Many UVa fans were vocal with their frustration over UVa’s lack of offense.
In several years during Virginia coach Al Groh’s tenure, when a dismal performance has left the football program in its darkest hour, the Cavaliers have bounced back with a series of wins. That fact may be why Groh has persevered since he arrived in 2001, despite posting just a .560 winning percentage in his eight full seasons as Virginia’s coach while failing to appear in a bowl game three times.
After losing to William & Mary a week ago, the Hoos did not bounce back against TCU.
With repeated choruses of boos and scattered chants of “Groh must go!” clearly audible at Scott Stadium on Saturday, Virginia suffered its second consecutive humiliating loss at home to open the 2009 season, falling 30-14 against No. 16 TCU.
Perhaps the only positive claim that can be made about offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon’s spread offense in week two was that it was less turnover-prone than against William & Mary, as Virginia committed just one turnover on a deflected pass. Otherwise, the Cavaliers were unproductive, often confused, and utterly incompetent in their attempts to move the chains against a TCU team that led the nation in total defense a year ago. With Jameel Sewell under center for the game’s duration, Virginia had 177 yards of total offense, and allowed more sacks (8) than it picked up first downs (7).
“We understood that it was gonna be rugged moving the ball,” Groh said. “Still, we expect more out of ourselves.”
What’s more, much of the production that Virginia did have came late in the fourth quarter, with the Horned Frogs already holding a 30-0 lead and playing many of their reserves. On back-to-back drives with less than five minutes remaining, Sewell connected with two freshman wide receivers for long touchdown passes. He first hit Javaris Brown for a 56-yard TD down the sideline, and then threw a 26-yarder to Tim Smith , who wrestled the ball away from a TCU defensive back in the end zone with 1:48 remaining.
Jameel Sewell received little help in pass protection from the Virginia offensive line.
Prior to Virginia’s late offensive surge, Sewell had neither the time nor the open receivers to throw balls to in the spread offense. As indicated by TCU’s eight sacks on the afternoon, the offensive line was practically nonexistent in pass protection, and Sewell often had to scramble in feeble attempts to gain positive yardage. Taking away the final two TD passes, Sewell’s passing line was 6-of-16 passing for 38 yards and one interception, and the leading receiver was Quintin Hunter , with one reception for 13 yards.
On the play prior to Virginia’s first touchdown, Sewell attempted a pass to Smith beyond the secondary that fell incomplete. This drew a mocking cheer from the remaining UVa fans that spotted the Scott Stadium bleachers; they had not seen a pass attempt that far down the field to that point, and every completed pass had been for fewer than 10 yards.
“The ability of the quarterback to go downfield is based significantly on the amount of time he has to do so,” Groh said. “There were a number of the pressures or sacks that were on plays that were intended to do that.”
With passing options consistently unavailable, Virginia more often than not went to the ground game – a particularly tall task against TCU, who held opponents to a national-best 1.7 yards per carry in 2008. And, indeed, that was Virginia’s average Saturday, as the offensive line proved feeble in this area as well. Sewell led the team with 35 yards on 21 carries, with a roughly even split between designed keepers and scrambles. Running back Mikell Simpson was the most efficient ball carrier, with 32 yards on 8 attempts.
When Groh was asked if Sewell was now his full-time quarterback, Groh responded, “It kind of looked that way, didn’t it?” Groh also said that Vic Hall was unavailable to play QB due to a hip injury he suffered against William & Mary, and that at no point did he consider playing Marc Verica .
Hall’s only appearance of the evening was as the holder for a Virginia field goal on the Cavs’ opening drive, which eventually represented UVa’s only scoring opportunity with the outcome still in question. The snap on the would-be 40-yard attempt was high, but possibly catchable; Hall’s hip injury, however, prevented him from extending vertically to catch the snap, and the ball went untouched until kicker Robert Randolph fell on the ball for a 19-yard loss.
“I would probably say [having Hall hold was] a mistake on my part,” Groh said. “It was our judgment from the side that he was inhibited by his injury from making the same catch maybe that he’s rescued the snapper on before.”
Defensively, Virginia held TCU in check to start the game, but a questionable penalty and a failed fourth-down conversion by the Cavs led to two Frog touchdowns before halftime. On the first score, with TCU facing 3rd and 9 from the Virginia 36-yard line, a pass from QB Andy Dalton went through the hands of intended target Jimmy Young. Cavalier safety Cory Mosley, however, made contact with Young after the incompletion. Though the hit was not even enough to bring Young to the ground, the official on hand immediately flagged Mosley for a 15-yard personal foul, keeping the drive alive.
“The last thing I wanted to do was to be unsportsmanlike,” Mosley said, “But Coach [Groh] told us, fly to the ball every play, play hard, play every play like it’s my last.
“I tried to pull up. I didn’t want to make an unfair play out there. We don’t teach that around here.”
Dalton completed a 19-yard pass on the next play, and Jeremy Kerley followed with a two-yard touchdown run to put TCU on the board. Groh continued his most animated argument with the officials until after the touchdown, when he confronted a referee nose-to-nose in obvious frustration.
“It certainly was a significant play in the game,” Groh said. “That’s what they call these days, but you’ve got to have a conscience when you make certain calls.”
Later in the quarter, following one of many Virginia three-and-outs, Groh decided to take a gamble. With the Cavs facing 4th and 2 at midfield, Virginia tried a fake punt, snapping directly to Joe Torchia , who was slightly offset behind the center. Torchia appeared to fake a handoff between his legs to backup offensive guard Patrick Slebonick , the swinging gate protector for punts, and then attempted to pick up the first down himself. Torchia was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by TCU’s Jerry Hughes, one of 11 stops on the day for the standout defensive end. Taking over at midfield with 5:25 remaining, the Frogs went on to score their second touchdown on a six-play drive.
“In retrospect, I think that was a poor decision on my part,” Groh said. “It had the same effect as a turnover.”
At the start of the second half, the Cavalier offense continued to struggle, and the defense finally gave way entirely to a typically efficient TCU attack. The Horned Frogs scored on four of their first five possessions of the half to roll to a 30-0 lead, and with 6:43 remaining in the game, much of the already-evaporating crowd began to file out of the stadium. Of course, there were fewer fans than normal to begin with – the 48,336 attendance number is the lowest at a UVa home game since the 1999 season when 40,100 attended the game against Buffalo (Nov. 13).
The Cavs look to stop the frustrating start to the season in their first road test at Southern Mississippi next Saturday. Whether the Cavaliers will pick up Brandon’s offense by then remains to be seen. Sewell, though, was willing to make one guarantee for the 2009 season.
“We’re gonna win some games,” Sewell said. “We’re definitely gonna do that. There’s no doubt about it.”