Wolfpack Win At Virginia

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Perry Jones and the Hoos couldn’t grab their third straight win.

It was eerily ironic to recall the Cavalier Marching band playing ‘Mission Impossible’ during its halftime performance. After watching Virginia’s sluggish offense muddle through the first half against North Carolina State, it was hard to imagine the Hoos finding enough points to claim their third straight victory. In the end, the Wolfpack capitalized on several Virginia miscues and won a defensive battle at Scott Stadium, 28-14.

“It was disappointing,” lamented UVa coach Mike London in his postgame press conference. “Too many turnovers, for sure. Too many turnovers that led to points. You can’t do that against a very fast, good, athletic team. They executed their game plan of zone pressure and a lot of movement. We obviously didn’t execute our game plan offensively. My hat goes off to Coach O’Brien and his staff, Coach Archer for getting his guys ready to play. They played hungry, and they got after it.”

Indeed, Virginia’s offense sputtered throughout the game and committed four turnovers. Three David Watford interceptions led to 14 State points, including a late pick-6 interception that led to the final score. UVa never found its rhythm, instead regressing for most of a dreadful third quarter. The hosts squandered drives that started on the Cavalier 37, 47, 35, 49, and the NCSU 37-yard lines, ultimately gaining just a single yard in 15 plays.

So while the defense also struggled at times on Saturday, it was Virginia’s offense that did not pull its weight Saturday. With Mike Archer’s Wolfpack defense filling the box with 8-men and daring the Hoos to throw, the running game which had been so dominant in recent weeks proved sluggish and the passing game was worse. UVa finished with 249 yards of total offense, failing to reach 300 yards of total offense for only the second time in the London era. Watford and starting quarterback Michael Rocco combined to go 11-of-35 passing for 125 yards; 60 of those yards came on one play when Watford hit Tim Smith for a 60-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

The trio of Perry Jones , Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson combined for just 124 rushing yards and a 3.8 yards per carry average, both season lows for the Hoos. Those are pretty dismal running numbers for an offense that entered the game averaging 193 yards per outing and 4.65 yards per tote. Add to that the fact they were facing a Wolfpack club that had given up 718 yards rushing in its last three games (5.8 yards per carry and 239 yards per game) and there was reason to expect big things from the rushing attack. Instead the Hoos could not figure out the stunts and shifts of NC State’s 8-man front as Virginia struggled with its inside running. Still, limited production from the perimeter caused the run game to sputter says offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

“Our big plays last week came from the outside and out first play of the game was an outside run for over 10 yards. There were times when we tossed the ball that you could tell they were really working hard to contain the line and on some of them we got strung out too much and sometimes we cut it up inside and made positive yards,” Lazor said. “They played it better than some other people have and I expected them to. When you have that many positive yards off tosses we knew that they’d have some plans.”

State head coach Tom O’Brien affirmed Lazor’s assessment of the Wolfpack game plan.

“[Virginia] did a good job last week of flanking Georgia Tech – a lot of their stuff came on the perimeter and that’s one thing we weren’t going to let them do,” O’Brien said. “If they gashed us it was inside but they weren’t going to run to the boundary like they did a week ago. They probably got 175 of the yards outside the tight end box.”

With the ground game struggling, the passing game was marked by inaccuracy, interceptions, dropped passes, poor protection and misreads. The Hoos completed just 31% of their passes, averaged just 3.8 yards per pass attempt and tossed three interceptions. The 125 yards passing are the lowest for a Cavalier team since November 28, 2009 against Virginia Tech. Plus, as mentioned above, the Wolfpack turned two of the INTs into touchdowns. The one that finished off the Cavaliers came with 6:12 left in the game when Pack cornerback David Amerson came up with a bobbled pass and turned it into a pick-6. That interception tied an NCSU single-season school record with eight.

“I saw him running the route and I just drove the route – I thought he was going to catch it and I was going to try and rip it out and he dropped the ball and it was up in the air and I snagged it,” Amerson said.

Watford was quick to accept blame for his three miscues.

“I could have taken a little off the second one to help Tim [Smith]. It wasn’t his fault,” said the true freshman. “[On the first one], they were playing a cover two and I was expecting a cover three. I didn’t expect their safety rotation. The cornerback sat on me and I threw it right to him. I just have to bounce back in the next game and have a short memory. I have to get ready for practice tomorrow.”

