James Madison vs Villanova Football 10/14/17 Preview and Prediction

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There are some major storylines going into this contest between #1 ranked JMU and #12 ranked Villanova. The Dukes are coming off a tough but ultimately victorious road game 2 weeks ago in Delaware, an environment that isn’t easy for any team to win in. JMU had a bye week last week so they should be healthy and ready to go for Saturday’s game. Villanova two weeks ago won at Towson 24-9 and cruised past Maine last weekend 31-0 at home. Here are the big stories going into the game.

Gameday- I can’t start off this post without mentioning that ESPN’s College Gameday is returning to JMU for a second time in 3 years. With the Dukes riding a 17-game win streak and Villanova being arguably the second best team in the conference despite their two losses (more on that in a second), plus there are no top 2 matchups in the FBS, it was the perfect occasion for ESPN’s primary college football show to return to home of the Dukes. Texas vs Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry would have been the obvious choice but a two loss Texas squad vs an Oklahoma team coming off a pitiful loss to Iowa State didn’t help either team’s cause. Utah vs USC was the other big option but with Utah coming off a heartbreaking loss at home to Stanford, everything shaped up for the Gameday bus to roll into Harrisonburg. Lee Corso and company were welcomed by a massive gathering on the Quad and expect the crowd to be even bigger on Saturday than the 12k+ that showed up 2 years ago.

The Matchup- As I stated before, both programs are coming off wins and Villanova could easily argue that it could be 6-0 as it lost a very close battle at Temple in which it’s running game didn’t show up and lost by 9 at Albany 3 weeks ago, again in a contest that the run game was a no-show. Usually the JMU vs Villanova games have been classics with both teams regularly being ranked in the top 25. Nova haven’t won in Harrisonburg since 2009 and the Dukes have taken the last 2 in the series but that’s not to say the series hasn’t been pretty even throughout it’s history. The Dukes lead the all-time series 14-11.

Villanova- The Wildcats will be without their starting QB Zach Bednarczyk and will also be missing a couple other offensive skill players in running back Matt Gudzak and WR Changa Hodge which could be a tough blow heading into Saturday. The injury to Bednarczyk will force back-up Freshman QB Jack Schetelich into the starting role and he only threw for 8 passes last game but ran 14 times for a mere 30 yards and a score. He was also sacked 5 times.

JMU- Despite still being without the injured Cardon Johnson, who’s gone for the season, the Dukes should be healthy and ready to go after a week off. They also return to the friendly confines of Bridgeforth Stadium that will no doubt be shaking with noise in just over 24 hours. The Dukes are riding a CAA-tying 17 game win streak and with a win tomorrow would pass Richmond’s 2009-2011 mark of 17 straight that also included a national championship for the Spiders. The Dukes have been unbeatable at home since the last time Gameday came to town putting up Madden-esque numbers at times. However, this year has been all about the defense. Slightly under the radar due to JMU’s offensive juggernaut, The defense is only allowing 11.3 points a game and haven’t let any opponent score north of 14 points this season. Despite the team losing some defensive leaders last year, this unit has looked even better this season. They’ll need to be ready to frustrate Schetelich on Saturday.

Keys to the game:

Defense should win the game- Both teams have at times relied heavily on their defenses to win them games. JMU has been tested by Maine and Delaware so far this season “only” putting up 28 and 20 respectively, their lowest two totals of the season. Senior QB Bryan Schor also didn’t look particularly fantastic in either contest, throwing a pick in both games and not finding the end zone when the team traveled to Delaware. However, the defense only allowed 10 points in both games and outside of giving up a few big offensive plays, played perfectly. They forced key turnovers and were able to get into the back field on multiple occasions. Villanova’s defense has also been top-notch so far this season. The most points they’ve given up in a game is 35, which was in their first game against Lehigh. But since then they haven’t given up more than 19 points and have posted two shutouts including last weekend. The Wildcats pride themselves in takeaways and they had a scoop and score of 99 yards when they faced Maine.

Turnovers could be the difference- This one is pretty self-explanatory but whichever team can keep possession should win the game. Whichever defense can force a key turnover will win the game. JMU has had an interesting go at it with turnovers over the last couple of games. They are +2 overall as they’ve lost 2 each in the last 2 games but also capitalized on nabbing 3 each against Maine and Delaware. ‘Nova’ on the other hand is +4 in it’s last 2 games as they committed 4 turnovers and picked up 3 against Towson but turned it over only once again Maine while forcing the Black Bears to commit 6 turnovers.

The Crowd- The one thing JMU football has had an issue with in its history is keeping everyone at the game for the full four quarters. Now, is that the football team’s fault? No,of course not. That’s down to whether or not people are willing to stay and support the team over going to get drunk at 5:00 in the afternoon. Unfortunately most choose to go pre-game after the MRDs perform at halftime. While Gameday brought a record crowd to Bridgeforth back in 2015 to the tune of 26,069 people, that isn’t the norm. Well, the size of the crowd is normal, the fact that everyone stayed for the game despite a very tough loss is both good and bad. It was awesome to not see an empty seat at halftime yet it was incredibly frustrating to see JMU lose a game that was one of the biggest in JMU’s history. The crowd should be into it from the start and hopefully won’t let off the pedal until the fourth quarter ends.

Gameday Hype- There were multiple reason’s as to why JMU lost the game to Richmond almost exactly 2 years. The team offensively was easily one of the best in the country, but the defense, eh, not so much. The coaching staff didn’t have the team ready as the football team showed up in force at the College Gameday booth to unveil their new, ugly, White helmets with the throwback “M” logo when they probably could have been out on the field. And frankly, Richmond was a better team that year as they rolled to the FCS Playoff semifinals. Everyone that was at that game will remember how painstaking that loss was and no one should remember it more than Bryan Schor who was forced into action when Vad Lee went down injured. While ESPN Gameday may have brought an excitement unlike any other to Campus, I think the main reason is the team got far too over-hyped for the game that they ended up falling flat on their faces. I have no doubt Coach Mike Houston will not be repeating that and will have the team raring to go.

