RALEIGH, N.C. — Football teams on a six-game bender have been known to check out. Start plotting for the offseason, NFL draft and/or holidays.
Subsequent half-baked efforts are most evident on defense. An assignment lapse here and delayed step there, and next thing you know you're down two scores.
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Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, NC
So much for checking out.
"At 2-6, it's easy to say, 'Screw it. Let's just go out and play, whatever,'" defensive end Jake Snyder said. "But we kept preparing, kept focusing like this was the important practice, the most important game, and that's what you saw today."
What we saw was dominant defense, balanced offense and, by a landslide Obama and Romney can only dream of, the Cavaliers' most complete performance this season: a 33-6 shellacking that sent many in the Wolfpack's homecoming crowd to the parking lots at halftime.
Counterintuitive though it may be, Virginia's defense had acquitted itself reasonably well during the six-game losing streak. The Cavaliers limited Maryland to minus-2 yards rushing and Wake Forest to 213 total.
The missing elements were takeaways and sacks. Virginia entered the game 120th, dead last, nationally in takeaways (four) and 116th in sacks (seven).
Saturday, the Cavaliers forced five turnovers (three interceptions and two fumbles) and sacked Wolfpack quarterbacks six times.
The net result: Virginia (3-6, 1-4 ACC) held State (5-4, 2-3) to season-lows in points, rushing yards (19) and passing yards (197), a extraordinary defensive triple crown this late in the year.
"When you play as many games as we've played that you could have won, you just need a spark," defensive coordinator Jim Reid said. "These guys have played very, very well. And they just continue to get a little better each and every week."
Fittingly, the Cavaliers' sacks were divided among five players: Chris Brathwaite had two, Snyder, Will Hill, and true freshmen Eli Harold and Michael Moore one each.
Hill had the end-zone sack of Glennon, and Snyder's pressure of Glennon caused an awkward throw that Daquan Romero tipped and Harold intercepted, the first pick for a Virginia lineman in three years.
Most critical and impressive: The Cavaliers' harassment of Glennon came without many blitzes or stunts. This was Virginia's down four whipping State's front five repeatedly.
"Sometimes we spy the quarterback," Harold said. "We didn't spy (Glennon) today, knowing he's not going to outrun anybody. So we pinned our ears back and rushed the passer."
Indeed, Glennon's immobility and tendency to hold the ball too long contributed to his demise.
Even when Glennon had time, a secondary that included true-freshman cornerback Maurice Canady making his first college start blanketed State's receivers and allowed few yards-after-catch.
"Maurice Canady really had a monster game," Reid said. "You don't understand the pressure we put him under against experienced, skilled receivers, he can come up on a hitch and make a (tackle) for a 4-yard or 3-yard gain. That's huge. The guy played great."
"Kind of indicative of how the day was going for us," London said of Canady's pick.
Still, the key was up front.
"Eli now has a good feel for pass rush," Reid said. "Jake Snyder is an excellent technician. Michael Moore is getting a feel for it. … It shows you that they're focused and working on it in practice. They're not just running around with abandon. They're doing it with an attention to detail and technique. …
"If you go conference (game) stats only, they were the No. 1 passing team, and we were the No. 1 pass defense team. … What has to give in a situation like that is the pass rush. We got a good pass rush, and the guys played great on the back end."
Reid knows his stats. In four league games, State was averaging 368.2 passing yards, while Virginia was yielding 172.5.
So now November becomes more curious for the Cavaliers, who rushed for a season-best 248 yards and passed for another 198.They're home the next two weeks, against Miami and North Carolina, before closing at Virginia Tech.
How those games transpire is anyone's guess — don't ask me — but for one Saturday at least, Virginia resembled the team for which London hoped, especially on defense.
"Today," he said, "a lot of those things that you preach came true."