Cavs aim to stifle Bulldogs at home
Coach London’s squad returns to Scott Stadium’s friendly confines, eyes potent Louisiana Tech offense
The Virginia football team returns to Scott Stadium Saturday for a showdown against offensively dominant Lousiana Tech. After losing their last two games on the road by a combined 56 points, the Cavaliers (2-2, 0-1 ACC) will try to get back on track against the Bulldogs (3-0, 0-0 WAC).
After yielding 83 points and 1,032 yards total in losses to Georgia Tech and TCU, the Cavaliers now have to face one of the best offenses in college football, guided by redshirt senior quarterback Colby Cameron. Cameron this season has completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 913 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to three consecutive victories in which they have scored 54.7 points per game, good for third in FBS.
“I don’t know if you can slow them down,” Coach Mike London said of Louisiana Tech’s offense. “They have outstanding personnel; their quarterback; they have a receiver, No. 4 [redshirt senior Quinton Patton] who’s an outstanding dynamic player [who] can locate the ball wherever its thrown.”
The Cavaliers’ task became drastically less daunting this week, though, with the announcement that the Bulldogs’ leading rusher freshman Tevin King will miss the rest of the 2012 season with a torn ACL. King amassed 369 yards in his first three college games. Fellow freshman running back Kenneth Dixon, however, has gained 244 yards himself and should prove an ample replacement in the starting backfield.
London plans to face the same balanced attack that torched the Bulldogs’ earlier opponents — an offensive style more familiar to the Cavaliers.
“I love this type of gameplan,” freshman cornerback Maurice Canady said. “TCU had a similar one, and I was able to get an interception. So I’m looking forward to it.”
The Cavaliers look to win the matchup by controlling the tempo of the game. They face a Bulldog defense that has ceded 36.7 points per game so far.
“I think it’s going to be important for us to play well defensively, not turn the ball over, and put some points up,” London said. “We are going to have to hang on to the ball and put some drives together.”
If Virginia plans to win with such a strategy, both the passing game and rushing game must exhibit marked improvement. The Cavaliers cannot afford the turnovers and third-down inefficiency that have plagued them in recent weeks.
The turnovers from the quarterback position in particular have alarmed the Virginia coaching staff. Junior quarterback Michael Rocco hurled two interceptions last week. Backup junior Phillip Sims fumbled, bringing the team’s turnover total to 10 — tied for eighth-most among FBS schools.
“Michael understands that his throws, his decisions, are very, very important to the success of what happens to the ball,” London said. “Phillip understands the same thing. Both Michael and Phillip are aware that they have to perform at their best regardless of who the quarterback is.”
London plans no change in strategy from the first few weeks with Rocco starting and Sims seeing some late play. Though Sims has played decently during the last two weeks and raised a growing chorus of supporters hearkening for him to start, London said Rocco needs to amend the team’s third-down woes and receive more help from his receivers to regain the sterling form he exhibited at the end of 2011.
“Well, a few dropped passes, you know, a couple completions here and there, and you know, perhaps the conversation is different,” London said. “But when you are 3-of-16 on third down [against TCU], that really hurts.”
Third-down completions take on great importance this week as the Cavaliers try to keep the Bulldog defense on the field as long as possible.
An established run game would help Virginia retain possession. After initially struggling with running plays in the first three games before rushing for a season-high 177 yards last week, the Cavaliers look to maintain momentum.
Against TCU, sophomore Kevin Parks and senior Perry Jones each had 12 carries. Parks accounted for 86 yards whereas Jones tallied 39. Jones has now rushed for a paltry 113 yards on the season and is averaging 2.9 yards per carry. London stressed the importance of getting the ball to his leading rusher from the 2011 season.
“It’s just we need to hit him — when he’s on the field, we all know that he’s dynamic,” London said.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Scott Stadium. The team will don throwback uniforms from the 1968 season in honor of Frank Quayle, the 1968 ACC Player of the Year, who will be recognized in a halftime ceremony.