Prediction: JMU nation shouldn’t expect a game like it was 2 years ago. Neither of those teams had fantastic defenses. I expect this one to be lower scoring with a couple turnovers but I expect the massive crowd, home turf, and a clutch Bryan Schor to Eldridge TD Pass in the 4th quarter to be the difference. JMU 30-24

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JMU vs Maine Football Review 9/23/17

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Had a chance to go back and watch JMU’s fourth football game of the season and their CAA opener vs the Maine Black Bears. While the Dukes were a little lackluster out of the gates, throwing an INT and not scoring in the first quarter as neither team’s offense could get going. But the Dukes took their first drive of the second quarter to the house on an 89 yard 11 play drive eating up 4 and a half minutes (an eternity for this team). Everything seemed to be in order but the offense sputtered for the rest of the half only accumulating another 8 yards and Maine also pulled to within 4 with a field goal before the break.

The visitors opened up the second half with a “JMU-esque” drive of 5 plays 73 yards in under 2 minutes to give JMU it’s first deficit faced all year. but two offensive drives later and Schor threw for his second TD of the day to bring the Dukes back in front 14-10 and they never looked back.

Schor finished the game with 4 TD passes and the Dukes eventually pulled away and won 28-10 over a Maine program that has notoriously given them fits. The win brought the Dukes winning streak to 16 games which is one away from tying the FCS record (Which JMU reached last weekend at Delaware).

Offense- B: The Offense had two turnovers and sputtered for big portions of the game. The play calling at times wasn’t smart and the running game looked stagnant. With Cardon Jonhson out for the year, Marcus Marshall and Trai Sharpe got the majority of the workload in the run-game. Marshall finished with 135 yards rushing on 19 carries but over a third of that came on one carry of 49 yards. Sharpe, who was playing with a heavy heart as his father passed away days earlier, ran for only 25 yards and fumbled at the goal line and turned it over to Maine. However he had a couple key runs to get first downs for the Dukes late in the game. Bryan Schor passed for 281 yards and 4 TDs but a poor throw lead to an interception and his offensive line, who are normally fantastic at keeping their QB clean, allowed Maine to get a few big hits on Schor along with a couple sacks. Ezrah Archie emerged as an unexpected favorite target for Schor, catching 8 passes for 90 yards and a score. David Eldridge added to his tally of big time plays catching a couple very difficult passes including one for a touchdown.

Defense- A: The defense brought down Chris Ferguson numerous times in the backfield and also picked off the Maine QB 3 times. THey only allowed 10 points and shutout the visitors for the final 42 minutes of the game. The only blip on the day was their issue containing Sophomore Josh Mack who ripped off 144 yards on 24 carries including a 60 yard TD run.

Special Teams- B: Nothing too special from the special teams. Tyler Gray hit all 4 XPs and the punt and kick-off coverage was solid though not stellar. JMU’s 5 punt returns netted a grand total of 7 yards which is fairly dismal to say the least, however, most were fair caught. One thing of note was punter Harry O’Kelly who punted on average just north of 40 yards but his 63 yard cannon punt pinned Maine back inside it’s own 15 which lead to great field position on JMU’s next drive and an eventual TD. O’Kelly, from Australia, is only a freshman but he could win the battle with fellow freshman Jeremiah McBride for starting punter. Not a story many Dukes fans will pay attention to, but his foot could be a major weapon in close affairs.

 

The Dukes move to 4-0(1-0) on the season and travel to the Blue Hens of Delaware before the bye week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Football Flash – vs. Boise State 9/22/17

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Wow.  Where did this team come from?  Last Friday saw UVa travel to the blue turf in Boise and look as if they were playing at home against VMI.  This was easily the best and most complete performance of the Mendenhall Era.  It was easily the best and most complete performance of the last 5 years.  And it was quite possibly the best and most complete performance of the last decade.  It was the most comprehensive victory over a “traditional” college powerhouse since 2007 when UVa shut out Miami 48-0.  Since that time the Cavaliers have shown flashes of potential winning games here and there against big schools.  And there have been huge blowouts of small schools.  But nothing with a margin even approaching this 19 point beatdown of a school with some serious football tradition.

Despite the final score line things did not start out smoothly.  Brett Rypien marched the Broncos right down the field and into the end zone sending shivers down the spines of wahoos everywhere who saw Rypien torch UVa in Charlottesville back in 2015.  An ensuing 3 and out for the Cavaliers did little to alleviate any of the anxiety.  Thankfully some pressure on Rypien halted the next drive and Jordan Ellis plowed his way down the field eventually finding the end zone with a 3 yard TD run. From there on UVa never really looked back.  Benkert really dialed things in and would hit touchdown passes of 30, 27, and 64 yards.  Halftime would see UVa’s lead at only 21-14.  That would be as close as Boise would get the rest of the way.  On the first drive of the second half Benkert hit Levrone for the 64 yard touchdown and that seemed to break the Broncos spirit.  Zaccheaus would get in on the act with a 56 yard touchdown run later in the 3rd.  Ellis would finish off our scoring in the fourth quarter getting his 5th touchdown of the season.  Boise would finally get back on the board late in the fourth quarter getting a safety and hitting a deep touchdown bomb from their backup qb.  It was very impressive.  However, UVa fans need to stay grounded.  Boise is not as strong as they have been.  And while UVa may have been flying under some people’s radar, a Friday night, nationally televised performance like this will have teams taking you more seriously.  ACC play awaits after a well-earned bye week.  Going 3-1 out of conference sets us up nicely to make a serious run at bowl contention.  Based on performances so far you have to think Boston College, Pitt, and UNC are the most likely games to get us to the 6 win threshold.  But with Pitt and UNC both on the road, the upcoming game against Duke could be a chance to ease the tension on either of those games.

 

Offense – A : After the first drive they settled down and turned into a well-oiled machine.  Ellis led the way on the ground with 24 carries for a hard fought 93 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Benkert absolutely lit up the Idaho night going 19/29 for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions.  Levrone led all receivers with 141 yards and 5 receptions.  It was quite refreshing to see a UVa team run the ball successfully and be able to stretch a team deep.  If they can continue this kind of quality with any consistency they’ll be a real handful for all the remaining teams on the schedule.

Defense – A : Despite surrendering 353 yards through the air, they really shined by holding 9 different Bronco rushers to a total of 30 yards on 24 attempts.  The interception in the fourth quarter was icing on the cake as they surrendered only 21 points at altitude on short rest.

