Chris Graham: Another Mike London botched endgame ends in another L

Mike-LondonThe Virginia football team played maybe its best game of the season Saturday at Maryland, doing everything but winning on the road at a program that just last week was ranked in the nation’s top 25.

The offense racked up 506 yards of total offense. Quarterback David Watford, for the first time in his career, looked comfortable in the pocket and let plays develop downfield. The offensive line was solid, not allowing a sack and clearing the way for 242 rushing yards against a Maryland defense that gives up 136.5 yards per game.

As good as the stats looked, though, reality is the ‘Hoos lost, and the reason why is obvious from the postgame comments.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as being conservative. The biggest thing is to put yourself into a position where the playmakers can help extend the drives or get those first downs or get those points. You’ve got to give Maryland credit, they did a good job defensively on some things we tried to do. It came down to one last opportunity, and I guess it was wide right.”

That’s beleaguered head coach Mike London, who once again is under fire for mismanaging an endgame situation. This time it was UVa.’s final drive at Byrd Stadium on Saturday, which started at the Cavs 17 with 2:34 left and Virginia down by one, and advanced the ball to a first down at the Terps 27 with 1:11 to go.

Maryland still had two timeouts at its disposal, and London decided to try to force Terrapin coach Randy Edsall to burn them by running the ball and pushing Edsall to call timeout to preserve time on the clock in the event that Virginia would get the go-ahead score.

What London is saying here: He doesn’t think his defense can stop Maryland with one or two timeouts and a minute or so to work with. An interesting message to deliver to his team, that one. Sort of similar to the one from last year’s 17-14 loss at Virginia Tech, when London, faced with the same challenge from across the field by Hokie coach Frank Beamer, who ran the ball twice in the red zone inside the final two minutes to try to force London to burn his final two timeouts, instead decided to save them to ice the kicker.

London, on Saturday, expected Edsall to do what he himself didn’t do last November in Blacksburg, when London clearly didn’t think his offense could move the ball in the event of a Virginia Tech go-ahead score.

Back to Saturday: Kevin Parks ran on the first play on that fresh set of downs for two yards, prompting Edsall’s first timeout with 1:00 on the clock. Another Parks run for one yard left it at third-and-seven, and another Maryland timeout with 0:56 on the clock. The call on third down could have been anything – another Parks run up the gut, a screen pass, play-action, since most everybody in the stadium was expecting another run, with a drag to a wide receiver or tight end opening up as a result.

Another few yards could have been valuable given that London was going to be relying on his backup placekicker, Alec Vozenilek, to attempt the game-winning kick, the first of his career.

London chose to run a QB keeper, with Watford responsible for centering the ball for the snap on a fourth-down field goal attempt. Only Watford ran wide left, and was tackled on the left hashmark, leaving Vozenilek with what would be a career-long 42-yard attempt from an angle that would require him to push the ball right to get it through the uprights.

Vozenilek did push the ball right – a little too far right. Ballgame.

The scenario brings to mind the botched endgames in 2012 in the aforementioned loss at Virginia Tech and home losses to Louisiana Tech and Wake Forest and in 2011 in a home loss to Southern Miss.

It’s one thing to just be outclassed by an opponent, as was the inexplicable case last week in a 48-27 home loss to Ball State of the MAC, which had trouble beating 2-5 Kent State yesterday after running up the score on an otherwise sunny Saturday in Charlottesville. It’s quite another to give winnable games away, over and over and over

That’s supposedly why you pay your head football coach $2.5 million a year – more than what Virginia Tech pays Frank Beamer, incidentally. Enough with the talk about the great recruiting classes that London has been drawing to Grounds year after year: even Al Groh could recruit. You pay your head coach that much money because he ostensibly knows how to coach.

Midway through the fourth season of what is at this point an 18-25 tenure, with five of those wins against FCS opponents, just one against Duke, none against Virginia Tech, the jury is very much still out as to whether or not London knows how to coach.