Hoos No Treat For Hurricanes

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The Cavaliers had reason to celebrate in a convincing win.

There is one word that can describe Virginia’s play on Saturday against Miami: Clutch. The light came on all across the board for the Cavaliers as they ground out a hard-fought win over the Canes. The first ACC win for first-year head coach Mike London was an emotional one for players, coaches and fans. This was the first upset of a ranked team since a 2008 victory over North Carolina at home. The Cavaliers never stopped believing, and their faith and hard work finally showed some dividends.

“I have talked about this team being resilient regardless of sometimes what people say. In that locker room right there there’s a bunch of proud football players and coaches because they always knew there was something about this team – there’s something about us that we could be a pretty good team,” an emotional London said after the game. “When you have a group of young men who, ‘Oh, you guys are going to win three games, you guys aren’t any good’ and the message that they continue to keep hearing that, ‘You’re not fast enough, you’re not good enough’, and they refuse to listen to those things. We are what we are and we play a style that fits who we are. Today we played a style that was good enough to hang on to beat a very, very good football team.”

It is hard to choose a most valuable unit from Saturday’s game. It was a signature win on many levels: offense, defense, and even individual achievements. The defense got penetration of the Miami offensive line early, and put heavy pressure on quarterback Jacory Harris. Harris was knocked out of the game by a huge, legal hit from senior defensive tackle John-Kevin Dolce . Dolce had a clear shot at the Hurricane quarterback, and hit him cleanly in the chest with his head up on the play. Harris released the ball, however, and Chase Minnifield intercepted the attempted deep pass. It would be Minnifield’s first of two interceptions on the day (read about the second on the blog). Harris left the game after being helped off the field, and didn’t return for the remainder of the game. The extent of his injuries are, as of yet, unclear.

“We were in a base defense, and I think the guard tried to pull away. The tackle tried to come down [to block] me, and I just tried to get a good push. The tackle could not pick me up so I basically came free to hit him,” Dolce said. “Of course, you want to have sportsmanship and you never wish anyone would get hurt. I hope he is able to play again next week.”

The Wahoos continued to have a signature game on defense after that play, posting a record-tying five interceptions in the game. Junior Spencer Whipple, son of Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, replaced Harris. The second quarterback tossed a pair interceptions on six attempts, before being replaced by true freshman Stephen Morris . Morris finished the day 9-22 with two interceptions and two touchdowns; he also rushed for a score. In addition to two interceptions from Minnifield, safeties Corey Mosley and Rodney McLeod had two and one, respectively.

“This is the game we have been waiting for as a secondary,” Minnifield said. “We always talk about changing the game [by causing turnovers], and winning the game. We had a few playmakers in the secondary today.”

On offense, Bill Lazor’s pro-style scheme finally clicked, aided and abetted by Ron Mattes’ stellar offensive line. The Hurricanes, who came into the contest ranked No. 2 in the nation in tackles for a loss, didn’t touch quarterback Marc Verica all day. True freshman Morgan Moses was matched up against senior end Allen Bailey, considered by many to be a top NFL prospect in the 2011 draft.

“Allen Bailey is a high-profile guy, a real good player. Hands down, he was a good player,” Moses said. “I came out there fast, and I knew my teammates, my coaches, and my O-Line had my back. ”

The running game ran roughshod over the Hurricanes, led by Keith Payne (in the very first start of his career) and Perry Jones . The “Payne Train” had 81 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. Jones kept the defense guessing with his deceptive running style, netting 69 yards on 22 carries. The offense achieved an effective balance between the running and passing games, spurred on by the superior offensive line play.

Keith Payne , who had 2 TDs against the Hurricanes, smiles immediately following the upset win.

“We did well running the ball, and we kept the quarterback clean all day. We had a heck of a game. We’ve been waiting for a breakout game, and I think finally the guys are getting the attitude that they like running the ball,” Mattes said. “If they stay on those blocks and do the techniques right, they won’t stop us. Once everyone puts it together, and they get the feeling that if we stay on our blocks and get our feet ready we’re going to the next level.”

Verica was 19-of-27 passing for 176 yards to go with one touchdown and one interception. He was able to bounce back quickly from his one mistake, and showed a masterful command of the offense in the waning minutes of the game. The Hurricanes scored 19 points in six minutes to cut the lead to five points, and the Hoos took the field with close to five minutes remaining in need of a game-sealing, clock-killing drive. Verica engineered a time-consuming march that included two clutch third down throws to Matt Snyder and Kris Burd to extend the drive. It’s the kind of performance Virginia has been waiting for from Verica, who vindicated himself for one week from his missteps earlier in the season.

“It doesn’t get any harder than when the defense knows that you’re going to go run, run pass. You try to stay away from that formula as much as possible, but in that situation it’s hard to disguise that we’re trying to run the clock and make first downs,” Lazor said. “There were two critical plays, there were two concepts that I think our players, including Marc, know very well and when you get in those situations you give them things they know very well. I’m very proud of how they executed.”

Coach London and Coach Lazor showed great confidence in the offense by going for the conversion on two key fourth down plays. The Cavaliers converted in the first quarter on a 4th-and-1 from their own 40. In the second quarter, Verica found a wide-open Colter Phillips in the end zone for the first touchdown of the game on 4th-and-3 from the Miami 16-yard line. The gutsy calls and the success of the offense embodied the whole spirit of the game. The fourth-down touchdown play and eventual win sent a clear message to the players, fans, coaches, and the rest of the ACC: Virginia is a new team, one that believes and won’t quit.

“Just sending the message that we’re here to call the game, to play the game to win,” London said. “When you have, sometimes, a team that has taken its lumps a little bit then the only way to bring yourself out of that mindset is to say, ‘You know what? I have enough faith in you that we’re going to go for it on this down and we’re going to get it.’ This year, this season why not? Why not?”

Final Stats

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