November 11, 2012

Weekend Wrap: Miami Edition

It's hard to ignore how confident UVa has been these last two weeks and even harder to fathom how a group that lost six-straight games managed to put together the performances we've seen the past couple of outings. But listening to Mike London and his players after Saturday's come-from-behind win 41-40, there was a theme that was clear and it wasn't cliche, at least not to me.

There comes a point in sports where things get tired and for some, London's focus on "faith, family, and football" had gotten there. But these last two weeks in wins over NC State and Miami, it's been impossible not to see faith and resiliency in this team, a group that came together and truly trusted each other and their common purpose.

Consider London's comments during his post-game presser yesterday.

"What a blessing that is, just to see something like that come to fruition at the end of a game where there's been a couple times we've been on the short end of that. To see the players and coaches be really resilient, I'm so elated and so happy for those guys.

"Whether it is politically correct or not, I feel a tremendous blessing just occurred out there on that field and it was great to see," the third-year UVa head coach said.

Several minutes later, Michael Rocco echoed those sentiments. And judging from his record-breaking day, it made plenty of sense. He was asked about a question that posed to him earlier this season, when it appeared Phillip Sims would be Virginia's quarterback for some time to come.

"I'm a resilient guy," Rocco began. "You're not going to win every game as a quarterback and as a football player, you have to know that. But you've got to act and prepare like you are going to win every game and so I wasn't surprised when things were being said to me like I wasn't going to play again. I had confidence and I have a firm foundation.

"My family believes in me, my friends believe in me, and I believe in myself. I kind of prayed about it, stayed in the Word, and kind of got confidence from that and just kind of stuck with it. And here we are today on a two-game win streak. It feels nice to be back."

Rocco's career day included a school record 18-straight completions, four touchdowns on 29 of 37 (78 percent) passing with zero interceptions. It was also Rocco's fourth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and his 300 yards passing was the fourth of his career.

Steve Greer, who led UVa with 13 tackles and moved into ninth all-time in tackles, passing former greats Anthony Poindexter and Wali Rainer, said it was his team's will that he was impressed with these last two weeks.

"I think it just shows our resiliency," he said. "I think that was the most frustrating thing during the first part of the season: We knew how good of a team we could be. We worked hard to turn this thing around."

And then there's Miles Gooch, a quarterback-turned-receiver who caught not only the first pass of his UVa career on Saturday but also made it his first TD, too. The long road from former signal caller to scoring that touchdown was a lot like the catch itself: full of heart and well worth it.

"I just never lost my faith," Gooch said. "I had no idea what was going to happen coming into this game and I just wanted to be prepared for what was to come. It's been frustrating at times, coming from playing quarterback and switching to receiver, it's never easy. But what's kept me going through it all has just been faith and just believing."

The play itself, a 7-yard touchdown that capped UVa's opening drive, was everything Gooch says he had hoped it would be.

"It felt amazing, a combination of joy and this overwhelming feeling," he recalled. "If I'm not mistaken, I'm the first (read) on that play. I looked at Rocco, he let the ball go, and I just tried to catch it and get in."

The ball got there fast but everything after the play was over was in slow motion.

"Everything," Gooch said with a wide smile. "Rocco really put it in there but after that, it all slowed down."

But Rocco's biggest pass of the day, the game-winner to Jake McGee with just 0:06 left on the clock, was one that sent Scott Stadium into an instant euphoria and may have exorcised some demons that the Cavaliers have been fighting this season.

"Your mind blanks for a little bit and it becomes all instinct," McGee said of the catch. "It just happens."

He credited Rocco with "staying strong" through this season and for having the confidence to put that ball where McGee needed it high and in the back of the end zone.

"It was a great day for the program," London said simply.

Terrell's big day

For the first time since he arrived on Grounds, sophomore receiver Dominique Terrell showed Saturday why so many had him pegged as a four-star recruit in high school. His career high in receptions and yards, Terrell's nine catches for 127 were all huge. Several came on 3rd or 4th down when the Wahoos had to have them.

"That's how I think it'll be every day when I wake up," Terrelll said when asked if he thought Saturday would be a career day. "I come out here to play."

Despite having been much maligned as a freshman while struggling to consistently return punts and having more than his fair share of drops as a receiver, UVa's quarterbacks looked his way early and often on Saturday. Terrell said he was thankful to have that opportunity.

"They ran a lot of man (coverage)," he said of the Hurricanes. "And we like man a lot because, we're not as big as we were last year, but I feel like we're a little faster. Speed, we got open, made some moves."

Following a career in high school where he too was a quarterback, Terrell had to learn the ins and outs of being a receiver. Though he's made some plays, like the Idaho win last season, Terrell hadn't made anything close to the impact like he did on Saturday.

