Have you read your UVa Football Fan Handbook? It’s right there in black and white, under Chapter 14 titled “Season Expectations”. Basically, it says we are destined to win the games we shouldn’t and lose the games we should. How else do you explain the Hoos 28-21 at Miami last Thursday night? The Cavaliers flipped the script on the Canes and looked like a team that belongs in the post season after a dismal outing against NC State. But watching the game for the third time last night, you can see there were some really great things, and some really lucky things that led to this upset win.
First let’s start with the offense, and for once, the Hoos showed what can happen when you incorporate the vertical passing game. London has made it clear all season that Rocco was the #1 quarterback for the Cavs, but this was the first game where he truely handed over complete control to him. And he responded. He was 11/20 for 226 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INT, which just shows you that when you manage a game and don’t turn the ball over, you can stay in every game you play. It also helps your stats when you have touchdown passes of 53 and 78 yards, and we will get to play calling in a bit. Watford came in on 2 plays and called his number once for a four yard gain, and at this point of the season, the ‘W’ is important than quarterback development.
Virginia’s strength all year has been the running game, and the Hoos took it to another level this game. When you gain 220 yards on the ground and about 5 yards per run, you control the clock and keep the offense on the field, not only allowing the defense to rest, but wearing down opposing defenses as well. Kevin Parks was the leading rusher with 85 yards, and Clifton Richardson had a nice game with 28 yards and some key 1st down runs, but, again, it was the Perry Jones show. The stat line of the year award goes to Jones. Check this out: 12 carries, 67 yards on the ground; 1 catch, 78 yards, 1 TD in the passing game; 1/1, 37 yards, 1 TD throwing the ball. The nickname Mr. Everything Superman has never been more evident. The silver medal of the stat of the year award goes to Jacob Hodges. The line reads ‘1 rush for 20 yards’, but we all know it better than the fake field goal rush he had in the first quarter. We were known to run the trick plays each game last year, but it was the first game this year that the Hoos have dialed then up with any real success.
The wide receivers looked very good as well, and it was a huge boost to the running game when you incorporate the vertical pass. One of our comments was that the corners were susceptible, and Virginia went right at them on Darius Jennings 53 yard touchdown and Perry Jones 73 yard quick in rout. Tim Smith’s touchdown blew away both the corner and safety on that trick play with his stop and go rout. Burd got three catches in the game for 33 yards, and Mathis recorded a catch for the tight end core for 5 yards.
But the overall picture for the offense was the way the play calling went. Outside of the 3rd & 2 pass at the Miami 15, the game was called and executed about as well as you could have done, and really the 2nd game where we can not point fingers at Bill Lazor. The Hoos recorded 11 second half points, the most since the Southern Miss game back on September 24th. The Hoos needed to run the ball, and they did with a frequency of 2 to 1, which is EXACTLY where it needed to be. In addition, the use of Jennings and Smith was what we had hoped for all year. Lazor ran no crazy end arounds and used the WR screens very well. Towards the end of the game, after Miami pulled to within 28-21, the Hoos ran the ball almost exclusively, something we did against Georgia Tech to hold on to that win as well. Now the challenge is looking at the film on how it worked and implement that into next week’s game plan. The other issue we continue to have is Red Zone offense, where the Hoos were 2 for 3 with only 2 field goals. We have to find a way to turn those into touchdowns, because we will not be able to score from over 30 yards the rest of the season and win a game.
Defensively, wow, just simply wow. With a high powered offense like Miami’s, you need to take out either the run or the pass, and the Hoos held the Canes to only 85 yards on the ground. The defensive line gave the Hoos all the pressure they needed for Greer and Reynolds to take care of business moping up the plays. It was a very balanced Hoos attack, with no player having more than 7 total tackles on the game, which meant that it was very balanced. 3 sacks on the game and 8 TFLs told the story of how Miller was held to just 70 yards. But the still concerning issue was the passing defense, as they gave up 347 yards and allowed Streeter to set career highs in yards (176) and touchdowns (2). Looking ahead, all four of our remaining opponents, Maryland, Duke, FSU, and VT like to air it out and we will have to find a way to keep receivers from getting behind our thin secondary. It was good to see Nicholson make the touchdown saving tackle in the first, that resulted in Miami not scoring on that possession. Looking past this year, we need to find some more secondary players on the recruiting trail, as it looks fairly thin next season as well.
Special team had their highs and lows as well. I like Khalek Shepherd returning kickoffs, but the 4th quarter bobble cost us valuable field position. Randolph was 2/3, but missing that 32 yarder could have proved costly, as it would have put the Hoos up by 3 scores.
The Hoos got some help off the field as well in the overall bowl picture. We were slated for the Military or Independence bowl after the GT win, and was derailed a little after the NC State loss. But with the win, the Hoos are 5-3 and have a road ACC win, which looks very good to bowl committees. In addition, NC State got rolled by NC State to remain 3 games shy of qualifying for a bowl game, and Maryland losing at home to BC and both needing to sweep the rest of the season to get in. So if the Hoos can win at 2-6 Maryland next week and at home to 3-5 Duke, it can give us 7 wins and a no-brainer Music City Bowl invitation.
The Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde complex will follow us the rest of the season unless the Hoos can take care of business the next two weeks. Virginia opens as a 2 point underdog to Maryland next week directly due to the Hoos up and down season. All the Cavs can do is use the long week to get ready for the Terps.
Have a safe Halloween and we’ll talk to you on Wednesday for the Maryland preview.