Fans call them the Wahoos or just the ‘Hoos, but by any name, the Virginia Cavaliers played some stout, opportunistic defense in upending BYU last Saturday at Scott Stadium.
The team with the three nicknames followed a brilliant defensive plan by coordinator Jon Tenuta in shutting down the Cougars’ vaunted no-huddle spread offense, winning 19-16 in a game that featured a downpour that flooded the exits and resulted in a lightning delay of over two hours, taking over six hours to complete.
Parking it in the end zone: Kevin Parks’ 13-yard touchdown scamper bolted Virginia to gutty 19-16 win over BYU in their season opener last week, a game that has to give the Cavaliers confidence as they prepare to face the Ducks (John McDonnell, Washington Post photo).
The Hoos handled a lot of adversity, overcoming two second-half deficits for the win, using a safety, a 53-yard field goal, a blocked punt and a late fourth quarter interception to stymie the Mormons with a little ACC inhospitality.
Tenuta’s Wahoo warriors frustrated BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall’s Pistol Offense all day, forcing dual threat quarterback Taysom Hill into a 13-40 passing performance for just 175 yards, 1 td and the pick. Defensive end Eli Harold was a 6-4, 230-lb. Tasmanian devil on the edge with two sacks and 3.5 tackles per loss. Junior strong safety Anthony Harris was Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week for his effort, which included 11 tackles, a sack, the blocked punt, and the clutch fourth quarter pick.
Down 16-12 with just three minutes to go in the game, the Cavs defense had BYU facing a 3rd and 6 play from their own 34. BYU decided to throw for a first down in an attempt to ice the game. Instead, Hill threw high on an out route to running back Jamaal Williams who could only tip the ball up as Harris swooped in for the interception at the 45. He returned it 10 yards, then lateralled to middle linebacker Henry Coley who powered another 22 yards down to the 13 to set up the winning touchdown.
One play later running back Kevin Parks bounced off three tacklers on an inside handoff for the go-ahead score.
Tenuta employed a mix of blitzes and stunts to confuse BYU’s offense, which managed just 3.9 yards per play on 93 plays. The pressure disrupted the Cougar tempo, and it didn’t help that the grass field was a swamp after the heavy rains.
The veteran coach has 32 years experience, 15 of it as a defensive coordinator with stops at Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Ohio State. He’s coached in 16 bowl games including the 1998 Sugar Bowl and 1997 Rose Bowl with the Buckeyes. Tenuta also played at Virginia, a three-year letterman as a defensive back 1978-80.
Head coach Mike London has been at the school for three years, taking over in 2010 when Al Groh was fired. In 2011 he led the Cavaliers to an 8-4 season and was named ACC Coach of the Year. He’s one of 10 African-American head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
After the game London told Gene Wang of the Washington Post, “I’m just so proud of this team. I wish I could tell them. It was a long game. To have a win like that, first game, opening game against a well-coached team is a tremendous boost.” Wang added that London’s voice was so hoarse from shouting that reporters could barely hear him in the post game news conference, drained by the inspiring, come-from-behind victory.
The Hoos have a new weapon on offense, a former 5-star running back from Virginia Beach, Virginia Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell. 5-10, 185 with 4.5 speed, Mizzell was an Army All-American as a high school senior, playing against Duck recruit Thomas Tyner in the annual All-Star game. In his last game for Bayside High School the elusive running back dashed for 175 yards on 20 carries, but so far as a Wahoo he’s been limited to kick returns and a few touches as a backup to Parks.
London and the Cav staff will certainly note the success Nicholls’ Marcus Williams had catching passes out of the backfield against the Ducks, and Oregon’s linebackers will be challenged to tackle Parks and Smoke one-on-one in space. They’ll have to an improved job in coverage, or there will be more lightning at Scott Stadium on September 7th. The game will be televised nationally on ABC/ESPN2, primary in some markets, secondary in others, kicking off at 12:30 Pacific Time.