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Nothing Has Changed: Costly Mistakes Doom the Virginia Football Team Once Again

STL takes a look at the reoccurring problems surrounding the Virginia football team.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

If only a team could get credit for wins after it beats itself.

The Virginia football team would have a lot more than 10 victories over the past 2.5 years.

Dropped passes, turnovers, special teams miscues, and coaching blunders once again doomed the Wahoos this past Saturday against North Carolina.

The sad thing is, we have seen this movie before, and the ending is not a happy one.

For the fourth time this season, and tenth time in the last 2.5 years, the Wahoos outgained their opponent, but still lost the game.

Virginia out-gained UNC by 69 yards, earned six more first downs, possessed the ball for 15 minutes longer, but still managed to leave David A. Harrison III Field with a 28-27 loss.

I’ll get to the big picture shortly, but for now I’d like to rewind back to the painful final six minutes and change. I realize Virginia is not used to preserving late leads, but what was the staff thinking by putting the ball in the air? You have a six-point lead at the 35-yard line and you don’t give the ball to Kevin Parks? The first-down play-call was bad enough, but the ensuing interception was the beginning of the end for the Cavaliers. I realize that a screen is usually a low-risk type of play, but when you have a six-point lead and you’re trying to ice the game, the last thing you want to do is turn the ball over.

Mission failed.

That was Virginia’s second turnover of the game. The first one came in the third quarter when Lambert was picked off in the red zone. The pick was preceded by a dropped touchdown on second down, that would have made the score 31-21. The first interception was even worse, because it was a low-reward ball that was thrown into heavy traffic. Even if Doni Dowling caught that pass, it would have been for a minimal gain. Terrible decision and an even worse outcome for Virginia, who desperately needed points there.The turnover margin might be the most important statistic in college football, and the Hoos are 0-4 when they lose the turnover battle. The margin for error is so thin on this team, and the Cavaliers simply cannot afford to beat themselves by turning the ball over.

It is hard to blame the defense for constantly bailing out the offense throughout the contest, but Virginia fans will have nightmares about Carolina’s go-ahead drive for years to come. It was 3rd down and goal at the 15 and all UVa had to do was keep UNC out of the endzone, and the defense lost complete track of a wide-open T.J. Logan. The game-tying touchdown was tossed by North Carolina’s backup quarterback to boot, who had not attempted a single pass all game.

Like I pointed out above, the defense was put in awful positions by the offense all day, and did its job for the most part. Having said that, Virginia gave up way too many big plays on Saturday, as UNC averaged 46.5 yards per scoring play.

Then there was the onside-kick… Did the coaching staff learn anything from playing against Larry Fedora coached teams for the past five years? When he was at Southern Miss, Fedora called a fake-punt that mystified the Virginia special teams, and led to a big gain for a first down. On Saturday, the Wahoos were bedeviled by Fedora again on special teams, when Carolina recovered a late on-side kick. Usually a team that is winning late in the ball game does not attempt the risky kick, but Fedora said that the play was there all day, and he picked the right time to take advantage. The Cavalier blockers have had a tendency to retreat a bit early on kickoffs, and it finally caught up with them in the worst way.

As if the special teams debacle was not enough, an old demon reared its ugly head to put the final nail in Virginia’s coffin. Following a North Carolina timeout, Virginia sent its field goal block team onto the field to try to make a play on special teams.

The only problem was that 12 men left the Virginia sideline, and the Tar Heels were handed a first down to run out the clock. The sad thing is, this was not the first time that Virginia lost a game due to 12 men being on the field late in the contest. The infamous "Khalek Get off the Field" incident cost UVa a chance against Louisiana Tech back on September 29th 2012. The only difference there was that Virginia was out of timeouts, and there was all kinds of confusion in the heat of the moment.


Standing on the sideline, there are 105 players on the roster, about a dozen coaches and graduate assistants, team managers, plus four "eyes in the sky" and not one of them pointed out that UVa had an extra man on the field coming out of a timeout with the game on the line? That is inexcusable and borderline comical at this point.

Driving away from BYU and Duke, both color commentators for the respective schools said the exact same thing verbatim following those games…. "Virginia has got to be looking at itself thinking, how in the world did we lose that game?"

Some teams find ways to win, but over the last three years, this Virginia football squad has found ways to lose. Whether it was three defensive touchdowns and a late offensive blunder against UCLA, or a backbreaking kickoff return for a TD against BYU, losing has become an art form. Heck, even in their two good wins of the year, the Cavaliers were fortunate to make it out of those games alive. UVa blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead against Louisville, but was bailed out by a late muffed punt by the Cardinals. Against Pittsburgh, Virginia led 24-3 at the break, but if that game had three more minutes, the Wahoos could have easily lost to the late-charging Panthers.

UVa scored zero second half points against Pitt, and three second half points each in the Duke and North Carolina games… that is six points in six quarters.

Week in and week out, color commentators are pointing out the predictability of the Virginia offense. Pretty much every time Smoke checks into the game, he gets the ball. Just about every time UVa lines up under center, it is a toss to the outside. If I can figure that out, there is an excellent chance that an opposing defense can too.

In addition, UVa completely abandons its best offensive weapon at the worst times. Against Duke, Virginia threw the ball 47 times, but only gave Parks 16 carries. The numbers were better against UNC, but once again, the Wahoos did not give number 25 the ball when they were trying to put the game away. North Carolina ranks dead last in many defensive categories in the ACC, but Virginia only managed just 27 points against the lowly Tar Heels. Even the Liberty Flames score four touchdowns agains this bunch.

The red zone offense has been a problem for many years, and it is arguably even worse this season. Through eight games, Virginia has made 34 trips to the red zone, but has only come away with a touchdown 17 times… that’s 50 percent for you math majors out there.  Last week against Duke, UVa amassed 465 yards of total offense, but managed just 13 points. Look no further than the red zone woes to explain that insane statistic.

Chalk the last two years up to youth and inexperience, but the excuses are dead. This is a squad loaded with juniors and seniors, but the same demons continue to haunt this team, and that is a reflection of leadership.

There should not be a game-deciding 12 men on the field penalty in year five of a coaching tenure. Every coach makes mistakes; the real test is how they learn from them. That has not been the case here.

What does the future hold for the Virginia football program? We’ll know a lot more in the coming weeks. One thing is for sure, it’s hard to expect anything different when all we have seen is the same thing over and over again.