Virginia and Virginia Military Institute fulfilled their expected roles Saturday in the football equivalent of keep-away from your kid cousins.
The Cavaliers' 48-7 win at Scott Stadium became an exercise in record-book research — first this, most that, fewest since, largest since — and provided an opportunity for everyone to break a sweat, including the 43,592 who showed up on an unseasonably warm afternoon.
"I told the guys," head coach Mike London said, "the first half, first quarter, (we) looked kind of lethargic a little bit. Then, we just kind of came to life a little bit — just started doing the things I thought that we needed to do to win this game."
Quarterback Marc Verica threw for three touchdowns and averaged 14 yards per completion in two-plus quarters of fairly efficient work against an outmanned secondary. The Cavaliers had 21 plays of at least 10 yards, plus Raynard Horne's first-quarter B-12 shot of a kickoff return for a touchdown.
Among the other feel-goods were Dontrelle Inman's first two touchdown catches and Colter Phillips' first. Marquee cornerback Ras-I Dowling and veteran safety Rodney McLeod saw their first game action of the season, though they were predictably rusty.
The most obvious gripes from the Cavaliers' perspective included a running game not nearly effective enough for ACC play, too many escapes by VMI quarterback Cam Jones, and field goals when touchdowns appeared within reach.
Whether a pair of anticipated wins against FCS teams and one superior effort against a top-20 program prepare the Cavaliers for Florida State and beyond remains to be seen.
"It's a new atmosphere these guys have," London said, "just kind of a new belief they have in themselves. If you have that, if you have the opportunity where guys believe in themselves, believe in their teammates, then things can happen on the field for you."
There was zero chance of VMI pulling a James Madison or Jacksonville State. The Keydets have a difficult time with fellow FCS competition, never mind moving up a notch to face Division I bowl teams.
The Keydets' last win against an FBS opponent was 1981, which also coincided with their last winning season. They've posted three or fewer wins in a season 19 times since.
You'll recall that VMI's brain trust chose to leave the school's traditional home, the Southern Conference, for the Big South precisely because they felt it gave the football program a better chance to gain some traction.
Whether the move has paid dividends is up for debate. But the football program always seems to be starting over: new coach, new system, preponderance of underclassmen, something.
In recent years, ex-Keydets big whistle Jim Reid — Virginia's new defensive coordinator — was a veteran head coach and more importantly, the kind of true believer most comfortable on post. But he stayed only two years before he took an NFL job.
His successor, Sparky Woods, also has previous head coaching chops. Two years in, though, he scrapped the option-based attack that led FCS in rushing and this season implemented a more balanced offense.
The transition is understandably uneven thus far, and their most promising quarterback, Eric Kordenbrock, is a true freshman. Woods saw no reason to throw him into the deep end early, and inserted him for mop-up duty only.
If the Keydets are looking for a silver lining, they managed seven more points versus Virginia than they got against William and Mary.
"They're a lot bigger than anyone else we've played or anyone else we're going to play," Jones said. "In the beginning, we were moving the ball and rolling a little bit, but it was just one of those things where they had a good play and then we'd have a bad play. We just couldn't answer back and it just kind of got away from us a little bit."
The Cavaliers did what they were supposed to do and did so well enough to keep everyone on board.
"I think we did a lot of good things in this first month," Verica said, "and I think we're building every week. We still have a long ways to go, we still have a lot of improvements to make, but we can definitely play."
Further evidence is just one week away.
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Fairbank, read his blog at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times