CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia won comfortably, committed no turnovers and sustained no apparent injuries. So textbook opener, right?
Hmmm, not so much.
Saturday's 43-19 dusting of overmatched Richmond created little visible satisfaction among Cavaliers players and coaches.
Nor should it have. For all the notable numbers — 545 yards in offense, 50-percent third-down conversions, 37:29 possession time, opponent's 28 yards rushing — Virginia was far from crisp against a Championship Subdivision team that lost its final eight games last season.
"We play really good teams," coach Mike London said, gazing ahead on the schedule. "Not taking anything away from Richmond, but we have to be able to execute. We have to be able to block when we're supposed to. We can't leave guys running open."
Whether the good-teams portion of the schedule begins next Saturday against Penn State is debatable — the Nittany Lions lost at home to Ohio — but London's point is well-taken. Surely, Penn State will be more challenging, and then Virginia faces consecutive road tests at Georgia Tech and Texas Christian.
London managed a grin or three during his postgame presser, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor mirrored his boss. The Cavaliers' locker room, always off limits to media snoops but often audible after victories, seemed muted.
Before chronicling some of the staff's concerns, a quick reality check.
Maryland was fortunate to survive William and Mary on Saturday. Ditto Wisconsin with Northern Iowa and Iowa with Northern Illinois.
Conversely, Virginia never let drama intrude. The Cavaliers led 16-0 after less than seven minutes and didn't allow the Spiders to cross midfield until late in the second quarter.
At that point, approaching the 1946 opener, a 71-0 beatdown of Hampden-Sydney, wasn't out of the question.
"You can't complain too much about 43 points," said tight end Jake McGee, whose leaping, one-handed, second-quarter catch along the Richmond sideline will be replayed throughout the season.
But London cited troubling "lulls" on both sides.
For example, Virginia failed on a third-quarter fourth-and-1 at Richmond's 20, where linebacker Darius McMillan from Phoebus High and cornerback Darryl Hamilton combined to stuff Kevin Parks for a 1-yard loss inside.
"Really disappointed," Lazor said of that play.
Moreover, neither Perry Jones nor Parks averaged 4 yards per carry.
On the Spiders' second scoring drive, John Laub completed six consecutive passes, two of which went to Ben Edwards of York High. Later, Edwards juked safety Brandon Phelps to turn a quick screen into a 14-yard gain.
Such is life when you start four sophomore defensive backs, right? Well, yes and no.
Yes, hiccups are inevitable. But against an FCS quarterback who entered the day with 10 career interceptions and two touchdown passes?
"I felt OK about them," London said of the secondary. "I thought we should have had our hands on a couple of balls."
Virginia didn't sack Laub, but with Richmond in the shotgun and calling quick throws, pressure was difficult to sustain.
No account would be complete sans mention of Virginia's quarterbacks: Incumbent Michael Rocco threw for 311 yards, one shy of his career best, and a touchdown; Alabama transfer Phillip Sims played the fourth quarter and completed 5-of-6 passes for 50 yards on an 87-yard touchdown drive.
"I have really high standards for him, and I think he knows that," Lazor said of Rocco. "The other thing he knows is, I'm going to coach him hard on the sideline and expect him to be perfect. That's what we're aiming for. The thing about Mike is, he's setting that same standard for himself."
Rocco missed some throws but was certainly efficient. Sims connected with E.J. Scott on a deep out that went for 24 yards and showcased his big-league arm.
"I think Phillip is right on track," Lazor said. "I think it's remarkable how much he's picked up in the short amount of time he's practiced with us. … Just tried to run our normal offense when he was in there."
Translation: Stay tuned.
"We expect greatness out of our offense," Rocco said. "To put 43 points on the board, and really have a sense that we can do more than that, I think that's a good thing."
So is winning by 24 on opening day.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun