Usually when a team wins the coin toss before the start of a game, said team will elect to defer the choice of whether to kickoff or receive to the second half. Virginia, for example, had won the coin toss twice out of five games entering Saturday night’s game against then-No. 12 Georgia Tech, and the Cavaliers had chosen to defer both times. And in the three instances in which Virginia had lost the coin toss, its opponent had deferred each time.
But when the Cavaliers won the coin toss Saturday, they elected to receive the opening kickoff, which seemed like a curious decision at the time. But as Coach Mike London explained during a teleconference Sunday, the decision had to do with taking every opportunity Virginia could get to possess the ball.
“It was one of those things that if we had an opportunity to take the ball, the last couple games we’ve done a pretty nice job on our first couple of initial drives, and that came to fruition,” London said. “If you fast forward to the third quarter, they had the ball for like nine and a half minutes, a (19)-play drive. And so we were just trying to think ahead about any opportunity that we had to get possessions. If we won the toss, that was one way for sure to get one.”
Georgia Tech’s run-heavy offense is prone to eating up large chunks of the game clock, and London was correct in anticipating that possessions would be at a premium against the Yellow Jackets. Virginia ended up with 10 possessions Saturday, which was three fewer than it had had in any other game this season.
And the Cavaliers’ trend of starting out hot offensively continued. For the third straight game, Virginia scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions. …
London also explained the rationale behind another coaching decision that raised more than a few eyebrows Saturday. Clinging to a three-point lead, the Cavaliers faced fourth and 1 from the Georgia Tech 35-yard line with just more than 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
To that point in the game, Virginia had rushed for 209 yards. The Cavaliers had carried the ball four times for 20 yards on that very drive. And true freshman quarterback David Watford, who is known to be quite mobile, was under center.
But rather than attempt to gain that yard on the ground, Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor called for a play-action pass. Watford’s throw to redshirt junior tight end Colter Phillips fell incomplete, and the Cavaliers turned the ball over on downs.
Kris Wright, managing editor of TheSabre.com, a message board web-site that covers Virginia athletics, mentioned to London during the coach’s Sunday teleconference that the Cavaliers were 8 for 13 on fourth down conversion attempts on the season and that 4 of those 5 missed conversions were the result of incomplete passes thrown by Watford.
London said on that play Georgia Tech had nine defenders “in the box,” or close to the line of scrimmage. So the plan was for the play-action to draw the safeties and corners even closer to the line of scrimmage and then hope that Phillips would be open upfield. London said Watford overthrew the ball.
“You can question the call, but as I said, when you’re calling the game and you’re seeing what they’re doing as the game is going on and some of the running situations, the third-and-shorts and things like that, then the opportunity presented itself that we could spring the game open with that type of catch,” London said. “It didn’t work.” …
As for senior placekicker Robert Randolph’s missed 32-yard field goal at the start of the second quarter, an attempt that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and then sailed wide right, London said the kick was “probably kind of a low trajectory.”
“They put a guy back there that was 6-foot-5 and went vertical and he did tip it,” London said. “And Robert understands that he’s got to get lift underneath that ball. Now that it’s on film, other teams may try the same thing.”
Randolph has converted on 11 of 15 field goal attempts this season. After starting the year by making eight straight field goals, he missed 4 of 6 before sending a 36-yard attempt through the uprights later in the second quarter Saturday.