CHARLOTTESVILLE — Scanning the Carter-Finley Stadium stands Saturday in the second half of Virginia's 33-6 win at North Carolina State, defensive end Eli Harold noticed massive sections of red chair-backs in the stands.
Just seeing N.C. State fans heading for the exits made him proud, because he knew he had a hand in making it happen. He wasn't the only freshman defensive lineman that contributed to N.C. State's nightmarish afternoon.
Harold had four tackles, including one for a loss, and an interception, while his friend and fellow freshman defensive end Mike Moore logged his first career sack. Given what U.Va. (3-6 overall, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) has been through this season, and how forgettable some of Harold's road experiences have been, the scene in Raleigh made enough of an impact on the verbose Harold for him to point it out to his teammates.
"I kept telling the guys, 'I do not like away games,'" said Harold, a graduate of Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach, who added he got double-teamed by left tackle Rob Crisp and a running back in the N.C. State game for the first time in his college career.
"I had a bad experience in the TCU game. The crowd would not get off my back. … For one, the (N.C. State) crowd was not talking as much trash. I was like, 'OK, I can deal with this.' I was talking to guys like, 'There's no one here. There's probably less than 1,000 people here.' I took that as a plus, man."
Harold got his first start against N.C. State, and he's slated to get his second Saturday when U.Va. hosts Miami (5-4, 4-2). If U.Va. plans to go to a bowl for a second straight season, it needs to beat Miami and follow it up with wins against North Carolina and at Virginia Tech.
"We basically feel like it's kind of like a playoff-type system" said Moore, a 6-4, 265-pound graduate of DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Md., who is the son of former U.Va. quarterback and current Cavaliers tight ends coach Shawn Moore. "We just want to win every game that we can so that we can get to that bowl."
Harold and Moore, who has yet to start, are the most promising young members of U.Va.'s defensive line, which had struggled to produce sacks prior to getting six against N.C. State (just seven sacks on the season before the game).
"It was pretty exciting," said Moore of his first sack. "Most of the guys on the (defensive) line had a sack, and I was just waiting to get mine. I finally got it.
"We're definitely excited about how young we are. We can't wait for those years to be together as a team."
With young players like Harold, Moore, sophomore defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite (two sacks against N.C. State), sophomore linebacker Daquan Romero and freshman cornerback Maurice Canady getting more playing time, U.Va.'s defense has started seeing results. In its last three games, including losses to Maryland and Wake Forest, U.Va. has yielded under 236 yards to each opponent.
Under Jim Reid, who is in his third season as U.Va.'s defensive coordinator, U.Va. never surrendered fewer than 296 yards to a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in the 2010 and '11 seasons. Going back to the nine-year tenure of former coach Al Groh, who was considered a defensive guru, U.Va. never had three consecutive games in which it gave up under 236 yards.
After getting Harold and Moore some additional reps Oct. 13 in U.Va.'s 27-20 loss to Maryland, coach Mike London started to see what some of the young players could bring to the team. Despite beating U.Va., Maryland ran for negative-two yards.
"We're hoping because of those guys playing that it continues to (infuse) a front that yielded only negative-two yards (rushing)," said London two days after the Maryland loss. "Guys have shown that there's some rush opportunities. I always said I think Eli is going to be a great player here before his career is over at Virginia."
Harold is in the process of trying to make London's words stand up. Helping snap U.Va.'s six-game losing streak last weekend in his first start was exactly the kind of confidence-boost Harold needed.
"I don't like seeing coach London down," Harold said. "I hate when he keeps saying it's his fault when we're the guys on the field. When the coach says it's his fault, we kind of take that as a slap in the face. … If we're not the ones doing right, (London) can't just take the blame for it. It's on us. They coach us up all week. If we lose a game, it's something we didn't do enough of to win that game, so yes, it's a big relief (to get the win)."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun