Virginia’s defense put on a dominant performance Saturday at North Carolina State, and on Monday two Cavaliers were rewarded with ACC player of the week honors.
Freshman cornerback Maurice Canady was named the league’s co-defensive back of the week after finishing with a team-high seven tackles and reeling in what Coach Mike London described as a “Willie Mays-style” interception.
Sophomore defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite was named the defensive lineman of the week by racking up two sacks and a forced fumble, part of an afternoon that saw the Cavaliers sack Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon six times and force five turnovers.
Brathwaite did his damage in a non-starting role, but both have become significant contributors with Virginia increasingly turning to its underclassmen in the wake of a six-game losing streak, which came to an end Saturday.
Canady’s strong performance was even more impressive considering it came in his first career start. London said the Richmond native went from playing less than 20 plays per game as the team’s nickel cornerback to getting 73 snaps against North Carolina State.
Defensive coordinator Jim Reid, who earlier in the season called Canady the steal of last year’s recruiting class, was particularly impressed with the way Canady tackled on the perimeter when the Wolfpack went to short routes to try and get their offense in gear.
“He really had a monster game,” Reid said. “You don’t understand what kind of pressure we put him under against an experienced, skilled receiver and he can come up on a hitch and make a play for a four-yard or a three-yard gain. That’s huge. The guy played great.”
Brathwaite wasn’t the only defensive lineman to receive accolades following Saturday’s breakthrough showing. Defensive tackle Brent Urban (three tackles, one sack) and freshman defensive end Eli Harold (four tackles, one interception) joined Brathwaite as the coaches’ defensive players of the week.
“It was just great to see guys playing with energy, emotion and focus,” London said. “The first 14 possessions … we ended up having five turnovers, a safety and eight punts. That was just outstanding the way the defense played. Those guys just kind of feed off each other and it was a long time overdue. It was great to see guys out there having fun, playing a great team but also playing inspired.”