By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — There was no sugarcoating this performance, and neither UVa coach Mike London nor his players tried to do so Saturday evening. The scoreboard told the story: Oregon 59, Virginia 10.
To upset the second-ranked Ducks, the Cavaliers needed to play something resembling a flawless game, and they did not come close. Virginia turned the ball over four times — once on an interception that was returned 97 yards — had a punt blocked and allowed the Ducks to average 8.1 yards per play in their trademark no-huddle offense.
Oregon scored on the game’s opening possession, when quarterback Marcus Mariota burst 71 yards up the middle for a touchdown, and led 21-0 a little more than 10 minutes in.
Mariota’s TD came with the Ducks in “an empty formation,” London said, “and obviously if you don’t have all your gaps covered, then he’s going to make you pay. We didn’t have a gap covered, and he made us pay. He does that a lot against different teams. You can always have a guy assigned to him, but he’s so athletic that he can make that guy miss, and obviously we saw he’s got speed.”
The Wahoos pulled to 28-10 in the second quarter and, after a goal-line stand, went into the locker room at halftime with a measure of hope, knowing they would receive the second-half kickoff. But the Ducks overwhelmed them in the final two quarters.
“They’re ranked No. 2 for a reason,” Virginia tight end Zachary Swanson said.
London said: “They are as advertised.”
Not since a 63-21 loss to Illinois in the 1999 Micronpc.com Bowl had UVa surrendered so many points. Oregon piled up 557 yards and had two players rush for more than 120 yards each.
“That’s an outstanding football team,” London said. “They got on us early in every phase.”
Virginia opened last weekend by beating BYU 19-16 at Scott Stadium in a game that was interrupted by a 129-minute weather delay. (The Cougars bounced back Saturday night by running over No. 15 Texas, 40-21).
Mother Nature cooperated Saturday, but the Cavaliers couldn’t keep up with the faster, quicker, more talented and more experienced Ducks. And so UVa heads into the first of its two bye weeks with a 1-1 record.
“We know as a team where we are right now,” said junior tight end Jake McGee, who gained 53 yards on a career-high eight receptions. “We would have had to be clicking on all cylinders to win today. You’re not happy with 1-1, but it’s something we can build off of and improve on as the season goes.”
London said: “We’re looking forward to getting things fixed and moving in a positive direction.”
UVa has much to work on before hosting VMI on Sept. 21. For the second straight week, the offense struggled to establish a consistent running game, and Virginia’s longest completion went for 16 yards.
In the final minute of the first quarter, reserve tailback Khalek Shepherd raced 45 yards for a touchdown on a toss sweep to the short side of the field, giving the home fans in the near-capacity crowd of 58,502 something to cheer. Otherwise, though, offensive highlights were few and far between for Virginia.
“We didn’t give the defense much help today,” McGee said. “We struggled at the parts that as an offense you know you can’t do if you’re going to win: turnovers, red zone, all that. When you’re doing stuff like that, you’re not going to win the game.”
Oregon was the first Pac-12 team to play in Charlottesville since Southern California, which routed Virginia 52-7 in the 2008 opener. Two seasons later, the `Hoos battled USC before losing 17-14 in Los Angeles, and they’ll have an opportunity to give Oregon a better game when the teams meet in Eugene in 2016.
By then, Mariota and tailback De’Anthony Thomas figure to be playing in the NFL. Each tormented the Cavaliers on Saturday.
Mariota, a sophomore, rushed four times for 122 yards and a touchdown, and completed 14 of 28 passes for 199 yards and two TDs. He wasn’t sacked or intercepted.
Thomas, a junior who might be the fastest player in college football, rushed 11 times for 125 yards and three TDs, and also had one reception for 28 yards. The Ducks showed off other playmakers, including reserve tailback Thomas Tyner and wide receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison, as well.
