Grit: The only thing UVA had on Florida State Saturday night

uva footballDid that one ever feel like a UVA win? Does it feel like one even now that you know the ‘Hoos won?

Grit. That’s what won that game for Virginia against a Florida State team that played like its backs were against the wall, because they were.

”Anyone that was in the stadium today witnessed an amazing football game with two teams trying as hard as they could try to win,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall framed it after the 31-24 win was in the record books.

It started with Virginia driving to the FSU 20, then Bryce Perkins, who threw two interceptions last week in the 52-17 win over William & Mary, trying to do too much on both, throwing late and over the middle on one, and late and against his body on the other, throwing late on a rollout and getting picked.

That early INT seemed to impact offensive coordinator Robert Anae in terms of his play-calling for the remainder of the first half, unfortunately for Cavalier fans.

Poor field position played a role as well, but Virginia definitely went conservative offensively, playing it safe.

Florida State took advantage. The FSU coaching staff clearly learned from what Pitt had done to attack the UVA D, using tempo to control personnel on a pair of second quarter touchdown drives that sent the Seminoles into the break up 14-10.

Virginia, for its part, seemed intent on stepping on its own feet. The first FSU score was a cascade of errors, starting with returner Billy Kemp deciding to try to field a punt inside his own 10, fumbling it, recovering, but setting the offense back on its heels.

UVA punter Nash Griffin, then, kicking out of his end zone, hit a shank, setting up Florida State at the plus 39.

The first play of the next series was a run for an 8-yard loss for Cam Akers, except that Joey Blount piled on after the play, leading to a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down, and three plays later, the ‘Noles had their first score of the night.

Even going back to that first drive that ended with the INT, Virginia had the ball first-and-10 at the FSU 25, but a false-start penalty on tackle Bobby Haskins set the set of downs back five yards, and after a Perkins designed run for 10 yards, UVA faced a third-and-five on the play that ended with the interception.

A third quarter Florida State field goal, similarly, was set up by a series of Virginia mistakes. Starting a drive at the ‘Noles 11, the ‘Hoos quickly picked up a first down at the 21, before moving backwards, with an illegal-formation penalty, a holding call on Olusegun Oluwatimi, then a sack of Perkins.

FSU used the short field after a Griffin punt to turn a single first down into a 53-yard Ricky Aguayo field goal that made it 17-10 Seminoles.

For whatever reason, then, things started clicking in the fourth quarter for Virginia, at least offensively.

After putting blinders on Perkins following the first quarter interception – he threw another, in the waning seconds of the second quarter, as UVA was trying to get into position for a possible half-ending field-goal try – Anae went with a West Coast-type passing attack, quick reads, short passes.

“It just became clearer finally what we were able to do, how we’re going to need to do it and in what time we needed to do it in,” Mendenhall said. “These things just became crystal clear at halftime. It didn’t manifest necessarily in the third quarter quite as much. The fourth quarter looked similar to our opening drive, and those two drives had some things in common that we found.”

Perkins went 9-for-9 for 67 yards on the drive that tied the game at 17 early in the fourth. Then, after a FSU answer that put the ‘Noles back up, 24-17, Perkins was 5-of-7 for 48 yards on the drive that should have tied the game again, except that, Brian Delaney, who had earlier connected on a 49-yard field-goal try, somehow sliced the extra-point attempt wide right, and it was still 24-23, with 6:02 to go.

So, to sort of sum things up at this stage, you had the two Perkins INTs taking two possible field-goal tries off the ledger, two special-teams mistakes and a stupid late-hit penalty setting up a Florida State touchdown, a litany of errors setting up another FSU field goal.

The scoreboard read FSU 24, UVA 23. It could have just as easily read UVA 30, FSU 14, but, it didn’t.

You could feel sorry for yourself, but the ‘Hoos went out and played football.

The D forced a quick Florida State three-and-out. Perkins got the ball back. A Joe Reed inside run gained 22 yards to midfield, on a sublime play call by Anae, using his speed receiver like that.

After a pass to Reed was incomplete, Perkins connected with Hasise Dubois for 35 yards, into the red zone.

