With Saturday’s win over No. 16 Miami, the Virginia Cavalier football team scored their first upset over a ranked since taking down Louisville in 2014. In fact, it was the first top-20 win for the Hoos since defeating No. 12 Georgia Tech in 2011. While place kicker Brian Delaney earned the honor of “breaking the rock” for his perfect 3-for-3 day on field goals (including a bomb from 46 yards), the Virginia defense stole the show by smothering the Hurricanes.
The Cavaliers held Miami to just 14 yards in the first quarter and gave up just one touchdown—their lone offensive touchdown surrendered by the Hoos in their three home games this season—to the visiting Canes.
Virginia’s defense held Miami to only two three-and-outs in the game, but twice turned the Canes over on downs and intercepted three passes. The Hoos set the tone of the game early, stuffing Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry on a 4th-and-2 attempt at the Virginia 49-yard line on the Canes’ first offensive possession of the game (and following a brutal Bryce Perkins interception). Miami tried again on their first drive of the second half, electing to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Virginia 24-yard line with the Hoos holding on to a 13-6 lead. Malcolm Cook and Charles Snowden came up big, turning UM running back Trayone Gray parallel to the line to gain and keeping the Hurricanes off the scoreboard yet again.
Juan Thornhill, who earned national and conference accolades for his stellar performance on Saturday, racked up 86 yards in return yardage on his two interceptions. Joey Blount picked off a pass of his own.
And yet, despite all those amazing accomplishments, one play stands out above all the others.
With just under 5:30 left in the first half, Malik Rosier—Miami’s second QB of the half—handed the ball off to running back Travis Homer. He hit a hole with a burst, and rattled off Miami’s biggest offensive play of the game. Homer looked like he was destined for the end zone, so much so that Virginia Sports Radio’s play-by-play man, Dave Koehn, declared Homer “gone”.
Virginia’s Bryce Hall made sure that wasn’t the case, catching up to Homer and shoving him out of bounds at the 15-yard line after a 70 yard gain. The play reads matter-of-factly in the box score:
Homer, T rush for 70 yards to the VA15, 1ST DOWN UM, out-of-bounds (Hall, B).
Whoooooo boy, you have to see it, though. “Out-of bounds (Hall, B)” just doesn’t do it justice.
Love the vision and initial burst here from Miami RB Travis Homer but check out this effort from Virginia CB Bryce Hall. Dude chases him down playing boundary corner on the opposite side of the field. Hall has been one of the most competitive football players I've seen this year. pic.twitter.com/AIwD3kcAfs— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) October 14, 2018
Hall, who is outfitted with a Catapult monitoring system, reached 22 miles per hour on the play. Virginia’s Director of Football Development & Performance Shawn Griswold described it perfectly, saying, “We knew he was fast, just not that fast as seen with our Catapult device. It’s impressive to see with the naked eye and confirmed with data to match that he was really moving along.”
How fast is 22 miles per hour? That would put him very close to the top when looking at the fastest speeds reached in the NFL last season. Per the New York Times, Dallas Cowboy safety Byron Jones recorded the fastest speed of the season at 22.11 mph. Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars topped out at 22.05 mph. Only Malcolm Butler (of the New England Patriots) also reached the 22 mph benchmark with a 22.07.
“I have not been a part of a play in person like that before,” Griswold said. “That was impressive to watch live and certainly impressive to see on tape. The choice to attack the play and the will to give total effort can be seen.”
The play, while impressive, was also incredibly important in the grand scheme of things. After that stop, Miami rushed for gains of one and four yards on first and second down, respectively. Rosier’s third down pass fell incomplete, and the Hurricanes settled for a field goal that made it 10-6. The Hoos used the remaining 3:11 of the half to drive 46 yards and set up Delaney for his 46-yarder that gave Virginia a seven point halftime advantage.
Griswold, who is in his first season with the Cavaliers, is impressed with Hall’s effort day in and day out. “He’s a very gifted athlete that puts in countless hours above and beyond the daily routine with football staff and strength staff,” Griswold stated. “He can be seen in the weight room working on mobility at 5:45am before meetings, and in the evenings watching more film in preparation to the next opponent.”
That next opponent is a formidable one as the Hoos head to Durham to face the 5-1 Duke Blue Devils. The game has huge implications in the ACC Coastal division, which is now extremely within the grasp of the Cavaliers. Hall’s ability to break up passes—he has a team leading 11 pass break ups on the season—will be critical as Virginia tries to slow down Duke’s QB Daniel Jones.
It’ll take more of what makes Hall tick, or, “hard work, dedication, total effort and being committed,” as Griswold puts it.
Virginia at Duke kicks at 12:20pm on Saturday and will be broadcast on ACC Regional Sports Networks.