Virginia Football Squashes Spiders: 10 Lessons From Week One Victory
The first week is over and done and for the first time since 2005, Virginia is 1-0.
It's been a long road and an off-season full of questions and revitalized hope.
Now the new era has officially begun with head coach Mike London and he was able to get it done against his previous employer and alma mater Richmond 34-13. That feat makes London the first Virginia coach to start his career off with a win in nearly half a century.
While one game is but a mere snapshot of things to come, Virginia fans did begin to get some answers to the myriad of questions they had entering the season.
We saw a terrific performance by running back Keith Payne, a questionable special teams effort and a new star on defense.
The following are ten things we can take away from Virginia's performance against the Richmond Spiders this past weekend.
Will they be harbingers of things to come?
The Fans Want To Believe
It's never easy when your football program is losing.
After a disastrous 2009 season and little hope for 2010 to be that much better, it would be easy for Cavalier fans to just sit this one out.
However, coach Mike London has made an impassioned plea to the fan base to come out and support the team. For one game at least they listened.
The attendance of 54,146 may not be a capacity crowd, but it is a welcome sight for Cavalier players who saw a little over 44,000 against Boston College in 2009.
Now the fact that it's an opener and that Richmond fans came in nice numbers certainly augment those numbers. However, there is no denying that Scott Stadium was louder than it has been in a few years.
People want to believe in this team and they're willing to give coach London a vociferous roar of approval.
As long as Virginia keeps giving fans something worth cheering for, I would expect attendance to begin to creep it's way up.
The question is, can London keep the fans coming when things go awry?
LaRoy Reynolds, You Are My Hero
LaRoy Reynolds was completely unknown last season and when coach London switched him to linebacker there was certainly some growing pains.
However, Reynolds proved that he may be the best thing to happen to the Virginia defense in a long time.
Now defense has usually been Virginia's strongest point in the past few seasons. However, they have rarely had the speed and athleticism that Reynolds possesses.
Reynolds plays downhill and tries to make big plays, something that sorely lacks in the defensive repertoire. His eight tackles led the team but it was the three tackles for loss that get fans excited.
As the linebacker takes more time to learn his role, London should be able to use his versatility in key ACC games. He can spy some of the more athletic quarterbacks, or simply pin his ears back and hit somebody.
Reynolds has drawn favorable comparisons to Darryl Blackstock, another talented Virginia defensive linebacker. Time will tell if the comparison is apt, but it seems clear that his play could be a welcome surprise for the Cavaliers in 2010.
The Payne Train Is Pulling Into The Station
Wow, who saw that one coming?
Keith Payne reminded me a great deal of former Virginia basketball player Jason Cain.
The guy was more of a punchline than a headline.
Cavalier fans joked about how great the mighty behemoth was going to be on the gridiron. He was going to be the next Chuck Norris for goodness sake!
However, a combination of injuries, bad grades and other factors just never allowed that to come to fruition.
Payne appeared to be out of the running for notoriety, but last weekend he proved why people had so much faith in him before he arrived to Charlottesville.
Payne used his strength to literally push the line forward on a couple of occasions. He overpowered the Richmond line and bullied his way towards 114 yards and four touchdowns.
His bulk provided a good complement to the shifty Perry Jones and the tandem had a good time in the second half of wearing down the Spider defense.
Virginia now has a game plan towards success in 2010. If they can establish the run with these two, they can certainly make for some interesting ACC games.
On the other hand, Payne did overpower an FCS team who really began to light it up after the Spiders's best defensive lineman went out for a series with an injury.
If Payne does it against the Trojans though, some Virginia fan will make a Heisman website for the bruiser by Sunday.
Verica + Confidence= Competent
Let's face it, no one believes in you.
In fact, you may not believe in yourself.
However, when things go right you are a fairly adequate quarterback.
Let's get one thing straight, Verica did not light the world on fire this past weekend.
Sure he had some good throws, but he also had some terrible throws that had interception written all over them. He got lucky that the Spider defenders had brick hands, otherwise the game could have gotten away from Virginia much like last season's opener against William & Mary.
Verica shook off the bad throws though and really began to look comfortable in the pocket. Not an easy thing considering some of the pressure that came his way.
We all know that when it rains it pours for Verica, if he gets going in the wrong direction it could be a blowout. However, he does have talent and he proved it with a 24-of-35 performance for 283 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.
Is Verica going to be Matt Schaub? No.
Can he manage the game, particularly when he has a running game to keep defense's honest? Maybe.
For someone that many Virginia fans openly wondered just how long he would be the starter under center, Verica had himself a good week.
Special Teams, Not So Special
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I love Anthony Poindexter.
The man is an all-time legend at Virginia and a key injury cost him what would have been a stellar NFL career.
I also understand why Poindexter was the only assistant that Al Groh hired to remain with the staff when coach London took over.
However, Poindexter the coach got exposed a bit this weekend.
The man in charge of special teams saw some pretty lackluster efforts from his boys in orange and blue.
