Another devastating loss: The end of the Mike London era?
For the fourth time this season, UVA lost a game in which it outplayed its opponent statistically. Which suggests that there is talent in the program. And suggests that the problem isn’t on the field, but with the guys in headsets.
And so it is that the 28-27 loss to North Carolina, in a game that Virginia led 14-0 after two offensive possessions, and came undone after a botched screen pass, a TD pass thrown by a backup thrust into the game on third down, an onside kick, and then an inexcusable illegal-substitution penalty, officially marks the beginning of the end for the Mike London era.
It could be argued that the season-opening loss to UCLA was just a few bad breaks that went the Bruins’ way, that the loss at BYU was special teams and red zone inefficiency, that the loss at Duke was two good teams going at it, and one has to win and one has to lose.
This one was lost because of the flubs by the headsets. And it started with the move by London and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild to go with Greyson Lambert at quarterback over Matt Johns, who had started the last three in place of the injured season-opening starter and outplayed Lambert significantly in his time under center.
Lambert’s issues with decision-making continued on Saturday, with a third-quarter interception on a third-down pass in the red zone that kept three points off the board, and a fourth-quarter interception on a poorly-thrown screen pass on a drive that had Virginia knocking on the door for a possible game-clinching field goal.
The play-calling in both sequences was suspect, for what that’s worth, particularly on the fourth-quiarter pick. UVA had a first down at the UNC 35, and at that point was five yards away from comfortable field-goal range for kicker Ian Frye, but on first down the call was a reverse that lost two yards, and then the second-down call was a play that involved a fake bubble screen to the right with a blind throw intended for Kevin Parks on a screen to the left.
Lambert is the goat for throwing the ball, but that was the call, even as London threw him under the bus in his postgame presser for not recognizing that the play wasn’t there.
The onside kick after the UNC go-ahead touchdowon is unfathomable, both for the balls that Carolina coach Larry Fedora showed for putting the call in, and for Virginia not to have stressed to its return team to be on the lookout for something like that coming, with Fedora being known for rolling the dice on these kinds of things.
The last nail in the coffin came with 1:17 to go. UNC had already run nearly three minutes off the clock after the onside kick, but with a fourth down on the door of the red zone, Fedora sent his kicking team into the game, even as the entirety of those in Scott Stadium were well-aware that he had no intention of going through with a kick, given that the Heels haven’t kicked a field goal longer than 23 yards all season.
The goal all along was to catch Virginia napping, and it worked when an effort to switch personnel was made and resulted in one extra guy being left on the field. The illegal-substitution penalty enabled North Carolina to bleed the clock.
These are sins of omission, not commission, and reflect on the people making decisions, not those tasked to execute.
With road games at Georgia Tech and Florida State, a home date with suddenly solid Miami and a finale at Virginia Tech, Virginia needs two wins to limp home 6-6 after the 4-2 start that had fans thinking much bigger things.
Are there two wins in there? Probably so, for a team that has outplayed from a statistical standpoint each of its eight opponents in 2014.
But that same statistically dominant team is now 4-4.
The latest fourth quarter coaching meltdown is the final act in the excruciating five-year-long tragedy that has been the Mike London era.
Next man up.
-Column by Chris Graham