Up 23-3 early in the second half, it appeared that the Virginia Cavaliers were well on their way to giving Mike London his first road victory as the head coach of UVA and finally giving the Wahoo faithful a reason to smile following a road opener (6 years was long enough). As any long time Virginia fan knows, however, it is never that easy for our Cavaliers. It began innocently enough, when a questionable muffed punt call by the officials resulted in Indiana quickly pulling within 1 score of the Wahoos early in the 4th quarter.
[caption id="attachment_105" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Virginia players celebrate after a last second field goal lifts them past Indiana. Photo / The Herald-Times / Chris Howell"][/caption]
Things went from bad to worse for the Cavaliers when Mike Rocco's 2nd interception of the game resulted in Indiana's 4th unanswered score - putting Virginia in an 8 point hole with less than 7 minutes remaining in the game. I imagine that most TV sets were turned off with disgust and phones slammed to the tables in disbelief by Wahoo fans tracking the game at this point in the night. Virginia was not done, however.
A gutsy drive by Rocco and a key two point conversion later, the Cavaliers tied the game. Junior defensive end Cam Johnson then came up with the early play of the year for the Wahoos, sacking and then stripping the ball from Indian quarterback Edward Wright-Baker. As Robert Randolph's kick sailed through the uprights with time expiring, a sea of white jerseys stormed the field and Cavalier fans across the country breathed as huge sigh of relief as Virginia finally stole a win away from home.
In the Indiana game preview, I wrote that Virginia would lose this game if the turnover bug - which plagued the Cavaliers last season - reared its ugly head on Saturday night. Try as they may to prove me right, Virginia was able to overcome 4 turnovers against the Hoosiers and narrowly escaped Bloomington with a W. Virginia QB Mike Rocco looked extremely shaky during his first start on the road, throwing an interception on his first pass from scrimmage and another deep into the 4th quarter that appeared to seal the game for the Hoosiers. The 'plain Jane' offense appears to make a little more sense, now. Perry Jones' fumble early in the 4th quarter was returned 54 yards for an Indiana touchdown - giving the Hoosiers the lead for the 1st time all night [The effort displayed by David Watford to chase down the Indiana runner did not go unnoticed by this writer]. And then there was the constant miscommunication by the freshman punt returners. Can we please just put somebody back there than can wave his arm and catch the ball!?! All in all, Virginia's turnovers were directly coverted into 17 points by the Hoosiers. If Virginia repeats these same mistakes next week in Chapel Hill, the result will not be pretty.
Cam Johnson - The Boss
Speaking of turnovers, Cam Johnson came up with what will be remembered as one of the finest defensive plays in Virginia football history when he sacked, and then stripped, IU's Wright-Baker in the game's final 2 minutes to ultimately set up Virginia's game-winning field goal. Heading into the season, Virginia coaches heaped praise on Johnson and fans had high expectations for the uber-talented defensive end. On Saturday night, he lived up to the hype. Virginia will need every bit of Cam Johnson's talent going forward if they are to claw out some more victories- perhaps he should watch some tape of Chris Long's senior season in which he single-handily carried the Wahoos to 9 wins.
Virginia created 2 more turnovers on the night, starting a positive early (very early) season trend. More importantly, the turnovers put Virginia's offense in great field position and directly led to 13 points for the Cavaliers. This will be key moving forward as Virginia will clearly need to rely on the running game and a short / intermediate passing game and having a short field will make things a lot easier on Virginia's offense.
Mike Rocco struggled on Saturday night. Two very poorly thrown balls resulted in interceptions. Several passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. Holding on to the ball too long on the wrong end of the field resulted in a safety (though the play was luckily over turned by the officials). When it really mattered, however, Rocco delivered for Virginia - leading his team on a 15 play, 77 yard drive capped off with a great throw and catch for a 2-point conversion that pulled the Cavs even with just under 2 minutes left to go. Though he looked like a rookie in every sense of the word for much of Saturday night, Rocco displayed poise and sound decision making with the game on line - something both he and the coaching staff should be able to build on as the Cavaliers continue to forge their offensive identify. Perry Jones also stepped up on the final drive, including a key 4th down conversion to keep the drive alive. All is forgiven in my book, Perry.
Another week. Another National Placekicker of the Month honor. Robert Randolph is off to a dream start to the 2011 season, going a perfect 8-8 through the 1st 2 weeks and notching his first career game-winning field goal as time expired on Saturday. I have a feeling Virginia will be in a lot of close games from here on out and Randolph's foot could be a major determining factor as to how this seasons plays out for the Cavaliers. As long as he keeps booting them through the uprights, I have no problem watching Randolph do the 'Bernie' 4 or 5 times a game [Learn how to Bernie here].
Odds and Ins
* Kevin Parks rushed for 2 touchdowns against Indiana, bringing his season total to 5. Parks left the game with an undisclosed ankle injury in the second half - hopefully it's nothing too serious as the Cavaliers cannot afford to lose his early season production.
* I'm told that the Virginia Men's Soccer team won at Duke this past weekend for the 1st time in 10 years. Hopefully the football team can learn from their soccer brethern and end their unfortunately habit of losing to the blue devils themselves when the two face each other later this year.
* I spent this past weekend in Charlottesville attending the wedding of two very dear friends. So dear, in fact, that I had to follow the game through game tracker, having set the DVR up at home for Sunday viewing [Boars Head didn't have BTN]. Bennie Dodd led a raucous group of UVA alumni through a hearty rendition of the Good 'Ole Song when we learned of Randolph's last second heroics - a great memory for all of us and a nice ending to to a beautiful weekend. On a side note, following the game online and then actually watching it once everything has sunk in may just be the most heart healthy fashion in which to follow the Cavaliers.
We'll be back midweek with another fresh edition of Look 'Hoos Tweeting, an early season Cavalier Top 5, as well as a pregame article discussing the upcoming UNC road tilt. Wahoowa!Back to the Virginia Cavaliers Newsfeed