By Jeff White (

PROVO, Utah — After the latest installment in its wildly entertaining series with BYU, the UVa football team flew back across the country Saturday night, ruing the missed opportunities in its second eight-point loss in four games to a nationally ranked opponent.

The Cavaliers, who opened the season with a 28-20 loss to then-No. 7 UCLA, did a lot right Saturday in their 41-33 loss to No. 21 BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Virginia finished with 519 yards of total offense and limited the Cougars to 332, dominated time of possession, and showed again that it has, in starter Greyson Lambert and backup Matt Johns, two capable quarterbacks.

But the Wahoos also stalled inside the BYU 10-yard line twice, settling for an Ian Frye field goal each time, surrendered a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, turned the ball over twice, and failed to force a turnover for the first time this season

“Statistically, you’re encouraged by a lot of things that happened,” UVa coach Mike London said, “but the end result is we didn’t win the football game, and you play this game to win games, and our execution wasn’t good enough at the end to win. But we’ve improved. We have more improvement to make, and we’re excited about getting back to work. These guys are hungry for a win, and we’re excited about getting back to Charlottesville and getting ready for our next opponent.”

Before a crowd of 59,023, the `Hoos led 16-13 midway, but BYU outscored them 14-0 in the third quarter to take control of the game. Three times in the fourth quarter Virginia cut its deficit to eight points: first on Frye’s fourth field goal with 12:14 to play; then on reserve tailback Khalek Shepherd’s 9-yard touchdown run at the 8:06 mark; and finally on Johns’ 11-yard TD pass to sophomore wide receiver Kyle Dockins with 108 seconds left.

Each time, however, the Cougars (4-0) kept UVa from getting any closer. First came a 50-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Taysom Hill to wideout Mitch Juergens on a broken play that highlighted Hill’s phenomenal scrambling ability.

Then came Adam Hine’s 99-yard kickoff return. Finally, after Dockins’ TD, BYU recovered Frye’s onside-kick attempt and then ran out the clock.

“It’s a football game that’s played in three phases,” London said, “and you have to be able to execute and perform in all three, and we did not.”

And so UVa finds itself with a 2-2 record for the fifth time in five seasons under London. In 2010, the `Hoos finished 4-8; in 2011, 8-5. They dropped back to 4-8 in 2012 and to 2-10 last season.

The Cavaliers, who knocked off then-No. 21 Louisville 23-21 on Sept. 13, are determined to avoid a third straight losing season, and “we can’t wait to get back to work [Sunday],” Lambert said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to build on off this game, but we’ve got a lot of stuff to work on, and that’s evident in a lot of aspects.”

Lambert spoke with reporters with a large ice pack on his right ankle. Late in the third quarter, he was injured on a third-and-11 play in which he stayed in the pocket against a fierce rush and completed an 11-yard pass to senior wideout Miles Gooch, a standout all game.

“I really can’t recall [what happened],” Lambert said. “I just remember kind of getting rolled up, or at least having my leg behind me whenever I went down.”

After UVa’s medical team attended to Lambert for several minutes, he was helped to his feet and gingerly jogged off the field, slapping hands with his close friend Johns on the way to the sideline.

“He just said, `Hey, this is your chance. Go make the best of it,’ ” Johns told reporters. “He said, `We need you. This is your drive. Go make the best of it, and let’s see what we can get out of it.’ ”

The drive ended with Frye’s 46-yard field goal, which pulled UVa to 27-19. Johns, who like Lambert is a redshirt sophomore, led the Cavaliers on two TD drives in the final 10 minutes, the second of which covered 98 yards, and finished 14 of 23 passing for 139 yards. He also ran three times for 22 yards.

“Matt did a nice job,” London said. “Greyson did a nice job as well.”

Johns said: “At the end of the day we didn’t win, and it’s frustrating, but I think our offense gave us a chance, and at the end of the day that’s all you can ask for. This team never gives up, and I’m so proud of our guys. It’s a tough one … We’re going to come back next week even stronger.”

Lambert wasn’t perfect — he threw a second-quarter interception and lost a fumble on a critical fourth-down sneak in the fourth quarter — but he distinguished himself too Saturday.

Moments after Darius Jennings returned the opening kickoff 47 yards, Lambert had a career-long 37-yard run to the BYU 1. Two plays later, he plunged over for the touchdown.

Not since its game against Duke on Oct. 19, 2013, had Virginia scored a TD on its first drive.

The 6-5, 235-pound Lambert also had a 9-yard scramble on the Cavaliers’ final play of the first half and finished with a career-high 49 yards rushing.

“He surprised me,” said UVa wideout Canaan Severin, a junior who had four catches for a career-best 58 yards. “I knew he was tough. I didn’t know he was that tough. He was running those boys over, and those were some physical dudes. That says a lot about our team and Greyson as a leader.”

