|"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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|#18: Florida State 36, UVA 3 (October 17, 2004)
Al Groh was hired as head coach in January 2001. Regardless of whether people
considered it the right move, it was certainly a bold choice. Groh took over a program
that had lost a little swagger and slipped into mediocrity in the last couple of years
under George Welsh and, for roughly the next 45 months, had the vast majority of UVA
fans believing – with good reason – that the Hoos were on an upward trajectory toward
the national elite in college football.
While Groh's initial team in 2001 lacked the talent to compete in the upper part of the
ACC, he was still able to beat quality teams such as Clemson, Georgia Tech and Penn
State. And it wasn't just the wins – Groh (or, more accurately, offensive coordinator Bill
Musgrave) mixed in some razzle dazzle to compensate for the talent deficiencies. A
halfback option play by Tyree Foreman provided a key part of the game-winning drive in
the last second win at Clemson, and the Pearman-to-McMullen hook and ladder (or
hook and lateral, whatever) provided the signature moment in the Georgia Tech win. It
was those sorts of efforts that allowed fans to get excited about the future despite a 5-7
Over the following two seasons, UVA rode some excellent recruiting classes, Matt
Schaub's arm, and a turnover-forcing defense to 17 wins and two bowl victories. Sure,
there were warning signs and hiccups along the way (e.g., when Groh apparently lost
his laminated "go for 2" cheat sheet against Wisconsin, and the faulty coin flip logic in
windy College Park), but all signs pointed towards 2004 as the season that UVA would
finally make the leap onto the national scene.
Or so it appeared.
The hype surrounding the 2004 team was not just myopic banter among UVA friends
and family. The Hoos were ranked #20 in the preseason USA Today coaches' poll.
They had a soft schedule to begin the year and laid the smack down. In the first four
weeks of the season, the Hoos turned the ball over only one time, trailed only once,
and outscored their opponents 182-38. Biscuit was running the offense efficiently,
Wali Lundy was scoring touchdowns at an incredible pace, and Big Money was almost
unstoppable out of the tight end position. The only problem – and it turned out to be a
big one – was the loss of DE Chris Canty to a season-ending knee injury against
The week before the showdown with FSU, there was a dangerous ESPN Thursday
night game against Clemson. Seasoned UVA fans knew this was a classic trap
scenario, and were anxious to see how the Hoos (now ranked #9 nationally) would
respond. Well, they responded with a resounding 30-10 shellacking of Tommy
Bowden's Tigers, including 27 unanswered points after spotting Clemson a 7-0 lead.
It was a glorious night for the Hoos, complete with Mike Tirico shutting up the ESPN
crew so he and the audience at home could hear the Good Ol' Song reverberate
through the stadium. The celebratory experience was nearly surreal for any gloom and
doom UVA fan.
So the 45-month plan had finally come together. The #6 Hoos would have a nationally-
televised, prime time showdown with the #7 ranked FSU Seminoles in Tallahassee. It
was, quite simply, the biggest game in over 15 years of UVA football, arguably the
biggest ever. A win would likely cement the Hoos' place among the national elite for
2004, and have them poised for the conference title, a great bowl, and their first-ever
top 10 finish.
Florida State started the year in the top 5, but lost an overtime game against Miami to
start the season. Oddly, FSU and UVA had three common opponents out of the five
games played in 2004. Both teams had blown out UNC and Clemson, but FSU
struggled to beat Syracuse 17-13, while UVA had beaten the Orange 31-10. The
Seminoles also could not decide on a QB, as Chris Rix and Wyatt Sexton had been
inconsistent throughout the early part of the season. (Of course, seven months later
Sexton was doused with pepper spray by police officers after they found him lying in the
street and proclaiming himself to be God. So I guess "inconsistent" is a relative term.)
Anyway, despite the fact that the game was in Tallahassee (where UVA had never
won), the game was expected to be highly competitive, with many pundits even picking
the Hoos to win. Ultimately, the media played the game up as an excellent opportunity
for a new power to emerge in the ACC.
In short, the game featured a talented, upstart team unaccustomed to national
attention or games with huge implications going into a hostile environment to face a
proud, talented, traditional power that felt disrespected by the media, the fans, and
ultimately their opponent.
