By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. –– On crutches, with a cast on his left ankle, Bryce Hall made his way slowly up the tunnel leading out of Hard Rock Stadium early Saturday morning. Every few yards, someone stopped to offer condolences and wish the senior cornerback well.
If Virginia had lost only a football game Friday night, this would have qualified as a disappointing trip. But the No. 20 Cavaliers also lost their best defensive back, Hall, to a serious injury late in the second quarter of this ACC game.
“That was devastating,” junior wide receiver Terrell Jana said after UVA’s 17-9 loss to Coastal Division rival Miami.
On a punt return on which teammate Billy Kemp IV gained 19 yards, Hall was blocking a Miami player when another Hurricane rolled up on Hall’s leg, injuring his left ankle. UVA’s players and coaches gathered around the fallen Hall, a returning All-American and a team captain. He’s widely respected around the league, and several Miami players also came over to console Hall.
“I’m not sure I can describe what the emotions were,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Gratitude and loss at the same time. Appreciation and sorrow. Conflicting emotions and then in a real-time application, [trying to figure out] how will that now affect how we play, not only in the future but the rest of this game.”
The Wahoos trailed 7-0 when Hall was carted off the field. Junior De’Vante Cross moved from safety to corner, and junior Chris Moore took over for Cross at safety when UVA was in its nickel defense.
With Hall out, the Hoos continued to battle. The Cavaliers cut their deficit three times –– first to 7-3, then to 7-6 and finally to 10-9 – but they never led on a night when their offense repeatedly sputtered in crucial situations.
UVA’s defense held Miami to 265 yards. Seventy-eight came on the Hurricanes’ first drive, another 75 on their final drive. Each of those possessions ended in a touchdown.
The Cavaliers’ offense outgained Miami’s, 318 yards to 265, but never crossed the goal line. UVA had multiple opportunities to break through, driving to the Miami 24, to the 21, to the 8, to the 23, to the 1, and to the 17. But all UVA (4-2 overall, 2-1 ACC) had to show for those possessions were three Brian Delaney field goals.
One drive ended with a blocked field-goal attempt, another with a fourth-down run that Miami (3-3, 1-2) stopped for no gain, a third with a lost fumble. The Cavaliers haven’t scored a touchdown in their past six quarters.
“We’ve got to score in the red zone, that’s plain and simple,” senior quarterback Bryce Perkins. “We had multiple drives to the red zone and not a single touchdown, so that’s on us. That’s the offense’s fault. The defense did their job, holding [Miami to fewer than 24 points], and we didn’t do ours.”
The Hoos were coming off a bye week during which the offensive coaches addresed the problems that had hindered their unit in the second half of a 35-20 loss at Notre Dame. The Cavaliers expected a better offensive performance against the Hurricanes.
“We thought so and we hoped so, but we also knew Miami was strong on defense,” Mendenhall said. “And so we knew it would be a test and a challenge, but we certainly thought that we would be able to score more than we did tonight.”
The Cavaliers will rue the second-half sequence that followed a targeting call on the Canes. That infraction and a subsequent Miami penalty set up first-and-goal for UVA at the 4, but offensive tackle Bobby Haskins was called for a false start, moving the ball back to the 9.
On first down Perkins ran for two yards, and Taulapapa battled for six more on second down. One yard away from a go-ahead touchdown, Virginia instead went backwards on a third-down play. Perkins rolled right and, unable to find an open receiver, was tackled for a three-yard loss. UVA settled for another Delaney field goal.
“We had a pick play set … to get a running back into the flat,” Mendenhall said, “with Bryce having the chance to use his legs. We thought we’d be able to run around them, and ultimately it backfired and we lost yardage. That hurt us.”
Perkins said: “I should have thrown it out of bounds, so that’s my fault. I took us out of scoring position, which made us kick a field goal. I’ve got to be smarter on that.”
Hall wasn’t the only standout UVA lost Friday night. Senior wide receiver Hasise Dubois watched the final minutes from the sideline with his right arm in a sling. He was injured on the play on which safety Amari Carter was ejected for targeting, though Dubois didn’t immediately leave the game.
“Hass is a competitor,” Perkins said, “and I know it killed him that he couldn’t be out there.”
