A funny scene from Virginia Coach Mike London’s postgame press conference following the Cavaliers’ 14-13 win Saturday night over No. 25 Florida State: A reporter asks London what the referees were telling him “at the end there.”
“On which one?” London responded.
What a pertinent follow-up question. There was the personal foul facemask called on senior defensive end Cam Johnson’s sack on fourth and one with 38 seconds remaining. There was the pass to Florida State wideout Bert Reed that initially was ruled a complete pass, but then was challenged by the Seminoles, who decided they didn’t want to have completed that pass after all.
And then there was the “disconcerting signal” penalty called against the Virginia defense on what would have been a 47-yard field goal by Florida State with eight seconds left.
Yeah, there was a fair amount of drama at the end of last night’s game. There were at least two different moments when the Cavaliers thought the contest was over and that they’d won … before the contest actually was over and they’d actually won.
The reward for their triumph? A home date against Virginia Tech next Saturday with an opportunity to represent the ACC’s Coastal Division in the conference title game on the line. Oh, and a spot in the Associated Press top 25 poll. Virginia came in at No. 24 in this week’s poll, marking its first appearance there since the end of the 2007 season.
“We were written off in a lot of situations,” London said. “We had people talking about how we went to overtime with Idaho and just there’s so many ups and downs, trying to find a quarterback.
“But just to remain steadfast and immovable and just believe in the team and what we’ve got going on, just believe in the players that we have that are playing here, it comes as such a joy to see young men like that who when everyone else at the beginning were like, ‘Ah, I don’t know about this team.’ We found a way to win games.”
1) Wide left. In the end – the very end – it came down to this: Florida State placekicker Dustin Hopkins had to attempt a 42-yard field goal with eight seconds left on the game clock with the Seminoles trailing by one point. It would have been a 47-yard field goal except Virginia was called for “disconcerting signal.” Linebacker LaRoy Reynolds said the referee claimed he heard Cavaliers defenders shouting, “Hut! Hut! Hut!” in an attempt to mess with the snap on the kick. Hopkins, who entered the game having made 6 of 7 field goals from 40 yards or further this season, missed the kick wide left. And finally, Virginia had won its eighth game of the season.
2) Defensive stands. Yardage-wise, it was far from the defense’s best performance this season. The Cavaliers allowed Florida State to gain 186 rushing yards and 200 passing yards. They gave up those yards in large chunks, which can be seen either as a good thing or a bad thing. Regardless, those big plays did not result in touchdowns, and when pressed up against its own goal line, the Virginia defense proved stingy more often than not. The Seminoles had four red zone scoring chances. They scored one touchdown. In the first quarter, defensive end Bill Schautz forced a fumble on his second sack of the season. Cornerback Chase Minnifield’s touchdown-saving tackle on a 68-yard Florida State pass play gave Virginia a chance to atone for its defensive breakdown in the third quarter. The Seminoles had first and goal from the one-yard line. Three plays later, linebacker Steve Greer sacked Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel on third down to force a field goal attempt. Late in the fourth quarter, Greer tallied his second sack of the day on a play that pushed Florida State out of field goal range and gave the Cavaliers one more opportunity to take the lead. They capitalized with a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to go ahead by one.
3) Michael Rocco. The ground game struggled pretty much all night right up until Kevin Parks’ 10-yard touchdown run with 76 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Virginia tallied a season-low 78 yards on 29 carries. But Rocco did his part. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 238 yards and one touchdown. His completion percentage (71 percent) was the highest its been since Virginia’s opening week 40-3 win over FCS William & Mary. He also displayed impressive toughness. The Virginia offensive line got battered for most of the night by Florida State’s defense, and Rocco took a fair number of hits. He was sacked three times after not having been sacked at all in the previous three games. Rocco scrambled out of the pocket when he had to and ended up gaining 33 yards (net gain of five yards when you factor in the three sacks). Overall, it appeared to be a pretty strong showing for Rocco.
1) Giving up big plays. The defense, as we mentioned earlier, deserves a lot of credit for the win, though the Cavaliers didn’t make it easy on themselves. Florida State – which entered the night averaging 120 rushing yards per game – gained 155 rushing yards on 16 carries Saturday in the first half. In the first half, Florida State tallied six rushes of 10 yards or more, including a 53-yard run, a 27-yard run and a 20-yard run. To be fair, the Seminoles rushed the ball 17 times in the second half and gained just 31 yards. As for the pass defense, Virginia allowed five completions that gained 15 or more yards on the night, including a 45-yard completion, a 68-yard completion and a 23-yard completion. Against a more opportunistic offense, those big plays might have ended up hurting the Cavaliers more than they did Saturday.
2) Offensive line. It was a rough night for what is thought to be one of the top offensive line units in the ACC. Virginia previously had not rushed for fewer than 124 yards in a game this season. The Cavaliers gained 78 yards on the ground Saturday. Virginia had not given up a sack in its three previous games. The Cavaliers allowed three sacks Saturday. Granted, Florida State’s defense is tough. After last night’s game, Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor called it the best defense he’s faced during his time coaching in collegiate football. But still, it’s not as if Florida State’s defense has been immovable all season. The Virginia offensive line has some adjustments to make before taking on a Virginia Tech defense next Saturday that is tied for No. 7 in the nation in sacks (33) and ranks No. 13 in the country in rushing defense (104.9 ypg allowed).
3) Penalties. Virginia was flagged seven times for 50 yards. That’s the second straight game in which the Cavaliers have been penalized at least six times. And while that’s not what London would prefer, he can take solace in not having to answer for Florida State’s stunning lack of discipline Saturday night. The Seminoles were flagged 11 times for 94 yards, which made sustaining any sort of momentum on either side of the ball difficult.