CHARLOTTESVILLE | For once, Virginia’s home crowd had nothing to boo about.
Cornerback Ras-I Dowling set the tone early by stripping the ball from Indiana receiver Terrance Turner, and it was all cheers from then on as the Cavaliers rolled to a 47-7 victory Saturday.
It was a much different atmosphere than the Cavaliers’ first two home games - a loss to William & Mary of the Football Championship Subdivision and a drubbing by TCU that had fans loudly voicing their displeasure.
But those two demoralizing losses were followed by improved performances on the road in a narrow loss to Southern Mississippi and a win over North Carolina, and the Cavaliers took it up another notch in this season’s only matchup between ACC and Big Ten teams.
“Good progress today,” Virginia coach Al Groh said after the game. “So many people stepped up.”
That list would have to include Dowling, whose forced fumble was returned 32 yards by Rodney McLeod to set up the Cavaliers’ first touchdown. He also had an interception to set up a score, a crucial third-down sack to help turn back an Indiana drive and a team-high nine tackles.
There also were plenty of positives for an offense that entered the game tied for 117th in the 120-member Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense, averaging about 272 yards a game. The Cavaliers easily eclipsed that by halftime and finished with 536 yards - the first time they have topped 500 yards since 2004.
Quarterback Jameel Sewell led the way, going 20-for-30 for 308 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for a TD, but the scores and the yardage and the completion percentage were not the accomplishments he relished most.
“That’s great of course, but the important thing is that we had zero turnovers,” Sewell said. “Turning the ball over is what can cost us games, and that was my biggest focus today.”
When Sewell wasn’t distributing the ball to eight different receivers, Mikell Simpson was churning out tough yardage on the ground. Simpson finished with four rushing touchdowns and gained 83 yards on 15 carries before being injured in the third quarter. The crowd roared when Simpson gave a thumbs up as he was carted off the field to the locker room.
Simpson was treated for a neck injury and released from the hospital. He will follow up with the team physician.
“We don’t have anything definitive on him, but first indications are that we do feel positive about his long-term situation,” Groh said.
Virginia’s do-everything Vic Hall had his best game as a receiver since moving from quarterback, where he started the season. Hall, a cornerback during his first three seasons, had six receptions for 85 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass - the first TD reception of Hall’s career.
“We ran a post over the middle, and the cornerback collapsed on the post,” Sewell said. “Vic used his speed to get to the sideline and all I had to do was give him a manageable ball.”
Groh said the Cavaliers (2-3) expected a tough game based on Indiana’s narrow loss at Michigan - a difficult place to play - two weeks ago.
“We all felt very challenged going into the week,” he said. “The players really took that challenge to prepare for this particular opponent, and they took the challenge to move our game forward.”