1. That's now two straight losses that rest partially on the shoulder of Kurt Benkert.
"Partially" being the operative word there, as it's a team game and none of this season's losses can be pinned on one person. Regardless, if any game could, Saturday's would be on quarterback Kurt Benkert, whose pick-six with less than seven minutes left resulted in the go-ahead touchdown for the Demon Deacons. Scrambling, Benkert threw across the field directly to Jessie Bates, who returned it 39 yards for the score. Coupled with an interception on Virginia's previous possession, Benkert's decision-making helped to stall any momentum after a gorgeous touchdown pass to Smoke Mizzell in the waning seconds of the third quarter. Benkert was 20-39 through the air for 190 yards and two touchdowns along with the two picks. Combined with the second-quarter interception deep in the Louisville red zone when the Cavaliers were up by three last week, it's not unfair to suggest that Benkert bears some of the blame for the Hoos sitting at 2-7 rather than a potential 4-5 record, with a bowl game certainly within reach. Instead, the Hoos will be sitting at home for the fifth straight Christmas. Personally, I'm not yet wondering if Matt Johns or Connor Brewer would to a better job under center, but Benkert certainly looks as though he may have regressed.
2. The young defense is showing slight improvement.
UVa returned from the bye week in October by giving up 80 points combined in their first two games to Pitt and North Carolina, before sharpening up against Louisville (32) and Wake Forest (27). Looking at the yardage numbers, UNC (488) and Louisville (508) weren't pretty, but the Hoos were neck-and-neck with Wake Forest and even outgained Pitt by 18. This might not be a surprise, considering the level of returning talent in the front seven as well as increasing familiarity with the new scheme. Overall, compared to the likes of Richmond and Oregon, it's undoubtedly an improvement. They're a young group, and if I can borrow a line from the late, great Mitch Hedberg, "the defense used to have growing pains. They still do, but they used to, too." Against a faltering Miami team, you can expect additional incremental growth.
3. Expectations were - understandably - too high entering this season.
Now that bowl eligibility is off the table, it's a good time to take a more macro-based look at the team. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm as guilty as anyone; I thought seven or maybe eight wins were a good possibility this season. I don't think I'm the only person amongst the fanbase who saw a team with bowl-caliber talent that simply suffered from poor coaching. And, after what the fans went through over the last season and a half of the Mike London era, it's easy to understand why the fans had such high hopes this summer. Not only were some (yours truly included) looking for any reason to be optimistic after the last couple of years, it just made sense for this team to go bowling. There were problems throughout the defense and the offensive line was a major question mark, but this team isn't completely devoid of ability. A coaching staff with such a strongly positive mindset and a winning track record to back it up seemed like a perfect match for a group that wanted to win but just didn't have much experience doing so. In any case, head coach Bronco Mendenhall will have to walk back his talk from the eve of the campaign suggesting that UVa fans should put their holiday plans on hold for the time being. Well, they're free once again, and for all intents and purposes, the bowl game this year is in Blacksburg on Nov. 26.