Turnovers Plague Cavs In Loss To Clemson

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Marc Verica threw three interceptions in the loss to Clemson on Saturday.

Unlike some of Virginia’s head-scratching losses this season (i.e. Miami, Duke, etc.), the reasons for Saturday’s 13-3 loss to Clemson were relatively simple.

Turnovers, give-aways, and missed opportunities existed on both sides of the ball for the Cavaliers and those half dozen plays were ultimately too much for Virginia’s sluggish offense to overcome.

Virginia coach Al Groh surmised as much after the game.

“Really the game as you all could see was a pretty even match other than about seven plays: the touchdown that we didn’t get, four or five turnovers and the two fourth downs which essentially are the same thing as a turnover,” he said. “So a pretty even match but in any case those seven plays did separate the two teams so we’re disappointed. … It’s a pretty easy game to describe right? It was right out there to see.”

Once again interceptions plagued quarterback Marc Verica all day long. Verica’s first pick came late in the first quarter as he attempted to connect with TE John Phillips over the middle. This mistake proved costly for Virginia as the Tigers capitalized, turning in a 15-yard halfback pass to take the early 7-0 lead.

The second of Verica’s interceptions, a vertical shot down the field intended for Jared Green , came at a critical moment when Virginia was trying to move the ball down the field for a tying touchdown. Verica’s pass, however, was underthrown and Clemson’s Crezdon Butler nabbed the ball and exploded for a 31-yard return. The resulting field goal, which made the score 13-3, virtually ended Virginia’s chances for a comeback.

Groh suggested after the game that the reason for the specific interceptions didn’t matter as long as they continued to hurt the Cavaliers.

“I think we can dissect and come up with all sorts of reasons but it was what it was,” he said. “Until we learn to take better care of the ball, unfortunately that subtracts substantially from the result that we’re trying to get.”

It wasn’t just Verica who struggled, however. Late in the first quarter, it looked as if Virginia’s offense had found its legs, but shortly after Cedric Peerman reeled off two consecutive 9-yard gains on the ground to move the ball across midfield, Rashawn Jackson fumbled the ball on Clemson’s 49-yard line, leading to a Clemson field goal that put the visitors up 10-0.

Furthermore, the Virginia offense couldn’t capitalize on the few mistakes Clemson did make, notably the third-quarter snap over Cullen Harper’s head that Vic Hall recovered. It looked as if UVa was finally about to cash in for a touchdown on a deep pass play to Kevin Ogletree , but the play was called back because of offensive pass interference.

Cedric Peerman was limited to 56 rushing yards by the Tigers.

“We just failed to take advantage of them,” Peerman said. “In turn, they capitalized on the things we made mistakes on. They were able to come up with just enough points to win the game.”

Linebacker Clint Sintim distinguished the difference between turnovers and give-aways, suggesting the defense had just as much of a hand in the loss as the rest of the team.

“Turnovers,” Sintim said, when asked the difference between the teams’ performances. “A lot of times, there’s turnovers and then there’s give-aways. I think they are two completely different things. When an individual makes a play and they get the turnover, it’s different than when you give them the ball and blow coverages and things like that. I think overall today we had a lot of give-aways on offense, a lot of give-aways on defense, just weren’t in position on defense to cover or at the same time we threw the ball to them.”

Senior Linebacker Jon Copper said the defense needed to do more to force turnovers.

“Their defense got four turnovers and we only got one,” Copper said. “It’s tough to win a game when you don’t match the other defense’s turnover margin.”

While it’s hard to knock the job the defense did, and it was by many counts spectacular (192 yards of total offense allowed, 2.8 yards per play), there were several missed opportunities that could have changed the game.

One such play was Ras-I Dowling’s almost-interception just before halftime. It would have most likely led to a Cavalier touchdown since he had just one Clemson player between him and the end zone. It could have evened out the score going into the half.

So it was a day of ‘what might have been’ for the Cavaliers. Now, however, there isn’t any room for error. After taking the loss, they will have to travel to a hostile Lane Stadium to take on Virginia Tech in a must-win for bowl eligibility. The Hoos stand at 5-6 on the season.

“I’m extremely hungry,” Sintim said of next week’s match-up with the Hokies. “A loss like this leaves a bitter taste in your mouth especially because it’s your last one for me and Ced [Peerman], and John [Phillips]. To go down to Blacksburg and get a win against a very quality team would be extremely good.”

Eugene Monroe agreed:

“I haven’t beaten Virginia Tech sine I have been here, so it will probably be the most exciting game of the season for us.”

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