Kickoff returns were spotty, the Cavaliers missed two field goals with two different kickers and Virginia's longest return was 26 yards off a kickoff.
Poindexter is also the secondary coach and although they had a big interception, they also got lit up at times by Aaron Corp, Spider quarterback.
I know that Poindexter is beloved by Cavalier fans, but his unit performed the worst on Saturday.
Virginia needs to have stellar special teams to be able to compete against the upper echelon teams of the ACC. These mistakes will get them in big trouble later on this season.
Can Poindexter correct them? My heart says yes, but past results would indicate no.
Ras-I Dowling Has Something Left to Prove
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While Virginia was racking up their first season opening win since 2005, projected NFL corner back Ras-I Dowling was standing on the sidelines.
After suffering an injury in practice, Dowling was relegated to spectator, albeit an energetic one.
Still, despite his good attitude, you could notice some hostility flowing from UVA message boards. Despite all his talent and good performances, Dowling is a lightning rod in the Cavalier community.
For despite some solid play, Dowling has had trouble living up to the hype.
Outsiders see the speed and athleticism that make him an NFL prospect.
Some Cavalier fans see an undisciplined talent that gets burned far too often.
His biggest blunder was being absolutely schooled by Virginia Tech's Danny Coale last season in Charlottesville. A performance that left some shaking their heads in disbelief.
Corner back can be a thankless position, you are asked to guard the best wide receiver on each team and mistakes are going to happen. In fact, often you can play perfectly on a snap and still get burned.
However, Dowling knows that this year will not only impact his draft stock but his legacy at Virginia. How are people going to remember him?
Will he exorcise some demons?
Dowling needs to get on the field first. It appears he will play this weekend and if he can hold his own than fans will be appeased.
However, entering his final year, Dowling is still waiting for his shining moment.
Two Burds With No Smith
Virginia had some big question marks at wide receiver.
Kris Burd did a good job answering them.
Burd and teammate Dontrelle Inman racked in some eye-popping catches in week one, leading to big cheers from the fans and big groans from the Richmond secondary.
Both of these players never seemed to get much of an opportunity under coach Al Groh but appear to be a focal point of the offense in 2010.
Burd's seven receptions for 122 yards was the most by a Virginia wide receiver since 2008.
Inman and Burd combined for 200 yards of offense and really made a statement that they will be Verica's preferred targets.
Conversely, wide receivers Tim Smith and Jared Green should have been on milk cartons following the game.
Green, the son of Redskins legend Darrell Green was nowhere to be seen last weekend.
Smith dropped an easy catch because he was already heading up field without the ball secured. The embarrassing blunder relegated him to observer for much of the game.
Virginia's wide outs will have to make plays for Verica and despite all the drops in training camp, they came to play in week one.
If the experienced Burd and Inman continue to play well, the Cavaliers may finally find a passing game that has been gone since 2005.
New Mascot Fail
I don't what it is and I don't want to know.
Virginia unveiled a new mascot that looks like a beaver made out of a UVA snuggie.
This thing is not only creepy it's exceedingly lame.
Why does he have boxing gloves? Why is he in black?
What on earth is going with that hair/hat/top of his head?
Whenever the conversation moves to mascots in Charlottesville it only helps remind Virginia fans of that less than flattering moment when the Cavalier fell off his horse. Must we be forced to relive that debacle time and time again?
This weird monstrosity is not cool or intimidating, it's not even lovable. Kids will run in fear of this boxing, nose-less gopher and I don't blame them.
Virginia should have learned from the past, do not try to give Cavman a pal on the sidelines. Every effort in the past has failed and this one can follow them in the pastures of regret.
Stick with the basics Cavalier brass!
Morgan Moses Sighting!
It took way to long, but offensive lineman Morgan Moses finally took the field as a Cavalier.
Now I don't know how much to take away from this. The man is an offensive specimen with the body type to lift a small semi-truck.
He certainly has the talent to follow in the great line of offensive linemen at Virginia like D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Branden Albert and Eugene Monroe among others.
However, he still has to prove he can make the grades. Something that has cost him in the past and a constant fear for Cavalier fans.
Moses also has stiff competition at his position with Oday Aboushi.
Still, it is nice to see a little depth at the offensive line, particularly considering the need to run the ball as often as the Cavaliers plan to do.
This is a great sight to see!
Richmond Isn't USC
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Even if the Richmond quarterback was a Trojan reject, the Spiders are still an FCS team.
Sure they beat Duke last season, a team that Virginia could not win against at home but they're not trying to compete in the ACC.
As Aaron McFarling of the Roanoke Times put it, even if it's been some time since Virginia did what it's supposed to do does not mean we should start building statues towards Mike London quite yet. The Cavaliers are supposed to win that game, just like they're supposed to lose this upcoming weekend.
We learned that Virginia has some talent and some grit, but how will that match-up with the speed and size of the Trojans?
Can Virginia redeem the beat down they suffered a few year's back to Southern California?
Thankfully those lessons will be learned this weekend!