Special Teams – A : Easily, by an exponentially large margin, their best performance as a unit of the season.  Despite never kicking any field goals Mejia nailed all 6 extra points.  They did surrender 142 return yards on kickoffs but that came to only an average of 23.7 yards per return.  Punts was where things really shined for UVa.  Three punt returns netted only 14 yards for Boise.  Coleman put another punt out of bounds inside the 20 plus had a fifth fair caught also inside the 20. Late in the game a punt was blocked which put a slight damper on the outing but considering their levels of performance during the previous 3 games, this was highly encouraging.

 

Coaches – A+ : Traveling west of the Mississippi, to altitude, on a short week, against a traditional football powerhouse had all signs pointing to a big loss.  The easy opening drive TD for Boise seemed to confirm these fears.  The coaching staff did an amazing job keeping things calm and leading the Cavs to a win.  Play calling was impressively varied on both sides of the ball.  Special teams showed significant improvement.  And Mendenhall got a signature win in his second season.

 

Focus now turns to ACC play.  Duke comes to town on Bicentennial weekend in Hooville.  A win could set up a big party atmosphere on grounds as bowl eligibility would be firmly in sight.  Mendenhall will have his work cut out for him to keep this team grounded and in the moment over the bye week.

 

Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund Champions League Round 2 Player Ratings 9/26/17

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Los Blancos walked out of the famous Waldstadion with an impressive 3-1 victory over the Black and Gold of the Germans. Gareth Bale found the net after 18 minutes with a gorgeous volleyed effort after Carvajal found him wide open 15 yards out. Dortmund continued to push and should have had a penalty early on when Sergio Ramos  handled a cross that deflected off of Navas. But Madrid lead at the break and went up 2-0 shortly after the break when Cristiano Ronaldo latched onto a Bale cross and sent Burkei the wrong way to put the Whites firmly in front. Aubameyang replied 4 minutes later as he nipped a cross by Navas to bring life back to the Dortmund faithful. But Madrid held firm and after getting fresh legs on, Luka Modric slipped in Ronaldo who lashed a shot that beat Burkei at his near post.

3 Thoughts:

1st win- There aren’t many stadiums that Madrid have been to (especially multiple times) and haven’t won. But the Black and Yellow wall of Dortmund was one that has haunted them over the years. But Madrid outplayed the German outfit for most of the match and got their deserved first win in 7 tries.

Good win but…- This was a great team performance all around and it was good to see Bale and Ronaldo have good games despite all the criticism they’ve gotten. My issue is, why is it taking going to a big stadium in a big time game to bring the best out of the players. Madrid are 3-0-0 away from home in all competitions so far in the young campaign but 1-2-1 at home with a couple inexplicable performances. 2 points out of a possible 9 in home La Liga games is simply unacceptable for any team and while I’m not one of the harsh critics of Madrid nor am I a fanboy, it’s frustrating for the Madridistas to be so lackluster so far.

Bale Injured- Stop me if you’ve heard this before “Gareth Bale is down injured holding his leg on the pitch and here come the trainers.” or some variation of this. It’s agonizing the number of injuries Madrid players have gotten thus far and I have no doubt this is yet another muscle injury for Bale who will more than likely be sidelined for the next month. Sure, I’m just speculating as I’m no doctor, but given Bale’s history I’d say it’s a fair bet.

Navas 7- The Costa Rican net minder was solid throughout the game as he had to be quick to react on a number of occasions as Aubameyang and company threatened. The Gabon striker was able to poke past Navas in the second half a couple other shots went close but Navas was up to the task. Was nearly picked in the first half on a backwards pass but was able to Cruyff out of the situation.

Carvajal 8- Good match for the Spanish international who did well to keep Mario Goetze and Maximillian Philipp at bay. Should have have crossed for Ronaldo or Bale early on in the first half when he instead went for goal and his shot was easily saved. Was keen to dive and head back to Navas after Ramos and Varane got mixed up in the box to thwart a Dortmund threat. Also grabbed the assist for Bale’s opener.

Varane 7- Quiet but solid night for the French back. Spread the ball around nicely and tracked down a couple loose balls but not much else to note. Did get a bit mixed up at times with Ramos but nothing bad. Put out a couple fires as Dortmund were pushing for goals in the second half with a particularly important goal line save as he had Aubameyang on his hip.

Ramos 7- Should have accrued a penalty for handling in the box early on in the game but marshaled the back line very well and had another goal line clearance later on. Had two wonderful chances to score, one header went wide the other was well saved.

Nacho 6- Has had a bit of difficulty at times dealing with Castro and Yarmolenko, bringing down the latter on a clumsy challenge in the first half. Probably was a challenge away from getting a yellow but staved off any cautions. LB isn’t his strongest suit but he filled in well for Marcelo despite not possessing the Brazilians flare or desire to get forward often. Also had a shot on frame but was saved.

Casemiro 5- Mixed bag on the night. Offensively he gave the ball away a few times with a couple lazy passes mixed in and looked a bit lost in the midfield but also put in some lovely tackles as usual and helped out as always defensively. Did send a gorgeous long pass early on to spring Carvajal who eventually had his shot saved ad stepped in the watch the left flank a few times when Nacho got forward.

Kroos 6- Not a particularly flashy evening for the German, but he strung together some good passes together and though he isn’t 100%, the team needs him. His crosses ha some good ones and some bad ones thrown in but controlled the midfield for the most part.

Modric 8- Picked up a yellow for mimicking the ref towards the end of the first half but that was a small blemish on an otherwise wonderful night. Was the heart of most of Madrid’s attacks and he put Ronaldo through with a red-carpet pass for his second and Madrid’s third goal on the night. Also showed a rare burst of speed to get on the end of a cross in the second half that he unfortunately was unable to light the same spark behind the shot that were in his boots.

Isco 4- Didn’t have much of an influence on the match. Saw a fair amount of the ball, especially when he was out wide left but his passing has been off and he’s had multiple giveaways. Won more headers than Naldo and Bale in the first half despite his stature but he never got into the contest outside of one rasping shot that forced a great save and it wasn’t surprising to see his number first up on the board.