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: Delaney, a junior, connected from 25, 21 and 44 yards to account for all of Virginia’s points, but his first field-goal attempt, from 38 yards, was blocked.
“It was a poor kick,” Mendenhall said. “It didn’t have a chance to clear the line of scrimmage. You have to call it a blocked field goal, but the kick was low.”
Running back Mike Hollins, a true freshman from Louisiana, carried the ball Friday night for the first time since Sept. 6, when he rushed 11 times for 78 yards and two TDs against William & Mary.
Hollins won’t remember this game as fondly. On a first-down run in the third quarter, he fumbled after gaining three yards. Miami recovered at its 20.
“The competition and the effort was strong by our team,” Mendenhall said. “The execution in a few critical moments was not as strong as needed, and I think the statistics bear that out.”
GAME BALLS: Virginia was looking to start 3-0 in ACC play for the first time since 2007. Among the Cavaliers’ standouts in defeat:
• Dubois, a senior who finished with seven catches for 93 yards, both game highs. His 49-yard reception late in the second quarter moved the Cavaliers to the Miami 8.
• Joe Reed, a senior wideout who had five catches for 33 yards and, as usual, excelled on special teams. Reed, one of the nation’s top return specialists, ran back three kickoffs for 112 yards, with a long of 72.
• Dejon Brissett, a graduate transfer from the University of Richmond who had his first reception as a Cavalier. It went for 15 yards and extended the third-quarter drive that ended with Delaney’s second field goal. Brissett missed most of the training camp with an injury and was less than 100 percent for much of last month, too.
• Nash Griffin, a junior who averaged 44.3 yards on his three punts, none of which was returned.
• Noah Taylor, a sophomore outside linebacker who had six tackles, including a game-high 2.5 for loss.
• Joey Blount, a junior safety who led Virginia with eight tackles.
THEY SAID IT: Mendenhall and his players were understandably somber after the game. Among their comments:
• Mendenhall: “In most ACC games, the difference comes down to one or two plays. I know traditionally three to five is where it fits in throughout my career. Turning the ball over and missing a field goal ended up being the basic difference in this game.”
• Perkins on Hall’s injury: “Anybody that knows Bryce just knows how dedicated he is to the game and to the team in his preparation and just his relentlessness to be better and be the best he can be, be the utmost leader. Out of anybody on the team, he’s probably the most respected guy, and to see him go down, it hurt both sides. It was a bad one.
“We just gotta keep fighting for him and just play for him, because I know that’s what he wants us to do.”
• Perkins on Virginia’s red-zone breakdowns: “We didn’t execute on our assignments. We’ve got to execute at a higher level, and I’ve got to execute at a higher level. We had opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize.”
• Junior linebacker Zane Zandier on Miami’s first drive: “It’s huge giving up seven points in a tight game like that. So it definitely hurt us.”
• Jana on Hall: “He’s an anchor for this team, and just the type of person he is, not just as a player, but as a person, you hate to see it happen to somebody that carries himself so highly. I hope he recovers quickly, so I’m just praying for him.”
• More Jana: “This is a game we should have won. So I definitely see it as a missed opportunity. I think the defense played a hell of a game. Everybody played really hard. I think there were a couple things we didn’t get down, so hopefully going into the next couple days we’ll learn from that.”
• Blount on the injuries that have sidelined cornerbacks Darrius Bratton, Heskin Smith, and Hall this season: “We’ve got to keep our eyes on the goal and keep them in the goal with us. So we’ve got to keep playing for them, and have them motivate us along with our core beliefs. It just really comes down to believing in ourselves, believing in our goal and believing that they would want us to keep going. You can’t dwell on the past. We have to keep pushing forward and playing for them.”
UP NEXT: Virginia, which hasn’t played at home since Sept. 21, hosts Coastal Division rival Duke next Saturday at Scott Stadium.
ACC Network will televise the 3:30 p.m. game. The Cavaliers (4-2 overall, 2-1 ACC) have won four straight over the Blue Devils.
After taking on Duke, UVA won’t play at home again until Nov. 9, when Georgia Tech visits Scott Stadium.
Duke (3-2, 1-1) hosts Georgia Tech (1-4, 0-2) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.