Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jackets Fall to UVA....... 0-2 in ACC

.......... and just like that your team is 0-2 in the conference and staring at an uphill climb the rest of the season.......

The Jackets play in very disappointing fashion today, losing to the Virginia Cavaliers 28-23. Once again the offense had only marginal success. Once again the defense proved to have holes. Both the O-Line and D-Line's were out-muscled at the point-of-attack.

But today was ultimately about key mistakes and their costly results. Today's loss really hinged on two plays. First - a weird batted pass from Taylor Bennett that ended up getting intercepted and returned for a TD. The other was a fumbled punt by Andrew Smith which led to a UVA TD on the very next play. That my friends is the difference in the game today. Fourteen points given to UVA almost for free. You cannot do that and win. However, you can throw a whole host of other mistakes in the mix to talk about - penalties, poor tackling, dropped passes, more coverage issues - it's a long list.

It's not a cliche - it's a fact - turnovers make the difference in games. Through the first three games the Jackets were the only team in the nation without a turnover. That ended with the freaky INT off a deflection today. That 4th quarter fumble on a punt changed the game and it never changed back. Turnovers are the largest game-changer that exists.

Aside from those gaffes, however, I don't want to just give this team a pass. They have coughed up the ball at least 6-7 times and just been lucky enough to get it back every time. Happened again today as Bennett fumbled and recovered himself. I'd like to see us wrap that ball a little tighter.

After the first two games of the year, Tech looked like a fundamentally sound tackling team. The last two games have gotten a lot more physical and the results have been different. Lots of missed tackles and lots of resulting additional opponent yards. There is a long list of guys who missed tackles, and I don't quite know what type of drills you do to fix it - but someone better find the manual.

The past two weeks we have made MANY more costly mistakes, particularly penalties that erase first downs and kill nice drives. Discipline is the key here. A couple of times we got hit with illegal blocks. At the end of the game, holding penalties killed us along with movement on the line. This is not typical of a Chan Gailey team and it's a bit disturbing.

By the way, did you notice Derrick Morgan getting called for a movement penalty - ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE??? Yup - with Peek dinged up, it got to the point where you stuck a true freshman defensive end at Tight End. Heck, even Michael Johnson got a snap or two on the O-Line. Oh boy - not good. Duck-tape my friends. Duck tape.

Jon Tenuta's defense gave up big yards and big points in the 1st quarter. They made adjustments and got into a better rythm, but it still wasn't good enough.

Looking honestly, is there is a solid, simple formula to outfox our blitz-at-all-cost schemes? If you can develop a scheme to pick up the blitz and give your QB an extra half-second to throw, can we get picked clean like Thanksgiving turkey? If you can pop intermediate routes are they open all day? Sure did happen against BC. Happened a lot in the first half against Virginia. The troubling thing is not guys finding open receivers. It's finding receivers open by 20 yards who get another 10 yards after the catch before anyone touches him. That was a little better today, but the UVA QB's are not in the same class as Matt Ryan.

Jon Tenuta's defense gave up 358 yards of offense, including 125 on the ground. C.Peerman rushed for 138 yards for UVA. Not a banner day for the defense once again. However, the defense only legitimately gave up 14 points, all of which happened in the 4th quarter. 7 came on the INT and the other 7 on the fumbled punt on the short field.

So Tenuta's crew gave the offense a chance - the offense just didn't get it done.

Coming into the UVA game, GT was the worst in the ACC in 3rd down conversions (21.1%). The offense didn't helps themselves today, going 3-15 (even worse at 20%). This is an area that Coach Bond has got to work on if we are going to be successful. You have got to move the chains and we just don't do it on third down.

I hate to say this - but I have very little confidence that the offense is going to move the chains when teams force us to throw. I think Taylor Bennett is showing us the reasons why he never took Reggie Ball's job. He's competent at QB, and doesn't make too many mistakes. However, he's also not dynamic. He seems to make decent reads, but a hair too late and tends to be a step late getting the ball there. Today he was 17-40 for 230 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT - very Reggie-like stats, including his 26 yards rushing.

However, even bigger than him, I didn't see an identity today as a running team. We abandoned the run too early in the 4th quarter if you ask me and took too many shots deep down the field. The last two games have not been impressive in terms of playcalling or execution or both. Hard to tell the real issue, but the offense has not impressed the last two games. We threw the ball 41 times today and ran it 30. Not sure I get it.

Now, there are some good things to discuss:

Today the team showed some resilience in coming back from the early deficit. Those is a positive thing and something to build on.

Let's not jinx the kicker, but Bell is in a zone. He hits a 51 yard FG today on a bad snap as well as two others, missing none. He's having a nice year and we would love to see it continue.

This guy continues to amaze. Here's the key thing - people don't return his kicks. He skies the ball and they just don't get returned. He is truly amazing so far. All I can say is - I don't care how good your punter is - I'll take my guy 8 days a week.

The key is that you cannot compare punters just by yards or net yards. Brooks had 8 punts for a 47.8 average. UVA's kicker had 9 punts for an average of 46.1 yards. Both very good. However, Brooks had 4 insides the 20 and UVA had a total of -2 yards in returns. The UVA kicker had none inside the 20, and GT had 78 yards in return yardage. Big difference when you start looking at those kinds of stats.

Can you believe that GT led the conference in kick return yardage and we were in the top 4 coming in for kick-off coverage. I think you have to point to the impact of the new athletic freshman as well as some new ideas by Charles Kelly. It seems to be working. Nice job from this group. Overall you have to hand it to Charles Kelly as all the special teams are clicking at the moment - of course led by some senior specialists who are some of the best.

If not for the fumbled punt, we might win this game, and it's the one mistake from a mostly excellent special teams performance all season.

Johnson is turning into a bigtime defensive end and it seems he's finding his way onto the field even more than just obvious passing situations. Against BC he was a one-man penalty machine as he caused at least 3 BC holding penalties. Against UVA he once again was fairly effective.

It is obvious this kid is special. If you can believe it, he's scored a TD in every game. It is also obvious that the team is juiced when this guy takes the field. I certainly hate to see Tashard Choice battle a hamstring issue, but it is nice knowing you have a serious home-run threat to back up your serious home-run threat. He did a nice job today in pass-protection as well, which shows he's starting to understand the less heralded parts of being a back.

The difficult part was of today's game was seeing us abandon using this guy in the 4th quarter. Oh well.

This team no longer controls their own destiny. They now have to start winning and hope that someone else starts beating UVA. You feel bad for these kids and frustrated with the staff for such a tough loss. At the end of the day it was 2 key plays that made the difference. Game set match. Time to buck up, support the team and go get a win against Clemson this week.

Lastly, Corey Earls had to leave the game on a stretcher after an extended amount of time flat on the field. He did move his foot so you'd like to hope it's nothing. He's going to remain in the hospital overnight for observation, but make sure to send your prayers out to him. I know I will.