Nobody wants to end the season on a down note, and a losing streak at that is especially hard to comprehend. The past three games were strongly different however. Pitt was just a matter of not showing up, and profoundly poor game planning. Louisville was a strong effort in many facets, but a few critical mistakes combined with a herculean performance from Teddy Bridgewater left Rutgers on the wrong end of that one. Virginia Tech, like Louisville, was a close game that went down to the wire, but the difference here was that Louisville's competent offensive performance was exchanged for a miserable effort.
You do have to grade on a curve in the sense that Virginia Tech has been known for decades for their strong defensive units. Even though they've ranked merely good this season as opposed to their usual excellence, we have seen in the past how poor offensive performance can in turn depress a defense. If Rutgers could have even mustered anything on offense last night, the game would have quickly turned into a laugher like most of Greg Schiano's bowl victories. Instead, the Knights let Virginia Tech hang around, and they fought back into it. The thought of ending the college careers of Scott Vallone, Khaseem Greene, and Duron Harmon like this is profoundly depressing. They deserved better, especially with capping off with such a strong collective effort.
The majority of criticism tonight will center on Gary Nova's poor performance in the game, and rightly so - it was as bad as anyone can recall him playing. However, after you get the venting out of your system, let's be realistic about this. He's still the best quarterback on the roster by leaps and bounds, and overall had a good year, especially considering the circumstances. The Louisville loss definitely was not his fault; Tim Wright was responsible for one interception, while the other was debatable, due to a miscommunication with a receiver. Nova played VERY strongly at points this year. He is not Bridgewater, but that doesn't mean he cannot be a winning quarterback.
This isn't the NFL - you can quit it with the Mark Sanchez comparisons for one thing, as no one can deny that Nova improved by leaps and bounds from his freshman season. Firing the players in college isn't a realistic option. However, coaching personnel is a different story. Last night had a conservative game plan, although it wasn't as overwhelming as it has been at other times. It would have been nice to see some more high percentage throws to try and get Gary into a rhythm. Still, this is a question of the chicken and the egg. Have they shown no confidence in Gary Nova because he hasn't earned it, or has their lack of faith forced him to play timidly? I still lean towards the latter, if only as we've seen what he is capable of when the team's back is against the wall, and they're forced to play with a sense of aggression.
What really gets you today is that Virginia Tech entered last night with an overwhelming black cloud hanging over the team, given the almost certainty that the majority of their offensive coaches are going to be let go after the game. After watching that performance, how can you not say the same for Rutgers? They were both awful, but our late collapse was simply inexcusable. Again, this is not freaking out about one game, but looking at the whole of the season, there wasn't a whole lot to inspire confidence. Just like it is difficult to separate the players from the coaching, there also isn't great insight available into how much blame is attributable to Kyle Flood himself, as opposed to assistants like offensive coordinator Dave Brock and quarterbacks coach Rob Spence. Neither certainly has a proven track record of success at other jobs, which naturally invites scrutiny following a poor, disappointing season.
As for Flood himself, the jury is still out, but underachieving to this extent is not going to help keeping the critics at bay. The team was good overall, but they didn't live up to the talent on the roster. Greg Schiano frankly left the cupboard fully stocked. There definitely were signs for alarm with the team's overwhelmingly conservative play this season, and now he enters a crossroads with the Big Ten a year away. Does he stay the course, or choose the path of a higher risk/reward with staff reshuffling (and it has to be said, some turnover is simply unavoidable no matter what in any situation.) The latter could offer great rewards, but also takes away the option of playing that scapegoat card further down the road. Overall, there is not yet cause for panic, but 2012 does warrant some degree of measured concern.