Big Plays Plentiful As U-Va. Rumbles
Sunday, October 1, 2006
DURHAM, N.C., Sept. 30 -- The instant that Virginia defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald saw the football on the ground, his focus immediately turned toward a place he hadn't visited in years.
"I was thinking 'score' the whole time," the 6-foot-3, 279-pound freshman said. "The easiest route would have been to fall on it. But that was not an option to me at that point."
Instead, Fitzgerald deftly picked up the fumble by Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and raced 23 yards to the end zone to provide an early knockout blow in the Cavaliers' 37-0 rout of Duke Saturday in front of a homecoming crowd of 19,241 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
"I'm happy with my players," said Virginia Coach Al Groh, who sprinted down the sideline, arms outstretched, as Fitzgerald headed for the end zone late in the first half to make it 24-0. "They really have something to be pleased with themselves about."
The Cavaliers (2-3, 1-1 ACC) needed something to be pleased about after dreadful performances in back-to-back losses to Western Michigan and Georgia Tech. And Virginia saw its chance against the winless Blue Devils, who entered the game with the 110th-ranked offense in the nation.
Duke finished with just 100 yards while being shut out for the third time in four games. The Cavaliers scored their most convincing victory of the season and their first shutout since beating Maryland, 16-0, in 2004.
"We're all competitive guys," Virginia defensive lineman Chris Long said. "You just miss that feeling after a win. Just to have it back, to get a taste of it, you want to have it next week too."
Virginia pressured Duke's Lewis throughout the game, forcing crucial mistakes from the quarterback. The Cavaliers sacked the freshman seven times, forcing him to fumble twice and throw three interceptions.
Virginia cornerback Marcus Hamilton intercepted two passes and, on another occasion, smashed into Lewis on a blitz, jarring the ball loose and into the arms of Fitzgerald, who added the interception to his fumble recovery.
"I just saw the ball in the air, and fortunately I was in the right spot at the right time to make a play on the ball," Fitzgerald said.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers' special teams unit blocked a punt and broke a long punt return to help build a 17-0 lead early.
"Coach Groh talks about 'Great teams can score on all three units,' " Long said. "That's what we really wanted to do, to do our part to reaching that goal."