University of Virginia football outside linebacker Charles Snowden turned in one of the best performances of his career Saturday night against North Carolina, and every bit of it was needed as the Hoos held on to defeat the no. 15 ranked team in the nation, 44-41.
Quarterback Sam Howell and the Carolina offense was as potent as advertised, scoring on seven of 10 possessions – including five touchdowns – and posting 41 points, roughly three points over their season average heading into Scott Stadium. Bending but not breaking was essential for the Cavalier defense, which was able to hold the Tar Heels to field goals twice when the visitors drove inside the UVA 25.
Two of Snowden’s four sacks – a single game career-high for the 6’7”, 240-pound senior – came on UNC’s second possession. A 2nd-and-6 at the Virginia 21 became a 4th-and-18 following the consecutive sacks by Snowden. A 51-yard field goal by Grayson Atkins put the Heels up 10-6.
Snowden’s final sack of the game proved to be the biggest. UVA had taken a 34-20 lead thanks to a to a touchdown-scoring drive to open the second half, and UNC had a 2nd-and-6 from its own 38. Snowden sacked Howell, forcing a fumble as he was bringing the Tar Heel signal caller to the ground. UVA defensive lineman Mandy Alonso recovered. The Hoos’ offense capitalized on the miscue with another touchdown to take a 41-20 lead.
“I saw he wanted to throw it downfield, but he must not have liked what he saw because then he tried to tuck it back in and then he was caught in that kind of awkward ‘am I going to throw it, am I going to tuck it’ and then Zane [Zandier] and I both hit him and the ball came out,” Snowden recalled the postgame press conference.
Snowden finished the North Carolina game with 10 tackles (five solo), achieving double-digit tackles for the third time in his career (15 vs. ODU in 2019, 11 vs. NC State in 2018). The four sacks equaled the amount of sacks he had in the entire regular season of 2019, a great performance from a player who was expected to be a big-time playmaker in 2020.
“I’d gotten off to a slow start this year. So, now to finally be producing and make plays, it feels great,” Snowden said. “Sacks are always a great thing.”
Dҽϝҽɳʂҽ Held the Line
— Virginia Football (@UVAFootball) November 1, 2020
An All-ACC honorable mention selection in 2019, Snowden found himself on several national award watch lists and on preseason All-ACC predictions. He struggled early, though, to create the “havoc” the Virginia defense seeks, failing to record a sack in any of his team’s first three games of 2020.
Following the loss to NC State, UVA coaches stated outright that they needed more from Snowden. As you would expect from a team captain, he responded. He totaled eight tackles (five solo) in week four at Wake Forest before finally getting in the sack column against Miami, totaling eight tackles (five solo), a sack, and a pass deflection the 19-14 loss to the Hurricanes on October 24.
Heading into the matchup with the talented Tar Heels, Snowden was looking more like a potential All-ACC performer. On Saturday night he exploded for one of the most impactful performances of his collegiate career, helping his team snap a 4-game losing streak.
“He’s just been himself,” Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Snowden’s resurgence. “He’s been a great leader through his words and through his presence, but without the performance part you know it’s not quite the same in terms of igniting and helping your team. Your leadership doesn’t quite go as far. The defensive staff presented it that that’s needed. This team needs that. It wasn’t that he wasn’t trying before, and it wasn’t that he wasn’t doing his job, it just was on his part an increased focus. We needed to manage him a little bit better. He was playing and practicing a little bit too much. A little bit too hard. Because he goes hard, so we had to start resting him more in practice, which just kind of freshened him up. With his mindset more specific and his body fresher – just that little tweak – and now here he goes. We’ve seen it in the last two weeks.”