After two straight wins, the fan support for the UVa football team has made a turn in the positive direction.
In looking ahead to Virginia’s Homecoming game against Indiana four weeks ago, a team imploding for a 40-point loss was not an entirely unforeseen outcome. The victim of such a demolition, however, was quite unexpected.
When in game one it seemed that nothing could go right for the Cavaliers, in game five just about everything went right. The offense picked up 536 yards – nearly half of its production from the previous four games combined – and the defense pitched a shutout for all but 8:08 of regulation, as the Cavs steamrolled Indiana for a 47-7 victory, their first home win in nearly a calendar year. It was the perfect end to the day for assistant coach Anthony Poindexter, whose jersey was retired in a pre-game ceremony.
“Had it not turned out positively for us, I’m sure it would have been a memorable day for Anthony’s family, but Anthony is so about the team,” Virginia coach Al Groh said. “It would have been hard to get him to feel positive about it today. He’s about the future and he’s about the team.”
The good play – and good fortune – for Virginia (2-3) began at the game’s outset. After a previously productive offense for Indiana (3-3) moved into UVa territory on the Hoosiers’ opening drive, quarterback Ben Chappell completed a second-down pass to wide receiver Terrance Turner, but Virginia corner Ras-I Dowling cracked Turner and knocked the ball loose. The ball appeared to bounce off the foot of Dowling and into the hands of safety Rodney McLeod , who returned the fumble 32 yards to the Indiana 38-yard line.
Ras-I Dowling had an incredible stat line vs. IU: team-high 9 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and 1 sack.
“It [the turnover] established for the defensive players that this was gonna be another physical game for us,” Groh said. “And it obviously created the type of momentum-play and field position that let us get on top.”
From there, it seemed that Virginia could run whatever it wanted offensively and be successful. On the Cavs’ second play from scrimmage, QB Jameel Sewell threw to wideout Kris Burd in a seam down the middle of the field, and Burd stretched out for a spectacular diving catch and a 22-yard gain. Two rushes from tailback Mikell Simpson later, and Virginia was in the end zone 2:54 into the first quarter.
Sewell finished with 308 yards on 20-of-30 passing with one touchdown, while also rushing for 42 yards on seven carries. Combine that with no interceptions, and Sewell easily had his most productive game of the season.
“I think it really shows how badly we missed [Sewell] last year,” Groh said, “and how important he has been to our team during the two-plus seasons that we’ve been able to get a lot of plays out of him.”
“The only thing I’m gonna say is, you have a lot more to wait for,” running back Rashawn Jackson said. “Jameel’s a spectacular player.”
Following a three-and-out that featured two consecutive quarterback pressures from outside linebacker Cam Johnson, the Hoos had another quick score; this time they utilized Vic Hall, who lined up at slot receiver for the second straight week. After Sewell completed back-to-back passes to Burd and tight end Joe Torchia for 32 and 16 yards, respectively, he threw to a wide-open Hall to the left side on 3rd & 8 and he found the end zone for a 21-yard score.
“Vic is really a significant athlete,” Groh said. “What hasn’t Vic done where he’s looked pretty athletic?”
The Hoosiers finally managed to slow the Cavaliers on the next three drives; in the second quarter, though, Simpson took over. On first down from the 42-yard line, Virginia ran a play that worked numerous times in this game and the week before against Carolina; a play fake to the tailback, and throwing to the same back after he shot through the line. This time, the play went to Simpson, who cut inside and picked up plenty more yards after the catch for a 37-yard reception. On the next play, Simpson took a carry to the right side and bumped off an Indiana tackler for his second TD of the day.
On Virginia’s next drive, Simpson found the end zone for a third time. Hall picked up another 19 yards of offense at wide receiver and as the QB in the wildcat, and Simpson carried from the five-yard line to the right corner of the end zone. A failed two-point attempt – a fake option pitch from Hall to kicker Drew Jarrett , similar to the failed two-point conversion at the end of a blowout loss to TCU – left the score at 27-0.
As Virginia took possession again with 1:42 remaining in the half, it seemed that the Cavs were content to go in at halftime up 27, as they ran the ball twice in a row and appeared to be in no particular hurry. But, as Sewell completed a screen pass to Rashawn Jackson in the flat, Jackson found plenty of open grass for a 34-yard gain. Kicker Robert Randolph subsequently booted a 37-yard field goal, and the Cavs went into halftime with the unfamiliar sight of a nearly insurmountable lead.
As Virginia continued to pile on in the second half, though, bad news finally struck the Cavs in a somber fashion. With Simpson still getting carries with a 37-0 lead midway through the third quarter, he picked up two yards, but did not get up. Simpson stayed nearly motionless on the ground for several minutes, and was carted off on a stretcher. Simpson gave a thumbs-up sign as the cart entered the tunnel exiting the field; Groh said afterward that the Hoos didn’t “have anything definitive on him” but that they “feel positive about his long-term situation.” An official release from UVa Athletics Media Relations later indicated that Simpson was treated for a neck injury at the University of Virginia Medical Center and released; he is expected to follow up with a UVa team physician for further evaluation this week.
Running back Mikell Simpson ‘s status is uncertain after he was carted off the field with a neck injury.
Already with 83 rushing yards on 15 carries, Simpson was well on his way to his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game (he ran for 100 yards on 20 carries last week against North Carolina) and also had hauled in four passes for 66 yards. After a breakout season in 2007, Simpson’s 2008 campaign ended prematurely when he broke his clavicle, putting him out of the last three games of the season.
Simpson’s injury against Indiana, though, did not impede the Cavs from adding to their lead or from utilizing their running backs. On a combined 28 yards of offense from Jackson and fellow tailback Torrey Mack – and even a 21-yard completion from Sewell to a forgotten man, Dontrelle Inman – Virginia went on to score its final touchdown with 4:24 remaining in the third quarter.
After QB Marc Verica entered in the fourth and orchestrated a 66-yard drive that led to another Randolph field goal, the Cavaliers finally surrendered a touchdown while playing a host of reserves following an Indiana 56-yard kick return. Players seeing their first action of the season in the fourth quarter included two true freshmen – offensive tackle Oday Aboushi and linebacker Tucker Windle – who subsequently lose the opportunity to redshirt this season.
Prior to the touchdown, Virginia had allowed 200 total yards – 168 in the air and 32 on the ground. Two defensive stats in particular stand out: prior to the Hoosiers’ only scoring drive, they had converted just 3 of 12 third downs. In addition, the IU offense had just one play of 20 yards or more in the game, compared to 18 plays of 20 or more yards in its previous five contests.
“I felt like we had good pressure, and we had quality pressure early,” Groh said. “We got a lot of third-down stops early, and we wanted to do that.”
Then, though, there is another telling stat for the Cavs: they have won 11 of their past 12 games in October. More importantly, though, they are 2-3 this season. They’re not out of the woods yet from their disastrous start, but as Groh likes to say, the Cavaliers are making progress.
“The practices are looking more like what they need to look like,” Groh said. “Clearly that’s carried over here in the last two-plus games – with the point production in the Southern Mississippi game. It was a little spotty, but we’ve got a lot more continuity and a lot more consistency in what we’re doing.”