After last week's nationally televised win over Miami, people called it the signature win of theera. At the time, I certainly didn't argue against it. After watching the game this week, I think they were wrong.
The stakes may have been lower. The audience was almost certainly smaller. But the game was better. The performance was better. After some early struggles, the Hoos simply manhandled the Terps. Coming into the game, the Hoos were 5-3 with two good wins (Georgia Tech and Miami). And Maryland was 2-6, with a few bad losses. And the Hoos were 2 point favorites. Granted, it's a road game, and we've had an up and down season. But Maryland's team is falling apart. Everybody I know thought the Hoos were going to win, even the Maryland grads I work with. But the line was still -2.
The Miami game was closer than it should've been. The Georgia Tech game was closer than it should've been. In the NCSt game and the Southern Miss game, we had early leads and then faltered. In every game this season, we've been competitive. At least. It was time for this team to go out and have a truly dominating performance.
We started off like gangbusters, scoring just 20 seconds into the game. Maybe it was too much, too fast. Maybe the team got complacent, because it was too easy. Maybe they started believing that this Maryland team just could not compete with them. Whatever the reason, the next 25 minutes or so of game time was pretty bad. A few penalties. A turnover. Some mistakes on defense.
But then the game turned. Maryland reached 1st and goal at the 2 yard line, with a 10-7 lead. A touchdown seemed like a sure thing, and a 10 point halftime deficit seemed inevitable. On first down, Maryland hands off to the fullback, and Nick Jenkins makes a great play for the stop. On second and third downs, Davin Meggett gets the carry and the Hoos knock him back. On 4th down, Maryland kicks the FG. This was a huge goalline stand that set the tone for the rest of the game. After a nice KO return from Darius Jennings, the Hoos went 65 yards in 4 plays, culminating in a 35 yard TD reception by a how-did-get-that-open Kevin Parks. From 17-7 to 14-13 in just 2 minutes.
The second half continued in much the same way. The Hoos were simply dominant. Maryland barely broke 100 total yards in the 2nd half. They turned the ball over 5 times in the half. The Hoos scored 17 more points, and the Terps scored 0. All of that came as a direct result of 3 plays at the goalline at the end of the 1st half. You could argue that the goalline stand won the game> You could argue that it may have been the most important 3 plays this season.
So, now the Hoos are bowl eligible. In a season that began with modest expectations, the goal was always to become bowl eligible. We have 3 regular season games remaining, two of which we will likely be underdogs in. Still, the team is playing with house money. A win over Duke this week ensures a winning season. After the past couple of years, this is exactly what the program and the fanbase needed.
As always, my random thoughts from the game:
- Randy Edsall should've gone for it on 4th down on the critical goalline stand. The Terps had a 3 point lead, at home and they have a pretty good offense. If you pick it up, you're up 10. If you don't, the Hoos start on the 1 yard line with about 2:30 left in the half. Maybe you get a safety, maybe you force a 3 and out and get the ball back quick. Kicking the FG was a bad decision, and it bailed us out. You may recall Mike London went for it on 4th down from the 1 later on with a 1 point lead. London made the aggressive call, he asked his team go out and win, and they did. Edsall made a safe call, trying to avoid being blamed. This is not the mark of a good coach. Once again, I am happy to have Mike London roaming our sidelines.
- People have criticized Rodney McLeod for his 2 fourth down interceptions. I understand the sentiment, but I don't really agree. On the first one, Rodney was on the sideline and had some space. He could've easily knocked the ball away. But, he also had some room to run, and maybe he turns that into a big play for the defense. On the second one, Rodney was in a crowd at the 4 yard line. Much better to just ensure that you come away with that ball, and not take a chance of a weird deflection and the ball being caught for a TD.
- I simply can't say enough about how well Perry Jones is playing right now. A month or so ago, I thought that perhaps Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson should be getting more of the playing time at RB. Now, there is no way. Perry Jones has done everything the past few games. He is a team captain and he is showing it on the field. He is on pace to break 1000 yards rushing and could end up with double digit TDs.
- Another guy I can't stop talking about is Michael Rocco. Is this the same guy we saw at the end of the NCSt game? The same guy who got knocked out of the USM game? He looks like a different QB out there. He's confident, he's moving the ball around to different receivers, he's controlling the tempo. He looks like a veteran out there. With David Watford now relegated to mop-up duty and the occasional wildcat play, I think this team will continue to rally around Rocco and I think we will continue to surprise people.
- Back to Watford. He still looks a little bit lost out there. You can't argue that he has elite athleticism. But that does not make a QB. Even on designed running plays, Watford seems a little bit lost. I wonder if Mike London is questioning his decision to play Watford this year. It certainly seems, in hindsight, like it was a poor decision. I have trouble seeing Watford beating out Rocco this offseason. And then we have a couple of bigtime QB prospects coming in next year. Will Watford still be here by then?
- With no true FB on the roster for next year, we may seriously miss Max Milien. He is a very good receiver out of the backfield, he is a solid blocker, and a good special teams contributor. I really hope we can find a replacement for him. There aren't a lot of FBs who can make the play that he made for his TD. That was a good cutback. Also credit Tim Smith for a good block on the play.
- Early in the season, Will Hill was getting a lot of hype, but as the season has gone on, Hill has faded a bit, while Nick Jenkins and Matt Conrath have really stepped up. This is why experience is so important in college football. I suspect that once teams got some film on Hill, they were able to figure out how to slow him down. He has tremendous quickness for a guy his size, but he can be pushed around. Another year in the strength and conditioning program, and Hill is going to be a beast. For now, he'll learn from watching the upperclassmen ahead of him.
- Clifton Richardson is a very good running back. He has a unique blend of size and quickness. But he really needs to work on securing the ball. Many running backs have struggled with this. Most of the time, they are able to overcome it. I'm certain that coach Faragelli will spend a great deal of time in the offseason working with Richardson on it. For now, with Perry Jones and Kevin Parks having so much success, Richardson is going to lose chances because of the fumbling problem.
- Last year Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman combined to make one of the most dynamic WR duos in UVA history. Clearly offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and WR coach Shawn Moore deserve a fair amount of the credit. With Rocco settling in at QB, and the players we have on board and coming next year at WR, a school formerly known as TE U could end up being known as WR U in the not-too-distant future.