Watford was responsible for one of the few offensive highlights of the day. With the Hoos trailing 21-7, he lofted a 60-yard bomb to Smith to cut the Wolfpack advantage to seven. Watford’s touchdown pass, Virginia’s longest play of the season, broke a string of 12 straight incompletions by Wahoo quarterbacks and accounted for Virginia’s only first down in the third quarter.

Rocco, meanwhile, just couldn’t get settled into the game.

“[State] does a good job of rotating late as the ball is snapped and do a good job of holding their coverage but we practiced against it all week and it was a matter of executing today and we didn’t do it,” Rocco explained. “It’s a tough game and I just couldn’t really get into a rhythm in the second half and was missing throws I should’ve completed. It’s the way football goes. Some days you’re on and you have bad days and today wasn’t my best day.”

Clifton Richardson heads to the air to make a touchdown catch for UVa.

Rocco did lead the Hoos’ only other scoring drive on the day. Virginia took possession at its own 28-yard line and drove 52 yards to the State 20-yard line where Rocco extended the drive with a scramble on 3rd-and-5. He bootlegged to the left sideline and dove for the marker to gain six yards. Later in the drive, Rocco bought time on 3rd-and-2 against a heavy NC State rush to allow true freshman running back Clifton Richardson to work free for the 6-yard TD catch. The reception was a career first for the freshman tailback as well as his first receiving score.

The Pack responded with a 14-play, 72-yard drive in 4:23 to tie the game. On the scoring march, State converted two critical third-and-mediums and burned the middle zone of Virginia’s underneath pass coverage with crossing routes where the receiver was yards away from the nearest defender.

Two plays later, State took the lead for good. In what appeared to be a miscommunication between receiver and QB, Watford threw what looked to be an out route as the receiver turned up field. Amerson dove to the ground to make his first interception for the visitors, who immediately took advantage of the turnover. Quarterback Mike Glennon connected with redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood for a 33-yard touchdown strike over the head of Virginia cornerback Demetrious Nicholson .

The score was the first of Underwood’s career, but it would not be his last. Late in the third quarter on a third-and-10, Underwood ran a short out route to sideline and Glennon hit him about three yards short of the first down marker, Dom Joseph lunged for Underwood, but did not wrap up. The receiver stayed inbounds and galloped up the sideline for a 79-yard touchdown that put the Pack up 21-7.

Still, though not spectacular, Virginia’s defense was certainly solid. The Hoos held the Pack to 4.7 yards per play (season low), the second fewest first downs this season at 14 and below seasonal averages for yards rushing, yards passing and total offense. Linebacker Steve Greer led all defenders with 14 tackles. Defensive tackle Matt Conrath recorded a career-high 10 tackles as did defensive end Bill Schautz with 6. Safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley both notched their first interceptions of the season Saturday as well, but UVa couldn’t capitalize on the ensuing possessions.

Virginia now prepares to face a Miami team coming off its own 24-7 victory over Georgia Tech. Last year the Cavaliers notched what many believed was a breakthrough 24-19 win over No. 22 Miami to even Virginia’s season record to 4-4. With four games to play, the Hoos were in a position to secure bowl eligibility but they could not sustain the momentum and lost in heart-breaking fashion 55-48 to Duke the week after defeating the Hurricanes. The season spiraled downward as Virginia lost its last four games.

Fast forward to 2011 – coming off a signature win over No. 12 Georgia Tech, the Cavaliers again were knocking on opportunity’s door with a chance to become one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time since October 25, 2008. For the 46,030 in attendance at Scott Stadium, however, the mission ended up being impossible on this day.

But chances still remain and they start Thursday night in Miami. The question – does the season again spiral downward or can the Hoos regain the momentum?

“Mentally it’s always tough because you think about things that could have been and didn’t happen,” London said. “You have to turn it around because you have another nationally televised game, a team that wants to win and is looking to win and is playing at home. There are no other alternatives. This is what competition in athletics is about. You win some and you lose some, but how you respond and turn around and move in a direction that you’re capable of. We’ll see. We’ll see how resilient we can be, how we can turn around a short week and get prepared to go on the road and play a very, very good and athletic Miami team.”

Final Stats

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