By David Teel
3:44 PM EST, November 26, 2012
Upon further review, Virginia’s end-of-game clock management Saturday against Virginia Tech was worse than it appeared in real time.
Moreover, such confusion on the Cavaliers sideline isn’t isolated and speaks to an issue coach Mike London needs to address during the offseason.
Now from the press box, and I imagine from the stands and on television, it was clear London and his staff bungled the last minute Saturday. But given on-the-job distractions — thank you, Twitter — I wanted to watch the sequence on tape.
The replay shows wise use of timeouts would have given Virginia a final possession of 50-some seconds, about 10 more than I suspected Saturday.
Here's the situation: With the score tied at 14, Hokies cornerback Antone Exum intercepted a Michael Rocco pass to give Tech the ball at Virginia’s 24-yard line. The clock showed 3:21. London had two timeouts remaining.
Three runs, two by J.C. Coleman and one by Martin Scales, produced a first down at the 13, stopping the clock briefly at 2:06 to move the chains. Scales then gained a yard. The clock showed 1:36.
Had Virginia not squandered a timeout before a Tech field goal attempt earlier in the fourth quarter, London could have started to stop the clock here. Instead, he had to let it run.
Scales managed 2 yards on second down, setting up third-and-7 from the 10 with 1:02 left. This is where London needed to call the first of his remaining timeouts.
He didn’t but got a second chance when an injury to defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite temporarily stopped the clock with 50 seconds left. Again, London did nothing.
He was alone on the sideline, bent at the waist, hands on his knees. ESPNU’s television crew and Virginia Tech’s radio team wondered aloud why he wasn’t stopping play.
Where were London’s assistants? Why wasn’t someone, anyone, barking at him to call timeout?
After Brathwaite left the field, referee Ron Cherry restarted the clock, and Tech quarterback Logan Thomas took a knee on third down to set up Cody Journell’s 29-yard field goal attempt.
Again, London could have used a TO here. But by now, he was committed to a fatally flawed strategy. He did nothing as Thomas watched the clock tick to four seconds before calling Tech’s final TO.
Only then did London use his timeouts, in an attempt to “ice” Journell, who had missed previously from 42 yards. He did not miss this time, and the Hokies won 17-14 to secure bowl eligibility and their ninth consecutive victory over the Cavaliers.
As reported Saturday, London’s postgame explanations shed little light on his thinking. In a subsequent text message to me, he noted Journell’s earlier miss, wind that likely would have created a touchback on the subsequent kickoff to Virginia, and Tech’s defensive dominance.
Few, if any, agree with the strategy.
London prides himself on optimism, yet here he was conceding that his offense was incapable of driving from its own 25 into field-goal range in 50 seconds or less. Yes, the Cavaliers were 3-of-14 on third down Saturday, and yes, the Hokies’ defense had been stout.
But let’s also remember that Tech had yielded last-minute touchdown passes in losses to Cincinnati and Florida State. Let’s also recall the game-winning drive that Rocco orchestrated in the waning moments against Miami.
Saturday’s struggles notwithstanding, Rocco and the offense deserved the chance to author a repeat rather than to stand idly by and hope Journell missed a chip shot.
In fairness to London and his assistants, they weren’t the only staff with organizational problems Saturday.
Uncertainty about formation and/or personnel forced Tech to squander two of its three second-half timeouts. And even as the Cavaliers gift-wrapped the final sequence for them, the Hokies were inexplicably snapping the ball with 15-17 seconds remaining on the play clock.
Still, as London evaluates this season’s 4-8 record and last-place finish in the ACC’s Coastal Division (2-6), he needs to examine his bench operation.
While I admire London’s passion and appreciate his commitment to his players, he spends far too much time bickering at officials. Same goes for special teams coordinator Anthony Poindexter.
Complain less, coach more.
Late in the third quarter Saturday, after Tech had wasted a timeout before a second-and-6 from Virginia’s 8, the Cavaliers had too many men on the field. London fussed about the penalty, but the call was correct.
Facing a more comfortable second-and-2 from the 4, Thomas ran a read option on the next snap and scored the tying touchdown.
An illegal substitution foul cost Virginia even more against Louisiana Tech. With the Bulldogs facing fourth-and-1 from their 35 with 1:45 remaining, the 5-yard walkoff gave them a first down and allowed them to run out the clock in a 44-38 victory.
London has been a head coach for five seasons, the last three at Virginia. His associate head coach and defensive coordinator, Jim Reid, has 17 years of big-whistle experience.
Given those credentials, they shouldn’t be failing Game Management 101.
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