Yeah, nothing could possibly go wrong here.
This was the rare SPG that involved a blowout loss. Ironically, it would have been
ranked higher on the list had the game been closer. Anyway, here's how it graded out:
Size of Lead Lost – 0 out of 10 Points
Um, yeah. No points in this category. Connor Hughes missed an early field goal
attempt, and the Hoos eventually fell behind 19-0. While stomach punch games
usually inflict their emotional damage with lightning precision late in the fourth
quarter, in this particular game UVA fans were bludgeoned throughout the first
half. Good times.
Level of Choke – 9 out of 10 Points
If the Hoos had gone down to Tallahassee and lost a close one, no one would
have complained. But the offense, which was averaging over 42 points going
into the game, never reached the end zone. The defense gave up 470 yards.
Special teams missed a field goal and gave up a blocked punt for a safety. The
game really was a measuring stick for the current state of the program, and we
came up about as short as an Irish penis. Other than Hagans running for his life
and Miller's 9 catches for 110 yards, there was absolutely no fight in the Hoos on
this night, and that was really what had fans so disappointed, mystified, and
annoyed with the head coach.
Singular Moment – 3 out of 10 Points
The singular moment from this game occurred on the sideline, not on the field.
Al Groh is a proud man who certainly didn’t see this blowout coming. But he lost
his marbles in this game, screaming at defensive players for their lack of effort
and telling them they would be playing for their jobs. Not knowing the cameras
were on him during this tirade, Groh seethed after the game. "The TV guy
doesn't belong and I'm going to get him the hell out of there from now on,'' Groh
snapped. "They don't belong in the bench area. Whatever I said to the team is
between me and the team.''
Groh used to talk about players putting their faces in the fan. Now, UVA fans had
their faces in their hands.
Painful Finish – 1 out of 10 Points
The finish to this game was more sweet release than painful, but it is odd to
think about the fact that Seminole fans were chanting "over-rated" at the end of
this game. Looking back, being overrated is still a lot more fun than sucking.
Season Killer – 8 out of 10 Points
This was only the sixth game of the year, but given that the sixth-ranked Hoos
eventually ended up playing their bowl game on a blue field in Boise, there is no
denying that the FSU beatdown fundamentally changed the course of the 2004
season. The ACC conference title was still within reach right up until the season
finale against Virginia Tech. But the FSU game made the rest of the games
played in 2004 seem small, as if it took a monumental effort for the Hoos just to
get back to where they had been before the trip to Tallahassee. In the end, they
won the games they were supposed to win (Duke, Maryland, and at Georgia
Tech) and lost the games where the talent on the other side was fairly equal
(Miami and VT). While 2004 was set up to be a historically important year for
UVA football, it became just another good-but-not-great year.
Long-Term Implications – 8 out of 10 Points
Players and coaches would never admit that this game had a lasting impact on
the program, but fans have an entirely different perspective – especially fans who
have been around the program for many years. They can look back and spot
trends and see where the overall direction of a program changed. While
conjecturing about the causes may ultimately be based on specious logic, it is
interesting to note where things suddenly seemed to magically go right, or where
they went awry. Many would argue that the upward trajectory the program
witnessed in the first 45 months under Al Groh stopped after October 16, 2004.
The Hoos have had their moments since that date (beating Miami in 2007, or
even #4 FSU in 2005), but they’ve never been back in the Top 10 and have never
been back in college football's national consciousness like they were on this
night. In short, Groh’s stated goal of being an "important team" really only lasted
for a couple weeks in 2004, and arguably hasn't happened again since.
Just about every UVA fan that is also a Boston Red Sox fan knows that this FSU game
was played on the same night the New York Yankees beat Boston 19-8 in Game 3 of
the 2004 American League Championship Series. The Sox never lost another game
that season and ultimately won the World Series, but the Hoos never really recovered.
Although it wasn't apparent at the time, it was a watershed moment for both teams.
But that's how watershed moments work – you never see them clearly until the events
can fade into history a bit. If Al Groh never achieves the goals he set for UVA football
back in 2001, the 2004 game against FSU is arguably the moment where things
started slipping ever so slightly downhill.
|Overall Score – 29 out of 60 Points (Stomach Punch Factor 48%)
|UVA Football - Random Musings