Yes, that just happened. In one of the strangest, longest, and wildest games played at Scott Stadium, the Hoos
pulled off an improbable comeback to start the season off right, sliding past Brigham Young 19-16.
First, fans were forced out of the stadium after the end of the first quarter when a severe storm in the area delayed the game for 2 hours and 9 minutes. The game, which started at 3:30, finally resumed at 6:20 in a stadium that was eerily sparse until fans had time to trickle back in.
BYU got on the board first with a touchdown late in the second quarter, though UVA cut the lead to 7-3 with a 53-yard Ian Frye field goal before halftime. The rain began once again, luckily just seconds after the long kick cleared the uprights; the third quarter was played in a torrential downpour. The Hoos would take the lead on a touchdown strike from David Watford to Darius Jennings and a safety when BYU recovered a fumble in its own end zone. However, the Cougars stormed back to turn a 12-7 deficit to a 16-12 lead on a field goal with 5 minutes to play.
All appeared lost when the Hoos' stagnant offense was forced to punt the ball away, as the clock wound down toward 3 minutes. However, on BYU's 3rd and 6 play, Taysom Hill's pass bounced off his receiver's hands and into the waiting arms of Anthony Harris, who immediately lateraled it to Henry Coley, who returned the ball all the way to BYU's 13 yard line. One play later, Kevin Parks found the end zone, sending a spirited Wahoo crowd into hysterics.
The win was clearly an emotional one for the coaches and players, and it puts them in a good place headed to next week's match with Oregon. Here are some quick hits from week 1's wild win:
Defense saves the day: This game was the product of outstanding effort from a defensive unit that entered the game with plenty of question marks, especially after the graduations of leaders LaRoy Reynolds and Steve Greer. While the unit was beat on BYU's long, go-ahead touchdown drive, it did a strong job of shutting down their no-huddle attack the rest of the game. BYU's Hill was just 13 of 40 on the day with a touchdown and an interception. While the option offense caught the Hoos off guard on a few occasions, the team did a good job of bending but not breaking.
Big props especially go to Eli Harold, Maurice Canady, and Anthony Harris. Besides motioning for the crowd to get loud before seemingly every play, Harold played like an animal from start to finish. He was a handful for the Brigham Young o-line, recording 11 tackles and 2 sacks. Harold clearly left it all on the field, literally collapsing to the ground in joy and exhaustion as the clock hit 0:00. Canady is developing into a shutdown corner who, along with Tra Nicholson, turns the Wahoo secondary into a force to be reckoned with. Harris made by far the two plays of the day, grabbing the game-winning interception and blocking a punt. He also made an important 3rd down play earlier in the game, where he laid out to sack a rolling Hill who had open field ahead of him. Justin Anderson put it best:
@HOOSDatDude has been diagnosed with the #ClutchGene ✊😬— Justin Anderson (@HooNamedS1mba) September 1, 2013
The Watford Report: The Wahoo offense is a work in progress. UVA's talented stable of running backs had little to work with, as the read option failed to create anything at all on the ground. David Watford did a generally serviceable job at quarterback, managing the game but showing little through the air. Watford finished 18 for 32 for just 114 yards with a TD and an interception. The interception was a bad one, as he forced a pass under duress.
Watford performed slightly better out of a standard offense, in which he led the team's end-of-half touchdown drive. But the read option wasn't fooling anybody, and Virginia's coaching staff was, perhaps wisely, unwilling to stray far from the gameplan or allow Watford to be more aggressive. One bright spot was Watford's touchdown pass, when he rolled right and delivered a perfect pass to Darius Jennings, who did an excellent job of keeping a foot in-bounds to make the catch.
Big Plays: Last season, a big part of the Hoos' struggles was their opponents' tendencies to pull off game changing, opportune plays (and Virginia's tendency to do inexplicable things designed to make Wahoo fans cry). In fact, UVA lost 4 straight games in which the team led in total yards. This time, the Hoos turned this around, getting outgained 362-223 but making plays to create "easier" points. Frye's 53 yard field goal put points on the board and switched the momentum headed into halftime. Harris's blocked punt was converted for the team's first touchdown. The lead was extended to 12-7 on a safety. Finally, Anthony Harris again came through when his quick hands grabbed the interception that would win the game. Despite the offense's sputters, the team made big plays when it had the opportunities to do so.
BYU's decision to pass on 3rd and 6 was a surprising one considering the clock had moved under three minutes and Virginia had shown no ability to move the ball. The play itself wasn't a risky one, but once the quarterback releases the ball, anything can happen. It's nice to be on the good side of one of these bounces.
Special Teams...better?: The special teams unit was better than last season's. The problem is that last season's was so awful that this statement is meaningless. Special teams did have some big positives: The long field goal. The blocked punt. A 35 yard punt return from Dominique Terrell. A solid day punting from Alex Vozenilek.
It also had some big negatives: Khalek Shepherd's fumbled kick return handed BYU 3 late points. The punt coverage unit continued to struggle with missed tackles. And, no harm no foul, but picking up an illegal substitution penalty on an extra point is weak. I'm not expecting special teams to be a strength this year, and silly blunders will likely continue to creep in. But, if these are at least balanced with better plays, Wahoo fans will take it.
- Huge props to Wahoo fans who came out in force to Scott Stadium and stuck around despite the long delay and the downpour once the game restarted. Plenty of fans decided to head home, and it's tough to fault people who drove to the game for that decision. But students, alumni, and fans largely returned and were louder than ever, with most of the stadium on their feet the whole second half. Great showing in a tough situation.
- The refined pregame schedule works well. Fans love "The Adventures of Cavman," and it's not going anywhere; however, the pregame featured a shorter version that also was not placed immediately before the players take the field. Deemphasizing what is essentially a really fun but uninspiring cartoon and moving a video montage with actual pump-up music before the players come out is a good way of doing it.
- The band has to stop playing after every first down while the Hoos are in the hurry-up offense. This wasn't the first time this has happened, and it has to be distracting when the team is rushing to the line.
What it means:
Virginia is 1-0. In a season where many tagged a bowl game as a mark of success, this wasn't just win 1 out of 6...a win in a toss-up week 1 game may end up being that 6th win. In simpler terms, that path to 6 wins just got a whole lot more reasonable.
Also, note that Virginia Tech is 0-1. As are....a disconcerting amount of other ACC squads.
There were plenty of question marks coming into this season, and many still remain. Mostly, what are we going to do about offense? I can't answer this question, but we'll have plenty more coverage all week on the big opening win and the scary things (Oregon) that lie ahead.
I'll give the final word to Paul Freedman, who graduated last year and now knows how it feels to be on the other side (Yes, Paul, this is what it's like).:
If this is what it's like to be a UVA fan. I'm gunna die by the time I'm 25. Kudos to the hoo fans.— Paul Freedman (@paulyfree88) September 1, 2013