Can I open my eyes yet? In what was one of the most bizarre endings to a Virginia football game in recent memory, the Cavaliers were able to break yet another unenviable streak Saturday night – escaping from Tallahassee with their first-ever victory at Doak Campbell Stadium against the Florida State Seminoles. The Virginia offense struggled to gain much traction against one of the country’s premier defenses but struck when it mattered most with Mike Rocco engineering a masterful 5-play, 75 yard drive late in the 4th quarter to give the Cavaliers a narrow 1-point lead with under 2 minutes left to play. The next 1 minute and 06 seconds likely took years off the life of any Wahoo fan tuned in, as the Cavaliers had the game seemingly wrapped up two different times before being flagged for a face mask following a 4th-and-1 stop and then being on the wrong end of an overturned pass completion that left the Seminoles with one last chance to win the game on a 42-yard field goal. The ball never lies, however, and Virginia was finally able to celebrate their 8th victory of the season after the kick sailed just left of the goal post as time expired -continuing Virginia’s improbable run toward the ACC Championship game with the winner of next weekend’s in-state tilt with hated rival Virginia Tech determining the ACC Coastal Division representative in Charlotte, NC.
If there’s one thing this team has in spades, it’s heart. Determination. Grit. That ‘never say die’ attitude.’ Whatever you want to call it, this Virginia football team exudes it. And no play was more representative of that quality than Chase Minnifield’s tracking down and tackling of Florida State’s Bert Reed on the Virginia 1 yard-line, saving what would have been a 69-yard touchdown reception. With the clock winding down inside of 10 minutes, a two-score lead for the Seminoles would have been nearly impossible for Virginia – who struggled to move the ball on offense all night against a very stout D – to overcome. Instead, Chase’s incredible hustle resulted in a goal line stand by Virginia’s defense and only 3 points for Florida State – keeping the Cavaliers chances at pulling off the upset alive with 8 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. All year long, it seems that there has been that ‘one’ play that’s carried the Cavaliers across the finish line – but none, in my mind, have epitomized the mentality of this team more than Chase’s play on Saturday night.
Rocco Steps Up.
With inexperienced quarterbacks and a strong offensive line, it was no secret that the Virginia offense would game plan around the running game this year. Heading into the Florida State game, the Cavaliers were averaging 187.6 rushing yards per game. Furthermore, in the 3-game winning streak prior to the FSU game, Virginia was averaging 197.3 yards per game on the ground. The plan was working. The Cavaliers ran up against a buzz saw on Saturday night, however, as the Seminoles front 7 limited Virginia to -1 (yes, you read that correctly) rushing yard in the first half. No, bother, however – Mike Rocco was up to challenge. Facing heavy pressure all night, Rocco connected on 22-of-31 passes for 238 yards and 1 touchdown on the night - coming on a beautifully thrown pass to Perry ‘Superman’ Jones deep into the 2nd quarter. Mike also used his feet to move Virginia down the field, picking up a 1st down late in the 4th quarter on a 3rd-and-12 with a nifty 13 yard run. Rocco’s shining moment, however, came with the Cavaliers taking over on their own 25 yard line with under 2 minutes left of the clock – where he connected on a perfect 5-for-5 passes for 65 yards before Kevin Parks took a hand-off ten yards to pay dirt for the go-ahead score. It may have taken Virginia 7 games to find their guy behind center, but it’s only taken Mike Rocco only 4 games to become the ‘man’ for this football team.
Yea, they gave up some yards (386, to be exact). Yea, there were too many guys streaking down the field wide open. When it mattered, most, however, the Cavalier defense was able to rise to the occasion on Saturday night. Virginia was able to hold Florida State to a pedestrian 3-of-13 effort on third downs and, more importantly, held the Seminoles to only 13 points on 4 red zone trips (giving up only 1 touchdown to 2 field goals, while forcing a fumble on their first possession). The Cavaliers put continual pressure on FSU QB E.J. Manual, forcing him into several hurried throws and sacking him 3 times on the night. Of course, Virginia’s defense keeping the Seminoles out of the end zone during the game’s final drive was something many Cavalier fans probably had serious doubts about – with no moment more tense than reserve defensive back Drequan Hoskey just barely knocking down what would have been a go-ahead 30-yard touchdown pass for FSU. Coach Jim Reid has done an amazing job with a defense that struggled mightily last year, with his boys now ranked the 25th total defense in the country after Saturday’s performance. He’ll have his hands full again with David Wilson and the Hokies coming to Charlottesville next week.
Odd and Ins.
- Here’s to a speedy recovery for UVA defensive end Billy Schautz, who was having himself one helluva game prior to breaking his leg on FSU’s final drive.
- Who runs a fade route to a 5’7 running back? An offensive coordinator that knows superman happens to be the 5’7 running back in question catching the ball, that’s who. Seriously, are you kidding me with that catch? And what throw by Rocco.
- ACC refs. I’ll stop there.
- Good on ya, Kevin Parks – finally breaking the Virginia rushing touchdown record with his 8th score of the season. While we’re at it, Kris Burd moved into sole possession of 2nd place in Virginia’s reception annals with 149 for his career.
- Who else can we schedule to play in the state of Florida moving forward?
- New plan for the VT game: Virginia puts no one back on punt returns. Really.