It started in mid-summer with a quarterback situation. It ended near the brink of winter with a time management goof.
This was Virginia football 2012, a 4-8 season marred by a six-game losing streak, nearly pulled together with a two-quarterback system, stalled by a fourth-and-goal failure and lastly remembered for a ninth straight defeat in a rivalry that dates back 117 years.
With a listing format, here’s a year-in-review:
Moments that mattered
1. Cody Journell’s 29-yard field goal as time expired to deny UVa the Commonwealth Cup for a ninth consecutive season on Nov. 24.
UVa, out of the bowl picture and playing for pride only, held the Hokies to all of 303 total yards and scored a defensive touchdown. The formula to break a curse in this series was all there until Michael Rocco was intercepted with 3:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. Seven plays later, Journell broke a 14-all tie with the game-winning boot.
Infamously, Cavalier head coach Mike London chose to not use his final two timeouts until four seconds remained.
The freeze-the-kicker strategy didn’t work.
2. Kareem Martin and Kevin Reddick’s combined halt of Kevin Parks on a fourth-and-goal try from the North Carolina 1-yard line on Nov. 15.
It came with 56 seconds left in the third quarter, but the play and the ensuing Tar Heel drive took the wind from Virginia’s sails. UNC stopped Parks for a 2-yard loss and then drove 97 yards for a touchdown that jump-started a 24-0 scoring run to end the game.
UVa fell, 37-13, snapping its two-game winning streak and putting the kibosh on its bowl chances.
3. Michael Rocco’s brilliantly executed 87-yard drive against Miami on Nov. 10.
A cool customer with the season hanging in the balance, the Wahoo quarterback completed 10 of 15 passes for 79 yards on a 16-play, 87-yard drive. Rocco’s final toss was a 10-yard floater to the back of the end zone for Jake McGee. The sophomore tight end held on, giving Virginia a 41-40 lead with six seconds remaining.
The comeback win won’t soon be forgotten in Scott Stadium lore.
4. Virginia being penalized for having too many men on the field, sealing a win for Louisiana Tech on Sept. 29.
Khalek Shepherd stood in his punt return spot, not knowing the Bulldogs were about to trick the Cavs by quickly trotting out their offense instead of their special teams unit on a fourth down with 1:45 to play and clinging to a 44-38 lead. UVa, panicked, ran on an extra defender. Shepherd didn’t get to the sideline in time. Cue the flag and a UVa loss, its third during a six-game skid.
5. Sam Ficken yanking a 42-yard field goal, allowing Virginia to escape Penn State on Sept. 8.
In a horrific display of kicking, the Nittany Lions’ Ficken missed four field goals and an extra point. UVa, which turned the ball over four times, somehow survived this nationally televised thriller, 17-16, over Penn State, which was making its first road trip since sanctions came down for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
6. The NCAA’s ruling to make Phillip Sims immediately eligible on July 11.
And, boom, the Cavaliers had a quarterback situation on their hands. Would they go with Sims, the ballyhooed Alabama transfer, or would they stay with Rocco, the incumbent starter? It turns out they went with both. Rocco got the first five starts, Sims got the next three. They shared duties in the final four games. Each threw for over 1,200 yards.
Jake McGee plays of the year*
1. Leaping grab for 10-yard game-winning touchdown against Miami with six seconds remaining.
“The Kid” managed to keep a foot down in the back of the end zone while taking a shot from a pair of Hurricane defenders. And, oh yeah, he hung on to the football, completing Virginia’s 10-point fourth quarterback comeback.
2. Acrobatic, clutch 44-yard snatch against Penn State on a third-and-16.
McGee, falling backward and getting held by what seemed like half of the Nittany Lion secondary, magically brought the football in against his chest. The catch only set up his easier game-winning touchdown heroics on the same drive.
3. One-handed number against Richmond on Sept. 1.
For the first catch of his college career, the sophomore lunged with his left paw to rope in a 17-yard Rocco toss in front of the Spider bench. London’s reaction afterward: “Wow.”
4. Game-winning score against Penn State.
Just moments after he extended the drive with a 44-yard snag for the highlight tape, he reeled in a 6-yard score from Rocco with 1:26 remaining. A Drew Jarrett extra point gave the ‘Hoos a 17-16 lead, which stood for the victory.
5. Hurdle of Louis Young on his way in for 19-yard touchdown against Georgia Tech on Sept. 15.
It was the lone bright spot from a brutal 56-20 loss to the Yellow Jackets, but it was a beauty. McGee gracefully jumped over Young, who went low on the tight end around the goal line.
* Because he deserves his own list
Other plays of the year
1. Brent Urban’s 16-yard scoop and score against Virginia Tech.
Courtesy of a Jake Snyder and Eli Harold combined sack of Logan Thomas, Urban rumbled in to give the ‘Hoos a 14-7 third quarter lead, their first in the rivalry in two seasons.
The first and only defensive score of the season for Virginia might have had more significance if, well, you know how this game finished.
2. Phillip Sims’ roll right, throw left, prayer to Darius Jennings against North Carolina.
It certainly wasn’t the way it was drawn up, but Sims improvised by scrambling and throwing across his body to hit Jennings in the middle of the end zone for a 9-yard score. The redshirt sophomore quarterback likely didn’t see the end result right away. He had dropped to the UNC sideline.
3. Sims’ 24-yard fade to Adrian Gamble against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 29.
This was Wahoo Nation’s first real chance to see Sims let go and sling it. In a comeback attempt against the Bulldogs, the big-armed Oscar Smith product launched deep in the corner of the end zone for Gamble, who wrestled the football away from a Bulldog defensive back.
4. Maurice Canady’s hustle strip and recovery of Miami’s Stephen Morris.
This freshman has a bright future in blue and orange and this was a prime example for the excitement. Morris got 22 yards to the UVa 2 before Canady caught up to the Miami quarterback and forced the pigskin loose. A Hurricane score here and UM would have led by 10 earlier in the fourth quarter than it eventually did.
5. Perry Jones’ halfback toss to Tim Smith against the Bulldogs.
The highlights were unexpectedly sparse for Jones this season, but he did deliver this gem of a trick play to his old high school buddy Smith for a 36-yard touchdown. Over a month later, Jones tried a similar play against Miami and he was intercepted.
Good calls: 1. Two-QB look against N.C. State. 2. Sticking with Rocco late against Miami. 3. Going back to Rocco late against Penn State. 4. Increased reps for Eli Harold starting against Maryland on Oct. 13. 5. Increased reps for Canady starting against N.C. State on Nov. 3.
Questionable calls: 1. Timeout blunder against Virginia Tech. 2. Onside kick attempt against Louisiana Tech. 3. Fake field goal attempt against Virginia Tech. 4. Sticking with Khalek Shepherd on punt returns (3.9 yards per return, two lost fumbles). 5. Not redshirting Clifton Richardson (seven games, 24 carries).
By the numbers
Minus-14 — UVa’s turnover margin
30-17 — combined record of opponents UVa beat
51-46 — combined record of opponents UVa lost to
1,000 — yards Tim Smith set as a goal to gain
405 — yards Smith actually gained
3 — games Smith missed because of injury
11 — seasons since UVa’s last 1,00-yard receiver (Billy McMullen)
6 — sacks UVa registered against N.C. State
11 — sacks UVa registered in the 11 other games
31 — UVa’s total defense rank
20 — UVa’s total defense rank if you take away a 594-yard torching by Georgia Tech
15 — freshmen or sophomores who took legitimate first-team reps
13 words for 2013
Two UVa quarterbacks didn’t equal postseason. Will six quarterbacks lead to a bowl?