Don't be conned by spin doctors, delusional fans or hollow touchdowns. Virginia's football team was embarrassingly inept Saturday.
Yes, the opponent was 16th-ranked Texas Christian. And yes, the final score was a reasonable 30-14.
But two scoring passes in the final 4:30 against reserve defensive backs don't erase 55 minutes of impotence. They don't excuse timid play-calling, defensive breakdowns and special teams gaffes.
The issue isn't losing. The Cavaliers simply aren't as talented as the Horned Frogs.
The issue is coaching. The Cavaliers, particularly their offense and special teams, appear to have little direction, cohesion, or core philosophy.
Yes, that's an indictment of head coach Al Groh. No, that's not a call for his immediate resignation or dismissal — though an in-season change might be warranted absent rapid and considerable progress.
Indeed, two weeks into a 12-game schedule, it's difficult to imagine Virginia any lower.
An opening loss to William and Mary, the Cavaliers' first to a FCS program in 23 years, was disheartening for the faithful. Saturday was downright depressing as Virginia's new spread offense generated 80 yards, four first downs and no points through three quarters.
And that's not all. The home crowd of 48,336 was the smallest at Scott Stadium since a 1999 game against Buffalo.
Those who did show up were not bashful about expressing their displeasure, not at the young men mind you, but at their coaches. Moreover, they streamed for the exits after a third quarter in which TCU outgained Virginia 137-8.
With fans speaking not only with their voices, but also their wallets, rest assured suits such as athletic director Craig Littlepage and outgoing president John Casteen are listening.
"We haven't given them very much to be positive about," Groh said.
Where to start?
Groh's defense — he's the coordinator — had its moments, stopping the Horned Frogs (1-0) on 10 of 11 third downs. Still, the Cavaliers yielded 203 yards rushing (no push up front and some poor tackling), a 31-yard touchdown pass (preseason all-ACC cornerback Ras-I Dowling took a poor angle) and a critical 19-yard completion.
Special teams coordinator Ron Prince watched his bunch botch a first-quarter field goal attempt as Vic Hall, limited solely to holding duties by a sore hip, failed to handle a high snap from Danny Aiken. Later, Chase Minnifield fair-caught a punt at his own 3 rather than let it bound into the end zone for a touchback, and tight end Joe Torchia was stuffed on a fake punt from midfield.
But for the second consecutive outing, the primary problem was coordinator Gregg Brandon's offense. After managing a paltry 268 yards and two scores against William and Mary, the Cavaliers netted 177 Saturday, 82 on Jameel Sewell's two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
Sewell was sacked eight times, the most Virginia's surrendered in a game since 1997 against Florida State, and never attempted a down field pass until the waning moments, when the count was 30-love. Groh maintained that some of the sacks derailed plays designed to go deep, but even if true, the offense's passive approach was startling.
Consider the play clock. Before almost every snap, Virginia allowed the clock to tick inside five seconds.
Groh said this was to counter the Horned Frogs' time-of-possession, a stat in which they led the country last season. It didn't work. TCU owned the ball for 34:49, while Virginia wasted time and allowed the defense to dictate.
Also for the second straight week, the Cavaliers' tailbacks were invisible. Mikell Simpson rushed for 32 yards on eight carries, giving him 64 yards in two games.
"We're close," said true freshman receiver Tim Smith, who caught a 26-yard touchdown pass. "We have the capability. It's just small mistakes."
And elephantine mistakes such as dropped passes, whiffed pass blocks and called short-side sweeps on third-and-8.
"We just couldn't execute," said offensive tackle Will Barker, a starter last season when Virginia never yielded more than two sacks in a game.
"Clearly, we need to play a lot better," Groh echoed.
In a hurry. The Cavaliers' next two games are on the road, at Southern Mississippi and North Carolina, both of which earned bowl bids last season.
Groh praised fans who enthusiastically greeted the team at the stadium Saturday, but if Virginia returns 0-4 for homecoming against Indiana, those folks might be carrying torches and pitchforks.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.