By Jeff White (email@example.com)
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — On a hot, sticky day at Sun Life Stadium, the University of Virginia football team’s margin for error in 2015 disappeared.
The Cavaliers still hold hopes of advancing to a bowl game for the first time since 2011, and a victory Saturday would have significantly improved their chances of doing so. But after losing 27-21 to ACC rival Miami, Virginia must win all three of its remaining regular-season games to become bowl-eligible.
“We’re upset, but we just gotta stay together,” senior wide receiver Canaan Severin said. “Gotta get three. Gotta keep on battling, and we’ll see how much fight people got in `em.”
Severin, a team captain, said he believes the Wahoos (3-6 overall, 2-3 ACC) have the necessary resolve.
“I think we’ve seen it all season,” he said. “We don’t back down from a challenge. Now we just gotta close on it. We gotta finish.”
Under head coach Mike London, finishing away from Scott Stadium has been especially difficult for Virginia, which plays at Louisville (5-4, 4-2) next weekend.
Saturday’s result extended the Wahoos’ road losing streak to 14 games. Not since Nov. 3, 2012, when the `Hoos defeated NC State in Raleigh, have they won outside of Charlottesville.
For a stretch in the second half, it appeared that streak might end Saturday. Virginia rallied to take a 15-14 lead on a 3-yard touchdown run by true freshman wideout Olamide Zaccheaus (and an Ian Frye extra point) with 5:28 left in the third quarter. But the Hurricanes (6-3, 3-2) responded with 10 straight points, to the delight of the homecoming crowd at Sun Life Stadium, home of the NFL’s Dolphins.
UVA rallied again. With junior quarterback Matt Johns completing passes to junior tailback Taquan Mizzell, Severin and redshirt freshman tight end Evan Butts, the Cavaliers drove to the Miami 5, where they had first-and-goal. Two plays later, though, a controversial penalty derailed the possession.
On third-and-goal from the 4, Johns passed to Severin near the back of the end zone for an apparent touchdown. But senior tight end Charlie Hopkins was called for offensive pass interference, and the `Hoos ended up settling for a Frye field goal that made it 24-18 with 7:08 left. Had the TD stood and Frye had added the PAT, it would have been 24-22.
Asked at his postgame press conference about the call, London paused before answering. “Just ask me another question,” he finally said.
Hopkins was baffled by the call. So was Severin, who said Hopkins did nothing to help free him in the end zone.
Had the Cavaliers’ defense forced Miami off the field quickly on the ensuing possession, the call might not have been so pivotal. But the `Canes, facing third-and-7 from their 36, burned UVA with a 23-yard completion to wideout Herb Waters, who was uncovered along the sideline, and then continued chewing up the clock.
A 39-yard field goal by Michael Badgley pushed Miami’s lead to 27-18 with 2:15 left. The Cavaliers answered with a drive that produced three points — Frye’s 47-yard field goal made it 27-21 — but Miami recovered their onside kick to seal the outcome.
The Hurricanes, in their second game under interim head coach Larry Scott, who took over last month for former UVA defensive coordinator Al Golden, totaled 429 yards Saturday. Two plays accounted for 125 of those yards: a 67-yard TD pass from quarterback Brad Kaaya to wideout Stacy Coley in the second quarter and a 58-yard completion from Kaaya to H-back David Njoku in the fourth quarter.
“That’s the difference in the game,” Virginia junior linebacker Zach Bradshaw said of Miami’s big plays, “and it’s super frustrating.”
Kaaya, who missed Miami’s dramatic win over Duke last weekend with a concussion, completed 20 of 26 passes for 286 yards and two TDs. Led by Kaaya, the `Canes were 8 of 13 on third-down conversions.
“He’s demonstrated that he can run the offense and distribute the ball and be very efficient, and that’s what he did today,” said London, whose record against Miami as UVA’s head coach fell to 4-2.
Johns completed 29 of 42 passes for 280 yards, Mizzell rushed for a game-high 91 yards and had eight receptions, Severin caught five passes for 70 yards, and Zaccheaus scored his first college touchdown. As has been the case all season, however, the Cavaliers’ inability to score touchdowns in the red zone hurt them.
Of Virginia’s points Saturday, 12 came on Frye field goals and two on a second-quarter safety on which Kaaya was called for intentional grounding on a pass from his end zone.
“It’s frustrating,” Hopkins said. “We have to finish. Like I said earlier this week, if we want to win, we have to finish in the red zone. We didn’t do that today, and we didn’t win. There’s a direct correlation between how we do in the red zone and if it’s a win or a loss.”
Mizzell said he’s confident Virginia will improve its red-zone execution, but he acknowledged that time is running out.
“We’ve got three [regular-season] games left, and we’ve gotta win `em all,” Mizzell said.
The Cavaliers are close to breaking through, Johns said, but he knows close is not enough.
“Just gotta win,” Johns said.
ON THE MARK: Frye missed three straight field-goal attempts during one stretch in September, but he’s bounced back to have a superb season.
Frye was 4 for 4 against Miami, connecting from 25, 48, 36 and 47 yards, and has made 11 consecutive attempts. The 48-yarder was a season long for Frye, a senior from Bristol.
For the season, he’s 14 for 17.
STEPPING UP: When defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta employs six defensive backs in certain passing situations — a dime package — redshirt freshman Darious Latimore enters the game for the Cavaliers.
A 6-0, 165-pound cornerback from Lawrenceville, Ga., Latimore made a spectacular interception late in the first half Saturday, setting up a drive that ended with Frye’s second field goal. Latimore also had two tackles and broke up a pass that would have resulted in a first down for Miami.
“It was a good call by Coach Tenuta, so I was just doing my job, and I was in the right place at the right time,” Latimore said of his first interception as a Cavalier.
UP NEXT: Before closing the regular season with back-to-back games at Scott Stadium — against Duke (6-3, 3-2) on Nov. 21 and Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3) on Nov. 28 — the Cavaliers will travel to the Bluegrass State.
At 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Virginia (3-6, 2-3) meets Louisville (5-4, 4-2) at 55,000-seat Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Regional sports networks will televise the game.
Since losing 20-17 to Clemson, the Cardinals have won five of six games, their lone defeat during that span coming Oct. 17 at Florida State.
UVA leads the series with Louisville 2-1. Last season, in the first meeting between these teams 25 years, the Wahoos led 20-7 late in the third quarter, but the No. 21 Cardinals rallied for two touchdowns in the fourth to pull ahead 21-20 at Scott Stadium.
Virginia capitalized on a Louisville turnover — Kelvin Rainey recovered a muffed punt — and prevailed 23-21. Frye provided the winning points on a 42-yard field goal with 3:42 left.