"It's been different," he said. "Coming from being a star to being a role player. But I'm taking my role well. We had a lot of crossing routes, picking each other, and I got open."

Terrell said receivers coach and former UVa quarterback and wide receiver Marques Hagans didn't let him get down on himself when he stumbled seemingly over his own feet on one catch. Where something like that might have killed his confidence in other spots, on Saturday he bounced back quickly, including 37 yards on UVa's 87-yard game-winning drive.

"I got on the sideline and Biscuit just kept talking to me," Terrell said after laughing for a second. "He just told me to stay focused because I was having a good game. So I just had to bounce back and help my team out."

Playing beyond his years

Last week, true freshman corner Maurice Canady started his first game, led the team in tackles, and snagged an interception. This week, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Varina native started his second game, was credited with nine tackles, and may have made the play that reignited his team.

Miami, leading 31-28 just before the end of the third quarter, began a drive after ending UVa's 8-play, 41-yard march for a go-ahead score. The Canes then, behind Stephen Morris' passing, were looking to go for the kill. They were in UVa territory when the fourth quarter began and Morris was looking for the end zone but this time on the ground.

Morris ran for 22 yards and had real estate in front of him but it was Canady who caught him from behind and with a swipe of his arm popped the ball out. Having stayed on his feet through the block, Canady recovered on the 2-yard line. Though the Hurricanes forced Virginia to punt 1:38 after and got a TD two plays later, Canady's play seemed to give the team a spark.

UVa got the ball back down 10 and the Cavs promptly went 12 plays for 71 yards and a touchdown to begin the comeback anew.

"I just had to use my hands," Canady said of the fumble he both caused and recovered. "All I could do was swipe and when I swiped, I hit the ball, and then I saw it and I had to go get it."

The scene in the locker room, Canady said, was incredible after the game. That is of course if he could actually recall any of it.

"I can barely remember anything, I was so excited," he said. "It's a great feeling."

The Hot 5

The Hot 5 returns with a little bit of movement, a more offense-oriented tone, and the return of "The Kid." To refresh, this list isn't always a look at the five best players on the team but instead of group of the players who are both vital to the team but also showing well on the field.

5. Maurice Canady, CB: Two starts and two gems for the true freshman whose impact on the defense thus far is as real on the stat sheet as it is to the naked eye when he's on the field. With both physicality and swagger, Canady brings a confidence that is much needed for a cornerback in today's game. His nine tackles were a career high and both the forced fumble and recovery were firsts, too.

4. Darius Jennings, WR: While he didn't have the yards of Terrell, Jennings scored a pair of TDS (a career high) on seven receptions (also a career high). His play, coupled with Terrell's, showed just how important getting the four-star receivers was to London's program and also showed that quarterbacks should feel comfortable looking their way from now on.

3. Steve Greer, MLB: Consistent as ever, Greer doesn't always make the most eye-opening plays but it's impossible to think UVa comes anywhere close to winning this game without his instincts and experience. It was Greer who was quarterbacking the defense when Miami went uptempo and coordinator Jim Reid was hard pressed to get the call and the personnel in when needed. Greer is an All ACC player and he's playing like it this season.

2. Michael Rocco, QB: Not that long ago, Rocco was a forgotten man. But he kept working, he made the most of his opportunities in games and in practice, and he earned a spot in UVa's unusual quarterback rotation. After the day he had on Saturday and the TD pass he threw for the win, it was impossible to keep him off this list.

1. Jake McGee, TE: Sure, he's the team's third or fourth tight end but "Captain Clutch" has a nose for coming through in the big moments. That certainly has been the case all season and was especially true against Miami. It's one thing to make a play but it's another to make that play when you know it's coming your way with the game on the line. No player in a Cavalier uniform has made as many people "wow" as McGee this season. Period.

Looking ahead
The Cavaliers finish our their home-season slate this Thursday when they host rival North Carolina. The game will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. and be televised by nationally by ESPN......Following a 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech, the highest-scoring game in ACC history, North Carolina will have a short week to head to Charlottesville. But first-year head coach Larry Fedora will have arguably the conference's best player this season, running back/return man Gio Bernard. He's fourth in the country in punt return average and has rushed for 1,008 yards and 11 TDs through 10 games.....Virginia will need a win to continue its hunt for a bowl game. Though the Wahoos can't earn a place in the conference's title game, they can earn a second-straight bowl appearance with two more wins. UNC, of course, is playing strictly for pride, as the Tar Heels cannot qualify for the postseason due to NCAA missteps of the previous coaches.



 

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