Bale 8- Scored his goal beautifully on the volley and could have had more had Carvajal found him instead of shooting. Ronaldo also nearly missed him on a cross that was toe-poked out for a corner. Returned to get Ronaldo one the score-sheet after another great run and low cross that Ronaldo met just in time. Overall he was very active all night and one of Madrid’s best players. Also stung the hands of Burkei after a lung bursting run forward. Picked up a non-existent yellow for an elbow to the head that wasn’t there.

Ronaldo- I thought at half-time that it would be another hands on hips night for Ronaldo as the superstar hadn’t been particularly involved through the first 25 minutes and I figured he’d be held out of the goals. But he proved me wrong with two emphatic finishes to seal the win for Madrid.

 

Hala Madrid!

 

Friday Football Flash – vs. UConn 9/16/17

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Hope springs eternal in Charlottesville!  Once again UVa’s defense played exceptional and the offense had its best day in the Mendenhall era.  The opening drive looked promising for the Huskies but the defense buckled down and forced a punt.  UVa started the day at our own 12 but promptly put together one of the most complete and precise drives Hooville has seen in years.  18 plays and almost 10 minutes later Hamm would get into the end zone to put the Cavaliers up 7-0.  We simply never looked back.  UConn tried to take advantage of our weak special teams by taking the ensuing kickoff 65 yards and set up shop at the Virginia 25 but our defense came up with a huge goal line interception.  Despite one of the few unsuccessful offensive possessions for UVa, the defense forced another turnover at the goal line as Shirreffs tried to reach the end zone on a scramble.  Mejia would make his second field goal as a Wahoo to put us up 10-0.  UConn, seemingly not confident in their kickers would attempt to go for it on 4th and 3 at the UVa 32 but Micah Kiser would come up with a huge sack and we would regain possession.  2 plays and 23 seconds later we led 17-0 as Benkert found Doni Dowling for a 42 yard TD pass.  Another 4th down attempt, this time on 4th and 9 from UVa’s 37 was again foiled this time Kiser came up with a 10 yard sack to stop the UConn drive.  Ellis would get in on the touchdown game to finish this drive and put us up 24-0 going into the half.  It was a near perfect first half.  The second half would see the first Cavalier turnover of the season.  Benkert tried to force it into the end zone and the Huskies came up with the pick.  Not to be phased, yet again the UVa defense forced a turnover on downs.  Benkert would redeem himself on the next drive finding Olamide Zaccheaus for a 30 yard score to virtually seal the game 31-0.  UConn finally got on the board thanks to a flea flicker as Hergy Mayala got in behind the UVa defense and Shirreffs found him for a 60 yard score.  In a move that has to crush the soul of any kickers on the UConn team, they went for a 2-point conversion; it failed.  UVa would get in on the “don’t trust the kickers” theme on the next drive as we went for it on 4th and 11 at the UConn 31.  UConn’s defense came up with a rare stop and their offense capitalized with their most complete drive of the day but again failed on a 2-point conversion.  Andre Levrone didn’t like the score getting so close (31-12) so he took advantage of a massive hole in the secondary to get wide open, then simply out run all UConn defenders for a 73-yard TD once Benkert found him.  UVa’s defensive subs did not hold to the same standard as our starters as we surrendered another UConn touchdown march.  The failed 2-point conversion would be the last time UConn’s offense would see the field as we simply ran out the final 2:06 to complete the 38-18 victory.  It’s easy to get very excited about this performance.  It’s especially easy when you look at the abysmal offensive performance from last year when we could only put up 10 points on this UConn team.  However, let’s slow things down.  This was a domination of a weaker team.  That is definitely something that has been missing from this UVa program for the last decade and is clearly a sign of progress.  BUT, it was still just the bare minimum one should expect from the team.  We’ll need a similar performance just to hang with Boise State on the road tonight, to say nothing of actually winning.  Having said that it does keep bowl hopes alive and provides a glimpse into the possible future of this team under Mendenhall.  Tonight we will find out if this was simply a glimpse into the future or an actual indication of where this team currently sits.  A win is not required to show progress or for our bowl hopes.  We are still a developing program that lacks depth and confidence.  There are many more winnable games still ahead on the schedule so don’t get discouraged if we can’t knock off the Broncos on their home turf.

 

Offense – A : Would’ve been an A+ if Benkert hadn’t forced the one pass into the end zone.  He basically played a flawless day and it was a huge improvement over last week, even taking into account the quality of the opponent.  But we simply can’t have that interception.  And while the running game showed improvement it’s still lacking.  Benkert needs to actually keep the ball for once on an option play instead of handing it off 100% of the time.  He’s not fooling anyone and it’s not helping the running backs.  Even a split second extra could get us a couple extra yards which can be the difference in winning and losing.

Defense – A : They definitely held up their end of the bargain.  A second first half shutout on the season is good.  Forcing multiple turnovers is better.  And getting off the field on multiple fourth down attempts is fantastic.  This grade was kept from an A+, not because of the points surrendered late on (which I’m chalking up to the game being in hand and reserves coming in) but because yet again a quarterback absolutely gashed us scrambling.  Shirreffs racked up 90 yards rushing with a 39 yard scamper mixed in.  To put this in perspective he got those yards on 14 attempts.  In week 1, again Holy Cross he got -1 rushing yards.  Think about that.  With Boise State having a mobile quarterback either starting or just coming in for a certain package of plays we should all be very scared whenever we see Montell Cozart take the field.

Special Teams – D : Mejia looked fine, nailing 5 XPs and hitting from 28 yards.  It was a little concerning to not see him brought out to even attempt from around 48 yards.  I know that’s long and I get that we didn’t need the points or particularly want to give UConn the ball that close to midfield so soon after they scored.  But we were up 31-6 in the fourth quarter facing fourth and 11.  What better time to give Mejia some in-game practice from range.  He’ll never grow if he’s not tested.  But Mendenhall clearly doesn’t trust him and that’s a problem for a team that looks like it could hang close with some good teams but will clearly be at a disadvantage in the kicking game.  The real reason this grade is a D stems from the 134 return yards we conceded on kicks and punts.  Giving up an average of 31.5 yards per kickoff is not a sustainable way to win games.  The worst part is this trend has continued through 3 weeks… against 3 of the easier teams on our schedule.

