Last week, the previously lifeless Cavaliers shocked the ACC with a 33-6 rout at NC State. Could the Hoos keep rolling at home against a Miami team coming off a win over VT? (Spoiler Alert: Yes.)
In a wild back and forth battle in Charlottesville, Virginia rallied for an improbable come-from-behind 41-40 win over Miami. Trailing by 10 points in the 4th quarter, Mike Rocco led a touchdown drive to cut the lead to three, before Miami extended it back to five points with a controversial safety. The defense gave their QB one last chance to win the game, and Rocco came through, driving the Hoos 87 yards in 2:32, capped by a perfect throw and catch to TE Jake McGee, to pull out a victory. With the win, UVA improves to 4-6 (2-4 ACC), while the Hurricanes fall to 5-5 (4-3 ACC).
Despite an offensive outburst to start the game, scoring touchdowns it each of its first three possessions, Virginia was unable to pull away and clung to a 28-24 lead. After the break, Miami scored twice on Stephen Morse touchdown passes to build the ten point lead.
Mike Rocco led the way, getting the start and largely rotating every two possessions with Phillip Simms until the finish. It was Rocco that finished with gaudy stats, 29 for 37 for 300 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. His 16 consecutive completions broke a UVA record. Sims was no pushover either, completing 8 of 11 passes for 88 yards and running for a touchdown.
Some notes on the perfomance:
Hoos our QB?: The gameplan for this one was to rotate both Rocco and Sims in the game, and the coaches stuck with the plan throughout, giving each quarterback two drives then switching...until Rocco completed three drives to finish the game. Though it's a stretch to say that the rotation system has caused two big wins, the team's success will likely convince the coaching staff to stick with it the rest of the season. Rocco had a career day as he continues to prove critics wrong, but Sims played well throughout as well. One explanation is that having a planned out system to stick to keeps both QBs from looking over their shoulders. Though not a fan favorite, the system is working; we'll see how it plays out during the remainder of the year.
Defensive struggles: After forcing 5 turnovers and dominating the trenches against NC State, the defense delivered one of its poorer efforts against Miami. Steve Greer continues to be one of the most overlooked players in the ACC, as he was seemingly all over the field making tackles today. The same can't be said of most of his peers. Miami's offensive line got a great push all game, earning the Canes 233 rushing yards, the defense's worst since the 461 allowed against Georgia Tech. Additionally, missed tackles were an issue all game, as the swarming defense from last week became lackadaisical. It wasn't just the defensive line either, as CB Demetrius Nicholson was burned on the edge on multiple occasions.
Stay in the stands: Though the students' rush didn't begin until Virginia players started to climb into the stands, Hoo fans must learn when the correct time is to storm the field and stop embarrassing themselves. In a game where UVA was favored to win by 1 against a 5-4 ACC team, the thought shouldn't be anywhere near anyone's minds. While it is fun to run around on the football field and high five players, it makes the fan base look foolish. This isn't the first errant rush, as fans (including myself) ended up on the field after 2010's Miami win and last season's Georgia Tech win. Let's act like we've been there before, at least a little bit.
Special teams update (still bad): It's getting old at this point, but special teams almost cost us the game. Miami's Duke Johnson returned kicks for 95, 24, 59, and 33 yards, the first for a touchdown. There is no worse special teams unit in all of college football. Coming into today, UVA's average yards allowed on kickoffs, 25.7, was 118th among 124 FBS teams; tomorrow we will likely be 123rd (as our average inflated to 29.7). Not only did our return defense unit lose us 7 points, but it also cost us valuable field position late in the game.
Things that could have lost us the game: The safety call on Mike Rocco was the wrong one. While clearly guilty of intentional grounding, Rocco released the ball outside of the endzone. The officials' postgame announcement that no camera angle existed to overturn the call was bogus; the angle on my TV was just fine. Endgame clock management continues to be an adventure; Mike London did not use one of his remaining timeouts on defense, then failed to use it on offense as well while the clock continued to run. All's well that ends well, but if Rocco's pass to McGee fell incomplete, the Hoos would have been left with 5 seconds left and one timeout on a third and goal. Not cool.
Bowl game?! Bowl game?!: At 4-6, the recipe for the remainder of the season is simple. Beat UNC and Virginia Tech, then go to a bowl game. The Hokies also stand at 4-6, meaning that it is impossible for both teams to finish bowl-eligible. In fact, if UVA wins against UNC on Thursday and VT beats Boston College, the Hoos and Hokies' annual showdown will determine which team enters postseason play. Not quite the same implications of last year's contest, which determined the ACC Coastal, but something to play for nonetheless.
What's next?: A short week, as North Carolina visits Thursday night for a rivalry showdown nationally televised by ESPN. The Tar Heels lost 68-50 today, and no, that's not their basketball team. After that, UVA has an important extended week to prepare for the Hokies.