By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For much of the second half Saturday, it felt like a funeral at Scott Stadium, at least for the fans there to support 24th-ranked UVa in its biggest football game in years.
“Disappointing,” Virginia coach Mike London called his team’s 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech, and that only begins to describe it. Before a near-capacity crowd of 61,124, the sixth-ranked Hokies shut down what had been one of UVa’s greatest strengths — its running game — and forced London’s team into mistake after mistake.
On defense, the Cavaliers allowed 410 yards and, for the first time all season, did not come up with a turnover. On offense, the Wahoos rushed for a mere 30 yards and tied their season high with four turnovers. Three trips into the red zone went for naught, and UVa was shut out for the first time since a 17-0 loss to the Hokies on Nov. 25, 2006.
“That’s not our brand of football,” junior middle linebacker Steve Greer said. “They’re a good team, and they made a lot of plays, but at the same time that’s not how we want to play football. It definitely was a little bit shocking to see the score.”
Not since a 52-14 defeat to the Hokies on Nov. 19, 2005, had the Cavaliers lost by so many points. Morever, they had not been shut out at home since Sept. 8, 1984, a 55-0 loss to Clemson.
“It’s nice to have another game,” sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco said, “but this one still hurts.”
Had the ‘Hoos (5-3, 8-4) won Saturday, they would have ended a seven-game losing streak in the series and advanced to the ACC championship game as the Coastal Division representative. (Virginia Tech will face Atlantic Division winner Clemson for the ACC title Saturday in Charlotte, N.C.)
“It’s tough, because of everything that was riding on it,” London said. “But I want to tell you something, I’m proud of my team.”
After posting a 4-8 record in 2010, London’s first season as head coach, the Cavaliers were picked to finish fifth in the Coastal this year. Instead, they entered their regular-season finale with an opportunity to reach the ACC title game.
No one outside the McCue Center “thought that we’d be this far or get to this point,” London said. “It’s a learning process for us, but to be 8-4 and to know that your last game will be [in] a bowl game is something to be proud of for this program.”
It’s unclear when invitations will be extended, but Virginia may be headed to the Music City Bowl (Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn.) to face an SEC opponent. (Other possibilities include the Belk Bowl, Dec. 27 in Charlotte, and the Sun Bowl, Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas.)
The Cavaliers haven’t played in a bowl since the 2007 season, when they fell 31-28 to Texas Tech in the Gator.
“Having a bowl game is definitely a big-time positive, just knowing that our season’s not going to end like this,” Greer said. “It would be a very long offseason if this was our last game.”
London said: “I’m disappointed [with the loss to Tech], but at the same time, to be 8-4, with a chance to be 9-4, for this program I’ll take that.”
In its first 11 games, UVa rushed for fewer than 124 yards only once, in its 14-13 win at Florida State on Nov. 19. Still, for all of the Cavaliers’ struggles in the running game Saturday, they moved the ball well in the first half. Virginia’s second series included Rocco completions of 32 yards (to wide receiver Tim Smith), 10 yards (to wideout Kris Burd) and 11 yards (to Burd).
Inside the Hokies’ 10-yard line, though, Virginia went back to the run, and on fourth-and-2 from the 7, with his team trailing 7-0, London didn’t hesitate. He kept his offense on the field, and coordinator Bill Lazor called for a run up the middle by redshirt freshman tailback Kevin Parks, whom the Hokies stopped short of the first down.
London said he saw it as an “opportunity to send a message to our guys up front: If you’re going to win championships, if you’re going to win games, you gotta be able to knock people off the ball and [get a first down], particularly on your favorite run play, your play that’s been successful for you. They did a good job of defensing it, and we didn’t get it, and it set the tone for them to go the other way.”
The Hokies (7-1, 11-1) didn’t blow the game open until the second half. Late in the second quarter, it was 14-0 when Virginia moved to the Tech 20 on a drive that included completions of 22 and 17 yards from Rocco to Burd.
A touchdown — or even a field goal — would have sent the Cavaliers into halftime with a shot of momentum. But on second-and-4 from the 20, Rocco was sacked by Kyle Fuller and lost the football. Jack Tyler recovered for Tech with 49 seconds left in the half. The Hokies scored on the opening possession of the third quarter, and the rout was on.
Virginia had only one run that gained more than five yards Saturday, and it came on a reverse by true freshman wideout Darius Jennings, who picked up 12 yards.
“They did a great job playing defense,” London said of the Hokies. “That’s what they do. It’s unfortunate for us that one of the things we pride ourselves on is being able to run the ball, and not being able to do that. I give them all the credit. They did a good job and beat us in a lot of ways to make us become more one-dimensional, and then they got us in third-and-long situations … You can’t let that happen, because then you pin your ears back to rush the passer and get pressure on the quarterback.”
The Hokies sacked Rocco four times. The sophomore from Lynchburg finished 16-of-27 passing for 211 yards, with two interceptions, one of which came on a pass that Burd could have caught.
“They did a great job as individuals up front of making plays,” UVa sophomore offensive guard Luke Bowanko said. “They move a lot and blitz a lot and put themselves in good positions to make plays on the run. It’s our job to block them. There’s no excuses.”
Lazor said: “I think the two things that Virginia Tech did real well were, No. 1, they stopped the run. And then No. 2, when we did get some good drives in the first half, I thought they finished the drives better than we did. They kept us out of the end zone. We had some opportunities in the first half where we drove the ball down the field and we had a chance to be in the game, and they did a really good job stopping us. I thought they played just like you see them play. They played fast and they played tough and they stopped the run. And for us, where we are right now, we’re at our best when we can do both” — run and pass effectively — “and they took part of that away from us, so it hurt us.”
Burd, a fifth-year senior, led Virginia with seven catches for 100 yards, the fourth time this season he has had at least 100 yards receiving in a game.
“I felt like we were moving the ball on offense pretty well,” Burd said, “but the thing about college football is, if you get into the red zone, you gotta capitalize, especially playing a team of that caliber.”
In junior David Wilson, the Hokies have one of the nation’s premier tailbacks. UVa held him to 32 yards rushing before intermission, but he ran wild in the second half. Wilson finished with 153 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. He had touchdown runs of 27 and 38 yards.
“We didn’t shut him down like we wanted to,” Greer said. “It’s tough when they got their running game going.”
Wilson had help. Sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas passed for two touchdowns and ran for one score, and junior wideout Marcus Davis caught five passes for 119 yards, including a 52-yarder against Virginia’s star cornerback, Chase Minnifield, on Tech’s first play from scrimmage.
“We just never could get into the flow of the game defensively, like we have in every other game this year,” said Jim Reid, UVa’s defensive coordinator. “When you can’t get into the flow defensively, then they’re keeping you off-balance.”
London’s message to his players after the game?
“To be disappointed, because it is disappointing,” he said. “But again, that disappointment can’t [overshadow] the fact that there’s a lot of achievement that happened this year, and there’s a lot to be proud of.”
Bowanko said: “It’s been a long season, and we played some close games, some exciting games, and we won a lot of games. I think it’s important to keep the season in perspective. It stinks to come down to the last game against our biggest rival and have expectations to win and come here and not perform to our capabilities. But we have eight wins, and we have an opportunity to get nine, and we’re all excited for that. We’ll take this one on the chin and move on.”