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Nov. 10, 2013

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C.– After its first bye week of the season, the UVa football team came back and hammered VMI 49-0 on Sept. 21.

That raised Virginia’s record to 2-1. On each of the seven Saturdays since then, however, the Cavaliers have lost, and now they enter their second bye week with little but pride to play for.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is pretty dark right now,” center Luke Bowanko said Saturday after UVa’s latest setback, a 45-14 loss to North Carolina at Kenan Stadium.

The 45 points were the most Virginia has allowed in a game against the Tar Heels since 1997.

“They executed well, and we didn’t execute well enough,” UVa head coach Mike London said.

Two games remain for Virginia (2-8 overall, 0-6 ACC), both against Coastal Division rivals. The first is Nov. 23 at Miami (7-2, 3-2). The finale is a week later against Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2) at Scott Stadium. The Hokies pummeled the 14th-ranked Hurricanes 42-24 on Saturday night in Miami.

Injuries are mounting for the Wahoos, especially on the defensive side, and the bye week will help his players get healthy, London said. It will be valuable for other reasons, too.

“What it does is, it gives a lot of young guys opportunities to get some reps, and coaches opportunities to get looks at them,” said Bowanko, a fifth-year senior. “Hopefully they start to see more time, as [true freshmen] Sadiq [Olanrewaju] and Eric Smith have, and Eric Tetlow as well. See what they have to offer, and hopefully they get some more reps down the stretch, because these guys got three or four years left to play.”

Sophomore quarterback David Watford answered emphatically when asked if his teammates want to try to salvage something from a disappointing season.

“I know they do. I know they do,” Watford said.

“Somebody asked me if this is a good week to have a bye, and it is a good week to have a bye, because we’re able to get back to focusing on us and what we need to do and how we need to get better and what we need to do to keep making those progressions and get back into the groove of things, instead of coming out and struggling like we did today.”

Virginia got the ball first Saturday and efficiently moved 48 yards to the North Carolina 37. But then a 5-yard penalty pushed the `Hoos back to the 42, and the drive stalled. By the time the Cavaliers got another first down, they trailed 14-0.

“It’s hard to say what happened, obviously, right after the game without watching the film,” Bowanko said. “but it just seemed like [the Heels] were able to stop what we were doing, and there were execution errors on our part. When one guy gets beat on offense, it pretty much destroys the play.”

Playing without its No. 1 quarterback, UNC had no such problems on offense against a depleted UVa defense. Senior tackle Brent Urban watched from the sideline in street clothes, out for the fourth game with an ankle injury, and starting cornerbacks Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady didn’t suit up either. The `Hoos lost starting tackle David Dean to an injury in the first half, and true freshman Donte Wilkins and walk-on Greg Gallop went the rest of the way at tackle. Defensive ends Eli Harold and Trent Corney and linebacker Max Valles also got banged up during the game.

“We got a few guys out right now, and your heart stops once the play’s over and you see another guy on your team down on the ground,” said junior safety Anthony Harris, who picked off another pass Saturday, his seventh interception of the season.

“Injuries are definitely hurting us right now.”

The Heels rushed for a season-high 201 yards and gained another 214 in the passing game. In the first quarter, Carolina was 5 for 5 on third downs, converting on third-and-12, third-and-3, third-and-9, third-and-13, and third-and-9.

On the final play of the first quarter, UNC used a trick play to extend its lead to 14-0. On a reverse, wide receiver Quinshad Davis pulled up and lofted a pass to quarterback Marquise Williams, who was uncovered in the secondary. Williams caught the ball at the 5 and jogged into the end zone to complete a 29-yard scoring play.

That “definitely caught us not where we needed to be,” London said.

Carolina scored in a variety of ways Saturday. The Tar Heels’ third touchdown came on an 85-yard punt return by Ryan Switzer, a play in which he initially muffed Alec Vozenilek’s 49-yard punt.

Late in the third quarter, safety Dominique Green intercepted an ill-advised pass by Watford, whose target was junior tight end Zachary Swanson, and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown.

“That was unfortunate,” said London, who added that it looked like Watford “was throwing it against his body a little bit, back against the grain. The outcome is never positive when situations like that occur. Either pull it down and keep running with it or throw the ball out of bounds and live to see another day. It was a young man trying to make a play, and obviously he made a throw that cost us.”

Watford said: “I stared at Zach too long, and the guy just read my eyes. He just made a good play. I just gotta know just to evaluate the whole field and not lock on to one [target] specifically, and that’s what I did.”

Early in the fourth quarter, Watford threw another interception, and redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert replaced him with 12:41 left. Watford finished 14-of-30 passing for 129 yards.

“We made the switch, I think, at the appropriate time,” London said.

Lambert, ineffective in his previous four appearances this season, looked much sharper Saturday, completing 8 of 13 passes for 75 yards. His most memorable pass, to true freshman wideout Keeon Johnson, went for a 23-yard touchdown with 11:38 left.

“He did some nice things,” London said of Lambert.

Johnson is from Kannapolis, N.C., and another North Carolinian scored Virginia’s other TD. Junior tailback Kevin Parks, who’s from Salisbury, ran 8 yards for a score with 4:53 left in the third quarter. Parks, who entered as the ACC’s fourth-leading rusher, finished with 100 yards on 24 carries.

The Cavaliers needed more performances like his Saturday.

“I’m very frustrated,” Parks said, “but like Coach said, we all gotta stay together. Nobody can part ways, east and west. We gotta stay together.”

In 2011, UVa became the first team to win on the road against Miami and Florida State in the same season. The Cavaliers won eight games that year and played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Since then, however, Virginia has lost 16 of 22 games.

“I definitely didn’t see it going this way,” Bowanko said. “It’s tough. It makes you appreciate the winning seasons. It’s been a while, but hopefully these last two games we get to feel that feeling again.”

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