Mike London’s team heads into its bye week with a 3-2 record so far in 2011.
As the temperature dropped at Scott Stadium on Saturday evening, things on the field suddenly had the feel of one of those horror movies on TV. The script: Demons of the past come back to haunt everyone in sight and leave the town quivering with fear of future misfortunes. The only thing missing was some guy with a hook or a hockey mask.
For the Virginia football team, however, this movie didn’t end in disaster like some Hoo features of the past. While it had plenty of tense and scary moments down the stretch, the Cavaliers held off Idaho in overtime to win 21-20 in front of 39,287 in attendance.
“That was probably an ugly football game right there, but in the end, what matters is that we found a way to win it. It’s a huge win for us going into this bye week. It sets a mindset and tone that it’s better to be 3-2 right now, and have some opportunities to be off and get some guys healed. Cam Johnson didn’t play today because of a lower leg injury. It was just one of those things that the ‘next man up’ mentality had to play,” UVa coach Mike London said. “I’m proud of the effort. I think the defense played extremely well and did a great job keeping us in the game, even though in the first half we had three turnovers. I appreciate the resilience of the entire team to hang in there and keep swinging.”
Virginia needed to be resilient. The hosts put up 14 points in the first quarter before the game fell into a grind-it-out slumber for most of the day. Despite trailing in total yards 496 to 296, the Vandals (1-4) clawed back in the game thanks to some Cavalier turnovers and a pair of field goals before a blocked punt and two-point conversion tied the score at 14 in the final 3:11. That’s when people started checking the stands for ghouls and goblins.
Luckily, none showed up when Idaho went for another two-point conversion to win the game. After scoring a touchdown on a diving catch against a double team, the Vandals signaled in another pass play but UVa safety Rodney McLeod broke up a jumpball prayer intended for tight end Michael LaGrone in the end zone.
Dominique Terrell pulled in the game-winning TD in overtime.
That preserved the one-point win because Virginia came up with a touchdown on its offensive possession in overtime. Of course, the Cavaliers had to overcome a near disastrous offensive facemask penalty – here any chain-rattling ghosts anywhere? – first to come up with the winning points. That flag and an incomplete pass on first down set up 2nd-and-Goal from the 27-yard line.
UVa opted for a wide receiver screen for Dominique Terrell , a play that has struggled to produce anything all season long. In fact, Terrell had 2 catches for minus 3 yards entering Saturday’s contest. This time, though, it worked to perfection. Quarterback David Watford (10-20, 95 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) fired the ball out to Terrell and he slipped through the blocking and streaked into the end zone to give his team the lead.
“I was still frustrated actually with myself on the punt returns and stuff so I really wasn’t excited, but right now it’s hitting me that we won the game and I scored,” Terrell said. “So it feels good.”
Terrell’s teammates were happy that the true freshman had the breakthrough play at a critical time.
“We practice that play a lot in practice and he’s a very versatile and quick guy,” said veteran receiver Kris Burd , who posted 8 catches for 123 yards. He has recorded 24 catches for 321 yards in his last three games and has moved into fifth place in all-time receptions and eighth place in all-time receiving yards at UVa. “We expect him to make those types of plays and that’s why we try to get him the ball in space and see what he can do. I feel like the Wahoo Nation got a glimpse at what he’s capable of doing and we look forward to seeing him make plays like that in the future too.”
The OT scoring play provided a final scream for the Hoos, but most of the day didn’t produce points for the offense. In fact outside of a fast first quarter start, it became a sluggish day of decent yardage but nothing on the scoreboard. In the opening frame, Virginia zipped its way to 156 yards and 2 touchdowns. The final three quarters, on the other hand, saw just 295 yards of offense and 0 points. A combination of turnovers, penalties, sacks, and lost yardage sabotaged the offense over and over again. Whether it is coincidence or causation, Virginia seemed to lose its offensive rhythm after the first quarterback substitution of the game; Watford checked in for Michael Rocco (20-30, 240 yards, 1 TD) on the fourth series of the game after UVa had built the 14-0 advantage.
“We have a lot of things we need to work on to keep it going throughout the game and keep it consistent. From on the field, we’re playing the same game and doing the same thing we practice. I can’t tell on the field [that there’s a quarterback difference] – maybe from the outside in there might be a difference, but on the field it’s the same work regardless of who the quarterback is or who’s in,” Burd said.
Fortunately, the Virginia defense had a fairly consistent afternoon to bail out the offense and special teams. UVa’s D allowed just 296 yards of offense (4.1 yards per play on 72 plays) and only the one overtime touchdown. The Hoos had 2 sacks, 8 pass break-ups, 6 total Tackles For Loss, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble on the day.
Chase Minnifield hauled in an interception in the win.
Reserve defensive back Dom Joseph picked off a pass in the end zone to preserve the lead at one point in the second half, while Chase Minnifield made a nifty tip-and-pick play to kill a drive as well. Steve Greer led the way with 13 tackles, while Matt Conrath added 7 tackles that included 1.5 sacks and the forced fumble (UVa’s Corey Mosley also appeared to force a fumble, but the play was overturned under review).
“To watch them play and fly around, it was kind of a redemption type of deal because everyone was worried about the defense and they’re giving up this and giving up that,” London said. “They played well vs. the run. What matters is keeping the points off and the guys out there had a lot of confidence in the game plan and they just executed it. That’s what we’ve got to be. That’s what we can be. We have to continue being that in order for this team to continue to have a chance at winning games. It was a great effort by them.”
“I was really proud of the defense. Everyone, as far as assignments and effort go, just played really hard today,” Greer said. “The defense went out and capitalized on some plays and really made a name for ourselves.”
All of which sends Virginia into the bye week with a chance to reflect on the season’s first five games. The Hoos hold a 3-2 overall record and a 0-1 mark in ACC play with the brunt of the conference schedule still ahead. They escaped with narrow wins against Indiana and Idaho, but stumbled against North Carolina and Southern Miss. The closest contest to a complete performance where the offense, defense, and special teams all did fairly well came in the opener against William & Mary, a game in and of itself that produced an uneven first half of play.
London said the off week on the schedule provides a chance to evaluate everything about the team.
“We’re a team that is trying to learn how to win games and trying to eliminate those momentum changers, sometimes that happen. Whether you’re at home or on the road, things happen in the game. Other teams are allowed to play hard. They’re allowed to make plays and be able to bounce back from those things that happen. You learn how to play the game by executing. There were a couple things out there that weren’t executed properly, but that’s why you practice,” London said. “It’s always good that you learn something with an ugly win or tough win or however you want to characterize it, because it becomes a motivating tool. When you come into the locker room after a hard-fought game like that, and there were some miscues that caused you to lose, then your whole attitude goes south. If you come in the locker room after the turnovers and things that happen, understanding what you have to do to win, then your mindset and the psychology of it points you in the other direction. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what we have to do.”
“There’s some good things and there’s some bad things. [The quarterback situation] is one of those things going into [the bye where we’ll] take a long look … with the open week coming up to solidify whether it’s positions or the types of plays we have to run or the types of plays we’ve got to get rid of or the types of defenses that we need,” London also said. “There’s going to be kind of a look at everything we do and who’s doing it and there’s got to be when you have an open week.”