UVa Football Looks to Restore Home-Field Advantage

VIRGINIASPORTSDOTCOM
Mike London

VIRGINIASPORTSDOTCOM
Mike London
VIRGINIASPORTSDOTCOM

May 15, 2013

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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Five-and-a-half years later, Chris Long still recalls the waves of noise that helped UVa defeat Connecticut in his senior season.

"That was one of the loudest moments I can remember playing football, and I've played in front of a lot of people," said Long, now a standout defensive end for the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

More than 60,000 fans showed up at Scott Stadium for that October 2007 game, and the crowd's roar late in the fourth quarter contributed to a crucial communication breakdown between UConn's center and quarterback. An errant shotgun snap resulted in a 21-yard loss for the Huskies, and the Cavaliers held on for a 17-16 victory.

Long also noted the crowd's impact in UVa's 2005 upset of No. 4 Florida State, a game that drew 63,106.

"I loved playing at Scott Stadium," Long said. "The atmosphere is really unique. I've played all over the place in the NFL, and atmosphere is something you can't quantify and put a number on. Say we have 60,000 people in the stadium. It doesn't matter if somebody else has 80,000. I just thought our atmosphere was better. It was a special place to play football."

During Long's college career (2004 to 2007), the Wahoos played 14 games at Scott Stadium in front of crowds of 60,000 or more. Not coincidentally, perhaps, Virginia's home record in those four seasons was 19-4.

"It's absolutely real," Long said of home-field advantage in football. "In the pros I play once a year in Seattle, and that's probably the loudest place I've ever played. It's definitely a tough environment to go into, but part of being a football player is tricking your mind, and if you're going somewhere hostile on the road, you gotta trick your mind into letting it fuel you. But then if you're at home and you have that same great crowd that we did at UVa, you do feed into it, and that is important. And if you come out there and it's kind of empty, it can be a little deflating.

 

 

"That matters a lot more than fans might know. When the crowd gets behind you, that momentum, it's hard to stop."

Capacity crowds have been rare in recent years at 61,500-seat Scott Stadium, in part because of the Cavaliers' struggles on the field. Virginia has finished under .500 four times in the past five seasons.

The most recent sellout at Scott Stadium was for UVa's game against Virginia Tech in November 2011. Not since Southern California's visit on Aug. 30, 2008, has UVa sold out a home game against a team other than the Hokies.

The Cavaliers' game with the Trojans drew 64,497 fans, the largest crowd in Scott Stadium history.

"That was an awesome atmosphere," recalled Luke Bowanko, now a fifth-year senior offensive lineman at UVa.

UVa wants to see those scenes repeated at Scott Stadium, and the push is under way to sell out the first two games this season -- against BYU on Aug. 31 and Oregon on Sept. 7. Single-game tickets for those games went on sale Monday.

In 2008, Virginia fans hoping to buy single-game tickets for the opener could not do so. All of the home seats for the USC game were snapped up by fans who bought season tickets or three-game mini-packages.

The sales strategy adopted for 2013 also includes the availability of mini-packages several weeks in advance of when they have been offered previously.

"We want our fans to make their plans now to be at Scott Stadium on Aug. 31 and Sept. 7," said Todd Goodale, UVa's associate director of athletics for marketing and video services. "Mini-packages and tickets for the BYU and Oregon games are on sale now so our fans can make the buying decisions that best suit them for the 2013 season."

On the field, the Cavaliers' early-season challenge will be similar to the one they faced in 1989, when they opened against No. 2 Notre Dame and then played No. 12 Penn State a week later. If Mike London's players needed extra motivation this offseason, BYU and Oregon provided it.

"You can't really take any time off when the first two games of the season are against two of the top teams in the country," junior tight end Jake McGee said. "You have to prepare for that now and truly be ready to go at a high level. There's no working into the season. You have to be ready to go from the first game or you set yourself back for the season."

London is heading into his fourth season as Virginia's head coach. In each of his first three seasons, UVa opened against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent: Richmond in 2010 and '12 and William & Mary in 2011. The `Hoos won those games by a combined 117-35.

Little is likely to come easily for UVa against BYU or Oregon. That adds to the appeal of those match-ups.

"It's exciting to open my senior season with two great teams," said wide receiver Tim Smith. "We have to raise our level up, because I know they're going to come out fast. They're both great teams."

London said: "What better way to highlight your own university than when you have a marquee home game in a packed house? It can provide a great opportunity to show what the University of Virginia and Cavalier football are all about, and I think it sends a message to the student-athletes we want to recruit about what we're trying to get accomplished."

Smith said: "The support from the fans is definitely something we notice, and having a sellout crowd would be that much better. It would just give us that much more to play for."

This will be BYU's second game in Charlottesville. In the 2000 opener, the Cougars edged the Cavaliers 38-35 in overtime at Scott Stadium.

BYU is coming off 8-5 season capped by a victory in the Poinsettia Bowl. The Cougars' returning players include All-America linebacker Kyle Van Noy and wideout Cody Hoffman, who caught 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

Oregon, which Virginia has never faced in football, may well be the most talented team to visit Scott Stadium since USC in 2008. The Ducks finished 12-1 last season after routing Kansas State 35-17 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Ranked No. 2 in the final USA Today coaches' poll for 2012, Oregon will start this season in the top 5. The Ducks' returning players including three first-team All-Pac 12 selections: quarterback Marcus Mariota, center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Future NFL players abound on Oregon's roster, a fact not lost on the Cavaliers.

"Obviously when a blue-chip guy gets across from you," Bowanko said, "it's impossible to say there's not extra motivation. That makes it a little more fun, gives you a little extra incentive."

Virginia will play a school-record eight home games this year. Single-game tickets for the match-up with Oregon are $65 each. There are five price levels of tickets for the BYU game, ranging from $24 to $48. Single-game tickets for the games against VMI (Sept. 21), Ball State (Oct. 5), Duke (Oct. 19), Georgia Tech (Homecomings on Oct. 26), Clemson (Nov. 2) and Virginia Tech (Nov. 30) will go on sale to the public July 19.

Also on sale are the three-game Kickoff Package and the four-game Wahoo and Cavalier packages at three price levels. The Kickoff Package includes the BYU, Oregon and Georgia Tech games. The Wahoo Package covers the BYU, VMI, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech games, and the Cavalier Package includes the Oregon, Ball State, Duke and Clemson games. Mini-packages offer better value compared to the single-game ticket price.

At the close of business on Tuesday, more than 3,200 single game tickets for the Oregon game and 1,900 single game tickets for the BYU game had been purchased along with more than 215 mini-packages. Fans purchasing tickets now have the best choice of available seat locations.

For ticket information, call 800-542-8821, stop by the athletics ticket office in Bryant Hall or visit VirginiaSports.com/tickets.