For Virginia Football Fans: Almost Doesn't Count
After five years of futility against your arch-rival, fans are desperate.
Apparently so was the coaching staff.
Virginia football has always made the mistake of playing the Hokies at their own game ever since head coach Al Groh took the reins in Charlottesville.
You want to play stout defense with tough, physical play...good so do we.
There's only one problem: Tech does it better.
Virginia has an amazing defense, but no defense could withstand the long drives the Hokies have placed upon the Cavaliers for years because the Virginia offense is so pathetic.
When the Cavaliers last saw the Commonwealth Cup, their win came because they took chances. Their fake field goal led to the game-clinching touchdown by Wali Lundy in 2003. Quarterback Matt Schaub spread the field and kept the secondary on their heels.
Virginia had play-makers and the offense was centered around getting them the ball.
Well Groh finally decided to change up his losing strategy. Instituting his own version of the Wildcat offense with former quarterback turned cornerback now quarterback again Vic Hall.
Hall was spectacular with a 40-yard run against one of the fastest defenses in the country to take the early lead and another 16-yard run late in the first half.
With less than two weeks of practice his speed and agility gave Virginia momentum throughout the first half and led his team to both of their touchdowns.
He even had a long run that should have led to the game-tying field goal but Virginia's "actual" quarterback Marc Verica thought it better to throw into triple coverage.
So Virginia fans should be happy right, they weren't humiliated like the last three years against the Hokies right?
Isn't Al Groh a genius for using this "Wildcat wrinkle"?
No and no.
Groh had a high school phenom who had broken virtually every offensive record at Virginia and what does he do? Stick him at cornerback.
Even when Jameel Sewell could not throw a screen pass.
Even when Pete Lalich was dismissed from the team.
Even when Marc Verica had five turnovers against Duke!
Hall just sat by and played his role until he finally got his opportunity... in the last game of his junior year.
However, Virginia fans should not really be surprised.
Throughout this year, it is fair to say Groh has driven Virginia fans insane.
The Cavaliers went from one of the worst teams in the country, to ACC championship contenders, to heart-breaking chokers in the course of three very different months.
Virginia athletics has been and always will be a tease.
A 4-0 record in October, an 0-4 record in November.
Just one more win would have given Virginia a bowl bid. Instead Virginia blows a double-digit led at home to Miami, lay an egg against Wake Forest, cannot score against Clemson and cannot avoid a costly interception against Virginia Tech.
Of course Virginia could have just avoided the whole 31-3 loss to Duke and that would have taken care of the job too.
Without a doubt, even with the embarrassing Duke loss, losing to Virginia Tech hurts the most for Cavalier fans.
Everyone would argue that Virginia is losing ground to its rival because the programs are on different levels. But are they really?
If Virginia holds on, they finish 6-6, they win their bowl game and they have an amazing turnaround from a 1-3 start and a loss to Duke.
With 72 underclassmen, UVA is one of the youngest teams in the country and are in prime position to take a step forward in 2009.
There is actual joy in Charlottesville instead of anger over wasted opportunities.
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, would have been denied an ACC Championship.
They would have gone to a decent bowl game and may have won it but, if not, they are stuck on eight wins (only one more than UVA).
In other words, the programs would have been on pretty similar footing for the first time since 2003.
Instead, the Hokies have now claimed the ACC Coastal Division for the third team in four years.
They will beat the Boston College Eagles who do not have a quarterback anymore with Crane's injury to claim their third ACC title (more than Virginia has won in its school history in football).
They will then go to their second straight Orange Bowl and defeat the Cincinnati Bearcats pretty handily. They leave the season with tons of momentum and Virginia leaves with more questions than answers.
In other words, Saturday's game meant a great deal more than just bowl eligibility or a chance to win a big road game.
Virginia had an opportunity to re-establish itself to everyone: the media, the opposition and most importantly, to the fans.
The Cavaliers looked brilliant at points, using incredible efforts from its defensive stars and it also looked incredibly foolish, running the Wildcat again and again despite its diminishing returns.
The Cavaliers could have won, perhaps they should have won.
However, moral victories do not get you in bowl games and Virginia fans can't brag about 'almost.'
Groh almost led this young team to a bowl.
He almost led his team to an ACC Championship game last year.
He almost beat the incredible Texas Tech offense in the Gator Bowl.
He almost got the critics off his back.
He almost made his son Mike Groh look like an offensive coordinator.
But almost doesn't count.
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