'Hoos Look to Keep Pace with La. Tech

VIRGINIASPORTSDOTCOM
Michael Rocco

VIRGINIASPORTSDOTCOM
Michael Rocco
VIRGINIASPORTSDOTCOM

Sept. 29, 2012

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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Louisiana Tech has scored at least 52 points in each of its three games this season, all against teams that compete in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision.

Virginia, in its three games against FBS opponents, has allowed an average of 33.3 points.

Which begs this question: Can the Cavaliers (2-2) stop the Bulldogs (3-0) and their high-powered spread offense when the teams meet today at Scott Stadium? Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.

"I don't think you're going to see a 6-0 score, or anything like that, but I have confidence in our players," UVa coach Mike London said.

London also believes his offense, its recent struggles notwithstanding, has enough firepower to keep up with the Bulldogs, who are averaging 54.7 points.

Out of the 120 FBS teams, the Wahoos rank 97th nationally in rushing offense, 49th in passing offense, 86th in total offense and 98th in scoring offense. Still, if today's game turns into a shootout, so be it, said Virginia's third-year coach.

"If we have 55 and they have 50, if we have seven and they have six, whatever it takes," London said. "If they put points on the board, then we gotta put more points on the board ... Whatever it takes: I think that's kind of the mindset."

When the Bulldogs have the football, "they control the tempo [with] their hurry-up offense," London said. The key for UVa will be keeping Louisiana Tech's offense off the field.

"By our offense staying on the field and making first down and converting thirds, that's only the way you quote-unquote `slow them down,' " London said.

Virginia is coming off a 27-7 loss to then-No. 17 TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. Against the Horned Frogs, the `Hoos converted only 3 of 16 third-down opportunities, and their lone touchdown came after TCU built a 20-0 lead. Moreover, UVa turned the ball over four times.

The `Hoos have thrown five interceptions and lost five fumbles this season. The Bulldogs haven't impressed statistically on defense -- they're allowing an average of 498 yards per game -- but they excel in forcing turnovers.

Coach Sonny Dykes' team has recovered nine fumbles by opponents this season, so "we've got limit those things this week," Virginia offensive guard Sean Cascarano said.

The Bulldogs "get you from behind really quickly," said Mike Faragalli, who coaches UVa's running backs. "They practice it, obviously, stripping the ball, and they're so quick. They get you, especially when you're not alert."

Of the 87 points Virginia has scored this season, 43 came in the opener against Richmond, which competes in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision. Against FBS opponents, UVa is averaging 14.7 points.

"I expect the execution of the offense to improve," London said. "It has to. It has to start with the guys taking the snaps."

Quarterback Michael Rocco is expected to make his 18th consecutive start for UVa. But if the junior from Lynchburg struggles -- and Rocco hasn't been sharp in recent games -- sophomore Phillip Sims is likely to get another opportunity to impress the coaching staff.

Sims, who transferred to UVa from Alabama after the 2011-12 school year, has appeared in every game this season, completing 18 of 29 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns. He hasn't been picked off.

Rocco is 74-for-123 passing for 838 yards and four TDs, with five interceptions.

"Michael understands that he has to play well," London said. "Phillip understands that if he goes into the game, he has to play well."

For the second straight Saturday, Virginia will face a team that runs a 4-2-5 defense. "I think that continuity will help us out this week," Cascarano said.

The Cavaliers will wear throwback uniforms today, including orange helmets, in honor of former ACC player of the year Frank Quayle and the 1968 team that went 7-3 -- the program's first winning season since 1952.

"They're pretty sweet," sophomore linebacker D.J. Hill said of the throwbacks, and that was the consensus among his teammates, too.

The uniforms, of course, will look even better if the `Hoos can earn a victory in them today. When this game was announced, in March 2011, it would have been impossible to call Louisiana Tech a program on the rise. The Bulldogs, after all, had finished 4-8 in 2009 and 5-7 in 2010.

In 2011, however, the Bulldogs improved to 8-5, and they've had the Cavaliers' full attention this fall.

"They're fast, athletic," London said. "They remind us of a fast, athletic TCU team. But we're ready for the challenge."