MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Through four weeks, the Virginia football team owned a 4-0 record and optimism was abundant as the program achieved the highest marks in a decade.
Two games later, the Cavaliers need to bounce back from a punch to the gut.
Virginia lost a hard-fought game to Notre Dame on the road before embarking on its bye week. After a week off, the Cavaliers traveled to Miami on Friday night and fell 17-9 to the Hurricanes.
During the first four games of the season, the Cavaliers overcame their mistakes and found ways to win, but their mistakes finally caught up to them in two road games against two of the better opponents on their schedule.
“Turning the ball over and missing a field goal ended up being the basic difference in this game,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said after the Miami loss. “Either red zone scoring — or just outside of that — those two opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on hurt our team.”
Not only did the Cavaliers drop both games due in large part to self-inflicted wounds, they’ve seen Rob Snyder and Tyler Fannin go down for the season with injuries. Against Miami, both cornerback Bryce Hall and wide receiver Hasise Dubois suffered injuries. Hall’s left ankle injury looked serious. He was put into an air cast within minutes and carted off the field. Mendenhall did not have an update on Hall’s status after the game. Dubois’ injury came on a targeting call late in the third quarter.
“He is injured,” Mendenhall said of Dubois. “It became progressively worse after that play, and I don’t know what the injury is.”
The Cavaliers used come-from-behind wins to beat Pittsburgh, Florida State and Old Dominion to start the season. The program broke into the AP Top 25, and fans were returning to Scott Stadium.
While UVa may still hang in the top 25 this week, the Cavaliers have been punched in the mouth for the first time this season.
They’re now down an NFL prospect at corner, one of their best receivers is banged up, and they’re struggling to score points. It’s halfway through the season, and UVa faces a reality check.
Anemic offensive possessions were bailed out by magical Bryce Perkins scrambles early this season. That hasn’t been the case in the past two games. Turnovers and special teams miscues didn’t cost the Cavaliers, whose defense always seemed to make a timely play, such as Zane Zandier’s interception return for a touchdown against Old Dominion. Those plays haven’t been there the past two weeks.
Losing to Miami exposed a few flaws in the Cavaliers, primarily the team’s inability to run the football and score consistently in the red zone. It also showed that UVa can compete with anyone in the division, even if it doesn’t play its best game.
“This is a game we should’ve won,” wide receiver Terrell Jana said. “I definitely see it as a missed opportunity.”
There’s still reason for optimism going forward. The Cavaliers are one of just three teams in the Coastal Division with one loss, and they’ve already defeated Pitt. They have a chance to beat Duke next week at home, and they’ll play at North Carolina on Nov. 2.
Virginia’s goal of winning the Coastal Division is very much alive, but the Cavaliers need improvement.
The Cavaliers face a gut check halfway through the season. Will they regain their early season form and resilience or will key injuries and a pair of frustrating defeats derail what could be a special season?