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Sept. 21, 2013

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – The obvious question upon hearing that Daniel Hamm ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns for Virginia is: Daniel who?

By way of introduction, Hamm is a freshman walk-on. He’s a high school track triple-jump champion, but also a fourth-string running back who was running with the scout team three weeks ago.

Now he’s also part of the first Virginia running back duo to each run for more than 100 yards since 2005, when Jason Snelling and Wali Lundy did it against Temple.

Hamm’s performance, along with a career-best 135 yards and two touchdowns by starter Kevin Parks, helped Virginia (2-1) overcome a sluggish start to defeat overmatched FCS opponent VMI 48-0 on Saturday. David Watford also excelled, shaking off two early interceptions to go 18-of-25 for 206 yards and two TDs. He also ran for a score.

Ankle injuries to backup running backs Khalek Shepherd and Taquan Mizzell opened the door for Hamm, who did not disappoint. Nor surprise, to hear his teammates tell it.

“I called it during the week,” Watford said. “I told Coach Fairchild (Steve, the offensive coordinator) he’d have 150 yards. I knew he was going to have a hell of a performance.”

Hamm said Watford told him the same thing, but he was skeptical.

“I didn’t really expect to go for 136, but I did,” he said. “It feels great. But it’s about the team, it’s not about me.”

Coach Mike London had other options — Kye Morgan and LaChaston Smith also got carries in the second half as Virginia rolled up 357 yards on the ground — but he said Hamm “had done a pretty nice job” in practice.

“He ran tough and hard and you could see the skill set that he has with speed and durability,” London said.

Less surprising than Hamm’s debut was the outcome of the game. It was a step down in competition for Virginia after a 59-10 loss to No. 2 Oregon in the Cavaliers’ last game two weeks ago. VMI (1-3) had lost nine in a row to Virginia — most of them by lopsided margins — and was coming off a loss to Division II North Greenville.

So the goal for the Cavaliers was to get better heading into Atlantic Coast Conference play against Pittsburgh next Saturday. Despite a shaky start that included two Watford interceptions and a failed fourth-down attempt at midfield, London said the mission was accomplished.

“Obviously that first quarter wasn’t indicative of the things we worked on,” he said. “I thought that the second quarter, when we got a few scores, a long pass and some running yards, showed the things have been working on.”

Virginia wanted to show more explosiveness on offense after averaging 261 yards in the first two games. The Cavaliers did that with 580 total yards, including a career-long 61-yard TD run by Parks and a 38-yard touchdown pass to a diving Tim Smith in the back of the end zone. Parks also had a 54-yard reception as Virginia doubled its FBS-worst total of pass plays of more than 15 yards.

The defense did its part too, holding VMI to 79 yards and four first downs. The Keydets were 1-of-16 on third down conversions, and Eric Kordenbrock’s back-to-back 300-yard passing games were followed by a performance of 9-of-17 for 38 yards.

“Obviously they were stronger than us up front, especially their defensive line matched against our offensive line,” VMI coach Sparky Woods said. “They were able to stop the run pretty well. They stopped the three-step passing game also because they were knocking down passes well.”

He said the three-and-outs by the VMI offense didn’t help the Keydets’ defense.

“We couldn’t get any first downs going. They had to go back out there and play,” he said.

Parks had his fourth career 100-yard game in hand by halftime, thanks largely to his 61-yard touchdown run two plays after Virginia stopped VMI on fourth down at the Cavaliers 30. On the run — Virginia’s longest since 2008 — Parks started left, hesitated and broke through the first wave of defenders into the open.

“Our offensive line sealed the defense,” Parks said. “I cut back and knew it was there, and I took what they gave me. I don’t think they touched me.”

Parks followed that up with a 2-yard touchdown run to cap a 12-play, 62-yard drive that he had kept alive with a fourth-down conversion near midfield.

Virginia burned two timeouts on defense late in the first half to preserve time for another score, and it paid off. The Cavaliers got the ball back with two minutes left, and two plays later Watford hit a diving Smith in the back of the end zone to make it 21-0 at the half.

By then, it was clear that the Keydets lacked the firepower to get back into the game. Virginia did its part to make sure they didn’t, with Hamm scoring from 7 yards out on the second play of the third quarter and Watford hitting Jake McGee for a 4-yard TD on the Cavaliers’ next possession.

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