Just when it seemed like all hope was lost, the Virginia Cavaliers showed up in Raleigh and pulled off the upset
of the century over the Wolfpack on Homecoming Weekend at NC State. A reenergized Wahoo team dominated the football game from start to finish in a 33-6 win.
In the first 8 games of a disappointing season, the Hoos managed an overall turnover differential of -16. Today, it was +4 after the Hoos also notched their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th interceptions of the season. Virginia got off to a quick start, as Phillip Sims led a 12 play, 75 yard drive and ran for a touchdown. Next, it was Mike Rocco's turn, and he led a touchdown drive of his own, capped by an 18-yard pass to Darius Jennings. The defense played an inspired game from start to finish, holding the Wolfpack to 216 yards, including 19 rushing yards on 24 carries, but most importantly made big plays to get off the field.
Here are some thoughts on UVA's first ACC win of 2012:
Stars on Defense: In past weeks, the bright spots on the team were senior leaders Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds. And once again, both played great games, especially Greer who put some bone-crushing hits on NC State quarterback Mike Glennon and his receivers. In addition, the youth of the team showed promise. DE Eli Harold earned a starting job and made good use of it, pressuring the quarterback all day and grabbing an interception. True freshman Maurice Canady continues to impress as well, as he also picked up his second interception on a grab worthy of a wide receiver. Finally, sophomore CB Demetrious Nicholson has the potential to be a future force in the secondary.
The defense has quietly put together a pretty good season all things considered, and it will only get better going forward.
The QB Rotation: After a few weeks of Mike Rocco starting and a few weeks of Phillip Sims, both showing mixed results, the two split this game. Neither showed anything especially breathtaking, but Sims was the better quarterback today, throwing 8 of 10 for 115 yards and a touchdown (along with a rushing TD), compared to Rocco's 12 of 23 effort for 83 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, neither threw an interception.
It's tough to be too critical after an offensive gameplan that put up 33 points, but it appeared as if the coaching staff had a plan that they decided not to waver from. Thus, after Phillip Sims led an extremely impressive drive, then had his next ended early by a Jennings fumble, Rocco came in. Sims came back into the game after halftime and threw a 38 yard touchdown pass to Tim Smith; on the next drive, Rocco was on the field. We will hear what Coach London has to say after the game about what the plan was for today, and what it will be going forward.
Was the defense so different? While Virginia has been largely solid on defense all season, there were two main factors that contributed to today's exceptional effort.
1) Mike London and the coaching staff clearly had the unit fired up, focused, and ready to play today, a tall task for a 2-6 team with little hope remaining coming off a bye week. This led to players being in the right place, playing to the whistle, playing aggressively, and making big hits, which is how a team picks up 5 turnovers. Some of our past struggles were bad luck, just as some of our success today was good luck. However, there are ways to make your own luck, and the Hoos did so today. A good defense forces punts. A dominant one picks up 5 takeaways, 6 sacks, and a safety. A performance to be proud of today.
2) The offense and special teams did a better job of putting the defense in reasonable situations. Falling behind by double-digit margins while not allowing any offensive output has been demoralizing for the unit. Today, it was able to control the game.
Special teams still...special: No improvement here. Ian Frye missed a 23 yard field goal, and the Hoos were lucky, rather than good, on punt returns. The Wolfpack had a huge return called back because of a block-in-the-back away from the play and also lost a fumble on the tail end of a 48 yard return. UVA failed to pounce on a Wolfpack onside kick, allowing the kicking team a recovery. Finally, the coaches decided to utilize a Mike Rocco pooch punt on 4th and 4 from the NC St. 29 yard line. The punt went for 13 yards, and punting on 4th and short from inside the 30 is peculiar, to say the least.
C'mon, man: Phillip Sims dropped a catchable, wide-open, floating touchdown pass from Perry Jones on the first UVA drive. Yes, you read that right. All's well that ends well, and Sims ran for a touchdown on the next play...but look for the replay on the "Not Top 10" or "C'mon Man" this week.
Thunder and Lightning return: Perry Jones had 67 yards on the ground and 46 through the air, and KP Parks added 115 yards and a touchdown. After leading the team to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl last year, the running game has been inconsistant all season. The offensive line did a great job opening up holes and the coaching staff did a good job keeping the defense off-balance. If both continue to do so in the future, Jones and Parks are good enough to have more big games.
What's next: The Hoos improved to 3-6 (1-4 ACC) with 3 games to play - Miami, UNC, @VT. Win three games and go to a bowl - it's that easy!
UVA returns back to Scott Stadium next week to face Miami. Last season, the Hoos stole a game in Coral Gables, but the Canes are 4-2 in the ACC this year and coming off a Thursday night win over the Hokies. No game in the ACC can be taken for granted; if London has the team as focused as they were this week, Miami will be in trouble at Scott Stadium.
Additionally, Virginia continues its quarterback identity crisis. We'll look for some much-needed clarification on this from the coaching staff. For now, we'll celebrate the Wahoos' first win since that bizarre September 8th against Penn State.