Virginia Strong

On a weekend where football rightly took a back seat to grief, memory, and mourning, Mike Hollins Jr. walked, edging closer to a discharge from UVA University Hospital. Not only will Hollins Jr. survive, he insists he’ll play football again, according to comments his father made to the media on Friday afternoon.

“He’ll be fully recovered,” Hollins Sr. told reporters. “He’s not going to stop playing football. It’s not in him. He’s not a quitter.”

The younger Hollins, a running back on Virginia’s football team, was 1 of 5 Virginia students shot last Sunday night as a charter bus returned 22 students from a class trip to Washington D.C., where they saw a play about slain teenager Emmett Till. Three other Virginia students, also football players, Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr., and D’Sean Perry, were killed in the shooting, and another Virginia student, Marlee Morgan, was wounded. The police arrested a former Virginia football player.

As Hollins Jr., who was shot racing back into the bus to confront the shooter, fought for his life, through two surgeries and ultimately taking his first steps on Friday, the college football world mourned the loss of Chandler, Davis Jr., and Perry.

Saturday, on a crisp, clear Charlottesville autumn day when Virginia should have been honoring its seniors in their final home game, a campus instead mourned, holding a memorial service attended by over 9,000 people at John Paul Jones Arena, on the Virginia campus. They came together to remember and honor the lives of Chandler, Davis Jr., and Perry, who arrived at UVA from places as different as Huntersville, North Carolina and Miami, Florida, but came together to become celebrated, beloved members of not just the Virginia football team, but the entire university community.

At the memorial, which was live-streamed, video montages of each player, along with highlights and player interviews, were shown, and fellow Virginia players were given the chance to take the stage and remember their fallen teammates. The memorial was the first opportunity for players to speak publicly about their teammates, as only coaches had been available all week.

Learning about all 3 young men this week was as significant a reminder as you’ll ever get that behind the big plays, halftime highlight shows, and heated debates that color a college football season, it’s the humans who play it and bring so much joy to millions of people who matter more than any final score, conference championship, or All-American list ever will. Wins and losses fade away to the footfalls and far off corners of memory. People, and their influence and impact, are imprinted on our hearts and minds forever.

Such is the case with Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler, and D’Sean Perry.

Lavel Davis Jr., a native of Ridgeville, South Carolina who was a gifted student and played wide receiver, was the oldest of three children in his family and perhaps it was there that he learned to be a constant source of encouragement and to lead by example. Davis excelled at track and football in high school, but his passion was his grandma’s cooking. He could eat as many as 18 eggs and was the first to arrive for her Sunday suppers, friends and family recalled on Saturday.

Davis came from small town roots and never forgot them, and just a day before he passed away, he called the high school football team at his alma mater, Woodland High, to wish them well and encourage them as they moved forward in the state playoffs. That’s the kind of selfless person he was, even as he harbored big dreams for himself, hoping to join 4 cousins in the NFL. He was well on his way, one of the bright spots on the football field for the Cavaliers in 2022, making plays like this one, Virginia’s first touchdown of the season.

Saturday, Cavaliers players, former coaches, and current staff alike celebrated Davis and his joyful spirit and giving heart, but mostly, they mourned the incredible life that was lost.

Devin Chandler, who grew up in Tennessee and later just outside of Charlotte, transferred to Virginia from Wisconsin this season. The son of a decorated Navy pilot, Chandler had hard work ingrained in his DNA and a penchant for making people laugh. Coaches and teammates remembering Chandler on Saturday talked about the way Chandler was a “dancing machine” who always commanded the attention of a room in the best possible way. A UVA honor roll student, Chandler was the rare kid who was soberingly serious about studies but also “the life of the party,” as Virginia Head Coach Tony Elliott described him to the media this week.

Chandler lost his father to brain cancer just 4 years ago, and he spoke of his father fondly and often, according to his teammates. He didn’t allow unspeakable loss to take away his joy, and Saturday, teammates celebrated that while mourning how much they’ll miss his zest for being alive.

D’Sean Perry, an art major from Miami who played a fierce linebacker, was called “the most interesting man on the football team” by Tony Elliott at a press conference last week. Quiet, studious, interested in culture, fashion, anime, rap, and dance, Perry was a brilliant sketch artist and an accomplished potter, skilled in pottery since his high school days at Miami’s Gulliver Prep.

Renaissance men are rare these days in a society that often values singular interests. Perry didn’t buy into that, teammate Josh McCarron recalled Saturday.

“My father used to speak about great men,” McCarron said through tears. “From the time I got to Virginia, it was obvious that D’Sean was one of those great men.”

Perry’s excellence extended to the football field from a young age, and he was named South Florida defensive player of the year by the Miami Herald as a senior in 2018. Daring to be different, he spurned in-state schools for Virginia. This season, as a junior, he had turned in career highs in tackles and tackles for loss.

