CARON: The significance of sacks
When the Louisville football team stepped into Scott Stadium, it didn’t expect much of a challenge against the Cavaliers. A top-ranked team facing a first-year coach with incredibly inconsistent success at Virginia, the Cardinals honestly didn’t have any reason to be worried.
Until, seemingly out of the blue, they did.
In a shocking game, the Cavaliers threatened Louisville’s No. 5 ranking and gave the Cardinals a run for their money — fiercely defending the field and catching the their opponent by surprise.
Heisman Trophy frontrunner and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson did not lead his offense in the fiery fashion the football world is used to. After turning over the ball twice and being sacked five times, the Cardinal’s sophomore star struggled against the Cavaliers.
Now, Virginia’s defense has not been known for its strength this season. This is not news to anyone — well, at least I hope it isn’t. In fact, the Cavalier defense has been known for its inconsistency and inability to form a unified front.
But this weekend, Virginia figured out the strength of sacks. Their ability to surprise Jackson, to riddle the Louisville offensive line with instability — that was where the Cavaliers excelled most. They shook the Cardinals’ system, and stunned the usually steady quarterback with each sack.
Here is why Saturday was exceptional for the Virginia defense — they played up to par with the highest-scoring team in the nation, minimizing their lead and keeping Jackson’s dangerous potential at bay until the final few moments of play. Capitalizing on Jackson’s atypical trepidation, Virginia’s defense came to life.
“Defensively, I think that was our best game,” junior linebacker Micah Kiser said. “Executing on defense, [we were] really doing what coach Mendenhall wanted us to do.”
But here’s why Saturday was not exceptional for Virginia defense — they ultimately failed.
While Jackson and the Cardinals might’ve still been shocked at the final score, Cavalier fans were not.
Sure, Virginia posted significantly more points than anyone anticipated against the powerhouse that is Louisville football. But at the same time, the sadness of the scoreboard – that moment when the clock runs out and the Cavaliers fail to come out on top yet again – that was not a surprise for Virginia. The fight the Cavalier’s put up was both shocking and exciting, but the final score — the defeat — that was not.
For once in Virginia football history, it would be nice to finally come out on top – to finally have that underdog victory that schools like Penn State and Oklahoma State have recently gotten to bask in the glory of.
Close calls aren’t good enough for fans anymore, but unfortunately they’ve come to characterize Virginia’s could-be-an-upset-but-probably-won’t games.
In 2014, the Cavaliers held then-No. 7 UCLA to a one-touchdown lead in their season opener. Last year it was then-No. 9 Notre Dame where a last-minute loss crushed Virginia’s dreams of finally attaining the ultimate upset.
This year it was Louisville. Jackson, the dual-threat quarterback, was too talented for Virginia’s defense to neutralize — despite their defensive improvements and impressive performance Saturday.
This was another opportunity to stun the college football scene and it was another milestone missed. This feeling of disappointment is familiar for Cavalier fans, but this weekend felt sadly similar to last September in Scott Stadium when the Fighting Irish came, struggled, but still conquered in the end.
“It’s still a good day for UVA football no matter what, we’re going to keep fighting,” junior free safety Quin Blanding said. “Everyone sees the change in this program, we’re not going to give up, that’s the bottom line.”
Change might be here, but disappointment continues to accompany it. The same strength Virginia found in its five fantastic sacks is what it needs to prevail and finally attain the elusive, unanticipated underdog victory.
The excitement of playing well is exhausting, especially when it continues to result in failure. I’d like to finally come out on top – to finally show the world that Cavalier football has a future.
I’m hopeful that the underdog victory Virginia desperately needs will come in our final faceoff with a ranked team – interstate rival, Virginia Tech. If the Cavalier defense can continue to find strength in their opponent’s weaknesses, like they did this weekend in sacking Jackson, a Blacksburg win could be possible.