building more, because you will not find a better recruiter, motivator, or leader. You have to have a coach that the community will embrace, the academic community will support, and the players will follow. London has all those things, however, next year is the year, when the production will be expected, and inside the walls of the McCue Center, I’m sure that is the expectation as well.
I was looking at a very ironic coincidence this morning, UVA and Auburn were in the bottom two in the nation in turnovers heading into last weeks games, Virginia after 3 more turnovers is now last in the country at -16. However Auburn, like Virginia, is winless in their conference, and is 1-6 on the season. A far cry from the two teams that faced off in last years Chick Fil A Bowl.
So what is the deal with Virginia? It comes down to several recent issues. First, the special teams has been a real issue, coverage problems to decision making issues on when to catch kicks, or take them out of the end zone. The special teams unit has also been penalized far too often, at times causing negative field position implications for the team. Penalties in general have been an issue, but it seems like Virginia’s players are reacting out of frustration, the frustration of outgaining opponents in yardage but not being able to make critical plays to sustain drives, the mounting frustration of being at a disadvantage in the field position battle as well. Lastly, the turnovers at the worst possible times also add to the mounting frustration for a team that really doesn’t know how to win, because the majority of the significant contributors from last year that grounded the team are gone. Matt Conrath at defensive tackle, Cam Johnson at end, Chase Minnifield at corner, Mosely, and Mccloeud at safety, Snyder and Bird at receiver, and Mahota at Center. These losses have proved to be HUGE, with a young secondary which never benefits from being placed in bad field position. Plus an offensive line that managed 48 rushing yards against Wake Forest. Virginia has two great tackles, but the interior of the line features guys who missed practice in the spring, and Luke Bowanko who played well at guard moving to center, and no consistency at guard from Cascarano, Wallace, Davis up front for the Hoos. This team just doesn’t know how to win with so many young players and ill advised mistakes at key moments, turnovers, penalties, and mistakes have cost UVA four of their six losses. I would argue that Ga Tech, and Duke, just flat out beat UVA. Virginia was in the game against TCU, not to mention losses to La Tech, and MD, and Wake on basically the last play or opportunity to make a play late in the game.
Lastly, we must look at what is going on offensively. Since making the QB change UVA has put up 17, 20, and 10 points. The offense has become one dimensional because teams are stacking the box to stop the talent of Parks and Jones. To me, with no slight to the talent of Phillip Sims, the offense has not improved after the change. The turnovers and dropped passes remain. So was it Michael Rocco or the combination of a struggling offensive line, receivers not achieving separation, and a running game underperforming? Plus the injury to Tim Smith which caused him to miss consecutive games as the only really experienced receiver was also big. I interviewed Phillip Sims after the game about the offenses struggles, and what’s next for this team: “I think a lot of guys are frustrated at this point that we’re not successful as an offense. We’re not doing the things that we expect from ourselves. We’ve got to put that in the past, let this bye week come get healed up and focus on some of the small things that got the season going off on the right foot.” The bye week presents an opportunity to look at everything, go back to training camp basics, on tackling, who starts at each position, ect. What do they have to lose? The only way to change the result is to change what you’re doing. As they say, we’ll see. It is year three, another year of building, it took the last few seasons of the Groh era, in which academic casualties, and staff changes hurt him, for the program to be in a tough position when Mike London inherited it. It’s going to take longer than three years to fix, that is the painful reality.
Once again, we are faced with a quarterback conversation rather than a quarterback controversy at Virginia. Last year, it was a true freshman David Watford, and a true second in Michael Rocco battling for the position. UVA played two quarterbacks until making the decision to go with Rocco, who finished with the best second year passing total in program history. Rocco was named the starter in fall camp this past August, he hasn’t been stellar, but he hasn’t been awful either. He’s been steady, but the question facing Mike London is whether or not the two quarterback system is still working. Sims has been coming in at the end of the last few contests, with the exception of the Penn State game. Rocco, by the numbers has been middle of the road, 74-123 for 838 yards, 4TD’s and 5 picks. Sims conversely, is 18-29, for 174 yards and 3 TD’s, no picks, but he has lost two fumbles.
The tough part for Rocco is as I have watched him from the sideline, three of his 5 interceptions have been off of tipped balls by his own receivers. Any quarterback needs players to make plays. Has he missed throws, absolutely, but he has also had to deal with offensive line chemistry problems, and being in predictable situations because the Hoos have started out trailing in the last two games because of defensive breakdowns. Mike London had the following thoughts on his offense when we talked to him after TCU: “We need to go back and take a look at who’s doing it, who’s catching it, who’s throwing it, who’s blocking for it; we have to be able to go back and evaluate by looking at tape, and talking about your personnel.” So is Mike London considering Phillip Sims, only he knows that, but many wonder what Sims can do if given the majority of the reps in practice and a full week with the first team. He has displayed an ability to make every throw and go down field, and the question is whether or not his talent can better compensate for the offensive line issues, and playing from behind in predictable passing situations. Sims after the TCU game was resilient in his belief in the football team: “You can’t let this ruin your season going 2-2 to start, it’s too many games ahead of us left to just throw the season away because of the last two weeks, we are too good of a team to do that.” It will be a very interesting week for Virginia Football as they prepare for an undefeated Louisiana Tech team that is averaging 54.7 points per game. Points must come this Saturday. Keep listening all week to the Best Seat in the House as we break this down. You can hear Philip Sims’s postgame interview at wina.com.