It's hard to ignore just how impressive Anthony Harris was on Saturday. But it's equally difficult to imagine UVa coming out with a 19-16 win (or any other kind) over BYU if he hadn't been patrolling the secondary.
And apparently 11 tackles, a pass breakup, an interception, a sack (the first of his career) and a blocked punt (also the first of his career and the first by a Cavalier since 2009) are enough to get you national recognition. Harris was chosen as the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week and is surely headed for similar honors from the ACC.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior from Chesterfield had quite the day and night for UVa. And in so doing helped the Cavaliers (1-0) to open with a win for the fourth straight year.
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"We thought it was very important to come out here, get a win," Harris said. "We wanted to come out here, play hard, play fast, know our assignments, and just give everything we've got."
That he picked off the pass from BYU's Taysom Hill (which sailed between the hands of running back Jamaal Williams) with under four minutes left wasn't as big a shock as the lateral that Harris converted to Henry Coley six yards into his return. Coley rumbled to the 13-yard line where junior running back Kevin Parks put the strangle hold on the game's momentum on the next play, scampering in for the score that would ultimately be enough for the victory.
"I guess it was just natural instinct," Harris said of the lateral. "I turned around, [Coley] already had his hands ready so I just trusted that he could hold on to it and so I pitched it to him."
It's not necessarily something they practice. In fact, Harris says, most times its the linebackers pitching to him or one of the other defensive backs.
Coley said he was on his way to block for Harris and as he was getting tackled, the junior linebacker from Virginia Beach had no idea what was about to happen.
"It was simultaneous," Coley said of both the understanding to take the ball and the realization that it was happening. "I wasn't even thinking about anything. I don't know if it was instincts or whatever but me and him, we just looked at each other.
"It was chemistry more than anything else," Coley added. "He looked at me. I looked at him...I'm just glad I was there for the opportunity."
Asked if he had ever done that before Harris said, "No sir."
Though the former L.C. Bird star may not have known he would lateral the ball to Coley on the return, he did think he could block the punt before it actually came to fruition.
On BYU's first drive of the second half, the Wahoos forced the Cougars into a three-and-out. On 4th and 2, the punt attempt was waived off thanks to an illegal procedure penalty. Making BYU re-kick, as heavy rain fell on Scott Stadium, proved to be a wise and fruitful move for the Cavaliers.
"The first play [before the flag flew], I came free," Harris said. "I thought I had a chance to block it, didn't really use the right technique. They got the penalty and we came back out and I told myself that I was going to go out there and create a play for my team. He bobbled it and so I just tried to make a play."
The ball was recovered by Vincent Croce on the BYU 16-yard line. Three plays later, David Watford rolled right and found Darius Jennings in the back right corner of the end zone for a touchdown by the slimmest of margins.
Harold knows he has a lot to prove
If you happen to follow the CavsCorner twitter account, be mindful that tweets like "Eli Harold is out there doing Eli Harold things" are likely to come often this season. If anyone came close to matching the kind of game Harris had, it was Harold.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore was one of the team's best players toward the end of last season. Saturday against BYU, he picked right up where he left off and posted career highs in tackles (11), tackles for loss (3.5), and sacks (two).
As with most everything when it comes to the way he plays the game, there was motivation. Harold not only got words of encouragement from a UVa legend but also wanted to prove the doubters wrong.
"I talked to C-Long [Chris Long] last night and he gave me some tips," Harold said following the win. "And he really motivated me."
The message that heard from Long and from his brother, a pastor, was essentially pretty simple.
"You've got to get deep," Harold said. "When the goings get tough, how are you going to react?"
Having watched Jadeveon Clowney, a defensive end likely to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft next year, in his season opener get accused of taking plays off, Harold said he decided that he didn't want his effort to ever be questioned.
"I saw him on TV [Thursday night] going against the no huddle and I said, "I can't let that happen to me,"' Harold explained, adding later that defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta called a great game for the defense that "got after it [and] the secondary was covering them down."
Going against left tackle Morgan Moses every day in practice, Harold added, is really starting to pay off. Playing as well as he did in a big victory made it all the more sweeter.
"It was big, man," Harold said of the team's win over BYU. "It was epic. I played in the Penn State game last year. It was a good game but it wasn't like this one."
And his point of view when Harris lateraled to Coley?
"Man," Harold said, "my heart dropped...When he pitched it to Henry? I was like, 'Oh my God.' If that's not a top 10 play? I don't know what is."
"It just opened up."
As much as Harris' pick (and his and Coley's return) mattered, without the run by Parks for the touchdown it could have all been for naught. Left guard and team captain Luke Bowanko remembered just being floored when he saw the defense create the turnover.
"That was like one of those 3-pointers back in high school when I pulled up at the line and coach was like 'No no no no' and then I make it and he's happy," Bowanko joked. "That was insane. But it worked out great. They must have been practicing that or something."
"It was so exciting," Parks recalled. "We had some guys down and after Khalek [Shepherd] fumbled, guys were down. I said 'Just stay in this game. We're going to figure out a way to win this game' and it happened."
Immediately thereafter, though, it was time to go to work.
"We see them get the interception and start running down, obviously the sideline gets pretty excited," Bowanko explained. "As an older guy, I try to temper the excitement, get in the huddle, get the play called."
On the play in question, Watford was given two options. He reads the front and makes the call.
"Obviously, he made the right call," Bowanko said. "I don't know what happened on the backside of the play but K-P found a hole, kept his balance, and made the play. It just opened up. That's just pure bliss when something like that happens."
Unfortunately for Bowanko, he didn't get a chance to see it.
"My view was No. 90 in my face, trying to drive him back because initially the play is supposed to hit front side but obviously K-P saw something," he added. "It was amazing."
Parks described it in similar fashion.
"On the first one [the run before the TD], I got the same play, I think I missed the read and coach was telling me," he said. "On the second one, he stuck with me and I wasn't going to be denied. If there was a hole to the left, I was going to take that back side either way... I took what the defense gave me and I just wasn't going to be denied in the end zone."
The interception provided the momentum. But the offense had to close it out.
"Talk about needing a play to win the game," Parks said. "Hats off to the defense and a nice head's up play by Ant tossing it to Henry to keep running. It put us in a running situation and we capitalized on it."
The Hot 5
The Hot 5 returns for the first time in 2013. To recap, these are five players who may not necessarily be the team's five best but their efforts in the previous game showed them to be standouts and vital pieces of the win.
5. Alec Vozenilek, P: UVa probably doesn't want to keep giving the reliable punter as much work as he had on Saturday night but the truth is without his contributions, there's no way the Cavaliers would've been able to pull it out. Vozenilek punted 13 times and averaged 41.3 yards per attempt with a long of 50 yards. He also buried four inside the 20-yard line, giving the Cougars a long field. Given the conditions and the score, field position was crucial and Vozenilek was a real weapon.
4. Maurice Canady, CB: While he didn't have a pick or a sack, what No. 26 did do for UVa on Saturday was be reliable and productive. And in so doing, he led the Cavaliers with 13 tackles, including nine solo, which was career high. Many had hoped the Wahoos would be as strong in the secondary as they showed at times against BYU and Canady will be called on to make big play after big play all season long.
3. Dominique Terrell, WR/PR: Consistency has become Terrell's middle name. Many might not realize it but the junior receiver from northern Virginia not only caught a pass for the 15th-straight game (the longest active streak on the team) but his 35-yard punt return was not only the longest of his career but the longest by UVa since Vic Hall's 45-yard return in 2007. As big as the punt return may have been, the steadiness with which Terrell returned the punts was bigger. He's a far cry from the timid player who started as the punt returner his freshman season. Instead, he's grown into a dependable cog in the UVa special teams machine.
2. Eli Harold, DE: BYU's offensive linemen came into this weekend's game mighty confident but it was Harold who had the last laugh. His continued presence in the Cougar backfield was often too much to deal with and it made Hill's long day even longer. Harold appears to be poised to have the kind of season Virginia fans had hoped he would have. And we're sure he'll be doing "Eli Harold things" all year long.
1. Anthony Harris, S: Hoops standout Justin Anderson said last night via twitter that No. 8 has shown he's got "The Clutch Gene." What Harris accomplished yesterday was pretty staggering when you recall that some fans openly wondered if he could be the type of safety this team needed. His propensity to make the big play and do so confidently made his stat line all the more impressive. UVa didn't just need those plays, the Cavaliers HAD to have every one of them. Harris set the tone against an aggressive offensive scheme and in the process invoked his own quote. In order to have a dream season, you have to play a dream schedule. One down....
The Cavaliers return to Charlottesville next weekend (hopefully without a two-hour, nine-minute delay for weather) when they host No. 3 Oregon. The game will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. and be televised by either ABC or ESPN2......The Ducks came into 2013 off a 12-1 season last year, ending with a convincing 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. They opened this season with a 66-3 drubbing of Nicholls..... UVa and Oregon have at least one thing in common: They both lost their offensive play caller to the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly, who had been the head coach in Eugene since 2009, was hired as the next head coach in Philly. There he hired Bill Lazor, UVa's former offensive coordinator, to be his quarterbacks coach......In the season-opening win, the Ducks and new head coach Mark Helfrich (the OC under Kelly) posted three 100-yard rushers......It will be high-octane offense again on the visiting side at Scott Stadium. The Ducks, featuring quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De'Anthony Thomas, are known for racking up both points and yards. Against Nicholls, Oregon posted 772 yards of total offense, 500 of them coming on the ground.