The fake punt: What was Virginia thinking, exactly?

UVaHelmet_1Virginia had a fourth-and-16 from its own 34, up 6-3 with 2:16 left in the second quarter. The Cavs had to burn a timeout because of a personnel issue, but that kind of thing happens a lot, too much, these days.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was “concerned” coming out of the timeout when he saw how UVA was lined up.

“We were concerned because we were trying to double their headhunters, so we didn’t have many people in the box,” Beamer said.

But it was fourth-and-16.

Beamer said he would have had his unit in punt safe if the yards-to-go was any closer.

“I knew going in that what we were trying to do was a chance by trying to leave a guy in the box and bring him out later. They had the numbers over there,” Beamer said.

Virginia, indeed, did see what Beamer saw. Punter Nicholas Conte took the snap and took off running to his left.

He had a blocker down field, but there were two Hokies in pursuit. Trey Edmunds was able to avoid the block and chased Conte down short of the first down.

Virginia Tech used the short field to squeeze a field goal out of its final drive of the first half, tying the game at 6-6.

It had to be a bit deflating for a UVA team that had dominated the first half statistically, holding the Hokies to 69 total yards, outgaining them by nearly 100 yards, and still going into the break even-steven.

And then you look at the scoreboard at the end of the day, and you lose by three.

Three. Three points that you gave them.

Why did Conte take off?

“There are certain looks and audibles you can call out there that would affect that play,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “They lined everybody up inside so we could block down and bring everybody around. They did a good job of responding to it by running downfield and tackling Conte and we came up about a yard short. We needed to execute one more yard, and we did not.”

Actually, according to the official postgame stats, he was two yards short, but who’s counting?

“No, I knew,” Conte answered a reporter who had asked if he thought he might have gotten the first down. “I was right there on the left side, and the marker was right there, and right when I hit the ground I turned my head to the left, and I saw it, and I knew I was short.”

Left unanswered – a couple of things. One, London deflected the blame for the call from himself and the coaching staff to the players for calling an audible, which is fine if that is the case, and we have no reason to think it isn’t.

But why have that audible even available as an option on a fourth-and-16 in poor field position?

Conte is a punter and not a running back or wideout for a couple of reasons, one being that he can kick the ball reasonably well, two being that he doesn’t run a 4.4 40.

Even running that fake on a fourth-and-five at that field position with that much time left in a half would be a losing proposition on a risk-reward scale.

Fourth-and-16? All 11 Hokies could fall to the turf at once, stricken by an unexplained temporary paralysis, and you’d still have to punt that one away.

That’s the first issue. The second: if you’re the $3.1 million-a-year head coach, and you’re asked about a fake punt on fourth-and-16 from your own 34 that not surprisingly doesn’t work, even if it was your players audibling into it, you take the fall, and under no circumstances do you throw your kids under the bus to make yourself and your staff into victims along with the rest of us.

The way London handled that postgame was shameful.

Go figure, Beamer is the one who comes out of this particular stupid episode smelling like roses.

“They had a good strategy,” Beamer said, and no, he was totally being genuine, because that’s what kind of guy he is. “I’m just thankful that it was a long yardage deal, so we got them one yard short.”

– Story by Chris Graham

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