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Virginia Cavaliers Football: Did Steve Fairchild's play-calling hurt Mike London's case?

Wahoo fans should have rejoiced on Saturday. But a head-scratching series left them unsatisfied.

Joe Robbins

The positives overwhelmingly outweighed the negatives in Virginia's 28-20 loss to UCLA on Saturday. But I left the game wondering if the late-game play-calling by offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild might have undercut an otherwise outstanding effort by the Cavalier players and coaches.

With the Wahoos driving deep into UCLA territory, Fairchild dialed up series of questionable calls that ultimately ended in a loss on downs. Virginia had the ball with under 5 minutes to play at the UCLA 19. The Cavaliers rushed straight ahead three times for a total of two yards, eliciting a chorus of boos from the crowd. Faced with a 4th and long, quarterback Matt Johns was unable to complete a pass to freshman wideout Doni Dowling.

For all intents and purposes, it was "game over" at that point.

In the postgame presser, Virginia coach Mike London noted that Fairchild actually called a pass on third down, but Johns read the signal wrong and called a run play from his wristband. Johns later confirmed London's claim. It was an unfortunate turn of events, but certainly not an egregious error.

But even so, one has to wonder why Fairchild called running plays on first and second downs after struggling to do so the whole day. UCLA had shown more trouble defending the pass than the run. Johns had proven to be an effective passer and had already thrown two touchdown strikes from that distance. Why not turn him loose again?

That might be an unfair question. After all, in the grand scheme of things, Virginia looked like a much-improved team and Mike London made a great case for himself as the leader of the program. But Saturday's ending was another head-scratching moment for Cavalier fans. It wasn't as severe as the Virginia Tech 2012 timeout debacle or the questionable ending at Maryland in 2013. But on an afternoon where Virginia fans should have felt unquestionably better about the future of the program, it was just enough of an eyebrow-raiser to take away from the moment.