'The Kid' Helps 'Hoos Rally Past Penn State
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the jubilant home locker room at Scott Stadium, UVa football players looked around for No. 83.
“Where’s The Kid?” they yelled Saturday afternoon. “Where’s The Kid?”
Moments later, tight end Jake McGee burst through the door, his trademark grin covering his face.
“It’s The Kid!” his teammates roared with delight. “What’s up, Jake?”
McGee, a 6-5, 235-pound redshirt sophomore from Collegiate School in Richmond, smiled later when asked about the postgame scene.
“It was cool,” he said. “I was just glad to be able to help us get this win.”
First-year receiver Canaan Severin began calling him The Kid this summer, McGee said, “and I kept going along with it when we played video games.”
The nickname stuck. McGee is “big, tall, athletic,” sophomore wide receiver Darius Jennings said, “but he’s always joking around, always cracking jokes. He’s a big kid.”
McGee, a special-teams dynamo in 2011, is also a big-play threat at tight end, as has become evident this season.
Against Richmond in the opener last weekend, McGee made a spectacular one-handed catch of a Michael Rocco pass for a 17-yard gain. The stakes were higher Saturday afternoon against Penn State, and McGee elevated his performance.
He had four receptions for 99 yards — both career highs — and his first college touchdown to help Virginia rally for a dramatic 17-16 victory before a crowd of 56,087.
“We got a good connection going right now,” Rocco said.
McGee’s first reception Saturday, on a seam pattern, went for 26 yards. His second, on third-and-20, went for 23 yards, also on a seam route.
His third catch may well have kept the Wahoos (2-0) from suffering a painful defeat. With the Nittany Lions leading 16-10 and about five minutes to play, Rocco dropped back to pass on third-and-16 from the Cavaliers’ 22-yard line.
Penn State defenders forced him out of the pocket, but Rocco scrambled to his left, spotted McGee downfield and let the pass fly.
“I wasn’t sure how open he was,” Rocco said, “but I saw him running, and I just threw it. I said, `Please go make a play for me.’ “
McGee complied. He was double-covered by safeties Jake Fagnano and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, but McGee, a former basketball star at Collegiate, leaped between them, grabbed the ball and then landed hard on his back. Obeng-Agyapong was called for interference on the play, but UVa declined the penalty, because McGee had held on for a 44-yard completion.
“Third-down savior,” Virginia center Luke Bowanko said, shaking his head. “It was amazing. I don’t know how he does it.”
The `Hoos weren’t in the end zone yet. A holding penalty moved the ball back to Penn State’s 41, but Rocco passed to sophomore wideout E.J. Scott for a 10-yard gain. Then, on third-and-7 from the 31, Rocco hit Jennings on a flanker screen that the speedster from Baltimore turned into a 24-yard gain.
Three plays later, Rocco fired the ball to a wide-open McGee in the front of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown. That made it 16-16 with 1:28 left, and junior Drew Jarrett added the PAT.
That, of course, would prove to the winning point in the first football game between these schools since 2002, but there was nothing uneventful about the final 80 seconds.
On a drive that started at PSU’s 27, Matt McGloin passed for completions of 4, 14, 6 and 8 yards, respectively, to reach the UVa 41. Then a 16-yard pass from McGloin to tight end Kyle Carter moved the Nittany Lions to the Cavaliers’ 25. The ball was still there four plays later when Sam Ficken came out to attempt a 42-yard field goal with a single second showing on the clock.
Had star kicker Anthony Fera not transferred to Texas in the wake of the sexual-abuse scandal that has rocked Penn State this year, Ficken probably would have stayed on the sideline Saturday. PSU fans could only wish that had been the case.
Already that afternoon, Ficken already missed from 40, 38 and 20 yards and had an extra point blocked by UVa linebacker Henry Coley. With rain falling and the home fans howling — and the thousands of Penn State fans inside the stadium holding their collective breath — Ficken wasn’t close on his last attempt.
The kick sailed left, and the `Hoos could finally exhale.
“It’s reminiscent of last year’s Florida State game,” Bowanko said, referring to the 14-13 UVa victory in which FSU’s Dustin Hopkins missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt with three seconds left.
Bowanko smiled. “Whoever turned the rain machine on, thanks.”
UVa’s third-year coach, Mike London, noted that his team might have contributed to Ficken’s 1-for-5 outing.
“I understand that there’s a lot of pressure on kickers,” London said. “But I also understand the pressure that can be applied on the other side, when you can get push on the guards and get your hands up, like on the one we blocked. So when you start doing that, you kind of create that thing [where] the kicker knows you’re back there and you’re close. Maybe we got in his head. Maybe he just missed them. I don’t know.”
The Cavaliers, whose only first-half points came on a career-long 46-yard field goal by Jarrett, were fortunate that Ficken suffered through a miserable performance. For most of the afternoon Virginia seemed determined to give the game away.