 

Coaches – B : It was particularly nice to see an offense finally unleashed.  I will not be surprised at all to see us return to our conservative ways out in Idaho but one can still hope.  I am worried most because Mendenhall seems unable to address QB containment (which specifically falls on him as D-coordinator) or the atrocious kick return coverage.  If we don’t see changes on both those fronts come ACC play, we’re again staring at a potentially 1 win league campaign.

 

UConn is not a good team.  Boise State is a good team.  UVa is still an unknown team.  Going 2-1 to this point was to be expected but it’s still not exciting.  Tonight is another huge test.  It’s not season critical, as I’ve mentioned.  But there is some potential to make up for the loss to Indiana.  If we can’t scrape out a win, we’ll need to pick up multiple ACC road wins and that’s never easy.

 

Friday Football Flash – vs. UConn 9/16/17 #UVA #UVAvWM #WaHooWa #GoHoos

Friday Football Flash – vs. Indiana 9/9/17

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The weather was drastically different from opening day.  Unfortunately instead of improving the Hoos wilted under the heat.  The Adventures of Cavman saw a giant set of moving red letters spell out Hoosiers on the Lawn.  Cavman and Sabre came to the rescue destroying the “iers” and leaving Hoos.  That was the highlight of the day.  A stout defense was let down by an inept special teams and an impotent offense.  All signs of progress from our special teams was virtually eliminated and our offense could never get out of neutral.  Despite an early interception and some control of the game for most of the first half we could only muster a 3-0 lead.  Some collapses right at the end of the half let the Hoosiers head to the locker room up 17-3 and they never really looked back.  To our credit we continued battling to the end, even getting the chance to make it a one score game with some time still on the clock.  A three and out deep in our own territory and having the ensuing punt returned for a touchdown ended the day.

 

Offense – D : Despite a similar passing output from Benkert to week 1, the run game utterly vanished.  A measly 51 yards between Ellis and Reed coupled with Benkert’s inability to get the ball to the end zone (only 1 td pass) left a huge opportunity on the Scott Stadium turf.  We had to punt 9 times, 7 of which were three and out, and another 2 drives ended on downs.  That is an abysmal output.  The only positive was that for a second straight game we managed to avoid any turnovers.  A lot to correct before UConn comes to town.

Defense – B- : They played hard all day long.  They were continually put in bad spots thanks to our abysmal punt coverage.  But they gave us a chance to win.  A turnover at the goal line and some three and outs really saved us early in the first half.  They forced the benching of Richard Lagow, who passed for 410 yards against Ohio State, with only 24 passing yards.  And only gave up 173 passing yards to backup Patrick Ramsey.  Unfortunately a dangerous problem is containing the quarterback.  Ramsey and Laglow only rushed for 41 yards combined but that included the lone IU rushing touchdown and it also included both of the longest runs by Indiana on the day, 26 and 13 yards respectively.  There were warnings from the W&M game that a mobile qb could give us trouble.  It is so far the biggest weakness we’ve shown so far.

Special Teams – F : Yes Mejia made his first collegiate field goal and converted both extra points.  And yes Coleman had several exceptional punts that pinned IU deep.  But it was a catastrophic day covering kicks.  They absolutely turned the game.  After taking the 3-0 lead we surrendered a 31 yard return that was the beginning of a touchdown drive.  Then we surrendered a 43 yard punt after going 3 and out which led to another IU td.  Then we quickly had another 3 and out which led to a 19 yard shanked punt which allowed Indiana to tack on a field goal before half.  All in all IU racked up 163 punt and kick return yards plus took one to the house late that sealed the game.  Unacceptable.

 

Coaches – D : It’s one thing to lose to a better team.  It’s another to get beat in 1 aspect and lose.  The offensive play calling felt like a return to the dark days of London-Fairchild.  Defense was good but they never adapted to the mobility of the back-up quarterback.  And special teams…

 

Now the UConn Huskies come to town and the season is already on the line.  It was going to be an important game either way because every game is important coming off a 2 win season.  The stakes have been raised; win and the slightest spark of bowl hopes remain.  Lose and Mendenhall will undoubtedly be spending another December at home.

 

Friday Football Flash – vs. W&M 9/2/17

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The University of Virginia football kicked off for the second season under the charge of Bronco Mendenhall.  A cool and misty day greeted the guys in their ties and the girls in their pearls.  While the crowd was a bit subdued the day still proved a welcome respite from the turmoil that had rocked Charlottesville in the weeks leading up to the game.  A brilliant return was made by the Adventures of Cavman which Mendenhall had removed in his first season.  Looking much more buff and superhero-esque he and Sabre charged from Monticello to the lawn to destroy the green and gold eagle.  It may have been the most exciting part of the day.  Usually that proceeds a depressing review of a loss (i.e. Richmond in the 2016 season opener).  This year it was because the Cavaliers took care of business without much fanfare.  The 28-10 victory wasn’t especially comfortable but it wasn’t nervous either.  We led after every quarter and pitched a shutout in the first half.  There are things to work on but after last year we can’t take even FBS games for granted.

 

Offense – B+ : Benkert said after the game that they barely scratched the surface.  Hopefully that proves to be true because the offense on the day was rather bland.  But it was a decent performance.   Any time we throw for 3 touchdowns and 250+ yards without any interceptions is a good day for UVA football.  It was part of a larger turnover free performance which broke a very long streak of games with a turnover that had spanned multiple seasons.  The running game was less than stellar.  Ellis and Ham only combined for 115 yards and 1 touchdown.  That will need to improve as the defenses we face will only get better from here.

Defense – A : An interception coupled with a first half shutout get you a solid A.  Kiser and Blanding anchored the D as expected.  Malcolm Cook led the team in tackles.  Juan Thornhill impressed in the secondary.  And  Eli Hanback (PH Graduate) had an impressive game as well helping to control the line of scrimmage.  Dark spot was the Injury to Tim Harris which could really hurt the secondary.  They also showed a disappointing ability to contain the quarterback.  Tommy McKee scrambled for 89 yards and a touchdown including getting W&M’s longest run of the day (25 yards).  While a lot of W&M’s offense came after the defense started to be rotated late in the game it is still something to watch moving forward.

