The Hoos continue to exorcise their demons. Last week they snapped a 13-game losing streak in November with a 31-13 win at Maryland. And today, UVA made it a 2-game winning streak and beat Duke for the first time since 2007, turning in a 31-21 victory at Scott Stadium. The Hoos didn't play their best game but outplayed an inferior Blue Devil team, making big plays when there were needed. Here are some quick thoughts.
Limiting Mistakes: Before the game, I said that we would have no problem winning...as long as we didn't make costly errors, specifically turnovers. While it wasn't perfect, we managed to avoid disaster for the most part. Virginia got off to an inauspicious start in this realm, when a Duke punt started bouncing toward Dominique Terrell. He ran toward the ball, as if to stop it rolling, then realized this wasn't a great idea; however, the ball hit him as it slipped through his legs and was picked up by Duke. Punt returns continue to be a problem for this team, as does punt coverage (we allowed a 31 yarder late in the game that almost swung momentum back toward Duke). By not throwing an interception or picking up a costly penalty of note, UVA kept the game under control.
More of the Same from the Defense: Week after week, the same themes hold true for the defense. The unit is a strength, specifically their play up front; the Duke rushing attack was a non-factor, picking up 34 yards on 29 attempts. Of specific note is a sequence just after halftime: Duke had 1st and goal from the 2, then 2nd and goal inches from the end zone. It took misdirection on 4th down to convert the touchdown, but the defense had made their point.
While the passing defense is generally strong, it continues to be vulnerable to big plays. Sean Renfree is a good QB, but he shouldn't be consistently finding receivers open 40 yards downfield, and it could have been worse if it weren't for numerous dropped passes by his receivers. Chase Minnifield didn't have his best overall game; it seemed like he had a few communication problems with his safety help that led to completions. However, his interception return for a touchdown just after halftime was probably the play of the game. Overall, a very good job by the defense against one of the ACC's better passing games.
Offense in a Rhythm: The Hoos' revolutionary "One Quarterback" system continues to pay dividends. No, Michael Rocco did not impress a single Heisman voter tonight; he had a few big missed passes, including two overthrown deep balls to an open Darius Jennings. But he moved really nicely in the pocket, made good decisions, and didn't make mistakes. It was a well-called game from coaches Lazor and London, having RBs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks pound the flimsy Duke defensive line on the ground and letting Mike Rocco ball throw the ball downfield and use play action once the defense adjusted. While we became a little stagnant later in the game, the unit did enough to win.
-Today was Military Appreciation Day, and UVA did a great job commemorating it. Between the opening helicopter flyover, Mike London's stylish camo outfit, and lots of touching messages from our troops (letting Duke know that the US military is on the Hoos' side), the program worked hard to show its appreciation for those that work even harder and sacrifice so much to ensure our freedom and our way of life.
-Two pass interference calls went against UVA today. The first call, on Cory Mosley, occurred on 4th down and directly led to a Duke touchdown. I didn't have a great look, but I can't wait to see a replay because it appeared as if Mosley played the ball perfectly. The crowd was rightfully all over the refs after that one. The second nullified a Minnifield interception; while there was definitely some contact, a Kyle Singler-style Duke flop appeared to play into it.
-The referee twice called "encroachment" on the offense, when I am quite sure he meant "false start"...what's up with that?
-One of the the season's better crowds today - the lower bowl was packed, the student section full (despite many who preferred to engage in shenanigans, for the sake of "tradition," rather than attend), and everyone was loud and engaged the whole time.
What it Means: I don't have to endure four years of college without seeing a win over lowly Duke. The Hoos didn't play their best game but were simply the stronger, faster, more talented team and it showed. At 7-3, UVA is guaranteed a winning season. The ACC Coastal race is down to the Hoos and the Hokies. With either a Virginia win at Florida State next week OR a VPI loss against UNC, the rivalry match in Charlottesville in 2 weeks becomes the de facto ACC Championship play-in game. While beating the Seminoles in Talahassee is a tall order, our team has shown we can pull off upsets and win on the road. Finally, while I don't see us pushing into the top 25, I bet we pick up a good deal of votes the the polls this week.
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