It’s hard to imagine a worse way to start a make-or-break season. The UVA defense allowed UCLA to gain over 500 yards, and the Cavs’ offense couldn’t run the ball, and couldn’t convert in the red zone when it mattered.
All that, plus a run of dumb penalties, and the amazing thing is that the final score was only 34-16, because it seemed a lot worse.
“They did what they had to do, and we didn’t do enough,” was how Virginia coach Mike London summed it up, which was generous.
Defense was Virginia’s linchpin in 2014, but the D was a sieve on Saturday, allowing 503 total yards to UCLA, whose true freshman quarterback, Josh Rosen, shredded the UVA secondary for 351 yards on 28-of-35 passing.
Rosen was sacked once, hit one other time, and the Virginia defense registered exactly zero quarterback hurries.
“They did a great job from the shotgun touch to get the ball out of his hands, whether it was screens or quick passes to the perimeter,” London said. “The things you can do, you can affect the passes with your hands in the lane or play tight coverages, all those things, and he did a great job of just using the scheme of the system they have. They have really good players. Their offensive line is a better offensive line than I remember from last year. They’re really good up front there.”
The Bruins also ran effectively, gaining 152 yards on 34 carries, 4.5 yards per run. Basically, UCLA was able to do whatever it wanted on offense.
The UVA offense was able to move the ball effectively in the first half, gaining 178 yards on 35 plays, 5.1 yards per play. But two drives in the red zone stalled and ended in Ian Frye field goals, leaving eight points on the field in a game that had Virginia go into the halftime break down eight, 17-9.
“We didn’t help them by not being able to convert on some red-zone opportunities to score touchdowns to get points,” London said. “Field goals are fine, but in a game like this playing a good team you’ve got to come away with points.”
That much is obvious. Virginia eventually punched in a red-zone opportunity with a fourth-quarter touchdown with the outcome already decided. The trend is reminiscent of the inefficiency of the red-zone offense in 2014, when UVA was third nationally with 18 red-zone field goals made.
The struggles with the ground game were also reminiscent of 2014. Virginia committed to trying to get the run going, but gained just 2.9 yards per attempt on its 34 rushes, for 98 yards from scrimmage for the day.
Take out a 13-yard Matt Johns scramble and a six-yard gain by punter Nicholas Conte on a fake, and not that it can get much worse, but it does.
Conte was a bright spot – punting the ball four times for an average of 50.5 yards per boot, two inside the 20.
Frye was a bright spot, going a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals, the two chip shots and a 42-yarder.
Johns, by and large, had a solid game, going 21-for-35 for 238 yards, with one touchdown, one interception and a 120.8 passer rating, a tick below his 122.6 passer rating for 2014.
But that was part of the problem. The offense was, by and large, what it was in 2014, a unit that had trouble running the ball, passed the ball decently, had trouble scoring in the red zone.
The defense was the difference last year, but the 2015 defense looks more like the 2013 defense than the 2014 defense.
With #11 Notre Dame and #23 Boise State on their way to Charlottesville this month, Virginia can’t afford to look like it did on Saturday: a team that had all spring and summer to get ready for UCLA, came out with a poor game plan, offensively and defensively, failed to execute even those poor game plans, and outside the punter, placekicker and starting quarterback didn’t seem to care.
“You got to move onto the next challenge, and the next challenge is Scott’s Stadium – Notre Dame,” London said. “We have to look at some things we did here and take care of some things until another opportunity presents itself. We’ve just begun.”
– Story by Chris Graham