Special Teams – B : Missing a field goal is never good.  But nailed all extra points which is a step up from last year.  Kickoffs looked generally good too.  Joe Reed had an impressive day on kick returns getting 91 yards on 3 returns with a long of 44 yards. Hopefully he can keep that up.

 

Coaches – B : Hopefully it was more of a conservative game plan simply to not give away any more than necessary in the first game of the season.  If it’s not we’re in for a looooong year.

 

All in all a successful performance.  Couple of things to clean up.  Next week will be much more of a test.  Indiana gave Ohio State a good game for at least a half.  We’ll need a much improved performance to keep that explosive offense in check.

JMU vs ETSU Postgame Review 9/9/17

The James Madison Dukes kept their winning streak alive with a comfortable and straightforward win over the Buccaneers from East Tennessee State University. The Dukes marched out to a capacity crowd at Bridgeforth Stadium for their home opener and while the result was never in doubt, the crowd got to see just what the 2017 Dukes had in store.

The Dukes quickly opened the score just after 2 minutes into the game as the hosts marched right down the field and Bryan Schor tossed one of his 5 TDs on the night to Ishmael Hyman to put JMU in front. The Dukes never looked back and lead 28-7 at halftime. The offense finished with 426 yards and held the Buccaneers offense to a measly 175 total yards including only 57 yards on the ground. Hyman caught 2 of 5 TDs from Schor and was JMU’s leading receiver with 93 yards. The Defense also had a wonderful night getting a ton of pressure on Austin Herink the ETSU QB and picked him off once while limiting to only 118 yards through the air.

3 thoughts:

Corrections were made…for the most part- JMU not only dominated the game, they fixed the issues they had against ECU last week. The defense was much better especially in the trenches where thy got into the backfield on a number of occasions for TFLs and a few sacks. However there were still issues with penalties as the Dukes accumulated 9 penalties for 100 yards. That won’t matter much in these games but in the future it could prove an issue.

Lack of running game- Granted, the game play was for Schor to find his open receivers which he did with aplomb. The Dukes only managed 122 yards on the ground with Cardon Johnson having a very quiet game and Marcus Marshall was the Dukes leading rusher, but with only 31 yards on the night. Again, it wasn’t an issue on the night, but in the future, The Dukes may need to come with a more balanced attack.

Schor was a beast- The QB and leader for this team was on point all night finding 6 different receivers, 3 of which caught TDs. He looked comfortable in the pocket, and while his line gave him a ton of time to find open teammates, Schor had to show his scramble abilities on a few occasions which he did very well.

Offense 9- While again the run game wasn’t great, it didn’t need to be and the offense was effective as a whole and never allowed ETSU to even sniff at getting into this game. They scored on their opening 3 possessions and putting up 52 points will just about every game.

Defense 8- There were a few defensive penalties that could have been avoided but the D-line was fantastic, the secondary got a pick, and they only gave up 3 points to the ETSU offense. ‘Nuff said.

Special Teams: Tyler Gray hit his only FG and all his XPs, John Miller was excellent in punt returns and the defense for Kick offs was excellent, never allowing a return of more than 24 yards.

The Duke move to 2-0 on the young season and next up they’ll play 0-2 Norfolk State at Bridgeforth Stadium.

 

#GoDukes!! #RootinfortheDukes

2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying: USMNT v Honduras – 8/5/17 – Player Ratings

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The United States limped its way to a draw to conclude the September qualifiers with a solitary point.  A late, scrappy, yet beautifully taken goal from Bobby Wood may have saved the United States 2018 World Cup hopes.  Despite a promising start for the US, a catastrophic lapse in judgement from Omar Gonzalez let Honduras take the lead in what became a sluggish affair.  The brutal heat took its toll as everything slowed down and became extremely stretched in the second half.  Thankfully a switch to a back 3 coupled with the quality of Bobby Wood allowed the US to equalize late on.  Though it was definitely a horrible performance to cap off a horrible pair of qualifiers it was an absolutely crucial point.  It keeps qualifying in our own hands as we’ll have 2 winnable games in October and 6 points there ensure qualification no matter what else happens in the Hex.

 

3 Quick Thoughts:

Outside back problems – Arena turned to experience at the outside back positions for this match.  The plan backfired.  Zusi and Beasley turned in their worst performances in the red, white, and blue for years.  The last time I saw Beasley play so poorly he was giving away a US corner to Brazil who promptly turned it into a counter attacking goal on their way to a 3-nil shellacking of the US down in South Africa at the Confederations Cup in 2009.  He was beaten for pace time and again.  He got lucky not to give away a PK on one specific occasion.  He couldn’t connect a threatening pass.  And continually got caught on the ball leading to Honduran counters.  Zusi was similarly slow and lethargic.  He was perhaps a little more solid overall than Beasley but was at fault for falling asleep on the goal.  He should’ve been helping track the run instead of standing and watching Gonzalez.  Yedlin’s return in October will be critical.  As usual the left back position will still be a question.  Hopefully one of Villafana or Johnson will be deployed and have the necessary performance to get us 6 points.

Pulisic issues – Over the course of the 90 minutes he was the most consistent (read: only) threat for the US.  As expected he was hacked, grabbed, harassed and just generally assaulted.  The US did little to push back against Honduras for this and didn’t provide a huge alternate threat to distract their defense from their attack job on our young phenom.  This needs to change.  Arena could’ve helped this by moving him centrally, thereby freeing up more escape routes for both his passes and himself.  Dempsey, Nagbe and Morris all needed to be more connected.  Dempsey and Morris tried but even when they would get the ball rarely did they have an option beyond that.  Hopefully this will be corrected in October.

Overall performance trends down – This was an even worse performance than the display against Costa Rica in NY.  While the Costa Ricans punished 2 bad mistakes but were generally shutdown otherwise, Honduras threatened time and again.  The US started brightly for the first 15 minutes and it looked like we had a good chance to at least escape with a draw.  For the next hour the US went AWOL.  Honduras bossed the game both in physicality and possession.  It took a switch to a back 3 and the removal of Beasley and Zusi to really change fortunes.  Arriola provided a physical fast presence.  Bobby Wood up top provided some support to the exhausted attack.  Still, it only proved to be just enough.  Sometimes, particularly on the road in CONCACAF, just enough is plenty.  The worrying concern is simply how bad the US looked for at least 2/3rds of the match.  Overall performance will have to be drastically different come October.

