Virginia 34, Richmond 13: Three up, three down
For nearly a half-century, no first-year Virginia football coach came away from his debut victorious. Saturday night, Mike London halted that streak. The Cavaliers beat 1-AA Richmond, 34-13, in front of an orange-clad crowd announced as 54,146 strong.
There were plenty of positive signs. The new pro-style offense, at times, looked dynamic. The new 4-3 defense, at times, looked stingy. While perhaps a truer gauge of where Virginia is at as a team won't come until next week when the Cavaliers play at Southern California, Saturday's triumph certainly got their season off on a positive note.
"It feels really good to come away from this one 1-0," fifth-year senior quarterback Marc Verica said. "We've been stressing this for the past couple months that this was our first goal for this season. We were trying to not get too caught up in all the distractions and the hype surrounding our whole program, the transition with the new staff and the new uniforms and changing this and changing that. You know, we just wanted to focus on winning the first game, and I'm really happy we were able to accomplish that."
1) Keith Payne. The fifth-year senior who left the team prior to the start of the 2009 season had not played in a game since 2008. He hadn't scored a touchdown since Nov. 10, 2007. He had never rushed for more than 70 yards in a college game. On Saturday night, Payne rushed for 114 yards and four touchdowns on 16 carries. He at times moved entire piles of orange and white jerseys forward for extra yards. He played like someone trying to prove something, though he would not acknolwedge as much afterward.
"He played his (rear-end) off tonight," junior defensive tackle Nick Jenkins said.
2) The offensive line. This unit was one of the big question marks heading into the season, and while the Richmond defense did not provide the most stringent test, the Cavaliers' front line nonetheless demonstrated a level of physicality that had not been witnessed during a live game in quite some time. The Virginia offensive line, which allowed an ACC-high 41 times last season, gave up one sack Saturday. The Spiders did not register a single quarterback hurry all night. That kind of protection helped enable Verica to throw for a career-high 283 yards. And the line's run-blocking helped pave the way for Payne and sophomore tailback Perry Jones to combine for 188 rushing yards.
3) Defensive newcomers. Sophomore strong-side linebacker LaRoy Reynolds recorded his first collegiate start Saturday. He finished with a team-high eight tackles and a team-high three tackles for a loss. Sophomore cornerback Devin Wallace started in place of an injured Ras-I Dowling. His pass coverage drew rave reviews from London. Senior strong safety Trey Womack started in place of Rodney McLeod, who also was injured and did not play. Though it gave up a handful of big plays, the Virginia defense was fairly stingy throughout the night. Sophomore weak-side linebacker Ausar Walcott made his first collegiate start. The Cavaliers limited Richmond to converting on 5 of 15 third downs, and just 1 of 7 in the first half.
While they were not solely responsible for the overall solid performance the Virginia defense turned in against the Spiders, the first-time starters more than held their own.
1) Special teams. While the offense and defense showed improvement from last season, the special teams remained uninspiring. Virginia's kick-off return coverage was at times porous, and a better opponent would have made the Cavaliers pay dearly for the field position opportunities they afforded. Richmond tallied 131 yards on kickoff returns. Virginia, meantime, finished with 67 kickoff return yards. Of Virginia's five punts, Richmond returned one for 39 yards; of Richmond's six punts, Virginia returned one for two yards.
2) Big plays allowed. Richmond's first play from scrimmage ended in a 30-yard pass completion. The Spiders' lone touchdown came on a 70-yard run during which the ball-carrier ran straight into a crowd of orange and white jerseys before emerging out the other side still on his feet. The Cavaliers allowed Richmond to complete a 32-yard pass, as well. And they allowed Richmond quarterback Aaron Corp to run for 32 yards on a 3rd and eight during the fourth quarter. The Virginia defense didn't allow many big plays, but enough to make you wonder what might happen when they play a team that can more effectively capitalize on the opportunities presented to them.
3) Nagging injuries. While Dowling and McLeod might not have been missed against Richmond, they'll certainly be needed next week at USC. London said McLeod is day-to-day with a left knee injury. Dowling is even more of a mystery. He missed a good amount of time during training camp with lingering injuries, and London said Saturday what kept Dowling out of the Richmond game were hamstring pulls. It's hard to tell at this point the severity of either injury, and it's unlikely we'll know more in the coming days.
During weeks in which a team does not play a conference opponent, it is not required to release an injury report. Virginia did not do so this week; not sure why they would change course while preparing to face a much tougher opponent.
September 5, 2010; 7:27 AM ET
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Posted by: TheSuperhoo | September 5, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse