RALEIGH, N.C.—RALEIGH, N.C. — During Virginia’s off week, quarterbacks Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco had to put their trust in a system leading up to Saturday’s game at North Carolina State none of their coaches could precisely define.
That’s a tough sell for a team that had lost six consecutive games and was on the brink of losing all hope for bowl eligibility, but it worked. By using a rotating quarterback system and finally getting some turnovers and pressure from its defense, it all came together in U.Va.’s stunning 33-6 win against N.C. State.
“I’ve always talked about, ‘It’s going to come,’ ” said U.Va. coach Mike London of his ongoing pitch to U.Va.’s defense, which coming into the game had forced four turnovers — the fewest among 120 Bowl Subdivision programs — but added five more turnovers against N.C. State.
“I always talked about if we could just get one to happen, things would happen after that. You feed off the energy of what turnovers can provide. … Hunting the football was something that was evident (Saturday).”
With the win, U.Va. (3-6 overall, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) kept alive its hopes of getting to a bowl for a second straight season. U.Va. has to win all of its remaining games against Miami, North Carolina and at Virginia Tech just to be bowl eligible.
U.Va. intercepted N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon three times and sacked him six times — both of which were major coups for a defense that had just one interception and seven sacks on the season coming into the game. Defensive tackle Will Hill, a Lafayette High graduate, sacked Glennon for a safety in the second quarter that extended U.Va.’s lead to 16-0.
While Glennon struggled, U.Va. offensive coordinator Bill Lazor knew both of his quarterbacks were going to play, but he couldn’t tell them in advance when each player was going to go into the game.
“They didn’t know specifically when they were going in (against N.C. State) and when they were going out, but I prepared them the best I could,” said Lazor, whose offense produced 446 yards and scored more than 20 points for just the third time this season. “As far as mentally, you just say, ‘Hey, I’m the starter,’ or ‘I’m going in to get some chances today.’ I said, ‘If you can live with that, that’s the best way to approach it.’ ”
Sims got his fourth consecutive start, but Rocco ended up playing 10 series compared to six for Sims. Rocco completed 12 of 23 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, while Sims connected on 8 of 10 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
“We didn’t really know the actual plan as far as how we would rotate the quarterbacks,” Sims said. “We knew both of us would play this game, but I don’t know if the coaches knew how we were going to do it. I don’t know if it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, but it just kind of happened that way, and we just kept going with it.”
While the quarterback rotation ended up being an efficient operation, Kevin Parks and Perry Jones helped lead U.Va.’s running game to a season-high 248 yards. Parks had 25 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown.
After Sims and Rocco led U.Va. to touchdowns on two of its first three drives, the Cavaliers went three-and-out on their next five drives and missed a 22-yard field goal at the end of a sixth drive before halftime, but the Wolfpack had no luck finding a way to answer. U.Va. held N.C. State (5-4, 2-3) to 216 yards — the third consecutive opponent U.Va. held to 235 yards or less.
Glennon came into the weekend leading the ACC with an average of 307 passing yards per game, but he was held to a season-low 197 yards on 23 of 46 passing. By the time N.C. State finally got in the end zone with 6:30 left in the game, all the touchdown did was cut into what was a 26-0 deficit.
U.Va.’s defense effort was impressive considering it featured three first-time starters in defensive end Eli Harold, cornerback Maurice Canady (who had an interception) and linebacker Daquan Romero, a Phoebus High graduate. Harold got to enjoy the spoils of a blowout throughout the game as he lined up against allegedly trash-talking left tackle Rob Crisp.
“I was like, ‘Man, why are you talking? You’re losing. Look at the scoreboard,’ ” Harold said. “I beat him so many times … I’m not trying to be cocky. I’m just telling you flat. The guy came up to me. He’s punching me in my face while I’m brushing him, but the ball’s all the way (on the other side of the field). He’s talking trash to me. He’s losing, like — I win. You don’t win. You’re just wasting time.”