Tony Elliott is not, yet, living up to the job he was hired to do for UVA Football
UVA came up short last week at Syracuse, but in a way it seemed like there had been some steps forward in the 22-20 loss.
The defense had looked better. The offense stunk in the first half, but did enough after halftime to actually take the lead late after overcoming a 16-0 deficit.
Maybe this week the ‘Hoos would turn the corner.
Bad news: they did, then kept turning, and turning, and turning, into a tailspin harkening back to the depths of the Mike London era, in a 38-17 loss to Duke on Saturday, in front of what looked to be a couple hundred people at Wallace Wade Stadium who we have to assume had gotten lost on their way to the library and decided, what the hell.
It’s actually an insult to the calamity that was the Mike London era to compare it to what we saw out of UVA Football in this one.
Dave Leitao’s last season of nearly burning the UVA Basketball program and its brand-new arena to the ground might be a more apt analogy for where things are five games into the Elliott regime.
Where to begin …
Well, first, there were the untimely penalties – six of them, for 87 yards, all 15-yarders, one of them not quite measuring out because of the half-the-distance-to-the-goal rule.
Next, the timeout on a punt because special teams didn’t have the right guys on the field, then after the timeout, the punt was blocked.
And then, the fumble on a kickoff after the Duke TD that followed the blocked punt, leading to another Duke TD, turning a 7-0 game before the blocked punt into a 21-0 game without the offense getting to touch the ball again.
To borrow from Ron Burgundy, that escalated quickly.
And then that offense, which last year averaged 515.8 yards a game, was held below 300 yards for the third time in five games, the explosive Brennan Armstrong, who averaged 404.5 yards a game a year ago, going for 202 yards.
Armstrong hasn’t even thrown for 300 once this year.
With all of this going on, UVA coach Tony Elliott was all over the TV yelling at various people on the sidelines, telling the sideline reporter coming out of the locker room that his players needed to show the will to win, basically doing everything he could to appear that he was disturbed by what he saw, and nothing to assume any blame.
The offense is broken. Elliott and his offensive coordinator, Des Kitchings, inherited the leading returning passer in the conference, and they’ve made a total bum out of him and the wideouts who returned en masse.
The defense, an Achilles heel last season under the regime of the departed Bronco Mendenhall, is marginally better, but Duke gashed the Cavaliers for 248 yards on the ground, important in terms of being able to move the chains on a sloshy night.
And special teams, wow. It was a fumble on a punt return that shifted the momentum in the Week 2 loss at Illinois, two missed field goals that were the difference in the loss last week at Syracuse, and then tonight, the blocked punt and the fumbled kick return set up short fields for Duke scores that turned this one into a blowout early.
Penalties, blocked punts, fumbled kick returns, a sputtering offense, a defense that can’t get stops, the head coach reduced to yelling at everybody in sight, because neither he nor any of the guys wearing headsets have any answers – this is UVA Football now.
It would be one thing if this was 2016, and Elliott had inherited from Mendenhall what Mendenhall had inherited from London, basically nothing, the emptiest of cupboards, but he didn’t.
For all the excuses the handful of his supporters still out there offer about the O line, even that’s on Elliott, who has admitted that he needed to do a better job recruiting the guys he lost to the transfer portal, who are now starting for the likes of USC, Michigan and Central Florida.
His stubborn persistence on fitting the talented veteran skill guys he inherited and the makeshift offensive line he had to cobble together from the transfer portal and the leftovers in the fridge into a new system being run by an unproven coordinator in Kitchings is unnerving in the face of the results, which have not only not seen the offense progress as players get acclimated, but instead step back from the uneven productivity in the 34-17 win in the season opener over Richmond, an FCS team that was able to hang around into the fourth quarter because the offense wasn’t able to convert several opportunities to put the game way.
Elliott, up until the bullets started flying last month, had said all the right things, about Virginia being his dream job, wanting to win the right way, with the right guys, and with a more balanced, complementary approach.
What we’ve seen through five weeks of actual games is dumpster fire – of increasingly desperate sideline rants, throwing his kids under the bus in his weekly pressers, and an incomprehensible inability of the coach or his staff to demonstrate any evidence that they know the first thing about how to get things fixed.
All of this, and if you’ve invested in UVA Football – as a donor to the $80 million football ops center, a season-ticket holder, just a fan sitting on the couch in a CavMan sweatshirt – it’s not even halfway into Year 1.
Elliott, for all of his preseason press conference bluster, has yet to give any indication that he was the man that Carla Williams should have pegged to build on the foundation that Mendenhall had laid down in his six years.
This program is still not even three years removed from playing in an ACC Championship Game and taking a Top 10 Florida team into the final minutes of the Orange Bowl.
UVA Football, here and now, is back to the drawing board, and the guy hired to be the project manager appears to need to convince himself that he’s up to the job.
He could start by looking in the mirror, and yelling at himself, like he yells at his kids on the sidelines.