CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia’s most impressive offensive series Saturday night ended like this: A redshirt freshman tailback making his collegiate debut took a handoff from a sophomore quarterback making his first career start.
And when Michael Rocco (the quarterback) finished watching Kevin Parks (the tailback) smash into the end zone from a yard out in the third quarter, several questions were put to rest.
Could the Cavaliers erase the memories of 2009’s season debut, when William & Mary traveled to Scott Stadium and departed with an upset victory? Yes. Parks’s second touchdown of the night all but sealed what became a 40-3 victory over the Tribe.
How would Virginia’s bevy of young talent fare when given its first taste of significant action in prominent roles? Parks finished with 114 yards and three touchdowns. Rocco managed the offense capably, doing what was asked of him, and that was enough to lead the Cavaliers to victory.
The drive that ended with Parks’s one-yard plunge began on Virginia’s 3-yard line. The Cavaliers marched 97 yards in 10 plays, during which time Rocco completed 5 of 6 passes. Most of Rocco’s passing attempts where of the short-range variety Saturday, but on the play that preceded Parks’s score, the quarterback completed a 40-yard strike down the sideline to Tim Smith.
“That’s what it’s supposed to look like,” Virginia Coach Mike London said of the long drive. “So now we have a model of what it’s supposed to look like.”
Virginia’s defense also answered its fair share of questions against a William & Mary squad expected to be among the best in the nation in the Football Championship Subdivision this season. The Cavaliers held the Tribe to 169 total yards.
Were the 51,956 fans in attendance provided a blueprint for how Virginia will exceed expectations this season, or were they merely teased at the expense of a lower-division opponent? That question remains unanswered. But, for one night at least, the Cavaliers’ fortunes looked favorable.
London made it clear in recent weeks he would not hesitate to show off his team’s abundant youth right away, and indeed, 22 Cavaliers made their collegiate debuts Saturday, 12 of whom were true freshmen.
One was Parks, who tallied 78 yards before halftime. With just more than eight minutes remaining in the second quarter, Parks ran for a 19-yard touchdown. In the third quarter, Parks added a 26-yard touchdown.
“I felt like William & Mary wore down a little bit,” said Parks, who became the first Virginia player to record three touchdowns in his collegiate debut since Bob Davis in 1964. “That was big ups to our offensive linemen. They wore ’em down.”
The Tribe had a more difficult time moving the ball downfield. Last season, opposing offenses torched Virginia’s defense to the tune of 203.7 rushing yards per game. But in Year Two of the transition to a scheme that features four down-linemen and three linebackers, the Cavaliers promised improvement.
Virginia held William & Mary tailback Jonathan Grimes — a preseason FCS all-American — to 20 yards on six carries. The Tribe did not cross midfield until its final offensive snap of the first half, and that play ended in a fumble recovered by the Cavaliers.
“We did what we had to do as far as on the defensive line we dominated their offensive line,” Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid said. “We played pretty well in coverage, but we’re going to face much faster receivers in the weeks to come, starting next week” when Virginia plays at Indiana.
With just more than three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Demetrious Nicholson — who became the first Virginia freshman cornerback to start in a season opener since Kevin Cook in 1986 — recorded his first career interception and returned the ball 31 yards to the Tribe 13-yard line.
The orange-clad fans roared. Were their eyes deceiving them? How long would this dream last? At that moment, they cared not whether those questions were answered.
“At this stage in the program, where we’re at, we’re trying to win games,” said London, who went 4-8 last season in his first campaign as Virginia’s coach. “And that was a good start for us this year.”