Scattershooting: ACC Bowl Picture, Virginia Needs to Fix Its Offense, More

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Scattershooting around the ACC, while hitting on an abundance of topics, including bowl talk, coaching moves, Virginia’s offense, and more …

Let’s jump right into the bowl stuff, and because you are a member of this site, we’re going straight to Virginia.

While there are still whispered scenarios that the Cavaliers could be in Yankee Stadium for the Pinstripe Bowl, the people I talk to that are in the know insist that the Wahoos will return to the Belk Bowl (formerly the Continental Tire Bowl) in Charlotte to face an opponent from the SEC.

Georgia Tech has politicked hard to get its foot in the door at the Belk Bowl, pointing out that it’s Coach Paul Johnson’s last game. Johnson announced his retirement last week but will coach through the bowl game.

Still, we’re hearing that the Belk Bowl wants Virginia. There are a ton of Wahoo alums that live in the Charlotte area and the Cavaliers are 2-0 in the bowl, going back to 2002, when Al Groh’s 9-5 team upset 15th-ranked West Virginia, 48-22.

Virginia had a huge crowd in the stadium that day, and it’s no wonder that the bowl invited the Cavaliers back in 2003 when Groh’s 8-5 Wahoos defeated Pittsburgh, 23-16, and held future NFL star Larry Fitzgerald to without a catch.

We have been told that UVa has been talking to the Belk Bowl folks for several weeks. Charlotte and Atlanta are really the only two destinations that Cavalier football fans have flocked to over the years.

There have been lots of speculation about who the Cavaliers’ bowl opponent would be if indeed the Belk Bowl is where they land. We’ve heard Auburn, Vanderbilt, South Carolina. Lately, the Vandy noise has been getting louder, but the SEC bowl selection process differs than the ACC’s, so we’ll have to wait until Sunday when all the bowl games are announced on ESPN from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There is that UVa AD Carla Williams and Vandy connection that we all witnessed back in September when the Cavaliers moved their hurricane-threatened game with Ohio to Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, which turned out to be a brilliant move, as we so noted at that time.

What is making the ACC process a little more complicated than usual is parity. There are six teams with 7-5 records, including your Wahoos.

The Camping World Bowl in Orlando gets the first pick of an ACC team after the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six Bowls are filled.

Then, there are four “Tier One” bowl games, the Belk Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl, Sun Bowl (El Paso), and the Gator Bowl or Music City Bowl.

Additional bowls with ACC tie-ins are: the Independence Bowl, the Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit), the Military Bowl, the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 20 in Tampa).

We’ve heard that the ACC is putting pressure on the Pinstripe Bowl to take Pitt, the Coastal Division champion, should the Panthers lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship game.

The Camping World Bowl could go for Syracuse or N.C. State, with the Gator likely taking the other.

Sun Bowl wants Miami, Belk wants UVa.

That leaves the Independence, or Heart of Dallas Bowl, along with Quick Lane, Gasparilla, and the Military Bowl for the remainder of the ACC teams: Georgia Tech, Duke, Boston College, and Wake Forest. Because the Gasparilla is on Dec. 20, ACC teams have been given permission to bypass that bowl if there is an academic conflict. Duke has already taken that option.

Meanwhile, there is heavy speculation that either Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech will be in the Military. It would be a fitting end to Paul Johnson’s career to finish in Annapolis, where he was head coach for several years. Virginia Tech must beat Marshall to qualify.

Oh, and the Belk Bowl is set for 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 29, and is only a four- to four-and-a-half hour drive from Charlottesville.

Bronco Must Fix Offense

So it is clear that the majority of you were as confused as me about Virginia’s offensive play-calling in the last two games of the season, overtime losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

In my mind, Virginia should have won both games. Yeah, the botched special teams plays cost the Cavaliers the Georgia Tech game, but some of the play-calling was, shall we say, strange. The play-calling against Virginia Tech clearly cost the Cavaliers the win and an end to the streak.

Had UVa won those two games, Bronco would have likely been ACC Coach of the Year or at least runner-up, and QB Bryce Perkins just might have been Offensive POY or even POY. If not, he would have likely made a good run at those awards.

I sat there in the press box in Lane Stadium and couldn’t believe that Virginia’s offense was so vanilla in the first half, and equally surprised that it opened up and was dynamic to start the second, scoring 31 points, before the game tightened and the offense went back into a shell at the end. Some of those play calls just didn’t make sense to me.

I noticed that in some of the other “rivalry weekend” games that the underdogs threw everything they had at the favorites, using exotic formations, trick plays, whatever it took to give them a chance.

Virginia didn’t use a trick play except for a double reverse, which really didn’t fool anyone. There was no misdirection, none of some of the exotic stuff we saw in a few games earlier in the season, not much of a screen game. It was read-option, run-pass-option most of the night, which is putting a lot of pressure on Perkins to make a lot of decisions.

We didn’t get to ask offensive coordinator Robert Anae about the playcalling after the game because he declined to take questions, and simply blamed the loss on turnovers.

So, we are a little confused about something Bronco said on his coaches show, which I admittedly missed.

Was told though that Anae said: “Man, got too conservative.”

No duh.

Bronco said he wanted to use Perkins on runs because he’s the best player on the team. No doubt, and lots of times it worked. But there has to be some other stuff to take the pressure off Perkins or defenses are going to key on him every play.

Since Bronco changed his role this season to become CEO of the team, and be involved in every phase of the game rather than focus on defense, then Virginia fans would beg of him to closely re-examine the offensive game plans and play-calling over those last two games, and to please not be conservative in the bowl game.

Lots of Wahoo fans would like to see a change in the OC, maybe give QB coach Jamie Beck a shot, or bring in someone new. Personally, I have always believed that the most effective offensive coordinators (there are exceptions) are coaches who have been quarterbacks in college. The offensive play-calling just makes more sense to them because they understand the whole reading the defense thing, they have a better rhythm when it comes to calling plays, spotting things, they have a better feel for the game.

People remind me that, hey, Virginia’s offense is never going to be right until it gets the offensive line to where it needs to be. There’s some truth to that, but the O-Line was good enough for UVa to score 31 points against a dreadful Hokies defense that had been exploited all season long, BEFORE the offense went back into its conservative shell.

Just think if the Wahoos, whomever was calling the plays in that last game (and we assume it was Anae), had won those last two games, just how good would Virginia be right now. The players deserve better than 7-5, and so do the Wahoo fans.

If Virginia can’t fix this before the bowl game, then I believe a lot of the momentum the program has built is in peril because fans are tired of watching the Cavaliers finding ways to lose when they should be winning.

Quick Hitters …

Former Louisville coach Rick Pitino said the other day: “there are three levels of potential champions right now in college basketball: Elite _ Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan, and Kansas; Almost Elite_ Tennessee, Texas Tech, Wisconsin and Nevada; Potential to be Elite: Kentucky, Auburn, UNC, Michigan State, and Villanova.”

Our Twitter friend, Danny Neckel came up with this fact the other day, and it’s pretty cool: Top #5 winning percentages in college basketball over the past six seasons …

  • Villanova (170-23, .881)
  • Gonzaga (168-25, .870)
  • Wichita State (150-31, .829)
  • Arizona (155-33, .824)
  • Virginia (150-33, .820)

Notice who’s not on the list? No Duke, no UNC.

Also, if you make it the last five seasons rather than the last six, the list goes like this: 1. Virginia; 2. Kentucky; 3. Villanova; 4. Gonzaga; 5. Duke.

Pitino, a Hall of Fame Coach, also chipped in this: “As I observe the game, being away from it for the first time in 40 years, two people really stick out. Jay Wright and Tony Bennett are the total package. They’re humble, innovative, motivators and great defensive coaches. Great to witness what they do with their teams every year.”

How good is Virginia freshman point guard Kihei Clark? He didn’t commit a single turnover in the Cavaliers’ last two games against ranked Maryland and Wisconsin teams. In fact, Clark has a mere six turnovers in 196 minutes of playing time as a Wahoos rookie. Wow.

Our spies filled us in with this one. Former UVa basketball coach and AD Terry Holland, who went on to finish his career as AD at East Carolina, has a son (Kate’s son), whose first name is Holland, after his granddad. Well, Holland is a senior football player down in North Carolina and is being recruited by several schools, including N.C. State.

Here’s the fun part. At Saturday’s N.C. State vs. ECU game, State coaches have asked all their prospects visiting the game and their families to wear red on the State sidelines.

So, both Holland’s dad and granddad (Terry) were supposed to wear red on the State sidelines for the game. We know Terry would rather be wearing purple and gold.

Coaching Go Round

So Louisville and Georgia Tech were both searching for new coaches as of Saturday morning.

The Cardinals’ hearts were broken when Jeff Brohm elected to stay at Purdue. Apparently it was so close of a decision that Purdue has already kicked into gear the beginnings of its own coaching search, and Louisville officials were pumping the breaks on their enthusiasm to celebrate the deal.

Brohm would have been coming home, where his parents and family live and he would have been the favorite son returning home.

In the end, the timing wasn’t right. Brohm didn’t think it would be right to leave Purdue after only two years, especially after he had turned the ship into the right direction.

Louisville was reportedly offering a seven-year deal worth $35 million if Brohm came home. Purdue thusly bumped Brohm from $3.8 million to $6 million.

Now, Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield is rumored to be the frontrunner for the job and Satterfield, who only makes $712,000 per year, said he will definitely listen to anything Louisville has to say. We do know that Louisville has reached out to Satterfield’s agent, Jimmy Sexton.

Georgia Tech is searching behind the scenes, and there’s been a boatload of candidates mentioned. One of those is intriguing in San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who is a former teammate of Georgia Tech AD Todd Stansbury.

Whisenhunt coached at Tech as an OC, and was head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, but that didn’t work out. Seems like a natural to me, but we’ll see.

Some have mentioned Army’s Jeff Monken, who worked for Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, but that means Tech would keep the option offense, and we just get the gut feeling that The Flats has seen enough of the option for a while.

Satterfield has been listed as a possibility along with Clemson co-OC Tony Elliott.

Then there’s North Carolina, which I believe made a brilliant hire in bringing back Mack Brown.

I was always impressed with Brown when he was at UNC the first time. Not because he’s a great X’s and O’s coach. He’s not. But he hires people that are.

Brown, to me, is the epitomy of a college football program CEO. He is a great recruiter, a great motivator, a great face of the program, great with alumni, fund-raising, all the things that go into building a winner.

You see, Brown gets it. He throws himself into recruiting and makes that a priority of every assistant coach. He ruled the state of North Carolina in recruiting back in the day.

Larry Fedora said he was going to do that but failed miserably. He had only five of 20 signees from the state in his 2018 class; only eight of 29 in the ‘17 class.

When Brown had his best season in Chapel Hill, a 10-2 record in 1997, he had 64 players from the state of North Carolina on his roster.

He’s already hired four coaches, Tim Brewster, who coached with him at UNC and Texas; Dre’ Bly, Tim Cross, and retained Tommy Thigpen.

The ACC’s Coastal Division coaching jobs have been really shaken up the past two years. Only Duke’s David Cutcliffe has been at his school for a long span.

Virginia hired Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia Tech hired Justin Fuente, Georgia Tech’s job is open, Pitt hired Pat Narduzzi a few years ago, Miami hired Mark Richt, and Carolina just hired Brown.

 

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