By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — As a light rain fell Friday night at Scott Stadium, a mistake-prone football team unraveled on national television.
The Virginia Cavaliers will have plenty of time to reflect on their 56-14 loss to Boise State. They don’t play again until Oct. 10, when they visit Pittsburgh for their ACC opener.
“You don’t want to dwell on this loss, but you definitely want to remember it,” said wide receiver T.J. Thorpe, whose 75-yard touchdown catch was one of the few highlights for UVa (1-3) against a Boise State team that has won 15 of its past 18 games.
“You definitely want to keep this in the back of your head. You don’t want to have this feeling arise again. I know I hate losing, and losing like this, I’m sure everybody is very [angry] about it.”
Fourteen seconds into the game Friday night, UVa trailed 7-0. On the first play from scrimmage, Boise State linebacker Kamalei Correa blew past right offensive tackle Eric Smith and went low to tackle quarterback Matt Johns, who tried to avoid the sack by getting rid of the ball.
Disaster followed for the Wahoos. Johns’ hurried pass went to 6-0, 298-pound defensive tackle Justin Taimatuia, who returned the interception 21 yards for a touchdown that stunned the home fans in the crowd of 42,427.
“It was just a stupid play, really,” Johns said. “I was trying to throw the ball in the dirt, and the guy kind of swung me around and it got away from me, and they scored.”
That was the first of five turnovers by Virginia: four interceptions, the third of which Boise State returned for another TD, and a fumble. Moreover, the Cavaliers failed to force a turnover for the fourth straight game, and they were flagged nine times for 80 yards.
Boise State (3-1), by contrast, was penalized four times for 25 yards. The 42-point margin of victory was the largest ever for the Broncos against a Power 5 opponent.
“Assignment-wise, they were on their Ps and Qs, and tonight we certainly were not,” said offensive guard Ross Burbank, one of UVa’s captains. “It’s frustrating when you look at the turnovers first thing, and then you see the penalties. That’s just lack of discipline and lack of focus … We have shown that we can be a disciplined team, but tonight it was just not the case.”
Boise State led 17-0 before the `Hoos were able to pick up a first down. Virginia scored twice on Johns touchdown passes — Thorpe’s 75-yarder and junior tailback Taquan Mizzell’s 40-yarder — but finished with a season-low 273 yards. Boise State’s front seven controlled the line of scrimmage, and Johns was sacked three times before giving way to backup Connor Brewer late in the third quarter.
UVa’s leading rusher was junior tailback Daniel Hamm, who gained 22 yards on eight carries. Johns, under pressure throughout, completed only 12 of 25 passes for 199 yards, with three interceptions.
“That’s another good defense,” said head coach Mike London, whose team has seen little else this season.
The three teams to which the Cavaliers have lost — No. 6 Notre Dame, No. 9 UCLA and Boise State — are a combined 9-1. The team UVa defeated, William & Mary (1-1), is expected to contend for a playoff berth in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision.
“We’ve played good opponents,” London said. “Really good opponents. And I believe this will make us a better football team as we start to get into the stretch of our conference games.”
Against UCLA, Virginia rallied for a late touchdown after falling behind 34-9. The second half Friday night produced no such positives for UVa. The Broncos, who led 29-14 at the break, humbled the `Hoos in the final two quarters.
“This game isn’t indicative of the effort we’ve given in the past,” London said.
“We’re on a roller coaster right now, and, quite frankly, I’m sure the fans are the same way,” said Thorpe, a graduate student who transferred to Virginia from North Carolina in January. “You don’t know who’s going to show, which UVa team is going to show up.”
As the Cavaliers head into the bye week, they know they’re in a precarious position, but they vowed to stay together.
“You can’t let one game define you,” Johns said. “It’s one of those things where you really just have to move forward. We all believe in each other and we believe in this team, and I know that for a fact.”
London said: “We’ve got to stay together. With conference games coming up, we haven’t been good enough at 1-3. We’ve had spurts where we’ve played well but we have to play better. It’s about unity. When there’s divisiveness and finger pointing, teams corrode.”
As a team captain, senior defensive tackle David Dean said, he has to “try to keep people positive, just keep trying to lead, lead by example, lead by voice. Try to get everyone to follow in my footsteps. I’m going to keep going 100 percent, practice, workouts, games, and just trying to keep pushing and help this team get back on track.”
Thorpe said: “We realize we put that on tape, on national television, and I think everybody is disgusted with it, and hopefully in the upcoming weeks we’ll be able to [move] forward.”
BUSY MAN: Olamide Zaccheaus, one of seven true freshmen to play for UVa this season, set a school record Friday night with 231 yards on kickoff returns. Marquis Weeks set the previous mark of 172 against North Carolina in 2002.
Weeks had three returns in that game. Zaccheaus returned nine kickoffs Friday night. His longest return was 54 yards, and he also had a 35-yarder and a 27-yarder.
“I’m just doing what I’m told to do,” Zaccheaus said. “I’m just trusting my preparation, trusting the players around me and just trusting in the coaches.”
OFF THE MARK: Ian Frye, who entered the season as a Lou Groza Award candidate, made all three of his field-goal attempts in Virginia’s season-opening loss to UCLA. Since then, however, the graduate student from Bristol is 0 for 3.
In his only attempt Friday night, Frye missed a 48-yarder that would have pulled UVa to 17-10 early in the second quarter.