Any number of miscues could have — and maybe should have — done in Virginia during its dramatic 17-16 victoryn over Penn State on Saturday. From the Cavaliers’ four turnovers to committing 10 penalties to Coach Mike London’s decision to bench quarterback Michael Rocco only to bring him back into the game two series later, the victory was anything but easy.
But perhaps the most significant issue in the long term revolves around how ineffective Virginia was running the ball. The Cavaliers gained just 32 rushing yards and averaged 1.3 yards per carry. More troubling is that senior Perry Jones and sophomore Kevin Parks combined for just five runs that went for more than five yards, and the longest rush of the day was a seven-yard quarterback scramble by Rocco.
It all added up to one of the worst rushing performances Virginia has put on under London. In fact, only the Cavaliers’ losses to Virginia Tech last year and Florida State in 2010 featured fewer yards on the ground.
“That’s not indicative of who we can be and what we need to be,” London said during his Sunday evening teleconference. “We need to be able to run the ball with authority.”
Virginia’s multi-dimensional running game was supposed to be the strength of the offense this year, but so far it has been unimpressive. Facing a Richmond defense that stacked the box in the season opener, Jones and Parks mustered a mediocre 3.7 yards per carry.
On Saturday, London said the Nittany Lions made it a point to not allow Virginia to rush around the edge. But even he conceded Penn State’s front four got too much push against Virginia’s offensive line and it played a big role in why the Cavaliers had negative rushing plays that totaled minus-31 yards.
London also wasn’t pleased with the way Virginia pass protected on the outside. He said two of Penn State’s three sacks Saturday came from pressure on the edge, including quarterback Phillip Sims’s fumble early in the fourth quarter. On that play, right tackle Morgan Moses was beaten cleanly on a speed rush by Nittany Lions linebacker Michael Mauti.
It also didn’t help that Virginia was without guard Cody Wallace, who missed Saturday’s game because of a lower leg injury. The Cavaliers had planned to use a three-man rotation at guard this year, with Wallace, junior Sean Cascarano and sophomore Conner Davis all receiving significant playing time. London said he expects Wallace to be available when Virginia takes on Georgia Tech this week.
The coach also emphasized that he currently has no plans to move center Luke Bowanko back to his natural guard position because he’s more prepared to identify blitzes pre-snap than backup Ross Burbank at this point. That will come in handy this week facing a Yellow Jackets amorphous defense led by former Virginia Coach Al Groh.
In Georgia Tech’s two games thus far — a 20-17 overtime loss to Virginia Tech and a 59-3 rout of Presbyterian on Saturday — Groh has used more four linemen formations than London can remember. The Yellow Jackets had primarily been a 3-4 defense the past two seasons under Groh.
“One of the many things Coach Groh has been outstanding at is figuring a way to bring a new blitz, a new look, a new wrinkle to whatever he’s doing now,” London said. “I’m quite sure with the implementation of a little four linemen look, there are some things that he’ll be scheming up. . . . We just have to make sure we don’t allow much push and really do better on the edges in protecting our quarterback.”
Some other injury notes
Defensive end Bill Schautz didn’t play much Saturday because of what London termed “a lower leg injury.” Senior Ausar Walcott finished with six total tackles and proved to be a menace on the pass rush, putting enough pressure on Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin to break up three passes. London said Schautz practiced Sunday.
Running back Clifton Richardson did not play for a second straight week, but London said Richardson was healthy enough to participate Saturday. He just wasn’t in the team’s game plan. Richardson has been slowed by a hamstring injury since training camp began.
Wide receiver Tim Smith also did not play late in Saturday’s game, but London would not specify the injury other than to say it was “an issue on the sideline.” Smith’s status for the Georgia Tech game is up in the air right now.