Spiders eager for challenge of playing at Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — In some ways, Richmond coach Danny Rocco’s job is a little easier this week.
The Spiders (1-0), an FCS-level program, travel to Virginia to play the Cavaliers (0-1). Rocco said getting his team up to play at the higher level “usually takes care of itself in these games.”
Richmond surely seems like a dangerous opponent.
The Spiders are seeking their third victory in six seasons against an FBS school, and are a veteran team with 22 seniors. The also piled up 55 points and 643 yards in their opener against Morehead State, the latter the second-highest mark in program history.
The Cavaliers (0-1) are unlikely to allow that to happen again. Their defense was dominant in a season-opening, 28-20 loss to No. 11 UCLA, a game in which the Bruins scored three defensive touchdowns.
They also sacked Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley five times and pressured him all day.
“If we want to have any success at all,” Rocco said, “we’ve got to protect our quarterbacks and give them a chance to sit back there and get the ball distributed to our speed players on the perimeter.”
Those quarterbacks also provide a great backdrop story.
Starter Michael Strauss and backup Michael Rocco both began their careers at Virginia. Strauss left after one year, and Rocco left after three. He started all 13 games for the Cavaliers in 2011, leading them to an 8-5 record and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, then was asked to share the job the following season.
While at Virginia, Rocco hosted Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns on their recruiting visits, and they are the key players in the Cavaliers’ quarterback situation. Lambert was named the starter last spring and is a team captain, but threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and was benched.
Johns threw two touchdown passes in relief, and coach Mike London hasn’t said who will start.
London, like Danny Rocco, said both of his quarterbacks will play in the game.
Here are things to watch when Richmond plays at Virginia:
ROCCO’S RECEPTION: Even while leading Virginia to an 8-5 record and the Chick-fil-A bowl in 2011, quarterback Michael Rocco was often criticized by Cavaliers fans for not having a strong enough arm, or making poor decisions. He and fellow Virginia transfer Michael Strauss will be game captains for the Spiders, and his reception will be intriguing. Since that 2011 season, the Cavaliers are 6-19.
PLAYING TO WIN: Richmond coach Danny Rocco said it mystifies him that some FCS coaches go into games against FBS teams not hiding that they don’t think their team can win and rather hoping that they can move the ball or not be embarrassed. “I’ve never been in a game I wasn’t planning on winning,” he said.
HOLDING THE LINE: Virginia’s defense spent much of last Saturday against No. 11 UCLA in the backfield pressuring Bruins’ quarterback Brett Hundley, including sacking him five times. If the Spiders don’t find a way to contain the rush, and get the ball out quickly, they will be in for a long day. Danny Rocco plans to use “common sense football:” snap-count and cadence variations, multiple formations and motion.
LOUISVILLE NEXT: Virginia coach Mike London said this week he plans to play a lot of players this week that didn’t get into the game against the Bruins, which sounded a lot like an expectation that he will be able to clear his bench. The Cavaliers play No. 25 Louisville next week, and if they have one eye looking ahead to that challenging matchup, the senior-laden Spiders could hand them an eight-legged surprise.
DON’T I KNOW YOU? Mike London won the FCS national championship in his first season as a head coach at Richmond, his alma mater, in 2008, and was hired by Virginia after the following season. He said he and Danny Rocco are good friends, having worked together at Richmond under Al Groh. Rocco’s staff with the Spiders includes four assistant coaches who either played at or coached at Virginia previously.
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