Hoos Dump Duke For Win No. 7

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Chase Minnifield returned an INT for a score.

For two straight games, the Virginia football team has used an explosive second half to put away ACC opponents. One week after the Hoos posted 17 points after halftime in a 31-13 win over Maryland, they posted 17 more on the board after intermission Saturday to hold on for a 31-21 victory against Duke.

Maybe call it the reverse Doppler effect because the Hoos are making more noise as the season wears on for the first time since 2007.

“I think it’s something about what our identity is this year, especially to really come out hard in the second half and put teams away. That’s something we haven’t been able to do the past three or four years,” Virginia senior center Anthony Mihota said. “It’s really just an identity of our team now.”

UVa coach Mike London said that coaches always aim for improvement as the season progresses.

“Hopefully [it is] due to the maturation process of being 10 games into the season now, and having to execute the game, having to not make the same type of devastating mistakes that could cost you games. We’ve been back and forth here a little bit, particularly with the second half. To see guys come out and execute, and guys making plays, and the defense coming up with the big interception, those are the types of things you want to hang your hat on as an identity of what your team is about,” London said. “Hopefully we can try to continue to do things that will help us win and minimize those things that cause us to lose.”

Much like the game last week, the Cavaliers were in a tight battle through halftime with the Blue Devils before the second half flurry. Senior cornerback Chase Minnifield ignited the surge this time.

After sitting out the final few minutes of the second quarter with an upper body injury, Minnifield opened the third quarter with a 54-yard interception return for touchdown that broke a 14-14 stalemate and sparked a 17-7 advantage in the half. While the Cavaliers did have to break one final tie at 21-21 when Duke threw over the top of Minnifield late in the quarter to set up a short touchdown, the Hoos’ offense answered immediately with a 56-yard scoring march.

Minnifield has three interceptions this season and 13 picks in his career, giving him sole possession of sixth place on UVa’s all-time list. He passed Bryan Shumock (1977-80), Joe Crocker (1992-95), and Anthony Poindexter (1995-98) on the list. Minnifield is the first Cavalier with a pick six since Chris Cook took one to the house against Boston College in 2009.

“We had just changed our coverage for that play, but Chase made it look like the same coverage we had run the two or three previous snaps,” Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid said of Minnifield’s interception. “He’s a very coy guy now, this guy Chase Minnifield , he knows. He backs up a little bit and he baited him into throwing the ball and picked it and ran it in.”

“It was just a blessing. It was Cover 2 coverage and I don’t think the quarterback saw me. I basically ended up with an easy pick,” Minnifield said. “It felt good to get a [pick six] because they took one aay from me against William & Mary I told everyone I would be back.”

Minnifield also had five tackles as part of another balanced defensive effort from the Hoos. Linebacker Steve Greer and defensive lineman Matt Conrath each registered 9 tackles, while LaRoy Reynolds (7), Aaron Taliaferro (6), and Corey Mosley (5) all added at least 5 to the total too. Cam Johnson had 4 tackles, including a sack. He has 4 sacks on the season.

The defense once again pitched a first quarter shutout, the eighth time this season the opponent has failed to score in the opening quarter. The Hoos entered the game tied with Stanford for the national lead in first quarter points allowed with 10 on the year. And if not for the one passing hiccup and a fourth down touchdown run from Duke’s Juwan Thompson , the Cavaliers would have had a second half shutout for the second week in a row too.

“I thought we would play better and we did. The guys are a little bit more comfortable with the scheme. I’m more comfortable with them and the scheme,” Reid said of his team’s improved play against Duke (the Blue Devils had 55 points in the 2010 game) and overall this season. “I tell you this now. You talk about emotion and all, this is a team, a defensive team and an entire team because Coach London has them all together, but the defensive guys have since the spring really kind of gelled together. They feel like they’re playing with the best friends they’re ever going to have for the rest of their lives and that’s the way it should be each and every play.”

The offense provided enough points to support that improved defense too. The Cavaliers trailed midway through the first half for the second straight week, but much like the win over the Terps, the Hoos produced a late first-half score again this Saturday to save momentum heading to the locker room.

Against Maryland a 65-yard drive provided a 14-13 halftime lead, while a 78-yard march secured a 14-14 stalemate against the Blue Devils. Cavalier quarterback Michael Rocco fired a pass over a defender to Kris Burd , who pulled it down and then turned the corner as a Duke defender failed to push him out of bounds. Burd sprinted up the home sidelines for the 38-yard touchdown, his first of the season. Burd has made at least one catch in 33 of the last 34 games for the Cavaliers.

Jeremiah Mathis hauled in a touchdown catch.

Burd wasn’t the only Hoo with a touchdown catch, though. Rocco also hit Jeremiah Mathis with a scoring pass, the third touchdown of Mathis’ career since moving from defense to tight end in the middle of last season. In the end, Rocco had 191 yards passing with 2 TDs and 0 INTs; he completed 15 of 29 attempts. Senior fullback Max Milien took home team-high honors with four receptions for 62 yards.

The running complement came once again from Perry Jones and Kevin Parks , who combined for 152 yards. Parks had 21 carries for 78 yards, while Jones had 15 carries for 74 yards and 1 touchdown. Jones added 30 receiving yards and a 21-yard punt return as he continues to post more than 100 all-purpose yards per game.

“Duke did a really good job of having nine guys in the box and trying to stop the run with [safety Matt Daniels]. We had three chances to get behind them in the play-action game, but we missed a couple of times. We’re stalling some here and there, but our offensive line did a great job of opening up holes,” Rocco said. “It wasn’t as pretty as the Maryland game per se, but we really pounded it and guys made plays when we needed them.”

In a lot of ways that’s becoming the story of the 2011 season. Examples are everywhere. Cam Johnson’s strip sack and Robert Randolph’s field goal at Indiana. Dominique Terrell ‘s touchdown catch and Rodney McLeod ‘s pass breakup against Idaho. A game-sealing, time-eating drive to end the upset over Georgia Tech. A goal-line stand and fourth down touchdown from Jones last week at Maryland. Burd’s run-and-catch touchdown this week.

In short, the Cavaliers are finding ways to win and that’s something that hasn’t happened consistently in Charlottesville in four years. As a result, the Hoos own a 7-3 record so far in 2011 and have secured a winning season for the first time since 2007. More importantly, they have won three straight games and five of the last six to remain alive in the Coastal Division title race. A trip to Florida State is up next Saturday.

“We are excited, but we really are taking this one step at a time. We don’t have the mentality of ‘this is it.’ We finished here and still control our own destiny. If we win from here on out, we can make ourselves available for an ACC Championship and a really good spot in a bowl game, so we are taking it one game at a time from here on out,” Rocco said.

Final Stats

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