The first-down pass from Perkins to tailback Wayne Taulapapa was well over target, but Renardo Green cheap-shotted Taulapapa, and was flagged for it, moving the ball inside the 10.

Taulapapa would score two plays later, and then Perkins would run approximately 75 yards, darting back and forth, and back again, to convert the two-point try.

Florida State would get the ball back with 2:34 to go. On third-and-10 from the FSU 25, quarterback James Blackman, upright most of the night, just one sack, no quarterback hurries, to this stage, was sacked by Nick Taylor, setting up a fourth-and-15 that felt like, ballgame.

Blackman sailed a pass in the direction of Ontaria Wilson, high and outside.

Grant knocked the ball down. Turnover on downs.

Wait. Flag?

It was a bad call, charitably, and Mendenhall tried to impart that point, while also asking for a review, not of the call, since you can’t do that at the college level, not yet, but because it originally appeared that the ball may have been tipped at the line, since the pass from Blackman appeared to have significant flutter, like a wounded duck.

As Mendenhall lobbied for the review, he was inexplicably flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, something you almost never see, a coach being flagged for arguing a call in a football game.

So, from fourth-and-15 at the FSU 20, suddenly the ‘Noles had the ball at midfield, entirely because of the zebras.

Next set of downs, UVA holds, and it’s fourth-and-five. Jordan Mack gets pressure on Blackman up the A gap, forces a bad throw, incomplete, turnover on downs, game over.

Except that … flag?

Not again. Yes, again.

Mack jumped up as he ran toward Blackman and forced the bad throw. He then lightly grazed Blackman. Personal foul, roughing the passer.

My ass, but the drive continued.

Bryce Hall would be called for another pass interference. This was the only one that was a good call, and Hall would concede as much, if you asked him. He had been beaten badly by Tamorrion Terry on the pass route, and Hall grabbed Terry to keep him from getting over the top for the game-tying touchdown.

Another sack on the next set of downs, by Zane Zandier, forced Florida State into its final timeout, with 19 seconds left.

Incomplete pass, then a pass is complete over the middle, for first-down yardage, to Keyshawn Helton, at the Virginia 4.

Four seconds are left. The college game stops the clock as the officials move the sticks.

For some reason, Blackman doesn’t go under center to spike the ball to kill clock.

Instead, he’s back in the gun, direct snap, reminiscent of Warrick Dunn, same part of the field, everything, to Cam Akers, who had run for 193 yards in FSU’s 45-44 OT win over Louisiana-Monroe last week, but was held relatively in check Saturday night, gaining 78 yards on 18 carries.

Akers bounces out right, is met in the backfield by De’Vante Cross, then Hall completes the tackle, as time expires.

“I expected them to run the play, and our defense and staff did a really nice job,” Mendenhall said. “They have no timeouts, so I expected them to run the play. They’re an up-tempo team anyway, and our defense and staff did a nice job of getting the call in.”

“It was a great play call. It was executed. Everyone tried their hardest to execute the play,” Blackman said. “Cam made a great effort trying to get it to that endzone. He was going to fight his hardest.”

“We didn’t get what we wanted. We wanted a touchdown,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said. “We called a play, and there were four seconds left, and we didn’t have any timeouts, so we called a play, and it didn’t work.”

You could look this gift horse in the mouth. Florida State lost to Boise State after blowing a 31-13 lead, escaped Louisiana-Monroe on a missed extra point in overtime, and still led most of the way in this one.

Virginia, ranked 25th, favored in a game with FSU for the first time ever, was sloppy: two Perkins INTs, nine penalties, the muffed punt, the shank, the missed extra point.

This one, nothing to write home about.

Maybe Virginia was lucky to win this one.

That’s fine.

Another perspective: FSU’s last four recruiting classes yielded 57 players rated four-stars or five-stars; Virginia’s last four classes had a total of three, all members of the Class of 2019, only one of whom, Jowon Briggs, saw the field Saturday night.

Virginia, ranked, favored to beat a much more talented Florida State, was sloppy, was outplayed for long stretches of this one, and what was the final outcome again?

That’s grit.

Story by Chris Graham

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