Perry combined his outside interests with football as well, and Saturday, coaches and players alike remembered when Perry delivered an insane freestyle rap during former UVA assistant Mark Atuaia’s “Freestyle Friday” tradition where UVA coaches and players could offer raps to close out Virginia walkthroughs. Perry’s rap became an internet sensation:

That moment, and Perry’s remarkably varied interests, coupled with his ability to be good at all of them, were what teammates remembered fondly Saturday, and what the world will miss moving forward.

Life will go on, but life, for everyone who knew these young men and countless who might have had that opportunity in the future, will never be the same. That’s the human cost that lingers after the memorials are through, the funeral flowers wither, the orange and blue ribbons are pulled down, and days become weeks and months and years. There’s no timetable on grief, but too often, there is an expiration date on remembering that grief has no timetable.

In the coming days, as we all gather for Thanksgiving with those we love, and college football moves on to rivalry week, I hope we take time to pause, reflect, and remember these 3 young men, and the fact that the sport we love is shaped by so many individual stories like each of their own.

ACC Championship First Glance: Can UNC stop the Clemson run game?

The key to the ACC title game has crystallized over the past 2-3 weeks.

Can North Carolina, which seems likely to score points, slow the Clemson run game? The Tigers have run the ball with ruthless efficiency since their loss to Notre Dame earlier this month, and Saturday was no different, as Clemson steamrolled Miami with 207 yards and 3 touchdowns in the run game. The wrinkle for Clemson of late has been making sure DJ Uiagalelei is involved in the run game, and it isn’t just reliant on backs Will Shipley and Phil Matah.

That worked wonders Saturday, with Uiagalelei powering his way for this touchdown, and a team-high 89 yards rushing, largely on tuck and run zone reads. Incorporating Uiagalelei in the run game seems to invigorate his passing as well, as he was sharp against an outstanding Hurricanes secondary Saturday, completing 22-of-34 passes for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns against just 1 interception (on an overthrow under pressure). Clemson, led by an offense committed to establishing the run first, walloped the hapless Canes 40-10, extending the nation’s longest home winning streak to 40 games in the process.

North Carolina, meanwhile, bottled up the Georgia Tech run game, limiting the Yellow Jackets to just 3.8 yards per attempt. The problem, of course, came in the fourth quarter, when a tired Tar Heels front, desperately needing a stop, allowed Georgia Tech to convert 4 consecutive third downs, failing to get Drake Maye the ball back in a stunning 21-17 defeat at home. The most galling of the conversions came on this play, a 3rd-and-9 where Georgia Tech seemed content to run the ball, run clock, punt, and play defense, but UNC was simply unable to fit two gaps, resulting in a 10-yard run and a Yellow Jackets game-clinching first down.

UNC fans may not agree that blowing a 17-0 lead and losing to a Georgia Tech team with a losing record and an interim coach is hardly the biggest story of the evening. There’s some justice to that thinking too, especially given UNC’s long-shot chance at the College Football Playoff had they held on to win and improved to 10-1 ahead of their rivalry showdown with NC State and the ACC Championship game.

But for me, the story of the night was that Georgia Tech ran for over 100 yards in the second half as the Carolina defense tired. The Tar Heels rank 98th in rushing defense nationally, and an even worse 101st in yards allowed per attempt. They won’t light up Clemson’s defense, which held Miami to just 6 first downs Saturday and is playing its best football of the season, and win a shootout. They’ll need stops, and to secure them, they have to stop the Clemson run game.

After Saturday, it’s even more difficult to see how that happens.

Elsewhere in the ACC

Wake Forest 45, Syracuse 35: Wake Forest won a game between two freefalling teams that once had such high hopes, handing the Orange their 5th consecutive defeat Saturday night behind a brilliant game from Sam Hartman, who threw for 331 yards and 4 touchdowns. Hartman also avoided a turnover for the first time in weeks, capping his Wake Forest career (probably?) with 120 touchdowns accounted for in 4+ seasons as a starting quarterback.

Hartman didn’t know if he’d even get to play this season, and his return to the field alone is a triumph. Now he faces larger questions, including whether to use a COVID year and play one more season, either at Wake Forest or elsewhere, or to take his talents to the NFL, where he projects as a mid-round pick.

Syracuse has one more chance to avoid eliminating all the goodwill of their surprising 6-0 start next week when they meet Boston College. The good news for the Orange was that their offense, silenced over the past month, appeared to have found its legs again against Wake Forest. The bad news is that Wake Forest’s defense is terrible, and we won’t really know until the Orange play a solid Boston College defense whether Saturday’s 35-point, 477-yard outburst was about being a good offense again or playing Wake Forest.

