Virginia posted 488 yards of total offense and wore down a game Richmond squad in the second half en route to a 34-13 season-opening victory on Saturday.
The win came in the first game under new head coach Mike London, a former UVa. defensive coordinator who left Richmond for Charlottesville to replace the departed Al Groh.
A 26-21 26-14 loss to I-AA William and Mary to start the 2009 season was the beginning of Groh’s undoing. The impressive win over the I-AA national-title contender UR in 2010 gets the London regime off to a positive start.
“It was really important to come out and be representative of a team that is trying to improve. We’re trying to show that we have improved academically, we have improved socially and we wanted to show that we could take one quarter at a time and play a game where we don’t self-destruct but rather score points and play defense. That’s the improvement we’re looking for. There are things we did well and some things we need to keep working on. Our goal for the season is to improve each time we play,” London said after the game, which featured solid performances on both sides of the ball.
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Senior quarterback Marc Verica was perhaps the most impressive, throwing for a career-high 283 yards on 24-35 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions or fumbles.
“I felt pretty good out there,” said Verica, who had help big time from running game, which posted 205 yards on 35 attempts, including 114 yards and four touchdowns on 16 carries by senior fullback Keith Payne, who left the team before the start of the ’09 season after having his role in the UVa. offense reduced when Groh made the move to install a spread-based scheme.
“I was just following behind the offensive line. The offensive line played really well today,” an understated Payne said.
Perry Jones added 73 yards on nine carries, 38 coming on the first play from scrimmage, which keyed a quick strike 2:14 drive that got the Cavaliers on the board first with a 7-0 lead.
The only lapse for UVa. on either side of the ball came midway through the first quarter. Richmond tailback Kendall Gaskins ran into the line on a second-and-long and somehow squirted out of the scum and outraced the Virginia secondary to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7-7.
Kris Burd caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Verica to put the ‘Hoos back on top at 14-7 4:21 into the second quarter. A Wil Kamin 36-yard field goal brought Richmond to within 14-10 at the halftime break.
Another Kamin field goal, this one from 41 yards out, made it 14-13 UVa. with 10:46 left in the third. Virginia took control on its next offensive possession, with Payne scoring from two yards out to cap a nine-play, 74-yard drive that made it 21-13 Virginia.
An eight-yard Payne run capped a four-play, 84-yard drive keyed by a 51-yard Verica-to-Burd connection, and it was 28-13 Virginia. A Chase Minnifield interception in the UR end zone and subsequent 65-yard return set up Virginia for its last score, a one-yard Payne run at the 6:30 mark of the fourth that made it 34-13.
“I think Virginia started to wear us down a little bit in the second half, but we were still in the game,” said Richmond coach Latrell Scott, a former London assistant at UR and former Groh assistant at UVa.
Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at [email protected].