Nearly two months elapsed between wins for Virginia’s football team, but the ‘Hoos got their money’s worth Saturday against N.C. State, shellacking the double-digit favorite, 33-6.
“Our guys played fast and excited,” Mike London said. “When we play like that, we are a good team.”
UVA’s defense had forced just four turnovers and registered only seven sacks in 2012 before facing one of the conference’s more prolific offenses. Saturday, Virginia tallied five takeaways and sacked State quarterbacks six times. The unit received breakthrough performances from first-years Eli Harold and Maurice Canady, both of whom made their first career starts at Carter-Finley Stadium.
“I was talking to the guys, ‘Hey, there’s nobody here!’” said Harold after a Homecoming crowd fled for the exits as Virginia took a 26-0 lead early in the fourth quarter. “‘There’s probably less than 1,000 people here right now!’”
N.C. State mustered season-lows in points, passing yards, and rushing yards against a Cavalier defense that has now held its last three opponents to 235, 213, and 216 yards of total offense, respectively.
“At 2-6, it’s easy to say, ‘Screw it. Let’s just go and play, whatever,’” defensive end Jake Snyder said. “But we kept preparing, kept focusing like this was the most important practice, the most important game, and that’s what you saw today.”
Credit London for keeping engaged a group that had lost six straight games by a combined 100 points.
“It’s rewarding because it’s easy sometimes to give up on players, point fingers at people, things like that, and scrap the whole system and try to do something else,” London said. “It’s rewarding to see those guys who work hard.”
UVA scored on its opening drive, but not before wide-open quarterback Phillip Sims dropped a tailor-made halfback pass from Perry Jones on first-and-goal from the four.
“Oh, man,” said Sims, who would run for a touchdown two plays later. “I was thinking about the celebration, to be honest. I had never had a pass thrown to me before so I was pretty much thinking about what I was going to do after I caught it.
“[The celebration] might have cost me a 15-yard penalty. I’m going to hold the secret because you never know, I might get a chance to do it again.”
Sims split time at quarterback with Michael Rocco in an unorthodox move that managed to pay dividends.
“We have two guys that are very talented players, and they provide different things for our team,” London said. “I just thought both of them brought something to the table.”
Sims completed eight of ten passes for 115 yards and a 38-yard touchdown strike to Tim Smith. Rocco finished 12-of-23 for 83 yards and an 18-yard score to Darius Jennings. Both were aided by a potent running attack that racked up 248 yards on the ground. Kevin Parks ran for a game-high 115 yards and a touchdown after addressing his team Friday night.
“I just spoke from the heart and said what needed to be said,” recalled Parks, who was overlooked by ACC schools in his home state of North Carolina. “Just telling everybody to believe in our system, and believe in our coaches.”
Virginia (3-6, 1-4 ACC) must win out to become bowl eligible. It hosts Miami (5-4, 4-2) and North Carolina (6-3, 3-2) before traveling to Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3).