If there was one silver lining from Saturday’s anemic offensive showing, it’s that Virginia’s defense looks to be the sort of outfit will keep the Cavaliers close in every game. Oregon game aside, defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has worked wonders with this unit.
3. Mike London’s game management remains an issue.
There was plenty of debate in the press box over whether London should have tried to kick field goals in the first half when the Cavaliers faced fourth-and-short situations, particularly since place kicker Ian Frye would have been kicking into the side of Heinz Field that generates swirling winds from the Allegheny River.
But the bottom line is that if Frye makes just one of those two field goals, the Cavaliers are in a one-score game entering the fourth quarter. Then, when Virginia had a chance to extend the game down 14-6 with just less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, London again elected to go for it on fourth down.
When Watford’s pass sailed too high for McGee to corral, Virginia handed the ball over to Pittsburgh down 14-3 and the game was over. Even if you don’t get the onside kick following a field goal, the Panthers would have had to get at least one first down to run the clock out.
London said he consulted with associate head coach Tom O’Brien and running backs coach Larry Lewis when he made the call to go for it. The decision would be easier to overlook if not for London’s track record.
Last year against Virginia Tech, he allowed the Hokies to run down the clock for a game-winning field goal rather than use his timeouts to stop the clock. Helping London with his game management was a big reason why Virginia hired O’Brien this offseason.
And while Saturday’s decisions weren’t as bad as that one last November, London should have a better handle on these sorts of situations at this point.
4. Dominique Terrell’s days as a returner should be numbered.
It was an adventurous day for Terrell, to say the least. On his second punt return of the game, he allowed a bouncing ball to graze his leg when he shouldn’t have even been near it. That led to Pittsburgh’s first touchdown of the game.
On another first-half kickoff, he unintentionally hit a squibbed kickoff and nearly had another turnover. Considering his issues two years ago fielding punts cleanly, it’s a wonder why he continues to get chances back there.
“He’s got to be better at that, or we got to find better.”
A friend on Twitter even reminded me about a 2009 Virginia AAA state playoff game in which a Terrell muffed punt nearly cost Osbourn. Of course, back then, Terrell was so much faster than the competition that he rebounded to account for 271 total yards.
And to Terrell’s credit, he did have a clutch fourth-down catch on Virginia’s lone productive drive of the day during the fourth quarter.
5. The Cavaliers are suddenly staring at an uphill battle in their quest to return to a bowl game.
Road games in the ACC are never gimmes, but with Virginia’s loaded schedule, a win at Pittsburgh would have done wonders for the Cavaliers’ bowl hopes.
Now, Virginia is suddenly looking at a must-win game against a one-loss Ball State team next week, followed by a gantlet of quality ACC teams, including Maryland, Clemson, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia Tech. Even with a win over the Cardinals – not guaranteed — the Cavaliers will need to win two of those conference games to get the requisite six wins for the postseason.
And given the way Virginia’s defense played Saturday, London and company wasted a golden opportunity to secure an ever-elusive road victory.