The Virginia football season took a turn from "concern" toward "panic," as the Hoos were lifeless at home in a 48-27 defeat at the hands of Ball State University. Despite a few signs of life from the offense, UVA made far too many mistakes to come away with a win against a motivated Cardinal squad. Additionally, the team's vaunted defense failed to show up, allowing 506 total yards. It all added up to a 48-27 loss that dropped UVA's record to 2-3 (0-1 ACC).
The game started off promising, with the Hoos scoring on 3 consecutive drives in the first two quarters to extend a 17-7 lead. UVA's first touchdown was set up by David Watford's 46 yard jump ball to Tim Smith. Minutes later, they scored again on a drive that featured the running game; the Hoos scored after picking up 69 yards in 6 plays, 5 of them runs and one a pass to Smoke Mizzell.
However, the team would sputter down the stretch, as Watford struggled to find his receivers and costly errors led to big plays by Ball State. The teams went into halftime tied at 17. After the break, UVA put together a one impressive drive, when Kevin Parks ran the ball down the Cardinals' throats and into the endzone (tying the game at 24). The others ended as follows: Fumble, Interception, Fumble, Field Goal, Turnover on Downs. (Anthony Harris added a fumble on a punt in garbage time, for good measure). The team failed to give itself a shot to keep up with Ball State by handing them the ball during each drive.
Last week against Pitt, a heroic defensive effort kept UVA in the game. This week, despite a more productive, albeit inconsistent, offense, Jon Tenuta's defense struggled to hold Ball State back from making big plays. The Cardinals had touchdown drives of 1:34, 4:12, 1:24, 0:12, 0:39, and 2:25. Running back Jahwan Edwards finished with 155 yards and 3 touchdowns on 24 carries. The Cardinals "all-or-nothing" passing game found plenty of holes in UVA's secondary, as Ball St. finished with 346 passing yards and an average of 15 yards per catch. The defense just got beat all day by their opponent's aggressiveness and failed to create a game-changing play of its own.
Virginia's turnovers may not have occurred if painful penalties hadn't altered its drives. The Hoos committed 13 penalties on the day for 93 yards (compared to Ball State's 1 for 15 yards). These included 3 offsides penalties (and another one that was declined, but resulted in a deep Cardinal gain). The Hoos lost 3 big plays from unnecessary penalties, including a 79 yard touchdown pass to Tim Smith that was called back for ineligible man downfield. Eli Harold picked up 3 personal fouls - one a bogus roughing the passer call from an officiating crew that struggled all day, another a facemask penalty, and the last for shoving a Cardinal lineman long after the whistle blew on a key third down stop. The lack of discipline and focus from the Wahoos exacerbated the team's struggles all day.
The offense must find ways to create big plays (and obviously not have them overturned) going forward. David Watford, who finished 21 of 36 for 209 yards to 9 different receivers, was often off-target; however, he did connect on some big time passes downfield, which in turn opened up the running game. Virginia rushed for 236 yards, including Kevin Parks's 104 yards and 2 TDs. The reshuffled offensive line often created big holes for their running backs. However, it struggled in pass blocking; the elusive Watford was sacked twice but hurried and forced to throw off-balance many more times.
One hat tip goes out to punter Alec Vozenilek. After his booming 77 yard punt last week won him a national punter of the week award, Vozenilek filled in at kicker for the injured Ian Frye and nailed field goals of 38 and 39 yards. (He is turning into such a weapon that London even had him punt one away with the Hoos down 21 points with 4 minutes to play!)
At the end of the day, losses like this one simply cannot happen. Virginia cannot lose to non-BCS teams at home. Ball State may not exactly be a cupcake, but the Hoos won't have an easier matchup on their journey for bowl eligibility this season.
In his post-game presser, Mike London was understandably upset; he called the performance embarrassing, and vowed to correct the mental errors that led to the team's costly penalties. He also noted that Watford must be responsible for taking care of the football. Plenty of fans will be calling the 4th year head coaches job status into question, and those calls will only increase all year unless the Hoos turn things around. Contract issues, as well as a strong 2014 recruiting class, do provide some job security. However, the bottom line is that Mike London cannot keep presiding over disappointing losses like this one.
The Hoos look to right the ship next week when they hit the road again to take on a Maryland team coming off a 63-0 shellacking at Florida State. The game will be UVA's last trip to College Park for a very, very long time (Hallelujah!), and the team would love to end the series with their soon-to-be-former rivals on a positive note. That game kicks off Saturday at 3:30 PM. In the meantime, we'll take the time to preview that matchup and look back on this week's damaging home defeat.