“They’re fast, they’re athletic and they know what they’re doing,” London said. “Obviously you try to practice the pace, but sometimes you can’t practice the athleticism that they have out there. That’s always a challenge when you’re facing an offense like that, but we gotta do what we need to do to make sure that if we play that style again we have the hats in the right gap, we have the right coverages, we have guys fitting where they need to fit. Those are some of the things that didn’t happen today, and we have to address it and make sure we’re better next time.”
In its season-opening win over Nicholls State, Oregon never punted. UVa forced four punts Saturday and, more impressive, twice stopped the Ducks on fourth down.
Early in the second quarter, junior cornerback Demetrious Nicholson tackled wideout Kealon Lowe for no gain at the Virginia 32 after a fourth-and-1 pass from Mariota. Late in that quarter, defensive tackle Brent Urban, a 6-7, 295-pound senior who earlier had blocked an extra-point attempt, wrestled tailback Byron Marshall down for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Those defensive gems, however, were far outnumbered by the huge gains Virginia allowed time and again Saturday.
“It was kind of the best and worst of things,” Urban said. “You gotta find a balance there and not give up those plays but also have big plays on defense. It was kind of tough to get all excited with the big play, and then they’d just get one for 50 yards or whatever.”
Virginia offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild, who was in the press box during the opener, worked from the sideline Saturday. His presence there did not yield immediate dividends.
The `Hoos finished with only 298 yards. In his second career start, sophomore quarterback David Watford completed 29 of 41 passes, but they went for a modest 161 yards, and he threw three interceptions. He also lost a fumble after being sacked late in the third quarter.
“It wasn’t really the offense,” Watford said. “It was me … It was my fault, and I take the blame solely.”
With the score 45-10, the Cavaliers drove into the red zone, and a 10-yard completion from Watford to McGee gave them first-and-goal at the 10. Two plays later, Watford found junior wide receiver Dominique Terrell on a slant for what appeared to be a 7-yard TD.
Offsetting penalties negated the play, however, and disaster followed for UVa. On third-and-goal from the 8, Watford tried to hit Terrell again. This pass, however, went behind Terrell and straight to cornerback Dior Mathis, several yards deep in the end zone.
Mathis started running and didn’t stop until offensive tackle Jay Whitmire knocked him out of bounds at the UVa 3. On the next play, the Ducks scored the seventh of their eight touchdowns.
“It was my fault,” Watford said. “I saw something different than what Dom-T saw. We have to be on the same page. I’m not blaming him at all. It wasn’t his fault. I threw the pass, it was behind him, they picked it off. It is what it is. We just have to learn from it.”
Junior tailback Kevin Parks, who led Virginia in rushing with 60 yards, needed 19 carries to hit that total. The Cavaliers gained only 124 yards on the ground, 45 of which came on one play.
“We need to find out what our identity’s going to be,” London said. “Does it entail the quarterback running more? Is it a personnel issue? Is it schematic, or whatever it may be? We want to run the ball. We want to be committed to running the ball, but we gotta find those guys that can run it and move the chains for us. I think with this open week coming up we can address those issues.”
THE LIST GROWS: Cornerback Tim Harris became the third true freshman to play for the Cavaliers this season. His classmates Connor Wingo-Reeves and Taquan Mizzell, who made their UVa debuts in the opener, also played against Oregon.
Wingo-Reeves, a 6-3, 220-pound fullback, contributed a solid block on Shepherd’s touchdown run. Mizzell, a tailback, carried six times for 14 yards and had four receptions for 18 yards.
In 2010, London’s first season as UVa’s head coach, he played three true freshmen. He played 12 in 2011 and nine last season. One of those who played in 2012, defensive back Anthony Cooper, is expected to redshirt this fall.
UP NEXT: The `Hoos, off next weekend, are back at Scott Stadium on Sept. 21, when they’ll host VMI. The Keydets, who compete in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, are 1-1 after beating Glenville State 34-27 on Saturday in Lexington.
UVa leads its series with VMI 56-23-3. The Keydets haven’t beaten the Cavaliers since 1978.
“We have to learn from the film, learn from the mistakes and just get ready for VMI,” Watford said.