Louisville 25, No. 24 NC State 10: While some may lament NC State’s bad luck this season in losing ACC preseason player of the year Devin Leary midseason, the reality is that the Wolfpack, hindered by an inability to run the ball and a weak offensive line, weren’t operating at a high level when Leary was healthy, either.

Leary’s numbers were pedestrian at best, and while the Pack were winning, they weren’t impressing anyone in the process and certainly didn’t appear to be a threat to Clemson in the Atlantic. Without Leary, things actually went decently, at least at first, but Saturday’s 25-10 loss to Louisville was the Pack’s second loss since the Leary injury and it bumps Dave Doeren’s team to a disappointing 7-4 in a year that began with championship expectations. Once again, the Pack were done in by their inability to generate balance, rushing for just 77 yards despite attempting to run 31 times. Ouch.

Credit Louisville, which has authored a Frankenstein-like rise from the dead after a dire September and a loss to Boston College left Scott Satterfield’s job security hanging by a thread. It’s difficult to see Satterfield being dismissed now, not after his Cardinals team won its 5th game in 6 tries Saturday. A win in rivalry week against Kentucky, who has dominated the series with Louisville of late, would certainly be enough for Satterfield to breathe easy about a 2023 return.

No. 18 Notre Dame 44, Boston College 0: If Jeff Hafley bought himself time with last week’s upset win at NC State, he erased all that goodwill Saturday, as Boston College was pummeled in South Bend by Notre Dame, 44-0. It was a wholesale, systemic failure in the defeat, as the Eagles turned the ball over 5 times and allowed Notre Dame, which has struggled on third down all season, to convert 8-of-13 attempts to extend drives and convert Boston College turnovers into points. Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame’s star defensive end, recovered 2 fumbles and tied Notre Dame’s single-season sack record with 9.5, held by All-Pro NFL star Justin Tuck, in the Fighting Irish’s dominant win.

The Fighting Irish now ready for bitter rival USC in a game with immense College Football Playoff and New Year’s 6 expectations.

No. 19 Florida State 49, Louisiana 17: The Seminoles got ready for Billy Napier and the Florida Gators by beating up on Napier’s old team, Louisiana, 49-17 at Doak Campbell Stadium at Bobby Bowden Field on Saturday afternoon. Jordan Travis played only a half — which makes his 3 total touchdowns and 150 total yards quite impressive.

It is the FSU defense, however, which generated 14 pressures, 6 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks, and limiting Louisiana to a 32% success rate, which gives the Noles their best chance to snap a 3-game losing streak to Florida next weekend. The Seminoles’ defense ranks 11th nationally in total defense and 9th (of 75 teams) in my success rate metric, powered by their ferocious pass rush (18th nationally in pressures) and a lockdown secondary led by All-American candidate Jammie Robinson.

Virginia Tech 23, Liberty 22: It might not have made many national highlight reels, but this was low-key the biggest win of the week in the ACC.

Brent Pry needed it terribly. A 2-9 Hokies team would have been the worst in Blacksburg in half a century, and it’s hard to blame that on Pry’s predecessor, Justin Fuente, who consistently positioned the Hokies for bowl invitations.

Saturday, the Hokies reclaimed, for one weekend, the program’s identity for so long under Frank Beamer. They ran the ball effectively, thanks to a 3-touchdown performance from Jalen Holston, who scored the game-winner with just 7:46 remaining. They won the turnover battle 2-0. They got after the quarterback, with a season-high 16 pressures and 5 sacks. They were sound in the kicking game, hitting a huge kickoff return, connecting on their lone field goal and pinning Liberty deep on 3 punts inside the 20-yard line. Fundamental football. That’s Hokies football, and it helped Pry earn a terrific win over an outstanding, 8-win Liberty team on Saturday afternoon.

That’s a huge lift, and potentially a job-changing lift, for the Hokies as they head into rivalry week against Virginia this weekend, should the Cavaliers elect to play.

Pittsburgh 28, Duke 26: Israel Abanikanda’s 113 yards and a touchdown helped the Panthers earn a tight 28-26 win over Duke in a game that matters for bowl placement. Had the Blue Devils won, they would have improved to 8-3 and a Gator Bowl might have even become a possibility. Now, it’s the Panthers with the inside track to a higher-tier bowl than Duke, though nothing that happened Saturday alters the fact that Mike Elko is a lock for ACC Coach of the Year.

Rivalry Week: Ranking the ACC Rivalry Week Games

Are you ready for Rivalry Week? Well, it is here, and it’s as special in the ACC as anywhere else in the country. From the Palmetto State brawl between South Carolina and Clemson to the basketball school bitterness of Wake Forest and Duke, here’s a quick-look ranking of the ACC rivalry week games, based on history, passion, and importance. Disagree? Wish to debate? Do it over Thanksgiving Dinner, instead of letting uncle what’s-his-name talk about politics.

