Virginia lost to Duke. Losing to Duke is humiliating. It was embarrassing when we lost to them 4 years ago, and 3 years ago, and again 2 years ago, and the Hoos were embarrassed again today, falling 42-17 in Durham. The Blue Devils are an improving program under David Cutcliffe, and their 5-1 start proves they are no longer the joke of the conference. But losing to Duke still comes with a mark of shame, and Virginia wears it once again. With the loss, UVA falls to 2-4 at the halfway mark of the season and is 0-2 in the ACC.
The Wahoo offense got off to a fast start, as Kevin Parks ran for touchdowns on two of the team's first three drives. The resurgence of the UVA rushing attack looked to be the story of the day, as Perry Jones, Kevin Parks, and Clifton Richardson combined to average 5.7 yards per carry and finish with 190 yards. However, the Duke offense matched Virginia's early outburst and blew the game open in the second half, putting up 28 unanswered points.
For the second week in a row, the Hoos played a less-talented opponent and somehow managed to find a way to lose. Against both Louisiana Tech and Duke, UVA dominated stats like total yards, passing yards, and first downs. However, the "behind the scenes" issues, whether they be penalties, dropped passes, clock miscues, special teams errors, or turnovers, continue to crush the team. The Virginia coaching staff and players are getting less with more, and it's led to a disastrous start to the year..
The still-stagnant Virginia offense remains a baffling culprit for the loss. After the team's fast start, Duke made defensive adjustments that the Hoos failed to match; in fact, the offense seemed to stray increasingly further from its game-plan. The strong rushing game disappeared in the third quarter as the game slipped away. Phillip Sims had ample chances to show off his strong arm in a solid if unremarkable first start. Though the wide receivers had the opportunity to make big plays for their quarterback, time after time balls bounced off fingertips and through outstretched arms.
Sims showed the athleticism and arm strength that Wahoo fans have yearned for. He also demonstrated his inexperience in the form of a lack of situational awareness. On first and ten, deep shots downfield are often welcome and wise. On third and short, the quarterback has to look for a first-down before launching passes toward the end zone. Overall, Sims showed impressive poise for his first start, and his future as quarterback remains exciting.
Late in the game, any remaining discipline seemed to slip away, as an unfocused defensive unit allowed the Blue Devils to gash it on the ground and through the air. Backup quarterback Anthony Boone, in his first-ever start, went 18 of 31 for 212 yards with 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Defensive coordinator Jim Reid dialed up a variety of blitzes, none of which seemed to affect a passing game based around quick releases and short passes.
Blame for this loss sits squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff. The Cavaliers have brought in recruiting classes that blow Duke's out of the water and dodged the injured Sean Renfree at quarterback. A blowout loss at a half-full Wallace Wade Stadium is beyond unacceptable. The Hoos looked like the better first-half team, but once again were beat on halftime adjustments; Duke made them and we didn't.
I would be remiss to leave out the worst clock management decision of the season. With three timeouts remaining, Virginia stopped Duke on third down with 1:15 remaining at the Duke 29 yard line. Coach London failed to use a timeout, content to allow Duke to run the clock to 34 seconds before punting. Two plays later, Virginia had advanced into field goal range but were forced to settle for a 39 yard field goal as time expired. It's possible that Duke would have played defense differently had UVA spent the timeout; however, the chance of a big punt return, deep pass, or long run made the decision a no-brainer. Even if the plan were to run the clock out, the wise play is to at least receive the punt and assess field position before making that final determination, especially because Duke had just one time out left. Mike London has to learn to manage the clock, and the team cannot afford to leave points on the field.
Another glaring area of weakness continues to be special teams. Today's damage amounted to two missed field goals, a Duke drive that started at the UVA 12 yard line, and numerous kick returns that failed to reach the 20 yard line. The Hoos began their first three drives with kickoff returns that we returned to the 17, 16, and 14 yard lines. The Hoos need to utilize a similar strategy on our kickoffs, rather than sending the ball into then endzone and allowing our opponents a start at the 25.
After three losses in games against difficult opponents in Georgia Tech, TCU, and Louisiana Tech, a loss at Duke is beyond deflating and changes the narrative of the season dramatically. Upcoming games against fellow bottom-feeders Maryland and Wake Forest will determine the rest of the season's trajectory. Can the Hoos take care of business and maintain a sense of respectability? If not, the late-season stretch of NC State, Miami, UNC, and Virginia Tech is unforgiving. When coaching staffs lose games to Duke, fans becoming unforgiving as well.
We'll have more reaction here all week, as we wonder how the Hoos could recover from today's debacle.