 

Player Ratings (1-10 scale):

Guzan: 5 – Much better than Howard, though not that it took much to do.  His distribution was suspect at time but he kept more balls in play than Howard.  Commanded the area pretty confidently.  Wasn’t at fault on the goal as the strike was simply perfectly placed.  Has he supplanted Howard for number 1?

 

Beasley: 2 – As I said above, this is the worst performance I’ve seen from Beasley since 2009, when he was playing midfield for the US.  He looked every bit his age and didn’t seem to apply his years of wisdom to adjust until the second half.  He was lucky to get out of the first half without conceding a penalty when he nearly grabbed the Honduran winger from behind after he had beaten him at the goal line.  After halftime he began to drop deeper and keep the Honduran attack in front of him.  This was a vast improvement and brought his grade up from a 1.

Besler: 6 – Clearly the standout performer from the back line.  He capped off his night with an MLS assist as he kept the free kick alive which led to Wood’s goal.  He never really got stretched from Gonzalez and provided several big blocks.

Gonzalez: 2 – Maybe this grade is slightly harsh as he wasn’t that bad outside of THE mistake.  Unfortunately THE mistake was not only was it worse than schoolboy defending it was some of the worst defending of all time and it led to a goal.  If he could cut the one or two massive mistakes he has per game out, he could be a world class defender.

Zusi: 2 – Similar to Beasley though he never actually adjusted as Beasley did in the second half.  However he gets the same grade as Beasley because he never had the same catastrophic moments.  Yes he was part of the problem on the goal as it was his man that blew past him and then Gonzalez, and at times he was torched for pace but he was never embarrassed to the level of Beas.

 

Nagbe: 4 – Simply not much of a factor.  Occasionally was involved.  Wasn’t helped by the ineptitude of Beasley behind him.  Needed to maintain possession on more of the opportunities presented to him.

Bradley: 4 – Can read basically the same as Nagbe.  His free kicks returned to the abysmal level of old, that I had hoped he had left behind thanks to his improved performances in the Gold Cup.  He wasn’t in the same giving mood he displayed in Red Bull Arena but just didn’t make much tick for the US.

Acosta: 5 –  Better then Bradley.  He popped up a bit more.  Definitely helped late on dropping wide left into a pseudo left-back/left-defensive-mid/left-winger role and helped snuff out a few of Honduras late counters.

Pulisic: 7 – I hope the youngster got a serious ice bath after the match.  Otherwise he’ll show up to Dortmund swollen up like a watermelon.  The Hondurans had no qualms abusing the US phenom but still couldn’t stop him.  He wound through 3 and 4 defenders consistently.  It wasn’t his fault that he rarely had options to find after getting through the defenders.  Despite all the hacks he still managed to crank out the full 90 and won the free kick that led to Wood’s equalizer.

 

Dempsey: 5 – It was not a spectacular night for the Texan.  He really didn’t have much influence on the game.  In the good first 15 minutes he combined well with Morris and Pulisic.  After that his influence basically vanished.  I still think he needs to be included from the start simply because he can make attacking magic with anyone in the US squad.  Tonight simply wasn’t his night.

Morris: 6 – The Sounders star ground for the full 90 minutes.  Essentially operating as a lone striker he dutifully chased and harassed the Hondurans all game long.  Though his play with the ball wasn’t spectacular he paid huge dividends providing a crucial touch on the equalizing goal.  It was a nice reward for all his hard work.

 

Subs:

Arriola: 6 – His appearance off the bench raised some questions as to why he wasn’t included from the opening whistle.  As he did during the Gold Cup run, he brought a physicality and tenaciousness to the side that is lacking in most of the other US players.  He used his pace effectively down the wing to help stretch the game and get the US ticking offensively.  His final product once getting towards the goal line still needs work but he’s young and that will improve.

Cameron: 5 – Provided some key defensive assistance but also was on shaky grounds (as was the whole US defense) when the game began to get particularly stretched.  Much improved on his Red Bull Arena performance but that didn’t take much.

Wood: 7 – He continues to provide clutch goals for the US when we’re in dire straits.  The Hamburg striker brilliantly chested the ball out of the air and calmly slotted it home.  Some people are questioning why he started on the bench but after an exhausting match against Costa Rica, I think Arena got this one right, leaving him to come off the bench and impact the game once Honduras was tiring which is exactly how it played out.

 

Arena: 4 – Too many mistakes to give a better grade.  Yes a draw in Central America is a decent result.  And yes he made enough of the right changes to impact the game in a positive manner.  But his tendency to lean on experience above all else did not pan out.

 

The important result out of these two qualifiers is that the US remains in control of its own destiny.  A win against Panama in Orlando and a win in Port au Prince against Trinidad & Tobago will punch a ticket to Russia.  Both of those are winnable games.  Playing like we have over the past 2 qualifiers… well let’s just set that aside for now.

 

CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying: USMNT v. Costa Rica – 9/1/17

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The US limps into Honduras today needing a result more than ever.  Last Friday Costa Rica stunned the US with 2 goals against the run of play to waltz out of Los Ticos Arena… I mean Red Bull Arena.  Not sure how I could make that mistake (looking at you US Soccer!!).  The 2 goals were gifted courtesy Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron who apparently felt US Soccer fans need to be more on edge for the final 3 games of the Hex.  Howard played a terrible long ball right down the middle of the pitch while his back line was spread apart wider than the Gulf of Mexico.  Ream sort of managed to recover, while Cameron ambled lackadaisically back towards his position.  Despite forcing Urenas wide, the Costa Rican striker still managed to lash into the back of the net past a stationary Howard.  In the second half, Cameron saw Howards poor ball, and raised him one playing a horrendous pass to no one in particular while he was stepped 15 yards in front of Ream.  Costa Rica calmly split the two and Urenas, in alone on Howard, passed the ball into the net while the Rapids netminder again stood stationary.  Despite Nagbe and Pulisic’s inventive attempts to influence the game, and a decent moment or two from Altidore, Kaylor Navas did just enough to preserve his clean sheet and set alarm bells ringing across the US.

