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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

One Night, Two Teams Moving Apart

Virginia’s Mike London pushed all the right buttons for most of last night’s 60 minutes, dialing up a fake field goal and a clever halfback pass, among a few other quirks, to take a 17-0 lead late in the first half before holding on for a 28-21 win. Who knew Virginia had this many buttons to push? Give London an enormous amount of credit for one thing — and it’s a big thing: Virginia was going to get this competitive under his watch, but few thought he’d have the Cavaliers playing football at this level in only his second season. Above all else, this has been his most impressive feat.

Line up back-to-back wins over Miami as the second-most impressive aspect of London’s resume. Last night’s win was a bit different than last year’s win in Charlottesville, which came about during Miami’s swoon under Randy Shannon, not to mention an injury to Jacory Harris that put the Miami offense in low gear.

This win was a bit different: Miami is — or was — rolling, having just knocked off North Carolina and Georgia Tech, and even at 4-3 could point to one or two plays as the turning point in two of those three losses. Harris is playing the best football of his career — he still is — and the running game, led by Lamar Miller, can dictate the tempo when given the chance.

Virginia never really gave the Hurricanes a chance to get the running game working, thanks to its ability to keep the Miami offense off the field. While it was far from a commanding edge in time of possession, 30:39 to 29:21, the Cavaliers did a nice job getting its own crop of talented backs working, taking pressure of sophomore Michael Rocco.

Earlier in the week, London had said that Rocco would be his quarterback against Miami through thick and thin, barring injury, which pushed true freshman David Watford into a clipboard-only role. And Rocco responded with the best game of his career — 11 of 20 for 226 yards and 2 scores without an interception — after having the worst start of his young career against N.C. State last Saturday.

This is Virginia at its best: young, yes, but talented and potentially explosive. London merely needed to push the right buttons, which he did, and let his youngsters develop the sort of confidence it needed to win at Miami, which the program hasn’t done since closing down the Orange Bowl in style in 2007.

This confidence came in handy late, when it seemed as if Miami’s athletic advantage — not to mention its edge in senior experience — might put Virginia in a tight spot. This edge in athleticism reared its head several times throughout the game, most notably in the Virginia secondary’s inability to hang with wide receiver Tommy Streeter, who led Miami with 7 receptions for 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Disregard the talent disparity. Miami has been losing games against less-talented opposition for years, and did so last night despite the new blood along the sidelines. This is Miami at its worst: talented, yes, but playing down to the level of competition. From the latter years of Coker to Shannon to Al Golden, the song remains the same.

The win was a sizable step forward for the Cavaliers, who are one win removed from bowl eligibility after combining for 12 wins over the last three years. The caliber of wins doesn’t exactly stand out, with Miami being joined by Idaho — in overtime — Georgia Tech, Indiana and William & Mary. But the level of competitiveness in the losses says as much as wins, as Virginia has hung tight in each of its three defeats.

Could these two programs meet, exchange blows and then head in opposite directions — Virginia up, Miami down? Here’s the thing: Miami is due to take a significant dive in 2012, when a large percentage of this year’s contributors exhaust their eligibility. Virginia, on the other hand, is young enough, and has shown enough through eight games, to be viewed as an A.C.C. program on the rise.

Tonight didn’t necessarily change that fact. But in heading into Miami and knocking off the Hurricanes, Virginia made a statement: your best, for now, is not as good as our best, for now. And in the near future, Virginia’s best will top Miami’s best where the Hurricanes nearly always hold the advantage: on paper. That might make Virginia smile, but it’s not a comforting thought for Golden and Miami.

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  1. DaU!!!!!!!!!!! says:

    Who could forget that 48 to nothing fiasco on the farewell ceremony to the historic orange bowl. I know I can’t.

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