Virginia lost 13-10 to UConn to fall to 0-3 under Bronco Mendenhall. That’s not so surprising — the Hoos already had a loss to FCS Richmond under their belt, so we knew they had the capability for bad losses. But let’s talk just for a second about the way they lost.
The Cavaliers had the ball down three points with a minute and a half left. They drove the ball to UConn’s goal line. On third down with 30 seconds left and no timeouts, they ran a QB draw.
If it scored, Virginia would’ve probably won. It would’ve left the genuinely dismal UConn offense needing to score a touchdown in a few seconds to win.
But it didn’t score. That meant the clock continued running. And since the third down play made no attempt to bring the ball to the middle of the field, it meant that a potential game-tying field goal would be attempted from outside the width of the goalposts. The play got the team closer to the end zone, but probably made the kick more difficult. When the ball is close to the hashmarks, shorter field goals call more sharply angled kicks back through the uprights -- kicks that can be difficult even for experienced kickers.
That brought up fourth down, a do-or-die play for the game. Some coaches would’ve hoped their offense could get two yards for the win, and lived with the loss if it couldn’t. Mendenhall had his field goal unit scramble onto the field for a relatively difficult field goal, with the best possible result being overtime on the road.
That would be a questionable decision anyway, but it’s especially questionable given the circumstances of Virginia’s kicking game. Before Saturday, the Hoos hadn’t been confident enough to even attempt a field goal. And their kicker, Dylan Sims, had missed an extra point on one of his three attempts last week against Oregon. So Virginia benched him for walk-on Alex Furbank.
If you’ve never heard of Furbank, that’s okay. Most Virginia fans haven’t either. People who pay attention to the Cavaliers were surprised when Furbank was the one pictured kicking a field goal in practice in a video tweeted out Thursday.
Furbank is not a football player by trade. He played soccer in high school, and he spent last year playing soccer at Division III Randolph-Macon. Except playing is a stretch: Furbank did not appear in any of Randolph-Macon’s games in his only year with the Yellow Jackets. (What, you didn’t know Randolph-Macon’s teams are called the Yellow Jackets?) Saturday was Furbank’s first football game ... ever.
So, let’s summarize here. Virginia asked a converted Division III soccer player who didn’t play soccer for his Division III team to attempt a trickily angled fire drill field goal to save his team in the very first football game he ever played in.
It wasn’t particularly close. He just blasted it straight. On an angled kick that baffles guys who have been kicking for their whole life, Furbank never had a chance.
Virginia fans can be mad at Furbank if they want. Kickers only have one job, and he messed up. He’s only been a kicker for like a month and a half, and “job” is a pretty weird way to describe something a walk-on like Furbank is paying UVA’s steep tuition to do, but kickers only have one job, and he messed up.
But they really should be mad at their coach for asking somebody as inexperienced as Furbank to convert in such a critical, difficult situation. A coach’s job is to avoid putting his team in positions to fail. I can’t say I’ve seen a more likely position for failure than this one.