The Biggest Historically

1. Florida State vs. Florida (Friday, 7:30 PM, ABC): “The Sunshine Showdown”

2. NC State at North Carolina (Friday, 3:30 PM, ABC): “The Carolina-State game”

3. Clemson vs. South Carolina (Saturday, Noon, ABC): “The Palmetto Bowl”

4. Georgia Tech at Georgia (Saturday, Noon, ESPN): “Clean, Old Fashioned Hate”

5. Virginia Tech vs. Virginia (TBD): “The Commonwealth Cup”

6. Louisville at Kentucky (Saturday, 3 PM, SEC Network): “The Governor’s Cup”

7. Duke vs. Wake Forest (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ACC Network): Part of the “Tobacco Road” rivalries

The Biggest This Year:

Notre Dame at USC (Saturday, 7:30 PM, ABC)- “The Battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh”

Notre Dame vs. Southern Cal is one of the oldest rivalries being contested next week, with the 93rd meeting set to kick Saturday night in a game with massive national title implications. This rivalry has brought us famous moments like “The Bush Push,” which saved USC’s national championship push in 2005, and it has featured 14 Heisman Trophy winners. That’s incredible stuff, and might make this rivalry No. 1 on this list if Notre Dame were a full-time member of the ACC.

Bowden Awards

Every week, The Road pays homage to the ACC’s best ever — Bobby Bowden — by honoring the ACC’s best over the weekend

Charlie Ward Award (Best Offensive Player): Sam Hartman, QB (Wake Forest)

The Demon Deacons star went out like a champion in what is likely to be his final home game, throwing for 331 yards and 4 touchdowns in Wake Forest’s big win over Syracuse.

He and his fellow Wake Forest star, AT Perry, connected 10 times on 12 targets for 119 yards and 3 AT Perry touchdowns. That’s how you say goodbye, and as Hartman said Friday, “If I tear up about it all, so be it.”

Prior Winners: Garrett Shrader, QB, Syracuse (Week 1 and Week 2); Johnny Wilson, WR, Florida State (Week 3); DJ Uiagalelei, QB, Clemson (Week 4 and Week 5); Israel Abanikanda, RB, Pitt (Week 6); Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina (Week 7 and 9); Will Shipley, RB, Clemson (Week 8); Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina (Week 10); Jordan Travis, QB, Florida State (Week 11).

Mickey Andrews Award (Defensive Player of the Week): Benjamin Morrison, CB (Notre Dame)

Morrison is one of the best stories in the sport this season. A blue-chip corner, big things were expected of Morrison but never as a true freshman, when he figured to be a depth piece and nickel package guy at most for Notre Dame in 2022. It’s November now, and Morrison may find himself on All-American lists — and not just the “Freshman All-American” variety.

Saturday, the Fighting Irish corner snagged 3 interceptions, his second multi-interception game in the month of November. On the season, he’s posting Patrick Surtain II at Alabama-type numbers, threatening modern records for coverage grades:

Morrison’s emergence as a star is a huge reason for Notre Dame’s extended winning streak, and should make for some special moments in Saturday’s Battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh in Los Angeles.

Prior Winners: Shyheim Battle, DB, NC State (Week 1, Week 4), Brandon Johnson, DB, Duke (Week 2); Aydan White, DB, NC State (Week 3); Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson (Week 5); DeAndre Boykins, DB, North Carolina (Week 6); Akheem Mesidor, DL, Miami (Week 7); Ja’Had Carter, S, Syracuse, (Week 8); Momo Sanogo, LB, Louisville (Week 9); Benjamin Morrison, CB, Notre Dame (Week 10); Kamren Kinchens, S, Miami (Week 11).

Sebastian Janikowski Award (Special Teams Player of the Week): Jawhar Jordan, RB/Kick Returner (Louisville)

Louisville’s offense was a struggle bus Saturday against No. 24 NC State, so Scott Satterfield’s team found other ways to score. The best, and biggest of those moments came in the second quarter, when Cardinals do-everything player Jawhar Jordan took this kickoff 98 yards to the house to break a sluggish, 3-3 tie.

Jordan added 105 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground as well, helping the Cardinals grab a 7th win ahead of Saturday’s Commonwealth Cup clash against Kentucky.

Prior Winners: Matthew Dennis, Kicker (K), Wake Forest (Week 1), PJ O’Brien, DB, Pitt (Week 2); Brendan Farrell, K, Virginia (Week 3), Andre Szmyt, K, Syracuse (Week 4); Gavin Stewart, K, Georgia Tech (Week 5); Sahmir Hagans, Returner, Duke (Week 6); Will Shipley, Clemson (Week 7); Isaiah Foskey, DE, Notre Dame (Week 8); Andres Borregalles, K, Miami (Week 9); Jordan Botelho, DB/Punt Team, Notre Dame (Week 10); Noah Burnette, K, North Carolina (Week 11).