On the Tuesday following Virginia’s 24-21 upset victory over then-No. 12 Georgia Tech, a Cavaliers defense that had found a way to contain the Yellow Jackets’ unique and dynamic triple-option offense returned to practice and promptly made, according to defensive coordinator Jim Reid, “a ton of mistakes” that the players “hadn’t made since last spring.”
“We had a hard time in the beginning of the week getting into the flow of who we were before the Georgia Tech game,” Reid said. “It was shocking, a little bit. They forgot detail.”
The rest of the week of practice went okay, Reid said, though it hadn’t particularly soothed his concerns. But following Virginia’s 28-14 loss Saturday to North Carolina State, Reid had no hesitancy acknowledging that “with the exception of three plays, the (defense) really did a good job.”
Indeed, while the big play bug bit the Cavaliers defense once again, it managed to limit such occurrences and turn in another solid performance. The Wolfpack rushed for 10 or more yards twice (on gains of 11 and 16 yards), and they passed for 15 or more yards three times (and one of those plays was a gain of 16 yards).
N.C. State converted on 36.8 percent (7 of 19) of its third downs, which is a slightly higher mark than Reid would prefer (35 percent). On the season, the Cavaliers have allowed opponents to convert on 35.1 percent of third downs, a mark that ranks No. 3 in the ACC.
One defensive area of concern that arose from Virginia’s performance against N.C. State was a pass coverage that at times appeared shaky. Were it not for several drops by Wolfpack receivers, N.C. State would have compiled far more than the 231 passing yards for which it was credited on the final stat sheet.
Even then, it’s worth noting that the Cavaliers tallied two second-half interceptions.
“We got flat-out beat one time,” Reid said. “Another time we had a guy that was there and should have made a tackle and it ended up being a 79-yard (touchdown). Those things happen. … I thought for the most part the guys played very, very hard and very, very physical. We’ve just got to keep moving on, that’s all.”
The Cavaliers did not record a sack for the second straight game and have managed just 10 on the season. Only two ACC teams (Wake Forest and Boston College) have tallied fewer sacks than Virginia. So pass rush remains an issue, as well.
Here’s a rundown of how the Cavaliers fared against N.C. State, based on some of the goals Reid has said they try to meet each game:
Rushing yards allowed
Goal – 105
N.C. State – 114
Passing yards allowed
Goal – 225
N.C. State – 231
Total yards allowed
Goal – 330
N.C. State – 345
Goal – at least 3
N.C. State – 5
To be certain, the Virginia defense did not turn in a flawless performance. Early in the second quarter, N.C. State embarked on a 10-play, 70-yard drive in which Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon completed all four of his pass attempts for 44 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass on third and goal.
Virginia had blitzed on that touchdown pass, and after N.C. State tailback Tony Creecy chipped Cavaliers cornerback Chase Minnifield at the line of scrimmage, he was wide open in the middle of the field.
After Virginia threw an interception two plays into its next possession, the Cavaliers defense marched back onto the field and lined up at its own 33-yard line. On the first play of that drive, Glennon executed a play-action that caused true freshman Demetrious Nicholson to bite. By the time Nicholson recovered, the receiver for which he was responsible was a few strides ahead of him and ended up catching a touchdown pass.
Fast-forward to late in the third quarter when the Virginia defense made the third poor play to which Reid had referred. On third and 10 from the N.C. State 21-yard line, Glennon threw an out pattern pass that – had senior cornerback Dom Joseph made the tackle – would have gained less than 15 yards.
“I think the player (referring to Joseph) thought (the N.C. State receiver) was out of bounds, but you’ve got to finish the play,” Reid said.
N.C. State receiver Bryan Underwood remained in bounds and sprinted 79 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
The Wolfpack continued to try to attack aggressively with passes all day. Early in the third quarter, Glennon attempted an 18-yard pass that was picked off by Virginia strong safety Rodney McLeod. The Cavaliers took over at the Virginia 47-yard line.
Early in the fourth quarter, Glennon’s 17-yard pass attempt was intercepted by Virginia free safety Corey Mosley. The Cavaliers took over at the N.C. State 40-yard line.
“The reads (Mosley) had to go through to get to where he was (on that interception) was absolutely phenomenal,” Reid said.
The Virginia offense went three-and-out following McLeod’s interception and turned the ball over on downs after four plays following Mosley’s interception.