CHARLOTTESVILLE — It happened so fast that Virginia fans weren’t sure how to react.
The Cavaliers went from giving No. 7 UCLA everything it could handle to getting blown out like everybody expected to another quarterback controversy, all in three minutes of action Saturday in their season opener.
The Cavaliers entered halftime trailing the heavily favored Bruins, 21-10, on the heels of three defensive touchdowns by the Bruins. But the end of the second quarter caught everyone at Scott Stadium by surprise.
After a fumble by Virginia wide receiver Kyle Dockins led to a 75-yard touchdown by UCLA defensive back Randall Goforth with two minutes 55 seconds left in the half, Cavaliers starting quarterback Greyson Lambert trotted onto the field for one last drive and his team trailing, 14-3.
But UCLA’s Eric Kendricks, who had forced Dockins’s fumble, intercepted a lazy, bad-footed pass by Lambert and returned it 37 yards for another Bruins score. Lambert simply jogged after Kendricks without making much of an attempt at a tackle. It was his second pick six after having a deflected pass returned 20 yards for a touchdown by UCLA’s Ishmael Adams early in the second quarter.
By the time Virginia’s offense re-appeared on the field, redshirt sophomore Matt Johns was under center after Coach Mike London spent the entire offseason supporting Lambert’s ascension to the starting role.
And in a flash, Johns created controversy. He found wide receiver Canaan Severin for a 32-yard catch, Virginia’s longest play of the game to that point and, two snaps later, hit wideout Andre Levrone (Good Counsel) for a 29-yard touchdown pass that cut UCLA’s lead to 21-10.
The Bruins went on to win, 28-20.
Lambert completed 16 of his 23 passes in the first half, but has just 112 passing yards and two interceptions.
The trio of turnovers wasted a fantastic first-half performance by Virginia’s defense, which limited UCLA to 136 total yards in the first half. Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley connected on a 48-yard pass on UCLA’s first play of the game, but otherwise was swarmed by Virginia’s front seven. The Cavaliers had three first-half sacks and their array of stunts and blitzes befuddled the Bruins’ offensive line.
Virginia also caught a break in the first quarter when an 85-yard punt return by Adams was called back when a UCLA player was given a personal foul penalty for continuing to play after losing his helmet.