For the first time in 350 long days, the Virginia Football program is back in the win column. The Wahoos overpowered the Richmond offense (that had no connections to UVa whatsoever), and walked away with a decisive 45-13 win on Pick-Your-Own-Seat Day at Scott Stadium.
It wasn't always pretty, especially on offense, but Virginia (1-1) used opportunistic plays on defense and big returns on special teams to dominate the field position battle. The Cavaliers turned Spiders over seven times on defense, used a trio of quarterbacks, and debuted a couple of freshmen. I know it was Richmond, but Virginia accomplished a lot of good things today. The most positive thing that I saw today was that the Hoos finally scored a touchdown following a turnover for the first time since the BYU game last fall. The soap opera surrounding former UVa quarterbacks and the head coaches is finally in the books. Let's take a closer look at what transpired on a scorching hot afternoon in Charlottesville.
Contrary to head coach Mike London's comments, there is a quarterback controversy in Charlottesville. Sophomore co-captian Grayson Lambert got the start, despite being yanked before halftime of last week's game. Numbers-wise, Lambert had a solid second-start, going 13-15 for 102 yards, and a touchdown. Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild rarely stretched the field when Lambert was in the game, as the sophomore averaged just over six yards per completion. Lambert's best play of the day was a 29-yard throw to Canaan Severin in the endzone in the fourth quarter.
Last week's star under center, Matt Johns came in relief in the middle of the second quarter, and stayed in the game until the Wahoos built a three-score advantage. Johns only put the ball in the air seven times, but the PA native led three scoring drives, highlighted by a four-yard strike into the endzone to Severin.
Former starter, David Watford was given two drives in the fourth quarter when the game was well out of reach. London was not going to run up the score on his former team, so Watford spent the bulk of his time handing the ball off. He did complete a four-yard pass to freshman Jamil Kamara late.
Severin was one of the stars of camp, and has already caught the number of passes that he brought in all last season. It's still early, but senior Darius Jennings may have finally turned the corner. The Baltimore native caught four passes for a team-high 79 yards. Jennings was also a beast on kick returns, netting 130 yards, highlighted by an 86-yard scamper that nearly went for six in the second half.
Smoke Mizzell accounted for 42 total yards, and demonnstrated his game-breaking speed in the return game, but the offensive coaching staff is still struggling to fully utilize the former five-star recruit's skills. Mizzell gets the ball nearly every time he's in the game, which opposing defenses have keyed in on, and the staff still insists on running the sophomore between the tackles, instead of bouncing him to the outside.
Kevin Parks rushed for 53 yards off of 13 carries and one touchdown. Former walk-on Daniel Hamm came in during mop-up duty and found the endzone for the first time since his breakout performance against VMI last fall.
The offensive line stayed the same mainly, minus Jackson Matteo starting a left tackle. Matteo split time with redshirt sophomore Michael Mooney protecting the QBs' blind sides. The front-five almost made it two weeks in a row without giving up a sack, before Watford took one in the fourth quarter.
Just incase you've been living under a rock, we were joking about UVa not having any connections to Richmond. The Cavalier defense faced two familiar faces, in former QBs, Michael Strauss and Michael Rocco. Strauss got the start, and at times looked like a top-flight quarterback. The former UVa signal-caller completed 24 of 36 passes for 266 yards. Strauss marched the Spiders into Cavalier territory three times in the first half, but only managed three points. The Virginia defense stood tall in the face of adversity in the opening half. Freshman Quin Blanding recorded his first career interception, putting an end to a promising UR drive. The turning point of the game came late in the second quarter when the Spiders threatened to cut into the UVa lead before halftime. Henry Coley timed a snap perfectly and drove the ball loose to keep Richmond out of the end zone in the first half. The Spiders' only touchdown of the game on a Rocco dive into the endzone in the third quarter. Rocco passed for 97 yards, but also coughed up the ball in the second half, paving the way for practice legend Trent Corney to record a fumble recovery.
Strauss and Rocco picked on sophomore corner Tim Harris a few times, but the Richmond native got the last laugh with a fourth-quarter int.
The run defense was stout once again, as Richmond was no match for Virginia's D-line. The Spiders had minus-seven yards on the ground, before Jeremiah Hamlin raced 32 yards up the middle against UVa's second-team defense. Eli Harold was Eli Harold once again. The junior was in on nearly ever play, recording four total tackles, and scooping up a fumble and taking it 22 yards for Virginia's first defensive touchdown since the VT game in 2012. Mike Moore and David Dean both had solid outings, each recording three total stops and a tackle for a loss. Five-star freshman Andrew Brown made his long-awaited UVa debut. Brown rotated a little throughout the game, and made his first career tackle in the fourth quarter.
The linebackers were outstanding once again. DeQuan Romero led all defenders with 12 total tackles, and recorded his first career interception. Coley registered eight total stops, including the game-chaninng forced fumble before halftime. Max Valles moonlighted as a rush-end once again, and finished the game with two sacks.
This unit was a mixed bag. The kick returns were fantastic, but the punt return game continues to be a concern. Khalek Shepherd put the ball on the turf in the opening quarter for UVa's first turnover of the game. Will Wahee and Divante Walker were the stars of the kick coverage unit. Alec Vozenilek was solid punting the ball as usual. Ian Frye connected on a pair of field goals, but his attempt from 46 yards went wide right.
Playtime is over and we are going to find out a lot about this Virginia football team next week against Louisville. UVa has not won a conference game in 22 months, and will need to improve in many areas if it hopes to break the streak next Saturday at Scott Stadium. It is the ultimate swing game. A win gives UVa a 2-1 record with two of its next three games at home. A loss sends the Wahoos to a 1-2 record with a trip to Prove Utah looming. The Cougars will be fired for that one. The biggest question next week will be… stop me if you've heard this before… who will be the starting quarterback?