CHARLOTTESVILLE – For a guy who'd just come one yard short of tying his career-high for passing yards in Virginia's 43-19 season-opening win Saturday against Richmond, Michael Rocco's postgame mood couldn't be described as festive.
The same went for his coach, Mike London. Judging by their reactions, it'd be difficult to tell U.Va. (1-0) never led by fewer than 16 points in the final 53 minutes against its Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
After putting Richmond (0-1) away with relative ease in the victory, which featured 545 yards from U.Va.'s offense compared to 266 for Richmond, there were still areas where Rocco and London wanted to see improvement.
"It looked like we were doing a pretty good job moving the ball," said London regarding his team's play in the first seven minutes while running out to a 16-0 lead. "We kind of got caught in a couple lulls there. … I'm not taking anything away from Richmond, but we've got to be able to execute. We have to make a block, as opposed to leaving guys running open on a couple blitzes."
Rocco, who completed 25 of 37 passes for 311 yards and a touchdown in a little more than three quarters of work, was sharp for the most part.
He completed passes of 21, 24 and 44 yards, plus a 51-yard completion on a quick out to wide receiver Darius Jennings that went for a touchdown after he dodged cornerback Darryl Hamilton near the line of scrimmage and escaped a tackle attempt by safety Reggie Barnette. Jennings' touchdown put U.Va. up 16-0 with 8:33 left in the first quarter.
Yet, Rocco also had a few overthrows on deep passes that could've gone for additional scores, and a couple of his offerings were fortunate to not be intercepted.
"There were times when I did a good job managing downfield throws and intermediate routes and throwing to check-downs, not forcing balls down the field," Rocco said. "Then, there were times where I felt I might've forced the ball down the field when I could've just thrown a check-down or intermediate route. Football is an up-and-down game. You've just got to know when to balance those things."
Backup quarterback Phillip Sims got some work in the second half, completing 5 of 6 passes for 50 yards while leading U.Va. to a touchdown on his first drive in the third quarter.
U.Va. posted 184 yards rushing behind 52 yards each from running backs Khalek Shepherd (10 carries) and Perry Jones (14 carries), and 49 yards from Kevin Parks (14 carries), but London expected more. Richmond routinely ran eight and nine-man fronts with a lot of movement and outside blitzes that helped the Spiders chase down running backs from behind.
"I'm more concerned with making sure we establish the kind of running game that we need, particularly in short yardage situations," said London, whose team was stopped on fourth-and-1 from Richmond's 20 on the opening drive of the third quarter when Parks was stuffed for a 1-yard loss. "I don't think we actually kind of woke up until the second half."
After U.Va. extended its lead to 22-0 in the second quarter, Richmond was able to get on the scoreboard with an 88-yard touchdown drive that featured completions of 21, 24 and 25 yards by quarterback John Laub.
Backup quarterback Michael Strauss, a transfer from U.Va., capped the drive by beating U.Va.'s pressure with a wobbly 3-yard touchdown pass through traffic to fullback Kendall Gaskins that cut U.Va.'s advantage to 22-6 with 2:55 remaining in the half. It wasn't the only time Richmond answered a U.Va. touchdown with a long scoring drive of its own.
U.Va. went up 29-6 with 8:21 left in the third quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by Kevin Parks before Laub, who completed 17 of 35 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown, led Richmond on a 75-yard touchdown drive.
Immediately after U.Va. went ahead 43-12 with 5:23 left in the game on a 1-yard touchdown run by Shepherd, Strauss orchestrated another Richmond touchdown drive by completing 6 of 7 passes for 57 yards on a possession that covered 80 yards.
U.Va. defensive end Bill Schautz, who had three tackles in his first game since breaking two bones in his left leg last season against Florida State, said the quick three-step drops Richmond's quarterbacks were taking all game made establishing a pass rush difficult. U.Va. got some pressure on Richmond's quarterbacks, but the Cavaliers didn't have any sacks.
"We never got a real pass rush — at least, I didn't," said Schautz, who added one of U.Va.'s goals was to hold Richmond to under 60 yards rushing (the Spiders had 28). "It'll be a little different next week (against Penn State). … I can't wait for that."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun