For many Virginia fans, after qualifying for the first bowl game since 2011, the football program was playing with house money. Virginia was ahead of most every projection for wins in 2017. Many experts saw 5 wins as the mark of good progress and here Virginia sat with 6 wins and 3 games to play. This is the definition of “house money” and Virginia had nothing to lose the rest of the way, right?
I think not. Despite their performance against Louisville, I don’t think the team is thinking that way either. I didn’t see anyone on the sidelines that looked satisfied with the season to date, resting on their laurels waiting for the announcement of the formerly elusive bowl game destination.
Rolling into Saturday’s game, Louisville was due to put it all together. Unfortunately their best game of the season came against Virginia. Any team with Lamar Jackson is dangerous. He is an exceptional talent. Virginia fans will be glad to see a new quarterback in Scott stadium next year leading the Louisville program. However, everyone knew the Cardinals could produce on offense. The shocker on Saturday, and the driver of the win for Louisville, was the performance of their defense. A talented unit on paper, they had been shredded on multiple occasions in 2017, and as a result, Louisville was a surprising 5-4 heading into their match with Virginia.
While there have been many games over the years when obscure players and teams have had exceptional performances against Virginia, this was not one of those occasions. There was no excuse for Louisville’s defense to be ranked in the 80s among D1 (sorry, I still think in terms of D1, D2, & D3…not FBS & FCS) programs. There was too much talent on the sidelines for that kind of performance. Unfortunately for Virginia fans, the Cardinals’ defense put it all together against the Wahoos and the Cavs left Louisville with a convincing loss, and a record of 6-4. Virginia is still well above season expectations, but not lacking more than a dash of hope for a 7th win before Virginia learns its opponent and destination in the post-season bowl frenzy.
I don’t think Virginia was flat on Saturday against Louisville and I don’t think they were overly sloppy. Virginia just had one of those days when their opponents played very well and the Cavaliers were simply not up to the task. Remember Miami’s last game in the OB? Virginia won 48-0 against a Miami team that had far more future NFL players on the field at all times. Virginia steamrolled the Canes as Miami had one of “those games”.
Virginia has done a good job of putting tough losses behind them in 2017. Ugly losses against Indiana and Pitt have been followed by nice wins against UConn and Georgia Tech. This is a team that seems to have no memory. The past is the past and the next game = the most important game of the season. I credit the staff for building this culture and the players for executing in several tough circumstances.
After watching Miami dismantle Notre Dame this weekend, I am not going to call a Virginia win next week in Miami. However, I am going to predict that Virginia shows up next week well prepared and mentally ready to do what it takes to win, to fight until the final whistle, and possibly pull off the biggest surprise since their last blowout win in Miami.
Virginia might be playing with house money when looking at the “expert’s” predictions for the season. However, when I watch Virginia on the field, I see a team that is focused on nothing but win number 7, and after that win number 8.
What we saw against Louisville was the uncomfortable reality of a team rebuilding from the foundation up not a lackadaisical performance due to a sense of entitlement because a bowl game is in the cards. Unlike so many teams in the past decade, this Virginia team is focused and well-prepared and they win more than in the past..just not every week.