The Virginia football team began its 2011 campaign by churning out a lot of impressive numbers Saturday night at Scott Stadium. We’ll start with the most important ones.
Cavaliers 40, William & Mary 3.
But here are a few more that might peak your interest: 22 Virginia players made their collegiate debut against the Tribe, and 12 of those Cavaliers were true freshmen. Clearly, Coach Mike London was not kidding when he said he would not hesitate to throw his team’s young talent into the mix right away.
Virginia’s victory over William & Mary is relevant – very much so, in fact, for a program that went 4-8 last season. But a dose of perspective is necessary. The Tribe is an FCS program. Granted, they are expected to be one of the top FCS teams in the nation this season, but they are a squad from a lower division nonetheless. Remember, the Cavaliers beat FCS Richmond, 34-13, in last season’s opener.
That said, let’s focus the rest of this post on the positives, because there are many to discuss. Redshirt freshman tailback Kevin Parks did his best Bob Davis* impression. Sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco managed the offense capably, found a rhythm and exploited the close-range openings the William & Mary defense gave him.
*Parks became the first Virginia player to score three touchdowns in his collegiate debut since Bob Davis did it in 1964.
And that defense that was so porous and undisciplined last season? It held the Tribe to 40 yards rushing and 52 yards passing in the first three quarters*. That’s pretty good no matter who you’re playing.
*William & Mary tallied eight rushing yards, 69 passing yards and it’s only points of the night in the fourth quarter. At one point during the fourth quarter, London said, he looked up during a Virginia defensive series and seven true freshmen were on the field.
“At this stage in the program, where we’re at, we’re trying to win games,” London said. “And that was a good start for us this year.”
1) True freshmen. Cornerback Demetrious Nicholson returned an interception 31 yards to the William & Mary 13 yard-line in the third quarter. Linebacker Daquan Romero tied for the team-high with four tackles. Tailback Clifton Richardson recorded seven carries for 57 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Darius Jennings caught four passes for 61 yards. Quarterback David Watford completed 3 of 5 passes for 46 yards.
And those were just five of the 12 true freshmen who played.
Here is the full list: Nicholson, Romero, Richardson, Jennings, Watford, wide receiver Dominique Terrell, safety Anthony Harris, safety Kameron Mack, cornerback Brandon Phelps, offensive tackle Kelby Johnson, linebacker D.J. Hill and defensive end Thompson Brown.
2) Kevin Parks. One of the many questions entering the season was who would fill the scoring void left by the graduation of Keith Payne, who scored 14 touchdowns in 2010. Parks might be a half-foot shorter and 60 pounds lighter, but he sure played the part well Saturday. Parks averaged 7.1 yards per carry. He gained 114 yards and three touchdowns. He ran hard and he ran fast. Should be fun to watch him develop.
3) Robert Randolph. Virginia’s placekicker got off to a rough start last season. He ended up making 10 of 14 field goals, the longest of which was 44 yards. On Saturday, Randolph converted on all four of his field goal attempts, the longest of which was 48 yards. He also drilled a 42-yard kick.
1) Third-down conversions. For all of Virginia’s offensive success Saturday night – the Cavaliers tallied 496 total yards – the team struggled on third downs. Virginia converted on just 4 of 13 third downs (30.8 percent) in the first three quarters against William & Mary. Third down efficiency was an issue for the Cavaliers last season, too. In 2010, Virginia converted on 37.2 percent of third downs, which ranked No. 9 in the ACC.
2) Penalties. The Cavaliers were charged with eight penalties for 56 yards against the Tribe. Due to the score, none of them stood out. But they still occurred. Last season, Virginia averaged 8.2 penalties per game, which tied for the worst mark in the conference.