For the first time since November 10th 2012, the Virginia Cavaliers won an ACC football game, and for the first time in 1,023 days, the Wahoos beat a ranked opponent. On a day where emotions shifted as often as the weather, UVa withstood a late Louisville rally to squeak by the Cardinals 23-21. In a game that seemed like nobody wanted to win, the Cavaliers got it done in dramatic fashion, capped off by a celebration with the students on the field.
In many ways, the first three quarters closely resembled the UCLA game back on August 30th (minus the three gift touchdowns). The UVa defense dominated, yet the offense could not turn opportunities into points for the most part. The lack of points became an issue late in the game, when the Cardinals grabbed a 21-20 lead with 6:59 remaining in the contest. The Wahoos responded with a 42-yard field goal by Ian Frye, and the UVa defense stood tall once again, backing the visitors up to the shadow of their own goalpost.
The game was ugly at times, but Virginia took several big steps forward as a program today. Offense coordinator Steve Fairchild was far from perfect, but the second-year OC called perhaps the best game of his UVa career today. The Virginia defense held an explosive offense in check, and most importantly, the Orange and Blue demonstrated resolve and determination in the midst of what would turn out to be a dicy situation late in the game. Let's take a closer look at how the Cavaliers pulled it out today.
Fairchild caused quite a stir among fans earlier this week, proclaiming that his unit is not equipped to throw the ball very often. Ahh the old rope a dope… Fairchild shocked the world on the opening play of the game, calling a pass right out of the gate. Quarterback Greyson Lambert hooked up with Miles Gooch for a 50-yard gainer through the air, deep into Louisville territory. While we still saw our share of half-back dives, Fairchild mixed it up with some passes on first down, as well as several off-tackles and reverses. The biggest sign of progress was the way Fairchild used running back Taquan Mizzell. Instead of running the 5-10, 190 pounder between the tackles, Mizzell took several runs to the outside, gaining 40 yards off of just five carries. The sophomore also caught three passes for 11 yards.
The Wahoos began the day with a quarterback controversy, but all of that talk subsided as the game went on. Lambert got his third career start, and remained in the game for the first five drives of the contest. Fellow sophomore, Matt Johns took over late in the second quarter and stuck it out until halftime. Johns completed three of six passes for for nine yards, but his day was centered around a costly interception late in the second quarter, when the Cavaliers were knocking on the door. Lambert assumed control of the offense to start the final half, and engineered a 69-yard touchdown drive out of the tunnel. The Georgia native called his own number and polished off the march from 11 yards out to stretch Virginia's lead to 17-7.
For the afternoon, Lambert competed 13 of 24 passes for 162 yards and a score. The lone touchdown came off of a beautiful throw and catch to Gooch in the endzone from 15-yards out. Gooch was Lambert's favorite target, as the senior hauled in four catches for 78 yards. Canaan Severin also had four receptions, for 19 yards, but the junior was plagued by several drops in the first half. Darius Jennings had a pretty sweet 31-yard grab on second down and long in the third quarter to keep alive a scoring drive.
Tailback Kevin Parks rushed for a season-high 66 yards, including the key first down late that slammed the door on the Cards. The running game as a whole slightly improved this week, as Virginia averaged four yards per carry as a team.
The offensive line welcomed back sophomore tackle Sadiq Olanrewaju, who missed the first two games of the season. The pass blocking was ok to start the game, but the Louisville D-line got the better of UVa's front-five as the game went on. After allowing just one sack in the first two games, the Cavalier QBs were sacked three times on Saturday afternoon. The line also shot the offense in the foot a little bit in the fourth quarter, committing a pair of costly false start penalties, when the Hoos were looking to take the lead.
All and all, it was a better than average day for the offense. The play-calling improved, but there were a few too many drops from the wideouts, and the Cavaliers need to learn to turn opportunities into points.
Spoiler Alert: These are some bad men. The Virginia defense turned Louisville over three times and held the Cards in check for the bulk of the contest. For the third straight week, the defense gave up a chunk of yards on the first drive of the game, but quickly settled down after that. Following the opening drive, UVa did not allow a single third-down conversion until the fourth quarter.
Eli Harold was a terror off the edge as usual, recording two sacks, including a huge one for a loss of 10 yards late in the game. Speaking of the outside, Max Valles was everywhere, netting four tackles and an impressive, four key pass breakups. Valles also had an interception that was negated following a questionable roughing the passer call. David Dean had a nice afternoon, with four stops of his own. Junior Mike Moore continued to look sharp, falling on top of a fumble to give the Cavaliers great field position.
The linebackers looked good, with Daquan Romero recording eight total stops, while Henry Coley netted seven tackles, including two for a loss.
The best unit on the defense was undoubtably the safeties. Quin Blanding looked like anything but a freshman out there, leading the Cavaliers with nine total tackles. In one sequence, the Cards had sure first down, before Blanding batted the ball loose for an incompletion. His All-American running-mate, Anthony Harris finished second on the team with eight total tackles, and picked off his first pass of the season.
The corners had their ups and downs. The unit is still missing Demetrious Nicholson, and fellow senior Drequan Hoskey was not available for this game. Maurice Canady hauled in a huge first-quarter interception to setup the go-ahead field goal right before halftime. Brandon Phelps had a few blemishes, but the senior finished the day with three tackles and two important pass breakups.
While the offense was jekyll and hyde and the defense was mostly dominant, the special teams units were fantastic on Saturday afternoon. Frye was put in two tough situations, but the junior went 3-3 on the afternoon, including the game-winning kick from 42 yards out. Alec Vozenilek averaged 41 yards per punt, and pinned Louisville inside the 20 three times. Will Wahee was the unsung hero on special teams, downing a pair of Voz's punts deep in UL territory. Khalek Shepherd fielded five punts for just 32 yards, but the senior caught a few of them in-stride, to give the Wahoos the ball on Louisville's side of the field.
Other than FSU in 2011, this might be the biggest win of the London era. With all the hot-set talk and the negativity surrounding the program, the Wahoos needed to give the fans a reason to believe. The defense is every bit as good as advertised, and the offense has the pieces to compete. Virginia will take its 2-1 record all the way to Provo Utah next week, but will then come back for a pair of winnable home games before the BYE. If UVa is to reach a bowl, today was a game that it had to have, and the Cavaliers made it happen. There is still a lot of work to do, but enjoy the moment Wahoo fans... Virginia defeated a ranked opponent, while the Hokies lost at home.