'Hoos Hoping for November to Remember
Nov. 6, 2012
CHARLOTTESVILLE — UVa lost only one football game last November, a surge that helped Mike London’s team land in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
A year later, another 3-1 record in November won’t be enough to get the Cavaliers to Atlanta, or any other postseason destination.
To become bowl-eligible for the second straight season, Virginia (3-6, 1-4 ACC) must go 4-0 this month. The Wahoos took the first step Saturday, winning 33-6 at NC State. Still to come are dates with ACC foes Miami (5-4, 4-2), North Carolina (6-3, 5-2) and Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3).
“We know what we have to do and where we have to go to get to these bowl games, but right now we’re just focusing on Miami,” sophomore linebacker Daquan Romero told reporters Monday at John Paul Jones Arena.
“Beating [the Hurricanes] last year gives us a little bit of confidence, but this is a new season, and they have a new team, and we have a new team.”
The `Hoos host Miami at noon Saturday at Scott Stadium, and they’ll be back there Nov. 15 to take on UNC in a Thursday night game ESPN will televise. Virginia closes the regular season Nov. 24 in Blacksburg.
This is the Hurricanes’ second season under Al Golden, a former UVa defensive coordinator. His first fall in Miami included a nationally televised 28-21 loss to Virginia.
“I know that Coach Golden is going to be reminded of that, that game down there at their place and how that game went,” said London, Virginia’s third-year head coach. “But we’re reminded of it too. It goes back to winning in November and having a chance to keep some of these goals alive.
“Again, we control our own destiny. But the most important thing is this game right here.”
The aura of invincibility that once surrounded Miami’s program is long gone, but Golden’s rebuilding job is going well in Coral Gables, Fla. The Cavaliers are well aware that the `Canes defeated Virginia Tech on ESPN’s Thursday night showcase last week.
“This is still one of the storied programs in college football,” sophomore quarterback Phillip Sims said Monday. “No matter what anybody has to say about them, no matter what their record is, they’re still a formidable opponent every single week, no matter when or where you play them. So we’re in for a tough game this week. We gotta get prepared for a 60-minute ball game.”
Had UVa stumbled in Raleigh, this game would not be nearly as significant. But the Cavaliers shocked the favored Wolfpack, forcing five turnovers and mounting a pass rush heretofore unseen from defensive coordinator Jim Reid’s charges this season.
The effect of that victory on the `Hoos, after six straight defeats, cannot be overstated.
“After a win, everything is that much better. It’s sweeter. The whole team is energized. Everybody’s back to normal,” Sims said.
“It’s tough to come in week after week, especially after tough losses … Those are the ones that really wear and tear on your team. So to come in after a win, a big-time win in ACC play, it’s good to see smiles on guys’ faces when they come in the door, instead of everybody frowning like, `Oh, man, how are we going to turn it around?’ “
Sims replaced junior Michael Rocco as UVa’s starter after a Sept. 29 loss to Louisiana Tech, but they split time versus NC State, and that arrangement will continue Saturday against Miami.
“Both of us have got to realize that the team comes first over any individual, no matter who you are,” Sims said Monday. “I think that’s something that we both realize and we’re comfortable with, and we’ll do whatever we’re asked to do.”
Rocco started every game for the `Hoos in 2011. Sims was at Alabama last season. He transferred to UVa after the 2011-12 school year ended. Sims made the move for family reasons, and the NCAA granted him immediate eligibility.
“Both guys have things that they do, different skill sets that’s they bring to the table,” London said. “Michael is a guy that’s been in the offense, knows the offense. Phillip has a strong arm and is kind of learning on the job, so to speak. And he has some skills himself that we like, and can get the ball to some of the other playmakers.”
On a day when Rocco rushed for 36 yards against the Wolfpack, Sims was more effective throwing the ball. He completed 8 of 10 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown, with no interceptions.
Sims had not been as accurate in his previous two games, losses to Maryland and Wake Forest. Virginia was off Oct. 27, though, and the extra practice time helped Sims.
“I don’t think it was specific drills,” he said Monday. “I just think it was reps. Especially in a timing-oriented offense like ours, you have to have reps. And not only just reps within the offense, reps with certain receivers, because everybody runs routes differently. No matter how much you try to teach all your receivers to run routes at the same time and at the same yard distance, everything like that, everybody runs routes a little distinctly.
“As far as the game, the play-calling got me into a good rhythm early. Just quick passes to get the ball out of my hands real quick and get guys the ball in space. It got me into a rhythm early, and it just carried on throughout the game.”
The most memorable play involving Sims in the NC State game, of course, might have been the first-quarter pass he dropped in the end zone, with no defenders in the vicinity. Had Sims made the routine catch, senior tailback Perry Jones, who played with him at Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, would have had the third TD pass of his college career.
“Yeah, it wasn’t one of my proudest moments, but it happens,” Sims said with a smile.
The Cavaliers practice that option pass regularly, and it’s “something I could probably do 99 out of 100 times,” Sims said. “I still apologize to Perry for that … I think I’ll be apologizing for a long time.”
REINFORCEMENTS: Defensive end Bill Schautz has missed the past five games with a hamstring injury, and it’s not clear if he’ll be healthy enough to play against Miami. But linebacker Henry Coley and fullback LoVante’ Battle are back on the depth chart.
Battle and Coley were among the three players whom London suspended for the NC State game for violation of team rules. The third, reserve tight end Jeremiah Mathis, remains part of the program, London said Monday, has yet to be reinstated.
Coley started the first six games at strong-side linebacker this season. Romero took his place against the Wolfpack and made six tackles.
“I’m probably my worst critic,” Romero said Monday when asked to evaluate his play. “Everybody tells me that. I’m big on doing everything 100-percent great. So in my eyes I really didn’t do [what] I wanted to, but I felt I helped the team and I contributed to the team, and that’s all that matters.”
Even with Coley back, Romero was listed as the starter at strong-side linebacker on the depth chart UVa released Monday. (Coley was listed third, behind Romero and true freshman Demeitre Brim.)
Romero admitted to being nervous heading into his first start as a Cavalier. He could have played much better, he said, “but at the end of the day we got the win, and that’s all that matters.”
At Phoebus High in Hampton, Romero became legendary for his pass-rushing prowess. He was a defensive end in high school, though, and the transition to linebacker hasn’t been easy for him.
Romero, who goes by Da-Da (pronounced Day Day), said he “didn’t know any coverages coming into college, I didn’t know defensive schemes. I just knew how to rush the passer and get to the football.”
In 2011, he was one of 12 true freshmen to play for UVa, but Romero was used primarily on special teams. Now, London said, Romero has “learned how to be a linebacker. His body has changed and his understanding of coverages and run fits has changed.”
Like sophomore defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite and true freshman cornerback Maurice Canady, who were honored Monday by the ACC for their play against NC State, Romero has “now been extended an opportunity to go into the game and contribute and produce, and he’s done so,” London said.
“That’s a good thing for us. It’s a good thing for us that he can contribute and produce the way he did in this past game.”
His college career has been “a humbling experience,” Romero said. “It’s kind of like you’ve just got to find your swagger again basically, and that’s what I’m looking for right now. I got that [first] start out of the way. I got that one game out of the way. So now it’s time for me to really play.”