Against a BYU pass rush that grew stronger as the game progressed, Lambert completed 21 of 35 attempts for a career-best 188 yards before giving way to Johns.

His ankle, Lambert said, was “pretty sore, but I should be back next week. It’s nothing too serious.”

Virginia squandered two opportunities in the first half to put more pressure on BYU. On the final play of the first quarter, a 2-yard run by sophomore tailback Taquan Mizzell on third-and-goal moved the ball inside the 1. The `Hoos decided to go for it, but they had to settle for the first of Frye’s field goals — he did not miss Saturday — after right tackle Eric Smith jumped before the snap.

On the last drive of the first half, Virginia picked up a first down at the BYU 11 with a minute to play. The next three plays, however, gained only 6 yards, and so the Cavaliers again came away with a field goal and not a touchdown.

“When you put points on the board, you can’t be mad about that, but we gotta execute,” Severin said. “We gotta finish, and we gotta put the ball in the [end] zone. That separates great teams.”

In the third quarter, BYU took its first lead, at 20-16, thanks to a 15-yard touchdown by Hill, who eluded linebacker Max Valles’ tackle attempt in the backfield. Hill finished with 72 yards and a TD on 17 carries.

That Hill is a superlative runner is common knowledge. Equally impressive are the strides he’s made as a passer. A year ago in Charlottesville, he completed only 13 of 40 attempts and threw a game-changing interception in a 19-16 loss to Virginia. In the rematch, he was 13-for-23 passing for 187 yards and two TDs.

“I told him after the game, he’s going to win the Heisman,” said Valles, who led UVa with two tackles for loss. “He’s probably the best athlete I’ve ever played against, high school or college. So, props to him.”

Hill “is a big, physical guy,” London said. “He’s a really good player, a really good quarterback, and he performed in the clutch for them when it counted.

“That’s a good football team we played, and they’ll win a lot of football games.”

The `Hoos sacked Hill twice, and a less-mobile quarterback probably would have gone down a half-dozen more times.

“It’s tough when you got him in the bottle and then he squirts free,” said senior Anthony Harris, UVa’s All-America safety.

On an afternoon when six wideouts caught at least three passes apiece for the Cavaliers — Gooch, Severin, Jennings, sophomore Keeon Johnson, redshirt freshman Andre Levrone and true freshman Doni Dowling — the running game received an unexpected boost from Shepherd.

A fifth-year senior from Upper Marlboro, Md., Shepherd ran for 54 of his career-high 73 yards in the second half. He also finished with a career-best 14 carries.

“Late in the game you could tell the difference with a guy having fresh legs,” London said, “and it was evident that he did a nice job carrying the ball for us.”

Johns said: “Khalek was awesome. I was really proud of him. He was playing fast … [The coaches] kept calling a certain play, and I was very happy. I wanted the ball in Khalek’s hands. My job is to put the ball in playmakers’ hands, and at the time Khalek was making plays, and I wanted the ball in his hands. I’m happy for him and glad he scored.”

After Shepherd’s 9-yard touchdown run, Frye’s extra point made it 34-26, but the Cavaliers’ joy was short-lived. Hine’s 99-yard kickoff return proved to be a blow from which UVa could not recover.

Long before Hine broke into the open, BYU fans detected the lack of blue-jerseyed players in the middle of the field, and their excitement was audible in the 63,470-seat stadium. Hine noticed, too.

“I saw it open up and couldn’t believe it and just kept running,” he said.

London said: “Someone wasn’t in the proper lane that they were supposed to be in.”

UVa ran a program-record 102 plays and moved the ball up and down the field on BYU. Alec Vozenilek punted only three times. All of which made the defeat more difficult for the Cavaliers to accept.

“I can’t even explain how that feels, but we’re going to move forward from this,” said Gooch, who had six receptions for a game-high 65 yards. “That’s the only thing we can do. And we’re going to get better.”

BACK AND FORTH: Saturday’s result cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 3-2 in a series that dates to 1987. Virginia closed that season with a 22-16 win over BYU in the All-American Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

In 1998, the Cavaliers held on to beat the Cougars 45-40 in Provo. A year later, in Charlottesville, BYU fell behind early but rallied to come away with a 38-35 overtime victory.

In last year’s season-opener, UVa rallied for a 19-16 victory on a late touchdown by tailback Kevin Parks.

The series is scheduled to continue in 2019, when UVa hosts BYU in Charlottesville. The teams will meet in Provo in 2020.

UP NEXT: Virginia returns home to wrap up the non-conference portion of its regular-season schedule. At 3:30 p.m. next Saturday, UVa (2-2) will host Kent State (0-3) of the Mid-American Conference at Scott Stadium.

ESPN3 will carry the game, the first between these schools in football.

Print Friendly Version