Somehow, the Virginia football team ended up killing two birds with one stone Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. The Cavaliers hadn’t won a road game since Oct. 2009 – a span of seven games – and were looking for their first victory away from Charlottesville during the Mike London era.
During London’s first 13 games at the helm, the Cavaliers also had yet to prove to themselves or anyone else that they could recover from their own flaws and pull out a close win.
Check. And check.
Virginia’s 34-31 victory at Indiana on Saturday was not pretty. At all. The Cavaliers started off slow, constructed a 20-point second-half lead, allowed the Hoosiers to score 28 unanswered points, turned the ball over four times … and then won.
“What was amazing was on the sideline when we were down eight (midway through the fourth quarter), the guys started talking about we’re going to come back and win this game,” London said. “They started talking about, ‘When we score, we’re going to go for two.’ That kind of talk, you can look cross-eyed at somebody.
“But I think that you start to build a level of confidence in what’s going on and in the moment. You spoke it, and it happened.”
1) Cam Johnson. Maybe the Cavaliers would have won the game in overtime. Maybe they wouldn’t have. Johnson’s sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery with 1:13 to play in the game took much of the guesswork out of the equation. Johnson was pretty quiet last week, but he’d been in Indiana quarterback Edward Wright-Baker’s face several times Saturday night before his memorable fourth-quarter sack.
2) Robert Randolph. The senior place-kicker has made eight field goals in two games, and four of those kicks came from 42 yards out or more. His game-winner from 23 yards away as time expired will be the one Cavs fans remember when they think of tonight, but Randolph’s overall solid start to the season is meaningful for a team that very well could find itself in more close games in the coming months.
3) Confidence. How much damage would a loss tonight have done to the Cavaliers’ collective psyche? We’ll never know because Virginia demonstrated a composure it simply didn’t possess last season. The Cavaliers gave away second half leads in three of their final four games last season. They appeared en route to doing the same tonight against Indiana. But they didn’t. There are many problems that need to be fixed if this team is to achieve its goal of becoming bowl eligible, and addressing those issues will be at least a little more enjoyable this week because such work will be done coming off a victory.
1) Turnovers. Sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco threw two interceptions. Junior tailback Perry Jones fumbled on a play that ended with Indiana cornerback Lawrence Barnett sprinting 55 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. A Hoosiers punt late in the third quarter bounced off either Demetrious Nicholson or LoVante Battle – London said the game officials did not tell him who it was – and Indiana took over at the U-Va. 19 yard-line. Turnovers are going to happen to every team during the course of a game. But three of Virginia’s turnovers occurred in a span of 5 minutes, 31 seconds. One of the next stages in the Cavaliers’ development is learning how to keep mistakes from mounting.
2) Punt and kick-off returns. All night, the Cavaliers sent two players – freshmen Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell – back to receive punts, a departure from last week’s one-man approach. Late in the first half, Terrell called for a fair catch but Jennings leaped up in front of Terrell and attempted to field the punt. Jennings fumbled and then recovered the ball. A crisis was averted, and the Cavaliers ended up scoring a touchdown on that drive. But that was not the extent of Virginia’s return issues. As was mentioned earlier, another punt bounced off a Virginia player and the Hoosiers recovered. On a kick-off midway through the third quarter, Jennings tried to field the ball standing next to the sideline. He did not catch it, though, and the ball bounced out of bounds at the U-Va. eight yard-line. Had Jennings let the ball fall out of bounds without first touching it, the Cavaliers would have begun that drive at their own 40 yard-line. They’re freshmen, and they certainly will learn from their mistakes. But tonight was not a good showing for Jennings or Terrell.
3) Missed tackles. The Cavaliers were doing a lot of lunging Saturday night, and that led to more than a few missed tackles. Particularly as Indiana began to charge back into contention, Virginia seemed to get sloppy with its tackling technique. The Hoosiers gained just 319 total yards on the night, which means Virginia met its goal of allowing 330 total yards or less for the second week in a row. However, that doesn’t mean the process was as smooth as it could have been.