Today's hangover is brought to you by plain old Elijah Craig mint juleps, made with fresh mint and gum syrup muddled and vigorously shaken together over ice. Lots of 'em.
Yes, I know it's Old Dominion. Yes, I know they're a CUSA team a year removed from FCS with a defense that couldn't catch a cold in a day care center in January. Guess what? UMass and Charleston Southern were supposed to be weak sisters too, and those are games we escaped from by the grace of Loki, satiated by years of blood sacrifice at the hands of his faithful avatar Murderleg. This? This was an actual win, one that felt like a win, one that was the kind of result we expected from this team. Sure, young and error prone at times, but still capable of handling the teams they're supposed to beat, capable of covering the spread and beating the number in a non-conference tilt.
We have a quarterback, ladies and gentlemen. This is Johnny McCrary's team now. I don't know what happened on offense, but for whatever reason the master plan is now run the ball and throw to tight ends in space with the occasional deep shot. Five touchdown passes, and everyone who threw or caught one (barring two of the THREE tight ends who did) is a freshman and back next year and the year after. Maybe they simplified the offense, maybe they stuck to dialing up stuff that works when you have a physical advantage, I don't know and I don't care. But with one huge exception, the coaching staff pulled their heads out and called a pretty damn good game, so full credit where due.
That huge exception, of course, was running an end-around-reverse-pass that was slow to develop and resulted in a fumble by a tight end being asked to throw the ball (a converted QB, but still, one figures he doesn't get a lot of reps in this system). I don't know what compels you to run this when you're stuffing the ball down their gullets, but I would attribute it to a lack of confidence by the coaching staff - except that we went for it on fourth down three times, like the old days, and picked it up every time. Nothing cute, nothing crazy, just line it up, eleven men and sic 'em. THAT builds confidence, and it shows, with Webb and Rivers coming like a freight train. And when they do, it opens up the pass, and everybody's happy.
The two live-fire TDs are a matter of concer, of course - ODU got down the field like a streak of lightning. That's their M.O., aided and abetted by a defensive secondary that's still leaving a huge cushion (a phenomenon one prays is gone next year as they develop skills and confidence). But we held the ball when we got it back and ground out time and yardage and scores. (The garbage time TD when the game was decided is less worrisome. The TD fumble recovery was a fluke - a bad one, but one that hopefully goes away with time and confidence.)
Confidence is a word that I keep coming back to. This is a team that for most of September and October didn't look like it knew which end of the football was up. The growth over the last three weeks - a settled starter at QB, an offense that can be productive and a defense that no longer spends 40 minutes on the field - finally gives me some confidence that things are moving in the right direction. I just wish I had confidence that Florida burned all their luck for the year against Georgia, but I guess we'll find out next week...