The `Hoos turned the ball over four times, were penalized 10 times for 70 yards, and gave up a first down on a fake punt by Penn State. The Nittany Lions, by contrast, had no turnovers and only three penalties.
Not since a 1994 victory over Clemson had the Cavaliers won a game in which they were minus-4 in turnover margin. It also marked the first time under Lodon that Virginia won when gaining fewer than 300 yards.
The `Hoos finished with 295, only 32 of which came on the ground.
“There are lot of ways to win the games,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “We want it to be pretty. Unfortunately, today it was ugly, as far as the penalties, the turnovers. It’s amazing that as a team we were able to find a way to win.”
McGee said: “I don’t want to say anybody got down, but we were frustrated, because we know what we can do, and what we’re capable of, and [it was tough] to struggle throughout most of the game. But luckily it came together on that last drive there and we were able to pull it out.”
Virginia’s defense, which starts four sophomores in the secondary, deserves much of the credit for this victory. On the four drives that followed UVa’s turnovers, Penn State totaled minus-14 yards and scored only three points.
“We definitely did not fold under pressure,” said Coley, who finished with a career-high 11 tackles.
London said: “It was a tremendous job by the defense. We weren’t clicking on all cylinders, but we clicked enough to eke out a win here.”
To McGee, what made the victory special was “that we had to fight to win it. We were not playing well on offense, but the defense was playing great, and they were the only reason we were even still in that game. We gave them bad field position, made them stay on the field for a long time … It was just great that we could come back and win a close game.”
Senior middle linebacker Steve Greer led Virginia with a career-best 15 tackles. His two sacks matched his career high. Those were the only sacks Virginia recorded Saturday, but defensive ends Eli Harold and, especially, Ausar Walcott kept the pressure on PSU’s quarterbacks, McGloin and Steven Bench.
“You saw the quarterback under duress,” London said.
Like Penn State, UVa played two quarterbacks Saturday. McGloin, the Nittany Lions’ starter, missed part of the game with a shoulder injury. Rocco, a junior, didn’t get hurt, but sophomore Phillip Sims replaced him with 1:22 left in the third quarter.
The Cavaliers’ previous possession had ended with their third turnover. Those mistakes weren’t necessarily Rocco’s fault, but “I just wanted him to get on the sideline and look at the game a little bit,” London said.
“I just thought it was a good opportunity for him to see what was happening from the sidelines, and then he came back in and did a nice job, and that’s a credit to him.”
Sims’ second series ended when he was sacked and fumbled. Penn State recovered at the UVa 17 and put together a short drive that ended with Ficken’s lone field goal, a 32-yarder that made it 16-10 with 10:55 left.
When Virginia’s next possession began, Rocco was back at quarterback. The Cavaliers went three-and-out, but Penn State followed with one of its own.
UVa started its final drive at its 14-yard line, with 8:04 to play. Rocco completed all six of his passes on this possession and finished the game 21 for 33 for 258 yards and two TDs and one interception. His first TD pass, from the Penn State 1-yard line, went to junior tight end Jeremiah Mathis.
“My job is just to manage the game, to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers,” Rocco said, “and that’s something I tried to do.”
He succeeded Saturday, and now the Cavaliers, who went 8-5 in 2011, are 2-0 for the second straight year.
“This is a huge win,” Greer said, “especially at the beginning of the season like this. These games early on can kind of change the momentum of your season.”
Walcott said: “We just continued to fight to the end. As long as we get the win, that’s all that matters.”
London would have preferred fewer mistakes by his team, of course, “but I’d rather be on the winning side of it than the other,” he said.
So would his players.
“We’ll take it any way we can,” Jennings said.
BANGED-UP: Redshirt sophomore Cody Wallace, who started at left offensive guard against Richmond, missed the Penn State game with a lower-leg injury, and classmate Conner Davis took his place on the first team.
In addition to Wallace, two of the nine true freshmen who played against UR — defensive end Trent Corney and linebacker Demeitre Brim — sat out the Penn State game. The other seven saw time against the Nittany Lions: Harold, Severin, safety Anthony Cooper, cornerback Maurice Canady, defensive end Mike Moore, linebacker Kwontie Moore and wideout Adrian Gamble.
Canady, the fifth defensive back in Virginia’s nickel package, might have saved a touchdown with his open-field tackle of wideout Allen Robinson on Penn State’s final drive.
UP NEXT: In a game that ESPNU will televise, Virginia plays Coastal Division rival Georgia Tech next Saturday in Atlanta. The game will start at 3:30 p.m.
This will be the ACC opener for the Cavaliers. The Yellow Jackets (1-1 overall) lost in overtime at Virginia Tech on Monday night. Georgia Tech crushed Presbyterian on Saturday night.