I had a conversation with a fellow UVA football fan last week that went something like this: Mike London is a good coach, a great recruiter, and he’s the guy who can get Virginia Cavalier football back to where it was under George Welsh in the 1980s and 1990s.
Same UVA fan, this week: Mike London needs to go.
A lot has happened in a week, obviously.
Then I get a voicemail from another fan, a long-time reader, ripping me for a column that I wrote earlier in the week declaring Matt Johns to be the man at starting quarterback.
The err in my ways on that point: Johns overthrew two wide-open receivers on fly patterns. Those two overthrows, to the fan, cost Virginia 14 points. Worse than throwing interceptions, short of a pick-six, because those were points that should have been on the board, and failed.
I stand by the column, and the one that I wrote Saturday night doing some ripping myself, of fans who are preparing the plank for London to walk.
First, to Johns: kid is a sophomore, first off, same as Greyson Lambert, sure. For whatever reason, Lambert, anointed the starter in the spring, with an NFL arm, hasn’t taken to the demands that come with being a I-A quarterback. Golden arm, bitcoin confidence level. Johns has outplayed Lambert to this point in 2014, and it’s not even close: eight touchdown passes to two, 12.3 yards per completion to 8.9, one interception for every 29.4 passes to one INT every 24.3 passes.
Lambert has a higher ceiling because of that golden arm, but the hard thing to figure is how he develops the confidence to trust himself to get the ball downfield. Think back to the UCLA game that started the QB carousel in the first place: Lambert ended up on the bench before the end of the first half because he threw two pick-sixes in the second quarter, and the pick-sixes were the direct result of Lambert’s inability to get the ball downfield, an inability that was directly related to his lack of confidence either in his arm or his ability to read defenses.
Whatever the issue is for Lambert, Johns doesn’t have the same lack of confidence to look beyond the line of scrimmage, and his willingness to test defenses on intermediate and deep routes has opened things up for the Virginia offense, which has struggled at key times with Lambert under center with opposing defenses pressing up knowing that he’s not going to test them downfield, allowing them to cheat up on the short routes that he prefers.
Which gets me to the call about Johns costing Virginia 14 points on the two deep ball overthrows: a good point, except that Lambert doesn’t even throw those passes.
Now to London, who is suddenly on the hot seat in the minds of some fans because he somehow lost to lowly Duke, except that Duke isn’t all that lowly, now having won six of its last seven with Virginia, and currently on a 16-5 stretch that includes an appearance in the 2013 ACC Championship Game.
Was the game at Duke last week winnable? Obviously. UVA outgained Duke 465-334, held Anthony Boone largely in check, put up 4.5 yards per carry, turned the ball over only once, and still somehow lost.
Could London and his staff done some things differently to put the Cavs in a better position to win? It’s hard to say no, because of the L, but it’s just as hard for me to point out specifics. Duke also game-planned and executed well last week, focusing on a short passing game that neutralized Virginia’s pass rush, but also neutralized its own high-powered offense to a great degree, coach david cutcliffe opting to go conservative to increase his chances of winning.
You want to think that dictating how your opponent plays will win you games, but credit to Cutcliffe and his kids for playing Virginia’s game and winning at it.
Maybe I was alone in thinking this, but leaving Wallace Wade Stadium last Saturday, I felt pretty good about how UVA played that day, and didn’t think there was anything about wearing orange and blue should feel down about, other than the losing.
How does that reflect on the coach and his future? It’s mind-boggling to me that anybody could watch last week’s game and think that the losing team’s coach should be fired, but that’s apparently an increasingly popular opinion among the Virginia fan base.
All I can say to that is, You had George Welsh, he won seven, eight, nine games a year, you ran him off because he didn’t win championships, and what you’ve gotten since is the wages of those sins.
I can’t guarantee that UVA will win another game this season, and if it doesn’t win at least two more, in my view, London is likely on his way out. That said, I credit him for what he’s done, his staff has done, and his players have done to do a complete 180 from where things were this time last year, when Virginia was getting beaten and wasn’t really even competitive. The 2014 ‘Hoos are 4-3, and arguably outplayed the three opponents who beat them.
Fire the coach and his staff, start over, and it’s five years before Virginia football is back to where it is right now. That may end up being necessary anyway, but I say let’s see how things go the rest of the way before we call the moving vans.
Meanwhile, today is UVA Basketball Media Day. Crank up the AC/DC, and let’s get it on.
– Column by Chris Graham