9:03 PM EDT, October 22, 2011
For the second consecutive football season, Virginia has followed a headliner victory with a head-scratching defeat.
"These are tremendous learning pains we're going through," Cavaliers coach Mike London said.
The Virginia fans streaming for the exits in the waning moments of Saturday's 28-14 loss to North Carolina State undoubtedly concur.
They also have every reason to question London's game management, particularly his use of quarterbacks Michael Rocco and David Watford. Not to mention the play-calling of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
Those weren't the Cavaliers' only issues Saturday, but they contributed mightily to a stumble that came one week after an upset of then-No. 12 Georgia Tech and brought back memories of 2010.
You'll recall that last season Virginia upset No. 22 Miami at home. A week later the Cavaliers lost at Duke, the Blue Devils' lone ACC victory of the year.
Saturday's two steps back were more troubling. More because this was at home. More because Virginia is supposed to be better than last season's 4-8 squad.
And maybe the Cavaliers (4-3, 1-2 ACC) are. But they squandered another opportunity to build upon success, at home, against an opponent heretofore winless in ACC play.
"We're in that middle of the pack right now," London said of the conference standings, "and we have to define which direction we're going. That's my job."
Job One needs to be handling the quarterbacks better.
Yes, London's determination to use Watford, a dynamic freshman, is understandable. But pulling Rocco after his 6-yard touchdown pass to Clifton Richardson gave Virginia a 7-0 lead made zero sense.
"Just stick to the plan," Lazor said with a look that indicated London made the decision.
London's defense: It was the Cavaliers' fourth possession, Watford's turn.
Sorry, but this isn't grade-school recess where kids take turns.
On Watford's second snap, receiver Darius Jennings ran a deep route as Watford threw short. Cornerback David Amerson intercepted, and on the very next play, Mike Glennon hit Bryan Underwood for a 33-yard touchdown and 14-7 lead.
Rocco returned on the next series but never completed another pass. He was 7-for-9 before the switch, 0-for-10 after.
"We're kind of getting used to it," Rocco said of the rotation. "It's not always easy to get much of a rhythm. (But) it's what we're given and we have to make do with it. …
"I just couldn't get much of a rhythm in the second half. I was missing throws I should have completed."
Virginia averaged 5 yards per rush in the first half, but Lazor opened the second with seven passes in the first nine plays. Rocco was 0-for and went to the bench for the day.
Watford threw a perfect deep ball to Tim Smith for a 60-yard touchdown that brought Virginia within 21-14, and there the score remained until the Cavaliers took over at their own 4 with 6:19 remaining.
Suffice to say, it was a brutal spot for a rookie quarterback. But it wasn't Watford who committed the decisive gaffe.
His second-down pass was catchable but bounced off Smith's hands to Amerson, who returned his eighth interception of the season 12 yards for a touchdown.
"I kind of threw it too hard," Watford said. "Tim was just telling me to take a little bit off it."
That's mighty gracious of Watford. But truth is, Smith should have caught the pass, just as Kris Burd should have caught the third interception Watford threw.
"When I was walking back to the sideline (after the pick-six), I noticed fans walking out," Watford said. "I don't blame them, but we still had a chance to win the game."
Watford and Rocco were a combined 11-of-35 for 125 yards. Virginia gained a season-low 249 yards, nearly 200 shy of its previous average, and rushed for a meager 33 yards on 15 second-half attempts.
The first question in London's presser was, "What happened to your offense?"
"I don't know," he said. "It's a good question."
A quick word about N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien, a former Virginia offensive coordinator: Critics have savaged his decision to sever ties with All-ACC quarterback Russell Wilson, who's now thriving at Wisconsin. Those folks ignore three facts.
First, Wilson's baseball career interfered with football, and his unwillingness to commit to O'Brien's program left the coach with no ideal option. Second, Glennon has performed well in Wilson's place while surrounded by talent that pales to Wisconsin's.
Third, and most important, the Wolfpack (4-3, 1-2) has struggled because of injuries and poor defense. So unless Wilson is a combination of Troy Polamalu and Jonas Salk, he wouldn't have cured N.C. State's ills.
With a game Thursday at suddenly surging Miami, Virginia has little time to address its ills.
"We'll see," London said, "how resilient we can be. … Obviously there were a lot of disappointments out there today."
David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP