Three plays inside the 3: Goal line stand keys UVA win
The ‘Hoos had dominated the stats to that stage. Louisville had just 88 yards of offense on its end, while Virginia had three first-half first-and-goals that had produced just two field goals and a 6-0 lead.
Coming out of the locker room, UVA would get the ball first, but after picking up a first down on a 10-yard pass from Bryce Perkins to Olamide Zaccheaus, the drive would blow up. First, a questionable holding call on a first-down screen pass set the ‘Hoos behind the chains, then Perkins was bottled up on a second-down run.
On third-and-17 from the UVA 30, Perkins had Zaccheaus open underneath, but overshot his target, and the pass bounced off his hands and into the hands of Louisville cornerback Rodjay Burns.
Burns returned the pick down the right sideline, and it was actually Perkins who made the stop at the UVA 3.
First down and goal, Louisville. Get three yards, and the Cardinals would lead in a game in which they had been dominated to that point.
First-down play: Jeremy Smith takes a handoff and gains a yard, brought down by Jordan Mack and R.J. Proctor, among others.
Second down: Smith, again, this time for no gain, brought down by Zane Zandier.
Third down now. You’re thinking, OK, two runs off-tackle didn’t work, so Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is going to go run-pass option.
He didn’t. Trey Smith took the handoff and lost a yard, Zandier making the stop again.
You wouldn’t be surprised to see Petrino push the button again and go for it on fourth down, since it felt at the time that this could be the ballgame, given how little Louisville had been able to get going with its offense, but the coach played it safe, sent out the field-goal unit, and made it 6-3.
UVA would score touchdowns on its next two drives to set itself on its way to the blowout win, and we’d forget the three plays inside the 3 in the euphoria.
There’s no euphoria without the three stops inside the 3.
“We knew at that point that if they scored it was going to be a really tight game. It would have changed the outcome of the game, maybe. And we held it down and knew what we had to do,” sophomore defensive end Mandy Alonso said.
“That was huge,” said sophomore linebacker Charles Snowden, who had a team-high eight tackles, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery, oh, and two pass break-ups, basically filling every stat line available.
“I think that really defined our defense,” Snowden said. “Last week versus Ohio, any time we had turnovers we gave up big plays. We really emphasized that this week. So to have a sudden change like that versus Louisville really showed our growth as a team. I can still vividly see Zane smacking that dude on third down. It is ingrained in my memory. It really meant a lot to the coaches and the whole team.”
“Being able to get that stop and stop the momentum and give the ball back to the offense without them scoring a touchdown was huge for us,” said Zandier, a sophomore who had seven tackles on the day. “Having that opportunity is so much fun – to have a big play and be a big part of the game.”
“That was huge. That was one of the biggest plays all game,” junior cornerback Bryce Hall said of the stand, and the third-down stop that cemented it. “That stop gave us the momentum and kept the points down. Two to three critical plays a game decide a game, and I think that was one of them.”
Hall had seven tackles on the day, and intercepted a Jawon Pass pass attempt inside the UVA 20 in the third quarter to help set up the game-breaking Virginia touchdown.
It all happened because the UVA defense stepped up when it had to.
“A big thing that coach likes to emphasize is game-changing plays like that interception,” Alonso said after the game. “It really changed the game because we had our backs against the wall and we were just trying to hold them. Our d-line and the linebackers, we came in and punched them in the mouth.”