Just (a) win, baby: UVA Football escapes with the W

uva footballYou don’t have to be the best team in the nation every Saturday, Lou Holtz is fond of saying, about teams that aspire to greatness. But you do have to be the best team in the stadium.

For the better part of Saturday night, 21st-ranked UVA wasn’t even that.

ODU scored on its first three possessions and led 17-0 five minutes into the second quarter. The ‘Hoos at this stage had just two first downs, and looked lost all the way around.

You know what happened from there. Virginia scored the final 28 points of the game to win 28-17, but it wasn’t as neat and easy as it sounds.

The UVA defense shored things up after giving up 211 yards to ODU on those first three drives, limiting the Monarchs to 59 yards on its final 10 possessions.

The Cavaliers never did get on track on offense, though.

ODU held Virginia to 244 yards total offense on the night, and the ‘Hoos, who had averaged 178 yards per game on the ground coming in, gained just 69 yards on 29 attempts Saturday night.

Even coach Bronco Mendenhall wasn’t sure what happened on that side of the ball.

“I looked for signs all week, so it caught me off-guard,” Mendenhall said. “I didn’t see signs during the week that indicated that our engine might not be on. The looks that we saw tonight in game were the exact same looks that we practiced against so even though ODU had a bye it wasn’t now some radically new plan that we saw. Our preparation was in relation to what they did. Obviously, we just didn’t execute it with the urgency and precision that we needed to. That’s to their credit as well.”

It was at least a clean game offensively: no turnovers, that is.

An ODU turnover turned the game around for Virginia in the third quarter. UVA, down 17-7 at the half, had the ball to start the third quarter, but was only able to get one first down before having to punt.

On the ensuing possession, ODU quarterback Stone Smartt dropped back to pass, intending to throw a screen, but under pressure, he underthrew the route, and Virginia linebacker Zane Zandier, right place, right time, picked him off at the 22 and ran to the end zone untouched.

“That ball has got to go to the ground,” Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder said.

Wilder gave Virginia its next touchdown. It was still 17-14 entering the fourth quarter. UVA’s only decent sustained drive of the night, a nine-play, 56-yard sort-of-march spanning the end of the third and the start of the fourth, ended with a 37-yard Brian Delaney field-goal try being blocked by ODU’s Keion White with 12:27 to go.

ODU took over at the 20, and faced a third-and-one at the 29.

Kesean Strong was stacked at the line for a no-gain, bringing up a fourth-and-one.

Wilder had already rolled the dice on fourth downs twice and had success, but … here?

He called Smartt’s number on a draw, and Joey Blount caught him in the backfield for another no-gain.

The turnover on downs gave UVA the ball at the 29, and two plays later, Wayne Taulapapa scored from seven yards out to put the ‘Hoos on top for the first time all night.

“We told the team coming into this, being four touchdown underdogs, that we were going for it,” Wilder said. “In the first half, we go for it fourth-and-one. A great call by our offense. We hit Geiger for a 47-yard touchdown to put us up 17-0. If we punt it there, it would have put us up 10-0. We were aggressive, and then up 17-14 with 10 minutes to go, we had fourth and less than a yard. I talked to Coach Scott about the call. We were going to jet sweep motion, which was causing them to widen the perimeter, and run the quarterback, and their deep tackle made a heck of a play. We came here to win, and that is how we tried to play today.”

The Virginia D held for a three-and-out on ODU’s next offensive series, and then the UVA offense had a quick-strike three-play, 58-yard drive, culminating with a Bryce Perkins-to-Joe Reed 25-yard TD pass that put the game away.

“All kinds of learning experiences for our program,” Mendenhall said. “Playing from behind is a challenge. We pulled off the comeback, which is way better than the alternative. Defensively, we adjusted faster mindset-wise and production-wise than we did offensively throughout the day. The blocked field goal could have been much more instrumental than it ended up being, but that certainly has to be shored up.

“Old Dominion showed up ready and hungry and eager to play, and it took us and our program much longer to reach that same state,” Mendenhall said.

Story by Chris Graham


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