Despite a dominant effort by the Virginia defense, the Hoos were unable to overcome early mistakes, falling 28-20 to the #7 UCLA Bruins in an eventful game at Scott Stadium.
The first quarter showcased Virginia's stout defense. After UCLA started the game with a 48-yard completion from Heisman hopeful Brett Hundley, they missed a field goal and couldn't do anything against Virginia's front four. The Bruin's next 6 drives went: Punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, half.
However, during that stretch UCLA managed 21 points, scoring 3 touchdowns on UVA turnovers in the second quarter. It started when a Greyson Lambert pass was tipped, picked, and returned 20 yards by Ishmael Adams for a score. After the Hoos notched a field goal, they threatened again, but Kyle Dockins fumbled the ball on the UCLA 25, and it was returned for another score. Then, Lambert threw another poor pass and the Bruins took it to the house for a 21-3 lead.
That's when things got interesting. Twenty-nine minutes after making his first-ever college start, Greyson Lambert was pulled for Matt Johns. Before fans could formulate thoughts in their minds, such as "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON," Johns had completed passes of 32 yards and 29 for a touchdown, and cut the lead to 21-10 before halftime.
The defense continued to do it's job in the second half, stopping UCLA with a strip-sack on 4th and 5, and handing the ball back to the suddenly capable offense, which scored another touchdown to make it 21-17, this time on a 23-yard connection from Johns to Jennings.
The UCLA offense finally scored their first and only points of the game on a Hundley touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Virginia answered with a FG to make it a one-score game again, 28-20. On the offense's final drive of the game, the Hoos brought the ball all the way to the UCLA 19. But after running the ball up the gut on 3rd and 10 and going for it on 4th and 8, both to thunderous boos from the crowd, UCLA took over on downs and ran out the clock.
A few thoughts:
- Between the QB situation and some unfortunate late-game playcalling, let's not forget that the story of this game should be the defense. UCLA is the #7 team in the nation, led by an elite quarterback. And they scored 7 points against UVA's defense. Hundley completed 20 of 33 passes, while being harassed throughout by the persistant Virginia front four. He was out-gained by the Lambert-Johns combo, and his 39 rushing yards came on 15 carries. Overall, Virginia out-gained UCLA 386 yards to 358. The Wahoo defense is legit...and were without lockdown defender Demetrius Nicholson today. If the unit plays like this all season, the Hoos will be in every game they play.
- Okay, now the QB situation. That was weird. Obviously, Greyson Lambert was not off to a good start, but pulling him from the game was a serious move; London knew (hopefully) that it would have implications on the rest of the season. Obviously, to say it worked out is an understatement. Johns breathed life into the offense, completing 13 of 22 passes for 154 yards for 2 TDs and actually providing a downfield passing game. And he looked good while doing so - smart, comfortable and moving well in the pocket, and putting the ball in spots for his WRs to make plays. It's hard to guess what Coach London's original thought process was: Maybe Johns was closer to Lambert in the QB competition than we were led to believe? Maybe London originally intended to insert Johns for one drive for his bigger arm? Maybe he just didn't like what Lambert was showing? We'll find out soon. But...for now, Matt Johns looks like the new QB1 of the Virginia Cavaliers. Wild.
- The events that have transpired aren't completely fair to Lambert, who may have lost his job after a rough first half against a top-ten team while being reigned in by conservative play calling. Obviously, Lambert wasn't having a good game. He was badly at fault on one INT, and at least partly culpable for the other. But Johns's success just happened to correlate with UVA coaches opening up the play book for the half's final drive - maybe Lambert makes those throws too. But at the end of the day, London should just go with whoever gives UVA the best chance to win...and with one game as a data point, it's tough to argue that Johns isn't that guy. It sucks to have to go game-by-game at QB again...but Johns played well enough to earn the start against Richmond.
- Despite all of the good things we saw today, Virginia should have beaten #7 UCLA. They outgained 'em and outplayed 'em, but lost for the same reasons they've lost games over the past few years: the Hoos didn't make "gamechanging" plays, while allowing numerous big ones. You aren't going to knock off a top-ten team while allowing them to score 3 free touchdowns in a twelve minute span. UVA almost did anyways...but some questionable playcalling held them back. Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild once again fell in love with a "run-run-screen" pattern that was far too conservative, especially when trailing an elite team in a close game in the 4th quarter.