College football is back, and UVA football is off to a winning start! That's the news from Charlottesville today, after Virginia met the Richmond Spiders at Scott Stadium. The outcome of this game was all but certain from the time it appeared on the schedule; Richmond is a FCS team that is a shadow of the squad that won the NCAA title in 2008, and any non-disasterous performance from the Hoos would be enough to put the game in the win column. Virginia held to its side of the bargain, defeating the Spiders 43-19 in workmanlike fashion.
While picking up win number 1 was obviously top priority for London's squad, there is more to dig into from this one, from personnel matters to what we all really care about, entrance music and fan support. The game was a great first step for the Hoos, though there is plenty more work to be done. Here are some quick hits from Scott Stadium:
- Mike Rocco came out looking sharp, as he went 25 for 37 passing for 311 yards and a TD. I don't think the casual observer would walk away raving about Mike's day, but he did exactly what had to be done to beat Richmond. Most importantly, he made plays early to put the game quickly out of reach, completing all four of his passes on UVA's first drive, which resulted in a touchdown, and connecting with Darius Jennings on a 51 yard touchdown catch and run on its next. There were a few balls where I thought Rocco got away with mistakes because of the quality of competition...but that's why we play this tune-up game.
- And, since nothing beats a QB "controversy," Phillip Sims took the final drive in the fourth quarter, taking the Hoos into the end zone. We can't read too much into this performance; he made the plays he was sent out to make, but didn't have a chance to really shine. Sims did complete a pretty 24 yard touch pass to E.J. Scott
- The QB(s) have some nice targets to throw to. Jake McGee's one-handed grab was the play of the game, but Tim Smith, Darius Jennings, and Paul Freedman also deserve honorable mentions.
- The low-point of the game: UVA's performance in the trenches. The defensive line got beat badly by the Spiders on their two quick-strike touchdown drives and failed to get consistant pressure on Richmond's quarterbacks. The offensive line could never seem to get a good push against an undersized UR front, notably failing to get Kevin Parks a yard on 4th and 1. There are explanations: Richmond's short-passing game neutralized our pass rush (but didn't allow the Spiders the chance for needed game-changing plays). Their loading up the box on defense neutralized the UVA running game at times (while allowing Rocco to throw over their heads). Still, in a game against inferior competition, I expect the Hoos to dominate the trenches, and they didn't. I would like to see improvement from both units, and I expect that we will see it.
- Special teams: Still scary. I am mainly referring to punt returns. Khalek Shepherd never seemed to be in the correct place, as punts both bounced around and sailed over his head. He even dove forward to grab one, a move that a returner should avoid at all costs. On the bright side, Shepherd did break a 59 yard kick return. The rule changes on kickoffs will radically alter that facet of the game; I expect more innovative formations and kicks to be used in future weeks.
- I was looking for a read on how our secondary would perform - however, Richmond's game plan didn't give us much information here. The unit, especially Demetrious Nicholson, tackled well. I think the defense lost a bit of focus when UR when to the no-huddle, which was responsible for both of their TD drives not in "garbage time"
- I have no idea why Mike London called timeouts to run plays before halftime, then ran the ball instead of kneeling as time expired. Not a huge deal...but there is just no explanation.
- The production staff still has a few kinks to work out of the pre-game. A new video, which discussed the founding of the University, ideals it was founded on, and how great everyone from the state of Virginia is, was a nice touch, though a bit long and overdone. The main issue was the long gap between the end of "Adventures of CavMan" and the arrival of the team. The players need to run out at the peak of crowd excitement - that should be immediately after the video...though I'd love a quick pump-up highlight tape of sorts to amend some of the childishness of the animated routine.
- I HATE THE WAVE. Please, let's not do it anymore. Yes, it looks pretty...but it is actually terrible. Today, the crowd went wild when a Richmond player went down with an injury. The cheers turned into boos when he stood up and walked off the field. Embarrassingly, that's how it likely looked to observers at home, as fans got more involved in an overplayed phenomenon than, you know, the football game taking place. I am sure that thousands did not notice our touchdown strike that sealed the game; and I sure hope the offense didn't notice the distracting spectacle taking place around them. The wave is reserved for amateur hour. Let's be better than that. Rant off.