By Grayson Lambert
For the fifth time this year, the Virginia football team pulled out a win by one or two points yesterday after a 17-16 victory over Wake Forest. With an 8-2 record, the Wahoos have moved back into both the AP and the USA Today Polls. Virginia also stayed a half game ahead of Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal division.
Despite the impressive record and the lead in the ACC standings, anyone who has watched a UVA football game this year will readily admit that the Wahoos do not look terribly impressive. In yesterday’s game, Virginia was a poor 4 of 15 on 3rd downs, had the ball for ten fewer minutes than the Demon Deacons, struggled to establish a running game, and completed less than 50% of its passes. While Mikell Simpson had another good game, the UVA ground attack has suffered in the absence of Cedric Peermen. Virginia’s top three receivers are two tight ends and a running back.
UVA has also struggled on the road this season. The Wyoming loss is still inexplicable. Wyoming completely dominated the game and is now a 5-4 team in the Mountain West Conference. At UNC, Virginia looked better but was unable to finish drives, settling for five field goals. At Middle Tennessee, it took a late Chris Gould field goald to escape another weak team. The Maryland game was frustrating to watch until the last drive, when the Virginia offense stepped up late. Finally, the NC State game was another poor showing on the road, as NC State threw its way to its first ACC win of the season.
Although the wins have not always been pretty (anyone remember the Duke game?), wins are wins – and UVA has proven its knack for ending up on top when the game is over. The two losses were “bad” losses, but instead of folding after the season opening loss at Wyoming, the team has shown heart and character over the past two months. The Wahoos have stepped up in critical moments and is now in a position to make an improbable run at an ACC crown.
Still, the exciting run of the recent months will be disregarded if UVA cannot finish the season. Next week, the Cavs will be at Miami; the Hurricanes are far from the dominant team that they were earlier this decade, but there is still much talent on the team. Then, after an off week, UVA hosts the archrival Hokies on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In all likelihood, the game against VT will be for a birth in the ACC Championship game and a chance to go to the Orange Bowl. After trips to Charlotte, Boise, and Nashville in recent years, a big New Year’s Day bowl game would be a major step for UVA football.
But if these dreams of a major bowl game are to come true, UVA must focus on each game as it comes. The offense has to be more efficient and needs to score more touchdowns. The rest of Virginia’s opponents this season are better teams, and it will take strong performances to get wins. Back in August, who would have guessed that UVA would be on the verge of an ACC championship? Certainly not most of us, and this season has been much more successful than most initially were predicting. Now that we are so close, however, anything short of the playing for an ACC championship will be rather disappointing.