Against Pitt, it was a lack of offense. Against Ball State, it was an embarrassment of turnovers and penalties. Against Maryland, it was poor red zone execution. Against Duke, it was the failure to keep a three-touchdown, second-quarter lead.
The Virginia football team is losing with variety. The Cavaliers (2-5, 0-3 ACC) are on a four-game skid without a common theme.
Saturday, a head coach and his players tried to explain how they created their latest defeat — a 35-22 shocker in which the Blue Devils scored 35 unanswered points.
“We are young enough to know that when adversity appears, we have to respond and bounce back from things,” said Mike London, the head coach who dropped to 18-26 in his three-plus seasons at UVa and 6-13 since appearing in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl. “We didn’t do a good job of that, particularly in the second half. We have to coach them better. I have to do a better job.”
Henry Coley, Virginia’s middle linebacker and leading tackler, simplified the collapse: "Once again, we beat ourselves, offensively and defensively. If we have the ball in our hands, we have to come down with it. If we're in a position to score, we need to convert. We made that field goal but get called for a penalty and had to do it again and something went wrong."
Coley made reference to two particular instances when the Wahoos, perhaps, could have stopped the second-half bleeding.
The Cavaliers were ahead, 22-17, early in the fourth quarter when Duke quarterback Anthony Boone threw a prayer down the middle of the field for a well-covered Jamison Crowder. UVa safety Anthony Harris, backpedaling, got both hands on the pass, but dropped it as he crashed to the turf. Three plays later, Duke backup quarterback Brandon Connette flipped to tight end Braxton Deaver on a fourth-and-1 and Deaver raced 47 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
“The [non]-interception was big,” Harris said. “If I come down with that, we can get off the field right there and get the offense back out there.”
But the offense was struggling anyway.
That side of the ball was on pace for 560 yards at halftime. It finished with 363, generating all of 83 yards in the second half.
Its only sign of life late was a fourth-quarter drive that went 52 yards on 11 plays, but even that included a fluky Kevin Parks circus catch off a deflected pass on a third-and-18.
That drive, too, resulted in no points after Alec Vozenilek’s 44-yard field goal attempt to tie the game at 25 missed wide left. Of course, his 39-yard attempt was good, but that was negated by a Jay Whitmire false start (the other instance Coley referred to).
On the third-and-5 prior to Vozenilek’s first kick, quarterback David Watford barely got the snap off before the play clock expired and then threw wildly off his back foot for Darius Jennings in the middle of the field.
“There were some communication issues with substitutions and clock management,” London said. “It wasn’t handled properly and has to be handled better. You saw the end result.
“Those are things in the second half that lead to things that get exasperated because you’re frustrated, they’re frustrated. It affects points, it affects field position. And you have to eliminate those things.
“In the Maryland game, there was a better operation with what was going on. In the second half, it was discouraging, it was disappointing.”
Welcome to Virginia’s last four games.
“When things are going well, they go really well,” said defensive end Jake Snyder. “But when things go bad, they go really bad.”
The Cavaliers next host Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2). The Yellow Jackets have opened up as 8.5-point favorites. Kickoff is 12:30 p.m., Saturday.