By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Inside the home locker room at Scott Stadium, Tom O’Brien greeted players Saturday night as they ran in after Virginia’s 19-16 comeback win over BYU in the season-opener.
“Be happy, but not satisfied,” O’Brien, the Cavaliers’ associate head coach for offense, told the players.
The team’s traditional post-victory celebration followed, and the players sprayed each other with water, and then UVa’s thoughts began to turn to No. 2 Oregon, which visits Scott Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. game Saturday.
“You can’t be complacent,” head coach Mike London said Monday at John Paul Jones said. “You know, it was good to win another home opener. It was good to win a game, but we can’t be satisfied, and we’re not satisfied. We understand that there’s a tremendous challenge in front of us, not just with this team, but other teams [that will] come into Scott Stadium and for us to go on the road. So we’ll have to rise to the challenge again.”
Junior wide receiver Darius Jennings said the Wahoos’ focus was on the Ducks by Sunday.
“It was great to have that win [over BYU],” Jennings said. “Guys were happy that night, but yesterday we were in the weight room, and we were studying up some film … We got Game 1 out of the way, and now it’s on to Game 2. We’re just trying to get better each day and just perform.”
Oregon will be the highest-ranked team to play at Scott Stadium since No. 3 Southern California in the 2008 season-opener.
“Just being a college football player, that’s the kind of schedule you want, that’s the kind of opponents you want,” said junior Henry Coley, UVa’s starting middle linebacker.
As for any mystique the garishly clad Ducks might have, Coley said, a “uniform never really helped anybody win a game. You can’t ooh and aah, you can’t be a fan of whatever team you’re about to play. You just have to go out there and play, because at the end of the day it comes down to players and schemes.”
The Ducks are coming off a 66-3 win over Nicholls State, a game in which they gained 772 yards (500 rushing and 272 passing). The Colonels, it should be noted, are a Football Championship Subdivision team that finished 1-10 in 2012, when they closed the season with a 77-3 loss at Oregon State.
“You gotta look at the competition as well,” sophomore cornerback Maurice Canady said Monday when asked about Oregon’s offensive output in the opener.
Clearly, though, the Ducks are fast and explosive and feature multiple game-breakers. But the `Hoos are eager to test themselves Saturday.
“Football’s a humbling game,” Coley said. “You’re going to have your pluses and you’re going to have your minuses. But how you’re going to bounce back whenever you have a minus play, that’s the biggest thing.
“I think [the Ducks] can be contained. Just like Kevin Durant. You know Kevin Durant’s going to go out and get 30 points every night, regardless, but are you going to let him get 45, that’s the question. So I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Virginia’s underdog status doesn’t bother London.
“That’s what college football is all about,” he said, “having the opportunities to play on those days that a lot of people say that you can’t win. A lot of people said we wouldn’t be able to beat BYU … We’ve got to bring energy and passion because we know [Oregon is] an excellent football team. But instead of asking why, we ask why not?”
In Virginia’s opener, Harold was delighted to see BYU’s Ryker Mathews, and not Moses, on the other side of the line. Harold, a 6-4, 230-pound sophomore from Virginia Beach, had 3.5 tackles for loss, including a game-high two sacks, and forced a fumble Saturday.
“What a tremendous game he had,” Moses said Monday. “We talk every day about practice, especially after one-on-ones. I tell him, `These are the things you need to work on,’ just so he can get a feel for the game. He gets down sometimes, because in practice he can’t just run past me like he does most people.”
Harold finished with 11 tackles against BYU. Only Canady (13) and junior linebacker Daquan Romero (12) had more for the Cavaliers.
“Going against Morgan every day, that’s what it does,” Harold said.
Moses said: “It showed the hard work he put in this summer. He definitely got me better, and I got him better.”
Former UVa defensive end Chris Long, now a standout with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, offered him some advice before the game, and Harold put it to good use against the 6-6, 309-pound Mathews.
“I just stressed getting off on the ball,” Harold said. “I knew I could beat him if I could get off on the ball.”
In 2012, Harold was one of nine true freshmen to play for the `Hoos. He ended the season with seven tackles for loss, including two sacks.
That group of true freshmen also included the 6-2 Canady, who weighed only 175 pounds when he arrived at Virginia last year. He’s now up to 190, and he’d liked to hit 200.
“Last year was kind of a blur,” Canady said. “My whole year was kind of a blur, being that I was a true freshman playing. But coming into my second season, I can really say experience means a lot.”
SECOND TIME’S THE CHARM: A steady rain was falling Saturday evening when BYU’s Scott Arellano went back to punt on fourth-and-2 from the Cougars’ 39. Virginia defenders got close to Arellano, but he got off a clean kick that Dominique Terrell fielded downfield.
BYU was called for an illegal formation on the play, however, and Virginia’s coaches accepted the penalty, moving the ball back 5 yards and forcing Arellano to punt against this time.
“I wanted to make him punt it again, because I just saw the punter just wiping his hands,” London said Monday. “He couldn’t get the moisture off his hands.”
The decision paid off. Junior safety Anthony Harris came off the left edge and, after Arellano bobbled the ball, blocked the punt.
On the first punt, Harris recalled after the game, “I came free and thought I had a chance to block it, but didn’t really use the right technique. Next play we got the penalty, we came back out and I told myself that I was just going to go out there and create a play for my team.”
Not since its 2009 game against ACC rival Miami had UVa blocked a punt.
CUTTING IT CLOSE: For Jennings, the touchdown reception was the seventh of his college career. Among his teammates, only senior wideout Tim Smith (nine) has more than Jennings, who displayed slick footwork to stay inbounds near the right sideline long enough for the touchdown to be awarded.
“During the play, I wasn’t really thinking to get a foot in,” Jennings said Monday. “It was just kind of instinct, and I knew that I had dragged a toe, but I wasn’t sure if I was in or not when I caught it. There was some uncertainty, but when I did see the replay [on the Hoo Vision videoboard], I thought that I was in.
“It was just a great feeling. It was a struggle through the whole first half, and just to actually put six on the board, it was great for our offense and just for our team as a whole.”
WORK IN PROGRESS: The offense struggled for most of the game against BYU, which in 2012 had one of the nation’s premier defenses. The Cavaliers totaled only 223 yards, and Alec Vozenilek punted 13 times, by far a career high for the junior from Richmond’s St. Christopher’s School.
“Voz did a great job punting the ball, he changed the field for us, just helped our defense out and kind of kept our offense in it as well,” Jennings said. “But we definitely have to do better. That’s unacceptable.”
Virginia scored two touchdowns in the opener. The first came after Harris’ blocked punt, the second after a Harris interception (and subsequent lateral to Coley) that gave the Cavaliers the ball at the Cougars’ 13.
“I feel like we left a lot of yards on the field,” Moses said. “I think our coaches would say the same thing. But when it was time for us to score and time to move the ball, we got it done.”
BRAGGING RIGHTS: Virginia’s roster includes eight players from two of the strongest prep programs in Maryland: three from Gilman in Baltimore (Jennings, linebacker Micah Kiser and long-snapper Alex Foertsch) and five from Good Counsel in Olney (Croce, wide receivers E.J. Scott and Andre Levrone, cornerback Kirk Garner and quarterback Brendan Marshall.)
They paid close attention to ESPNEWS’ recent broadcast of the season-opening Gilman-Good Counsel game in Towson, Md. Good Counsel had taken three of the previous four meetings in the series, but Gilman rallied to win 20-14 on Aug. 23.
“Actually, I was watching it by myself,” Jennings said Monday. “I didn’t want to be around too many people. But I definitely made some noise in the locker room after the game. We’re all together now, so it’s fun.”