The Virginia Cavaliers fell to the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech 44-38, as the Hoos wasted a strong start on both sides of the ball. Despite leading early, UVA allowed LA Tech to storm back, turning a halftime deficit for the Bulldogs into a laugher. The reeling Cavaliers have lost three straight games, and now sit at 2-3 (0-1 ACC). Louisiana Tech improves to 4-0, despite falling short of the 50-point barrier for the first time this season.
UVA struck first on a perfect Perry Jones 36 yard pass that set the tone for the afternoon, as the coaching staff pulled out the stops on an offensive gameplan that had lacked creativity to date. The Hoos continued to roll, hitting on a 73 yard touchdown pass to Khalek Shepherd, and eventually stretching their lead to 24-10, as euphoric fans in Scott Stadium and around their TVs celebrated the return of Virginia football.
The Hoos dominated the first half, earning 386 yards of offense to LA Tech's 178, doubling the Bulldog's first down output (14 to 7), and stifling a normally ultra-efficient offense, as QB Colby Cameron completed just half of his 20 passes. One problem: The scoreboard showed a narrow 24-20 lead, with the Bulldogs poised to gain possession at halftime and take the lead for good. A late comeback fell short, as Phillip Sims pulled the Hoos within one touchdown but failed to regain possession after that.
Virginia failed to make the most out of a strong first-half performance, held back by an outrageous amount of penalties (10 for 95 yards), a devastating interception, poor special teams play, and a couple tough officiating calls. Executing on the field is one thing, but even playing good-looking football is useless without taking care of the little things that make teams run. The coaching staff and players need to get together, clean these things up, and make sure that good performances like this half's aren't wasted in the future.
By not pulling ahead in the first half, UVA made the Louisiana Tech comeback, built on a series of bad interceptions by Mike Rocco and an offensive gameplan consisting of mainly screens and fake screens, far too easy. Early in the game, Rocco looked to be bouncing back from a middling performance against TCU, as even fluttering passes seemed to find the waiting hands of Virginia receivers. However, an interception that bounced off the hands of Dominique Terrell seemed to shake his confidence, leading to two more egregious interceptions, the latter returned for a touchdown.
In a no-brainer decision, Phillip Sims came in and looked strong in a late comeback push. We'll wait for Mike London's decision on the quarterback issue, but I expect that Sims will start in Durham next weekend. Rocco hasn't done enough to keep his job, Sims hasn't done enough to lose it, and there frankly isn't much of a choice at this point in the season. Late in the fourth quarter, Sims's deep pass to Darius Jennings, which traveled 50 yards in the air, probably sealed the deal here. It was just one pass, but it's indicative of the new dimension that Sims brings to the Virginia offense.
Amazingly, after all of this, the Hoos still were poised to get the ball back with a chance to win the game. However, with 1:45 to play and the Louisiana Tech punt team on the field, Virginia couldn't get 11 men on the field, resulting in a first down and ending the game. Mike London argued that the call was too early, as the officials waved the play dead before the ball was snapped; however, the ACC's supervisor of officials later clarified that the call was the correct one because the 12 men stayed together on the field for far more than allowed 3 seconds. The Hoos continue to invent new and more devastating ways to finish games.
What else went wrong? How can we improve?
The wide receivers did their quarterback no favors. The quarterback is in charge of the passing game, and its failure lies at his feet. However, we also saw far too many dropped passes and lazy routes. In an offense that seeks to minimize any source of error, we have shown a glaring weakness here.
Special teams continues to be a major issue, especially on both sides of the kicking game. The coaching staff seems to be behind on adjustments to the new rules, where kickoffs are launched from the 35 instead of the 30 and touchbacks come out to the 25 instead of the 20. Louisiana Tech attempted to trap the Khalek Shepherd in the corner inside the 5 yard-line, and he struggled to make it to that 25 yard-line landmark. Merely kicking the ball deep is no longer the most effective strategy, even if the kicker earns a touchback. Though the defense came up with a huge goal line stand, D.J. Banks even returned a kick out to the Virginia 3..
The lack of discipline that led to 14 penalties for 135 yards has to change. Four of these were 15-yard personal fouls. There's not much more to say about this that hasn't already been said. I'm sure the coaching staff has made addressing this issue top priority, but it hasn't seemed to sink in just yet.
The defense started strong, but Louisiana Tech made adjustments at halftime that rendered the Hoos helpless. The Bulldogs offense is a well-oiled machine with plenty of misdirection, which apparently opposing defenses fall for 100% of the time.
The change in fan mood from the excitement of the first 25 minutes of football to the hopelessness of the next 25 was tough to watch. So I'll finish with 2 pieces of good news.
1. The Hoos looked great in their throwback uniforms.
2. Virginia takes on Duke next week.
We'll have plenty more to say on the loss to Louisiana Tech and the evolving quarterback issue. As always, stay tuned for updates here at Streaking the Lawn!