Virginia blunders its way to another loss to Virginia Tech
It’s time to apologize to Mike London. His infamous icing the kicker blunder from 2012 was nothing in the context of the series of boneheaded moves by Bronco Mendenhall and his staff that gave Virginia Tech, with an interim coach, a 29-24 win here on Saturday.
We’ll start with the final one. Somehow, some way, in spite of it all, Virginia had the ball at the Tech 11 after an 18-yard completion from Brennan Armstrong to Keytaon Thompson with a minute and a half to go, momentum on their side, a chance to score and take the lead.
The play call was an Armstrong quarterback draw, an obvious attempt to either bleed clock or get the Hokies to burn a timeout, which they did.
Second down was an incomplete pass.
Next up: third down.
That third-down play will go down as the dumbest play call in Virginia football history.
That’s not hyperbole.
Armstrong took the snap, rolled right, and threw it back to Bobby Haskins, a 280-pound offensive tackle, who had blockers in front.
I wish I was making this up, but I’m not.
To be fair, and I shouldn’t be, I actually saw that play work for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl loss to Florida back in 2019.
Didn’t work this time. The Tech staff seemed to have seen it coming, didn’t bite for the misdirection, had defenders on the back side ready to pounce.
Haskins caught the ball, later to go down in the scorebook as a lateral, and lost five yards, setting up a fourth-and-13.
The fourth-down pass, from Armstrong to wideout Ra’Shaun Henry, had no chance – Henry was bracketed, ball never got anywhere near.
But that was just the last in the series of boneheaded moves.
Preceding that one was a decision by Mendenhall to leave the offense on the field on a fourth-and-2 from the UVA 16, down 27-24, with four minutes on the clock, and a full complement of timeouts.
Armstrong couldn’t find an open receiver, was sacked, fumbled, and the ball was recovered in the end zone by Haskins for a safety.
Tech was then due a free kick. Mendenhall called for an onside kick – still had, mind you, the full complement of timeouts, and the Hokies were playing it like they were expecting an onside kick.
They recovered, of course, and could have bled the clock, but backup QB Connor Blumrick fumbled, and Nick Grant recovered, setting up the final drive for the ‘Hoos.
A lucky break if there ever was one, there.
Preceding those boneheaded moves was one at the end of the first half, with the Cavaliers up, 21-14. The UVA defense got a stop on Tech, forcing Peter Moore to punt from his end zone with two and a half minutes left before halftime.
Put punt-safe or return on, fair-catch the ball, and you get the ball in at least good, if not great, field position, a chance to put three or seven on the board, and because the Hokies had the opening kickoff, you’d have the ball to start the second half.
At the worst, you eat the rest of the first-half clock, and you’re up 21-14 at the break, but it could also be 24-14 or 28-14.
It’s certainly not 27-24 with four minutes left in the fourth, either way.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Mendenhall had the special teams in punt-block. West Weeks was assessed for a roughing-the-kicker penalty that gave Tech a first down, and the Hokies would eventually get three on a John Parker Romo field goal that made it 21-17 at halftime.
Virginia got a field goal from Brendan Farrell on its first possession of the second half, but that would be it for the offense, which turned the ball over on a Thompson fumble inside the Tech 20 on one possession, and then stalled on downs on the final possession of the game.
Armstrong, warrior, finished with 405 yards through the air, completing 30-of-46 with a TD and an INT, and added two scores on the ground.
Billy Kemp IV had eight catches on 10 targets for 102 yards. Thompson had seven catches on 13 targets for 91 yards.
Dontavyion Wicks had an off-day – just three catches on nine targets for 55 yards, with an unofficial three drops.
UVA outgained the Hokies 474-464. What Virginia did through the air, Tech largely did on the ground, gashing the Cavaliers defense for 320 yards, with Raheem Blackshear going for 169 yards, and QB Braxton Burmeister adding 115.
Burmeister was a modest 6-of-14 passing for 141 yards and a TD through the air.
Big plays, sorry if you’ve heard this one before, were the bugaboo for the Virginia defense – 264 of the 464 yards surrendered came on six huge chunk plays for the Hokies offense.
Missed tackles and porous coverage from the secondary have been par for the course from that unit all season long – it’s how this team is ranked in the top five nationally in total offense and ended the regular season with a 6-6 record.
What’s dispiriting now is the collective three-hour-plus brain spasm of the coaching staff.
Any one of those head-scratching decisions detailed above would be bad enough to evoke comparisons to the Mike London era, which was pockmarked with questionable moves.
The group of them has me having utterly lost confidence in the direction of Virginia Football from here.
The defense was ranked in the bottom 10 in the nation coming in, giving up an average of 466.1 yards per game.
Tech had that before going to victory formation.
Things never did get fixed after the 59-39 loss to UNC and the 37-17 loss to Wake Forest in Weeks 3 and 4.
Somehow this team was still in contention for the Coastal Division title last week, before giving up 48 points in the loss to Pitt that made today all about Virginia Pride.
Tech had averaged 361.6 yards per game on the season coming in. The team was bad enough that it got its coach fired.
A position coach is the interim. Their program is in a shambles.
And they won today because their makeshift staff outcoached the gold-plated Virginia staff.
I don’t know where you go from here. I’m not a fire-everybody-and-start-over guy anymore. I’ve mellowed in my old age in that respect.
I’ve very much liked the direction that Mendenhall has taken Virginia Football. He had UVA 9-3 in the regular season and in the ACC Championship Game on the way to an Orange Bowl berth just two years ago. That’s a tremendous accomplishment for a coach at a school with stringent admissions requirements and without a doubt the least in terms of facilities in all of Power 5.
Losing to a Tech program that literally gave up on the season two weeks ago is bad enough. Losing because of decisions that the average 10-year-old playing Madden wouldn’t make is inexcusable.
I’m not demanding a change, because it wouldn’t matter if I did, but whether one comes or not, tonight was effectively the end of the Mendenhall era as we’ve known it, and the beginning of the countdown to who gets to be the next guy to try to reclaim the glory, such as it was, of the 1980s and 1990s.
Story by Chris Graham