How surprising was Virginia’s win in Atlanta over the weekend? Despite entering Bobby Dodd Stadium riding a three-game winning streak, Vegas had the Cavaliers pegged as 14-point underdogs. After all, the win streak was entirely accomplished in the cozy (albeit unfilled) confines of Scott Stadium, and HC Al Groh had only one road victory over a ranked opponent on his Virginia resume. In 2001, Bryson Spinner, while splitting time at QB with Matt Schaub, clinched 26-24 victory in Death Valley over #19 Clemson when he hit Billy McMullen in the end zone for a one-yard TD pass with one second remaining.
Just like the 2001 upset, the win over Georgia Tech included some crying from the opposition. Seven years ago, Charleston’s Post and Courier led off their game article on Sunday morning’s edition by “did Virginia wide receiver Billy McMullen push off Clemson cornerback Brian Mance in the final seconds” ? The next day, their headline was “Did he push off? Bowden won’t say” and reporter Andrew Miller opened the article with the exact same question. Clemson (now “former”) head man Tommy Bowden “had an opinion” according to Miller, and said he was “planning to send a video tape of the final play to the head of officials” for the ACC. Even years later, Clemson fans still referred to the “ blown call after Virginia receiver Billy McMullen threw Brian Mance off him” and “the ghost of Billy McMullen,” who “appeared to push off to gain separation” back in 2001.
This time around, it was a holding non-call in question that had Wramblin’ Wreck fans and participants alike whining after the loss. In Sunday’s CDP, Jay Jenkins said RT Will Barker (of Club 216 arrest fame) “appeared to hold” stud Tech DE Michael Johnson “by bringing his arm near the defender’s neck” during a 34-yard Marc Verica to Maurice Covington TD pass After the game Johnson felt it was “one you have to call. The rules say that should definitely be a penalty. They go on to throw a touchdown pass, and I’m looking for the flag. But there was none to be found.” Head man Paul Johnson said it would be “interesting to watch the tape. It looked like some people were in headlocks half the time.” Johnson may need that tape for other purposes, however. As he noted about his own team… “you’d like to think you could get the center-to-quarterback exchange.”
Among ACC opposition, the surprise surrounding Virginia’s win wasn’t limited Georgia Tech. Roanoke Times columnist Aaron McFarling tells us that following Virginia Tech’s 30-20 loss in Tallahassee – which generated even more questions for the Hokies – LB Purnell Sturdivant offered up a “grin” with “eyebrows leaping” when told of the score up in the ATL. “They won? They beat Georgia Tech?” he asked, before predicting “It’s probably going to come down to us and UVa in the last game of the season.”
Even Virginia’s own players seemed shocked at the situation they now find themselves in. Postgame, LB Clint Sintim responded with a “wow” when learning that his team was alone in first place in the ACC Coastal. For good measure, he added “It seems like every once in a while we surprise people.”
By Monday, the surprise had reached Bristol. Two days after the game, head coach Al Groh’s picture was featured on ESPN’s college football front page (alongside that of fallen Louisiana State DB Chad Jones – see below) beneath the headline “Reversal of Fortunes.” The ensuring article by former AJC & Washington Post reporter Mark Schlabach lists Virginia as the most improved team in the nation since the start of the season. Schlabach calls last weekend’s home OT win over a ranked UNC team the “turning point,” and the GT win “the real surprise.”