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October 14, 2012

More of the same for the Wahoos

It doesn't matter who you're playing, if you hold a team to minus-two yards rushing, you shouldn't lose. Period. And yet, as it has done all season, Virginia defied conventional wisdom and came out on the wrong end of a game on Saturday that it it both had no business winning and no business losing.

Why did the Cavaliers (2-5, 0-3 ACC) have no business winning? Well, a 100-yard return for a touchdown on the game's opening play is Exhibit A. Second, they managed to force freshman quarterback Perry Hills, a turnover machine thus far in 2012, into zero interceptions. Add on that UVa was penalized seven times for 70 yards (and had several other declined)? Bad. It allowed Stefon Diggs to be matched up too often with a linebacker and post 147 yards all purpose? Worse. But being 7 of 20 on third down? The worst.

And yet, this is a game the Wahoos had no business losing. They gained 386 yards total and ran for 168 against a top-1o defense nationally both against the run and in total D. They doubled up UMd on first downs (20 to 10), had the ball for more than six more minutes than the Terps, and somehow managed to get a career day from Kevin Parks? If that's not a recipe to win at home, I'm not sure what it is.

Still, that's Virginia's problem in 2012 (and the problem Mike London faces now and for the foreseeable future): These Cavaliers don't find ways to win; instead they find ways to lose.

Late in the game, when UVa (somehow) had clawed its way back, a pass across the middle from backup quarterback Michael Rocco to Khalek Shepherd that looked like it would be a touchdown and force a tie game fell instead harmlessly to the turf. If "2nd and 12" doesn't define UVa's season, that play does.

Even London admitted as much, saying after the game, "That's kind of indicative of the season here a little bit, with these plays that, at the most opportune times, they're not being made."

Each game it seems, there is a moment or even several where different phases of the game combine to doom these Cavaliers. But that one incompletion was just too poignant.

"He would still be running," London said.

What has failed Virginia, both against Maryland and all season long, has been any type of (positive) consistency. The Wahoos are oft-penalized, they have been without two of their upperclassmen on both sides of the ball (Tim Smith and Billy Schautz) for significant time, they make mistakes in every facet of the game, and they don't capitalize on opportunities.

In Saturday's loss to Maryland (4-2, 2-0), UVa managed to force only its second defensive turnover of the year. It's been a season of "almost" most of the time and "awful" at others. And that's true not only for a defense that gives up big plays too often or for an offense that can't seem to sustain enough drives for enough points. It's also true for a fledgling special teams group that can't seem to do much of anything right (except the play of punter Alec Vozenilek, which has been arguably some of the best in the conference).

And now, just a little more than a week after starting Phillip Sims for the first time, Virginia is again greeted with questions about the quarterback position as well as continued questions about youth on defense, and questions about the entire unit on special teams. Those doubts are growing louder by the day.

At this point, London has changed quarterbacks and kickers. He's played more younger guys on the defensive line (tip of the cap to both sophomore defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite and true freshman defensive end Eli Harold for both having monster games against UMd). He's made changes on the offensive line. He's juggled running backs. He's done a lot of the types of things a coach can do in the midst of a season.

The problems that really plague this team seem more systemic and hard choices appear to be on the horizon for a program that should be playing markedly better at this point coming off an 8-5 year in 2011.

This team is made up of players that are better than 2-5 and yet this team looks at times far worse than that mark. Like it or not, that's where things have stood, where they stand now, and without significant improvement it's where they'll stay for the rest of this season.


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