Oct. 18, 2014

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

DURHAM, N.C. — On their long, slow walk from the field at Wallace Wade Stadium to the visiting team’s locker room in the Brooks Football Building, UVa players and coaches stayed silent Saturday afternoon, alone with their thoughts.

Nothing needed to be said after Virginia’s third straight loss to ACC rival Duke, the reigning Coastal Division champion. The Cavaliers’ previous two defeats in the series were blowouts. This time they lost by a touchdown, 20-13, but that was no consolation for a team that entered the game atop the Coastal standings and was hoping to win in Durham for the first time since 2006.

“I thought we played well in some spurts,” UVa head coach Mike London said. “Actually I thought we played pretty well in a lot of situations, but obviously if you don’t win the game, you didn’t play well enough.”

The Blue Devils (6-1, 2-1), who became bowl-eligible for the third straight season, came in averaging 434 yards and 35.8 points per game. The Wahoos (4-3, 2-1) held Duke well below those marks, but for only the second time in two seasons under defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta they neither recorded a sack nor forced a turnover.

Couple that with the red-zone problems of an offense that totaled 465 yards Saturday — to 334 for Duke — and the `Hoos had reason to rue their performance Saturday. Virginia hasn’t won a road game since beating NC State in Raleigh on Nov. 3, 2012.

“You just don’t look at numbers too much,” UVa safety Anthony Harris said. “You just try to look at the scoreboard at the end of the game, and at the end of the game we didn’t come out victorious in this one. So obviously we gotta do some things better so we can be on the other end next time.”

In a game that included only one turnover, that mistake proved critical. On the opening series, UVa quarterback Matt Johns completed a pass to wide receiver Miles Gooch, who fumbled as he was tackled. With a chance to retain possession for the Cavaliers, another wideout, Darius Jennings, tried to pick up the ball and run instead of diving on it.

Jennings failed to secure the ball, and Duke recovered at its 38-yard line. Eight plays later, the Devils scored on a 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Anthony Boone to tight end Erich Schneider.

The Cavaliers’ deficit grew to 10 points before their offense found its rhythm in the second quarter. Virginia’s first — and last — touchdown drive included a 21-yard completion from Johns to tight end Zachary Swanson and ended with Johns’ 5-yard pass to tailback Khalek Shepherd in the end zone.

“We kind of just started clicking,” said Johns, a redshirt sophomore who made his third consecutive start. “Our offense just started to take off at that point. In the first quarter we didn’t play the way we should have, and that’s our fault, and credit to Duke. They forced a turnover on the first drive. The second quarter we clicked and it worked and paid off, and we got some points on the board.”

On an afternoon when Gooch, a fifth-year senior from Decatur, Ga., finished with six receptions for a career-best 129 yards, he was especially impressive in the final minute of the first half. A 15-yard pass from Johns to Gooch moved UVa to the Duke 42, and then they combined for a 38-yard gain on a play that was blown dead with 1 second left on the clock, just enough time for a timeout.

“Gooch has been producing every week. This is nothing new,” Johns said. “I’m proud of him. He’s earned this. He played great, and I love throwing to him.”

Junior Ian Frye booted a 21-yard field goal, and the Cavaliers went into the break tied 10-10. They never led Saturday, but another Frye field goal, this one a 30-yarder, made it 13-13 with 7:11 left in the third quarter.

After that, however, Virginia never crossed the Duke 33-yard line, and penalties and mental lapses hurt the offense in the final quarter. UVa finished with six penalties for 60 yards; Duke, with three for 30 yards.

“We just kind of hurt ourselves,” Johns said. “We put ourselves in third-and-longs. We had a few penalties. I missed some throws. That’s just the offense as a whole. We’re going to go in this week and correct those things.”

Gooch said the Blue Devils “played basic coverages. All we had to do was go out there and beat them, and we failed to do that on a couple occasions.”

Duke went ahead for good with a 65-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter. The big play was a 23-yard run by Boone, who kept the ball, fooling UVa’s defense, after faking a handoff to tailback Shaquille Powell.

Still, the Cavaliers had an opportunity to pull even. With 5:58 left, they had to burn their second timeout because of confusion about the play call on third-and-1 from their 34, but the drive continued, and a 19-yard completion from Johns to Gooch moved the `Hoos to the Duke 38.

Later on that drive, however, a delay-of-game penalty turned fourth-and-7 from the Duke 35 into fourth-and-12 from the 40.

“That’s just my fault,” Johns said. “I guess I didn’t see the clock, and I should have. It was kind of a weird play, and I just took too long, and that’s my fault.”

Johns’ fourth-down pass to wideout Canaan Severin was broken up, and by the time UVa got the ball back, on its 15-yard line, only 23 seconds remained.

Redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert, who started Virginia’s first four games at quarterback, hasn’t played since spraining an ankle Sept. 20 at BYU. Lambert practiced all week and was available in Durham, but the coaching staff chose to stick with Johns.

“I thought Matt played a heck of a game today,” London said.

Johns finished 22-of-45 passing for a career-high 325 yards, but he wasn’t thrilled with his, or the offense’s, play. Twice he failed to connect with receivers running uncovered downfield.

“It’s disappointing,” Johns said. “As a whole we needed to put the ball in the end zone. Sometimes you can afford field goals, but in a game like this we have to put the ball in the end zone, and I take a lot of blame for that.”

A quarterback, Johns said, has to “take ownership when the team doesn’t score. As a leader, that’s what you have to do, and we just needed to execute better.”

Senior tailback Kevin Parks, who rushed for a game-high 75 yards on 16 carries, was frustrated too.

“We didn’t put points on the board to show for our offense,” Parks said. “In the red zone, we just have to put [seven] points on the board. We can’t walk away with three points like that.”

Duke’s victory was its sixth in its past seven meetings with UVa.

“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due,” Virginia middle linebacker Henry Coley when asked about the Blue Devils.

Harris led the `Hoos with 14 tackles, matching his career high, and junior end Eli Harold added 10. Twice UVa’s defense forced Duke to settle for short field goals, and the home team converted only 4 of 13 third-down opportunities. But the Devils, who have allowed only four sacks all season, usually do not beat themselves, and that was the case again Saturday.

“They’re a well-coached team,” London said. “They got the ball out quickly. That’s one of the things you can do to avoid sacks, and we did the same thing. The biggest difference is they got a turnover … and we weren’t able to match that with a turnover.”

Harold said: “We’re a team that gets after it, and throwing the ball quick doesn’t allow a team to get sacks. So [Duke] definitely won in that category.”

The Blue Devils’ star wideout, senior Jamison Crowder, caught eight passes for 99 yards Saturday. His performance, however, did not eclipse that of Gooch, whose breakout year continues.

Still, Gooch said, the loss “definitely takes away from what I was able to do today. A win is the only goal in mind, and I would rather take that than any of the catches.”

That win eluded the Cavaliers in Durham, but they have five regular-season games left. “We just have to stop beating ourselves,” Coley said.

In a fiercely competitive Coastal Division, each of whose seven teams has at least one ACC loss, any “one play can determine the whole game,” Harold said. “It’s tight. [Duke] was a pretty good team, and the rest of the teams we play are good, too. We just can’t let one [loss] cause two. We gotta stay positive and get back to work.”

UP NEXT: The 119th game in what’s known as the South’s oldest rivalry will be played Saturday at Scott Stadium. At 12:30 p.m., Virginia will host Coastal Division rival North Carolina, which has won four straight games in a series it leads 60-54-4.

UVa is 4-1 at Scott Stadium this season.

“We gotta go back to work and get back to getting ready to win a football game,” London said.

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