Stellar Play of Defense in Red Zone Leads to Cavalier Victory
By Carlos Valle and Raj Sagar
Less than two minutes into Saturday’s game Virginia found itself in trouble. Jameel Sewell’s pass over the middle bounced off the intended receiver’s hands and into the grasp of Connecticut’s junior safety Dahna Deleston.
This unfortunate mishap would set the stage for Virginia’s defense. With their backs against the wall on numerous occasions, the Cavalier defense came up big for Virginia time and time again especially in the red zone.
On Connecticut’s opening drive, the Orange Crush defense was able to stifle the Huskies’ offensive production, holding them to only a field goal. The defense then headed to the bench where they were saluted with congratulations on a job well done. Little did they know that they would be back on the field after just one play.
Andrew Pearman was back deep for the return on the ensuing kickoff. After making a few nice cuts, Pearman was blindsided and coughed up the football. The ball was recovered by the Huskies and just like that the Cavalier defense returned to battle.
With the ball on the Virginia 13-yard line, the Cavalier defense knew they needed a big stop, and they got one. After giving up a nine-yard pass, the Cavaliers held Connecticut on the 4-yard line and forced another field goal.
With just under a minute left in the first half, the Huskies were knocking on the door again. After marching 67 yards down the field, Connecticut found itself on the 9-yard line with a first and goal. On the very next play, after a completion over the middle, junior linebacker Clint Sintim drilled Connecticut receiver D.J. Hernandez to force a fumble, which was recovered by the Cavaliers. The red zone defense had stepped up once again.
“I saw him and I was just trying to keep my base,” Sintim said. “I made a solid tackle and I may have ripped the ball out a little bit, but hats off to the guys who came around, helped me out and fell on the ball.”
Bend but don’t break seemed to be the philosophy of the swarming Cavalier defense. Virginia routinely gave up the underneath routes to Connecticut receivers. However they were successful in what mattered most keeping the Huskies out of the end zone.
“We’ve got the type of defense that just doesn’t crack,” Sintim said. “We never gave in. We went out there and came out with a big win just like last week (against Middle Tennessee). I can’t say enough about our guys on defense and how they play.”
To start the fourth quarter, the Huskies were able to put together an impressive drive, moving the ball 81 yards on nine plays. However on third and two from the 7-yard line, sound pass coverage led to a Connecticut incompletion on an attempted fade route. The Huskies were forced to settle for yet another field goal, which would prove to be the difference between winning and losing.
The Cavalier defense was relied upon heavily during the game, and it answered the call every time.
“The defense was the driving force behind our win tonight,” sophomore quarterback Jameel Sewell said. “They were able to make some big plays and really came up huge for us.”
The most telling statistics of the night was UConn converting just one of its 13 third-down attempts. When they had to come up big, the UVa defense did just that and now the team returns to ACC play next week sporting a 6-1 record.