The junior hit Jake McGee on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 1:28 to play Saturday, giving Virginia a 17-16 lead against Penn State that held up when Nittany Lions kicker Sam Ficken's missed his fourth field goal of the game—from 42 yards.
"We stubbed our foot a couple times with penalties and we had big plays," Rocco said of the winning drive, which chewed 6:36 off the clock and covered 86 yards. "It was just like a roller coaster drive, but we all kept our composure when we needed to. I give all the credit to the playmakers and our receivers and running backs and Jake McGee making great plays."
McGee and Rocco teamed up for two—the first a 44-yard completion to convert a third-and-16 from Virginia's 22. The converted quarterback finished with four catches for 99 yards, and the touchdown was the first of his career.
"We have a good connection right now and he's making plays and it's really exciting," Rocco said.
And McGee is only getting better.
"He's worked very hard at it," offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said of the 6-foot-5 sophomore, possibly the team's best deep threat. "He's very talented guy. He makes those catches all the time in practice. We know now we can count on him."
McGee, part of a deep rotation at tight end, was excited to have such a big role.
"I was fired up and
Virginia (2-0) badly wanted to win, especially facing back-to-back road games against Georgia Tech and No. 20 TCU, and did it even though Penn State (0-2) stymied the Cavaliers' offense for much of the day. Virginia had four turnovers, including an interception and fumble by Rocco, and then a fumble by backup Phillip Sims, who played two series. But Penn State turned them into just three points.
If not for the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal that led the NCAA to hit Penn State hard with sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban and the chance for its players to transfer without penalty, the Nittany Lions might have won easily. Among the departures: placekicker Anthony Fera, who made 14 of 17 field goals last season. He went to Texas.
But the Nittany Lions still almost overcame the miscues, turning to their old standby of punishing defense. At least until the final drive. Virginia finished with just 32 yards on 25 carries and 295 yards in all, but converted 9 of 15 third down tries.
"I think we're resilient," linebacker Steve Greer said of stopping those drives. "We did some of that last season and I think every part of our program is geared towards that. No matter what, we're no easy out."
It also gave the Nittany Lions a 16-10 lead—Ficken also had an extra point try blocked—and then Rocco went to work.
After Virginia scored, Matt McGloin drove Penn State from its 27 to the Cavaliers 22, and took a knee to center the ball with one second left, but with rain falling, Ficken's kick sailed wide left and the crowd erupted in stunned glee.
Virginia center Luke Bowanko found it hard to watch Ficken's last attempt.
"Whoever turned the rain machine on, thanks," he said. "It's almost at that point you did all you can do."
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