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Strong Showing by Cavaliers Despite Loss to Trojans

Remember that feeling, leaving Scott Stadium after the first home game in 2008? It was hot as Hades, the parking lots were packed, and all you wanted to do was take a nap. Oh, and there as the 52-7 thrashing that we were just given by USC. Let's call that, "The Al Groh Era." Much of the mainstream media predicted last night's game against the Trojans -- at the Coliseum -- to be Act II of the same play. But a never-say-die Cavaliers squad had a different storyline in mind. Let's call this, "The Mike London Era." Ultimately, it was a notch in the L column, but a 17-14 loss to the Trojans in front of a hostile crowd of 81,375 gave Wahoo Nation a lot to hang their hat on.

A somber USC Head Coach Lane Kiffin said at the end of the game, "They outcoached us. I don't know. We barely won this game."

First, a few highlights:

Virginia outgained the Trojans 340 to 329. Like last week against Richmond, this was a well-balanced effort, with 140 yards coming off the ground and 190 yards in the air. These numbers include a stretch in the second half where Marc Verica missed ten straight passes.

Virginia's defense is right up there with the best of them in the nation. It was the performance of a well-disciplined, well-coached defense that kept the Cavaliers in the game. Consider USC's opening drive -- a rare 3-and-out for the Trojans -- and that the Cavaliers kept USC to a 5-of-15 third-down conversion efficiency. This is without Rodney McLeod or potential All-American Ras-I Dowling, both of whom are out for injuries.

Virginia's final touchdown came with only 0:04 on the clock remaining. Would an Al Groh-led team have fought to the bitter end to earn the moral victory? It was a great job by Mike London to use this final minute to put together a scoring drive that the team could take with them into the locker room, and use the experience in the games to come.

Senior tight end Joe Torchia recorded a career high five catches for 73 yards last night, and it's the first time in his career that I remember commentators actually focusing on him during a game. This is the beginning of what we've been promised as a return to Virginia-style football, and I continue to believe that Torchia will have a breakout season.

A couple lowlights:

As it turned out, this was Virginia's game to lose. At the end of the night, two missed field goals and an interception in the endzone handed USC the game on a silver platter. Kicker Robert Randolph had only missed two field goals last season...he's already missed three this season, including last night's 45-yard attempt at the 10:41 mark of the first quarter and the heart-breaking 35-yard attempt at the 3:49 mark of the fourth.

UVa only capitalized on two of the four trips into the redzone. This is something our offense will certainly need to work on. Verica's interception from the USC 4-yard line led many 'Hoos to think, "New season, same team." But credit the quarterback for keeping his poise and continuing to play a strong game.

"I knew it was a stupid play," Verica said. "I know exactly what I have to do on every single play. You can't let one play rattle you. It was a costly decision but you have to put it behind you."

Here's another lowlight: terrible PAC 10 officiating. The Fighting Zebras put together 241 yards last night, in an offensive showing more impressive than half the FBS teams. Virginia was penalized 9 times for 101 yards (including calling back a beautifully executed fake punt) while USC was penalized 13 times for 140 yards (including an unsportsmanlike conduct call for celebrating a touchdown that, oh yeah, they called back).

Here's the takeaway point. The ACC is in for a wild ride this year (Hey, did you hear Virginia Tech lost to JMU yesterday??), and the Cavaliers are fighting to be in the driver's seat. With the embarassing losses last night by the ACC -- including VT's loss to JMU, FSU getting trounced by Oklahoma, Al Groh's Georgia Tech's loss to Kansas, the combined 102 point Wake-Duke game, and a (not terribly embarassing) Miami loss to Ohio State, Virginia is probably the one ACC team that walked away from yesterday saying, "we did better than we were expected." This is a team that believes they are better than what the media has speculated, and so far, they've shown it on the field.