 

3 Thoughts:

Unjust Result – This was not a good performance from the USMNT.  But it wasn’t a 2-nil loss type of result.  Costa Rica had maybe 3 scoring chances over the whole game, 2 of which went in.  The US had at least as many chances, and it took Navas standing on his head to stonewall the US.  It is also conceivable that with a more competent referee Costa Rica would’ve had a player sent off.  To say that the US was vastly outplayed, as numerous analysts opined, is simply false.  The US was competitive and might have even edged the result for a full 3 points on a different night.  Unfortunately the US has to deal with reality which was an uninspiring 2-nil home loss.

Mistakes all around – Costa Rica’s goals came off direct US mistakes.  On the first goal: Howard had poor distribution, Ream and Cameron got stretched horizontally, and Howard took a poor angle.  On the second goal: Cameron with typically (for the night) abysmal distribution as he tried to step forward, Ream and Cameron stretch vertically this time, and Howard with absolutely no real reaction to the shot.  But you can go beyond that.  US Soccer choosing NY as the host for a key world cup qualifier against a team that has a large selection of immigrants to the US in that area.  Arena selecting Fabian Johnson from the start despite his recent return from injury and lack of club matches.  Arena selecting Tim Ream to partner Cameron despite Gonzalez and Besler’s solid Gold Cup partnership.  Arena not starting Clint Dempsey, despite his blistering hot club form and historical scoring record against Costa Rica. Hindsight is 20/20 but that’s no excuse for this many mistakes when World Cup qualification is at stake.

Arena isn’t magic – Bruce came in and proceeded to put the US on a fantastic unbeaten run off the heels of the catastrophic 4-nil defeat down in Costa Rica.  The widespread optimism that flooded through the US fanbase after the Gold Cup victory was premature.  The concerns of the Klinsmann era still permeate the program.  Yes Arena has simplified the tactics and boosted a team first spirit in the squad.  That doesn’t make up for the piecemeal nature of the quality players.  The US is more talented and deeper than it has been historically period.  But that doesn’t mean we are more balanced and better as a team.  Klinsmann suffered from a lack of tactical astuteness that he could convey to his players on top of the squad issues.  Arena seems to have fixed part 1.  Part 2 is still a work in progress.

 

Ratings (1-10 scale):

Howard: 2 – Easily his worst ever performance in the Red, White and Blue.  Had maybe 1 good save but making only 1 out of 3 saves is pathetic.  The fact that he barely moved on either goal was even worse.  And the fact that he cheaply gave the ball away while he defense was spread out and pushed high proved to be simply catastrophic.

 

Villafana: 4 – Didn’t particularly stand out on the night one way or the other.  Neither goal was his fault as both came on US giveaways while he was pushing up the pitch for an impending attack.

Ream: 3 – It was a rough return to his old stomping grounds for the former Red Bulls man.  He did enough to try and recover for Howards glaring mistake, forcing Urenas wide, but just wasn’t able to make a key block.  Too often he found himself stretched wide away from Cameron at crucial moments. He also headed into the ground and over from the 6 yard line off a great corner in the early second half.

Cameron: 2 – Another “worst of all time” performance for the States.  All night he was giving the ball away cheaply.  It got to the point where anytime he would step towards the midfield I’d be cringing.  At fault directly on the second goal.  Got spread too wide on the first.  Never looked in the game.  Played one good ball all night when he managed to get Altidore running in behind the Costa Rican defense.  Unfortunately the Toronto striker flubbed the chance to give Cameron an assist on the night.

Zusi: 4 –  Identical to Villafana.  Was better than I expected honestly.  I wasn’t quite sure how he would respond to the pace and physicality of a full strength Costa Rican side.  Wasn’t really beaten at any point.  And did try to get into the attack.  In the end, he just wasn’t very involved in general.

 

Johnson: 3 – Listless performance.  Not really involved negatively per say but didn’t show any life in the attack.  Looked short on fitness.  Was left on the pitch way too long.  I was absolutely shocked to see him shifted to left back when he already was lazing about the pitch in the second half.

Bradley: 4 – Another non-influence on the night.  Didn’t commit any egregious errors which is a positive night in general for the bald Santa Clause (always giving things away); Cameron had taken on that role for the night.  Needed to do more to generate some attack and help Pulisic who was getting abused by los Ticos.

Nagbe: 5 – Showed the calm and composure on the ball we all expect.  Made several surging runs, beating multiple Costa Ricans on the dribble at times.  Never really pushed for a goal himself which would’ve raised his grade some.  As it was he was still one of the best US players on the night.

Pulisic: 6 – Clearly our man of the match.  He took his lumps time and time again as the Costa Ricans hacked at him like he was a piñata.  Nearly scored on a couple of occasions.  His last big chance took a world class save from Navas to keep out.  Looked like he could’ve benefited from more time with Dempsey on the pitch.

 

Altidore: 4 –  Had an up and down night.  Should’ve drawn a penalty in the first half.  Should’ve scored himself in the second.  He battled hard all night.  Unfortunate to pick up a yellow which leaves him suspended for the Honduras match.  It’s also unfortunate that he just doesn’t seem to be able to find that 2013 form.

Wood: 4 – Tried to get involved.  Failed to get involved.  Still look for him to lead the line in Honduras with Altidore out.

 

Subs:

Dempsey: 5 – Shackled to the bench for far too long.  Simply didn’t have enough time to find that moment of magic.  His one big chance was the free kick which he squandered.

Morris: 4 – Couldn’t utilize his pace to the deadly effect required.  Though you could hardly say he had the time.

Arriola: 5 – I’m not even sure why Arena bothered bringing him on with 3 minutes left.  Wasn’t given a chance to make an impact but did hustle as usual.

 

Arena: 3 – Got a lot of things wrong from the start.  Didn’t make changes quickly enough.  But individual collapses can only be pinned on the coach but so much.  Has a quick chance to redeem himself if he can conjure up a 3 point plan for the heat of Central America.

 

3 points on the road in world cup qualifying is one of the most difficult things to achieve.  The US needs to do it at least once, if not twice, if they want to see Russia in person next summer.