|"It is the most important victory of my career." -- Head Coach Dick Voris, after the
Hoos’ 15-12 victory over Duke on September 27, 1958. Voris finished his UVA career
with a record of 1-29.
|"We've stopped recruiting young men who want to come here to be students first and
athletes second." -- Former Virginia head coach Sonny Randle, describing his strategy
for turning around UVA's football program
|"As the score mounted, to 20-0 and finally 26-0, his movements slowed. With two
minutes to go and South Carolina threatening once more, Voris stood behind several
rows of substitutes, staring at his shoes." -- Sports Illustrated, describing Coach Voris’
stellar coaching performance during the Hoos’ 26-0 loss to South Carolina in 1960
|"Really, Texas wasn't as good as I thought they'd be." -- Ted Manly, Virginia's
freshman quarterback, after Texas had spanked the Hoos 68-0
|UVA Football’s Top 20 Stomach Punch Games (1989-2008)
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|#14: Georgia Tech 13, UVA 7 (October 5, 1996)
Tim Sherman vs. Aaron Brooks.
While the 1996 team is often credited with having the best UVA defense of the last 20
years, if not ever, the debate as to why the 1996 Virginia football team only went 7-5
gets boiled to one question: Who should have been the starting quarterback? To
some, fifth year senior Tim Sherman had waited his turn and had played adequately
enough to warrant the starting nod and a fair shake at the position. To many others,
Aaron Brooks was a talented sophomore with a much greater upside and deserved to
start over a guy who, some claimed, was only offered a scholarship because his dad
was on the coaching staff.
Both sides had justifiable positions. Those who sided with Aaron Brooks have the
advantage of pointing out how good he became in 1997 and 1998 and then later in the
NFL. But the bottom line is that it probably didn't matter who started, because both
quarterbacks were horrifyingly, historically awful.
- In 1996, Tim Sherman was 102 of 203 (50.2 completion percentage) for 1,572
yards. He threw four TDs and 11 interceptions. His NFL passer rating was
60.2. That, quite simply, is terrible.
- In 1996, Aaron Brooks was 37 of 89 (41.6 completion percentage) for 517
yards. He threw one TD and seven interceptions. His NFL passer rating was
31.9. THIRTY-ONE POINT NINE! There are no words for how terrible THAT is.
As a point of comparison, big fat Jarmarcus Russell's passer rating through 12
weeks with the Raiders in 2009 was 47.7. When your passer rating makes
Jamarcus Russell look like Joe Montana, you've got major problems.
Look, Sherman and Brooks both had great moments while quarterbacking the Hoos.
Sherman made some key plays in UVA's stunning 1996 win over #6 UNC. Brooks
eventually became an all-time Wahoo great and had two of the greatest performances
by a Virginia player ever in UVA's 1997 and 1998 wins over Virginia Tech. But this is,
after all, a running series on excruciating losses. And given the horror show put on by
UVA's QBs in 1996, it should come as no surprise that there was a stomach punch
loss that was due in large part to several missed opportunities and mistakes from the
QB position. It was a loss that derailed an extremely promising, undefeated season….
and it came against Georgia Tech.
In the words of our revered webmaster, that almost NEVER happens.
Despite the quarterbacking woes, the 1996 team was perhaps the most talented team
in UVA history. It featured four players who received All-American honors on the
defense alone. An incredible 15 players received All-ACC honors, including six on the
first team. The offense was led by senior RB Tiki Barber, who ran for 1,360 yards and
14 TDs, but it was the defense that dominated the headlines in 1996.
The defense was a senior-dominated lineup that featured eight future NFLers. The
linebacking unit was undeniably the greatest in UVA history with Jamie Sharper,
James Farrior, and Wali Rainer. Ronde Barber and Anthony Poindexter roamed the
secondary, and the front four was stout with Tony Dingle and Todd White inside and
Jon Harris and Doc Walker favorite Duane "The Ash Man" Ashman on the ends.
Coming off the wildly successful but painfully unfulfilling 1995 season, most UVA fans
were extremely excited about the 1996 team, even with the aforementioned
quarterbacking problem. Sherman was given the first opportunity, as he had shown
relative competence with his arm and feet in previous spot duty, and Wahoos were
hopeful he could manage the team and not screw it up too badly.
The season got off to the start everyone wanted. After a tune-up against Central
Michigan to start the year, the Hoos rattled off impressive 21-3 and 42-7 wins over
Maryland and Wake. Then, in a game everyone had circled on the schedule after a last
second loss the previous year in Austin, the Hoos dismantled Texas 37-13 in rain-
soaked Scott Stadium in a game that may not have been as close as the score
indicated. Sherman was solid in the win over the Longhorns (14-24 for 180 yards, 44
yards rushing and a rush TD), to the point that it looked like he might actually be
decent…or maybe even good.
Sounds naïve now, but yeah, we thought this.
From 1992-1996, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets experienced their worst stretch of
football in the last 25 years. They never won more than six games in a season during
this period, and they were 1-10 in 1994. Third year coach George O'Leary had them on
the right path by 1996, but the Jackets simply didn't have the talent level of UVA.
They did, however, have freshman Joe Hamilton at QB, and he was already showing
promise for the Jackets. Georgia Tech came into the Virginia game with a 3-1 record,
with wins over NC State, Wake and Duke. After the win over the Hoos, however, they
fell apart and lost five of their last six games.
In short, this should have been a comfortable, businesslike win for UVA. In that type of
game, of course, it's never a good idea to give your opponent additional incentive. Like,
for example, when Tiki Barber said a few days before the game, "I think we have better
athletes. We have a better game plan. We have better coaches. We can play with them
and easily beat them."
So to recap, huge home win in revenge game the previous week, followed by road tilt
against improving but lightly regarded team that we didn't take seriously. Yep, no way
we should have seen an upset coming.
On that note, here's how this stomach punch loss graded out:
Size of Lead Lost – 0 out of 10 Points
Virginia never led in this game. The Jackets took a 13-0 lead early in the second
quarter, which proved to be enough points on the day, as the Hoos only
managed a short Tiki TD run late in the second quarter. The maddening part
was that UVA's defense was extraordinary. They gave up 183 yards of offense,
50 of which came on a single play (which led to a field goal). Tech ran the ball
40 times…for 95 yards. UVA also intercepted Hamilton twice on the day, and
forced three fumbles (but, of course, didn't recover any of them).
And most amazingly, Tech's final first down of the day came with 13 minutes left
in the third quarter.
Level of Choke – 8 out of 10 Points
Back to the quarterbacks. After his solid performance against Texas, Sherman
followed that up with a two-flush crapfest. He was 4 of 12 for 31 yards and 3
picks (NFL passer rating = 2.7). His interception deep in Virginia territory led to
the lone Georgia Tech touchdown. Oh, and he also fumbled.
To be fair, Sherman wasn't exactly helped out by his receivers. After two
defenders ran into each other, Derrick Byrd had a long pass go through his
hands that would have been a sure touchdown. Germane Crowell and Anthony
Southern also dropped third down passes.
Brooks was a little better on the day (8 of 18 for 82 yards and only one
interception), and he had two chances to drive the Hoos for the winning TD late in
the game. With less than four minutes left, he led Virginia to the Georgia Tech
28. On the next play, however, Brooks and WR Terrence Wilkins got crossed up
and Brooks threw an interception into the waiting arms of Nathan Perryman.
The Virginia defense held again, and after a shanked punt, the offense took over
at the UVA 41 with 2 minutes left...
Singular Moment – 7 out of 10 Points
After a 32-yard scramble and a 9-yard pass, Brooks quickly drove Hoos into the
red zone and had a third and 1 at the 18 yard line. Things finally appeared to be
looking up after a frustrating day.
Unfortunately, this was the 1996 Aaron Brooks, not the 1997 or 1998 versions.
On third down, Tiki was wide open in the flat with no defender between him and
the end zone. But Brooks didn't put enough air under the ball and it was swatted
away by a defensive lineman. Welsh later regretted not running the ball in that
situation, but the playcall was perfect. It was the execution that was awful.
But at least there was still fourth down!
Painful Finish – 7 out of 10 Points
On fourth down, Brooks rolled to his right and again missed his intended target,
barely overthrowing Germane Crowell on the sideline. For some reason, Tiki
Barber watched this rather important play from the sideline.
And just like that, in a game UVA seemed to dominate, the game and the
undefeated season were over.
Season Killer – 6 out of 10 Points
The Hoos would lose five games in 1996, so it might be a stretch to ascribe too
much importance to the Georgia Tech loss and its impact on the season. But, in
losing to a weaker conference opponent, this game clearly derailed a season
that had very high aspirations and also served to highlight just how bad the
offense could be on any given day. The Hoos would go on to beat three-win NC
State and winless Duke before their magical comeback against UNC, but
inconsistencies on both sides of the ball hounded the team in their losses. The
offense cost the Hoos in losses to Virginia Tech (no TDs and 12 of 32 passing)
and Miami (allowing two defensive TDs in a 10-point loss), but the stellar
defense also had its breakdowns as well, giving up over 500 yards to a very good
FSU team and over 260 rushing yards in a frustrating home loss to Clemson.
All in all, without the UNC victory, the 1996 team may have been the most
underperforming of any team in the George Welsh era.
Long-Term Implications – 5 out of 10 Points
The Georgia Tech loss - in fact, all the losses in 1996 - helped to create the
never-ending debate about who really should have been the quarterback in
1996. Many Virginia fans believe that Welsh should have stuck with Brooks full-
time, with an eye towards preparing him for 1997 and 1998. In some respects,
that makes sense, but the 1996 team was too talented to entrust to a guy who
was frankly overmatched on many occasions, even in relation to the less talented
In the Georgia Tech game, Brooks was probably the better QB, but there were
many other occasions where Sherman gave the Hoos their best chance to win.
Neither QB really assumed control of the position, so it's hard to blame Welsh or
offensive coordinator Tom O'Brien for the decisions they made. But Brooks' slow
start to his college career was really remarkable in its level of suckitude. He had
a decent game against Auburn to start the year in 1997, but threw a pick-six and
made some other mental mistakes that would hinder him throughout his college
career. Giving him more experience in 1996 would not necessarily have
improved his spotty decision making.
If you include the kicker and the punter, the 1996 football team had good-to-great
players at 23 out of 24 positions. It really was a great team everywhere but where it
mattered most. So it was that UVA went 7-5, losing in a meaningless bowl game to a
Miami Hurricanes team just off probation. Diehard fans will remember the 1996 team
as a great team on paper that won a miracle game against the Tar Heels. But those
same fans have an exceedingly difficult time reconciling why this team couldn't get
some kind of production out of the quarterback position and accomplish much, much
|Overall Score – 33 out of 60 Points (Stomach Punch Factor 55%)
|UVA Football - Random Musings|