There were times Virginia's Saturday night prime time 31-24 win over Florida State was looking more like a defensive slugfest than the relatively high-scoring game that was expected. The Seminoles came in with a new-look offense that was putting up points, and though the Cavaliers entered the big tilt with a strong defense, no one expected them to shut down FSU. Along with a pretty good offense, FSU has a soft defense, and with Virginia having scored at least 30 points in each of its first two games, 30-plus points for the 'Hoos was somewhat expected again. I attended the game with my friend JP, and in the third quarter, I turned to him and said, "This feels like last year's Pitt game," which we also attended. In that contest, there wasn't much first-half scoring, and then Pitt slowly took control in the third quarter. On Saturday night, the first half was fairly low-scoring, and FSU seemed to be taking control in the third quarter. But then, the fourth quarter happened, the Cavaliers' offense came alive, and an instant classic was born. And on the last drive, all hell broke loose.
A look back at Virginia's second ACC victory of the season, which made the Wahoos 3-0 for the first time since 2005:
What's there to say about Bryce Perkins? He was incredible. The senior completed 30 of his 40 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown, with one bad pick and one not-as-bad-pick. Not overly impressive numbers, but then you have to break down his second half and two huge plays. Media member Jerry Ratcliffe said in the postgame news conference that Perkins was 17 of 19 in the second 30 minutes, with the two incomplete passes being one drop and one throwaway. I thought I heard he was 17 of 20. Either way, in the second half, Perkins was brilliant, bouncing back from a somewhat rocky opening 30 minutes.
On his first huge play, UVa faced a fourth-and-2 late in the third quarter down 17-10 at FSU's 33-yard line. Kicker Brian Delaney had already made a 49-yarder, had not missed his extra point, and the possibility of converting a field goal to cut the margin to 17-13 would not have been the worst move. But another long successful kick wasn't guaranteed, and a touchdown would have of course tied the game. So the Cavaliers went for it. The call was a run-pass option with Perkins and Wayne Taulapapa, and Perkins decided to keep the ball. It looked like he was going to be stopped just short of the first down, and I thought the refs had a chance to blow the whistle with his forward progress slowed, but they didn't, and Perkins did not stop trying. He continued moving his legs, and what at first looked like a 1-yard gain turned into a pile-moving 6-yard gain. Bronco Mendenhall said after the game he loves how hard his team tries and that his players are trained to do so for a longer period of time than the other team's players, and that play was a perfect example. Just pure determination on the part of Perkins, the offensive line, and anyone else pushing the pile.
The other monumental Perkins play came after the winning drive. Delaney had missed the extra point the drive before, so UVa was only up 29-24. The Cavaliers had to go for two, and the call was a pass play that turned into a scramble drill and finally a Perkins one-man show. By describing it, I can only fall short, but his vision, nimbleness, athleticism, and speed were sublime. Receiver Hasise Dubois called Perkins a "magician." Couldn't agree more, Hasise.
Taulapapa is a tough ******* runner. He's always falling forward and running very hard. UVa's running game was not great, and I still wish it could reach another level to take some pressure off of Perkins' rushing ability and the passing game, but it got the job done in short-yardage situations. Taulapapa was the beneficiary with three touchdowns, and he finished with 53 yards on 18 carries (2.9 ypc). Perkins had 46 yards, and Virginia finished with 120. The line also did a pretty good job of keeping Perkins clean, especially in the second half, as he was sacked just twice.
Joe Reed is looking more and more like Olamide Zaccheaus. Reed gave a boost to Virginia's running game at the perfect time on the game-winning drive. UVa got the ball back with 4:54 left at its own 28. I criticize offensive coordinator Robert Anae a lot, but the first play on this drive was money. Earlier, Perkins threw a swing pass to Reed. This time, Reed, who was positioned beside Perkins in the shotgun, faked like he was going to go on that route, then came back inside for a handoff. ACC Network color commentator Tim Hasselbeck called the play a "lag draw." The FSU defense was caught going the wrong way, opening just enough of an alley for Reed to scamper through and get to the 50, kick-starting the final scoring drive. Mendenhall said after the game that it is a play Virginia ran with Zaccheaus, and they had been working on it for Reed. Additionally, Reed is becoming the preferred option in the passing game, leading the team with eight catches for 83 yards and one touchdown, which was a beautiful pass from Perkins, by the way. At first, I thought Perkins had overthrown Reed, but the quick senior from Charlotte Court House in southern rural Virginia caught up to it. Reed already has 19 catches this season, meaning he might surpass his total of 25 in 2018 in this Saturday's game.
Reed looks like the go-to option in the passing game, but Virginia has lots of solid weapons. Terrell Jana had a career-high seven catches, and Dubois added seven receptions as well, including a long of 35 on the winning drive when he put a real nice move on a defender and left him on the ground. Tight end Tanner Cowley already has six catches in 2019, so he is on pace to surpass tight end Evan Butts' 16 from last year. Billy Kemp had two catches in the game, showing some nice moves on a 13-yard gain after a short pass. Tavares Kelly is similar to Kemp, with lots of jitterbug-type squirm. All of these guys seem to have really good hands. I can't recall many drops thus far. Virginia has a really nice receiving corps.
Late in the game, the offensive plan went back to what was working on the first drive. There were some hiccups in the middle of the game, but in the fourth quarter, when UVa scored 21 points, it took advantage of shallow routes, mostly in the middle of the field, and ate up the Seminoles' crumbling soft zone, which has had a tendency to be even more forgiving in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers' final three scoring drives all covered at least 72 yards. I'm not sure why UVa went away from what was working initially. Mendenhall said at halftime, the Cavaliers figured out what was working the best and what was going to help them win the game. The first drive was a thing of beauty until Perkins forced another pass like he did against William & Mary and got picked off. I didn't see any reason to stray from those types of plays that FSU's defense was willingly giving. I'm also still not that concerned about Perkins' picks. He knows what he's doing wrong and is smart. He just needs to do a better job of protecting the ball in those situations, especially when he is rolling left and unable to plant his feet for a throw.
Perkins' other interception came at the end of the first half on a long attempt down the sideline to Jana. The pass was not that bad, but I do question the decision of either Perkins trying such a deep pass or Anae calling for it. UVa had a first down at FSU's 47 with nine seconds left and two timeouts. The Hoos needed a quick pass for about 10 or so yards and then could've tried a long field goal on the last play. I don't think the deep pass was warranted there. Watching the highlights, you can see that Perkins did have a couple of short route options on the play, but three wideouts went long, so it seems like the play was meant to be called for a potential long gain.
OK, let's talk about the last FSU drive. A separate article could be written about it. Shades of 1995 -- a stop near the goal line after a direct snap to a running back -- with a dash of 2011 -- UVa seemingly had to win the game three times -- were present amid the zaniness.
So the first time it looked as if UVa wrapped up the game came on fourth-and-15 from the FSU 20. Cornerback Nick Grant made a great play by jumping up over the top of Ontaria Wilson and knocking the ball away. But he was flagged for pass interference. Was it? It is hard to tell, but it seemed like a bang-bang play. He did arrive maybe a tiny bit too early, but certainly, that sort of play isn't always flagged. After that happened, Mendenhall must have said something really nasty to the referee, because he specifically said "unsportsmanlike conduct, head coach." Mendenhall apologized to his team after the game and told the media that was the first one of his career. All of a sudden, FSU went from its own 20 to the 50 thanks to penalties. Since Virginia won, Mendenhall's slip-up is just funny and not completely maddening. I really want to know what he said (haha).
FSU's first play at the 50 was a long pass down the sideline, and Blackman just missed a wide open Tamorrion Terry, who had Bryce Hall beat by a good five yards.
The second time it looked like Virginia won was on fourth-and-6 from the UVa 45. The pass was incomplete, but Jordan Mack was penalized for roughing the passer. I have not seen a good angle on this play, but my dad was watching the game and said it was a weak call (and he acknowledged he thought the pass interference was a tough call but one that was legitimate) and that Mack's hands basically landed on Blackman's shoulders, nothing more. So the defense had to gear up again.
On a play later on the drive in the red zone, I noticed that linebacker Zane Zandier sacked Blackman after initially tripping over a lineman's legs. Virginia should have had a sack on the next play, too, but Aaron Faumui flew past Blackman and could only get a hand on him.
I have seen some FSU fans saying they lost a few seconds on the final play, and I agree. The clock should have stopped with about six or seven seconds left after the first down, but it ticked down to four. That may have made the Seminoles rush the final play or decide against a spike, but either way, I'm not sure it mattered. I think FSU ended up calling the play it wanted at the end, the direct snap to running back Cam Akers. Akers was initially able to get away from linebacker Noah Taylor and safety De'Vante Cross, both of whom slowed him down. Then, Hall was able to get around the receiver blocking him and bring down Akers enough so that his wrist touched the ground. Game over. Pandemonium ensued.
Florida State didn't look great, but the Seminoles played their best game of the season. FSU could be 3-0, and it could also be 0-3. The 'Noles will be fighting again just to make a bowl, but the offense has a lot of potential. QB James Blackman wasn't fantastic, but he played a solid game, and the receivers made some really nice catches after getting blasted by defenders. Akers is a very hard-nosed runner who refuses to go down. The defense, though, still needs work and really needs to figure out its fourth-quarter problem. Winning more than a couple ACC games will be an issue if it can't stiffen up at least somewhat in end-game situations.
The crowd was so awesome. I had not been at Scott Stadium to see a win since the 2012 Penn State game, a run of eight straight losses personally. I finally did see the team win in person at the Belk Bowl but had not witnessed a home victory, and boy was it a doozy. I was skeptical the crowd would live up to the hype, but it did. I sat in the bowl in the lower section of the end zone, and it was loud and packed. It's been a long time since I sat at a UVa home game shoulder to shoulder with people. Bravo to the Wahoo fans that showed up and showed out. I did not expect to see 57,000-plus at Scott Stadium this season until maybe the Virginia Tech game. As for rushing the field, my take is simply, who cares? If you want my answer, I would rather our fans not rush the field as a ranked team playing an unranked team, but I do not really care. Other fans will talk trash about UVa because of it, but as long as the team wins, none of that chatter matters. Just like the basketball team, winning will silence the haters. Well, it won't silence the haters, but it will drown them out.
My final point is just this: The resilience this team continues to show is just fantastic and so refreshing to see. It really is becoming a hallmark of #TheStandard. Can you imagine a Mike London-coached UVa team having the will to break through for that win after the many mistakes and penalties? Yeah, didn't think so either (yes I see the irony of pointing out the 2011 team, coached by London, won similarly against FSU in 2011). Mendenhall and his staff have built a mentally tough team that is super prepared coming into every game. The Wahoos could sustain some losses in which the better team just wins, but UVa won't quit and will be able to bounce back from whatever is thrown its way.