FORT WORTH — Minutes after No. 17 TCU handed Virginia a 27-7 loss Saturday, Cavaliers quarterback Michael Rocco was adamant that he believes in the Virginia offense. He even emphasized the point by telling reporters that Virginia can compete with anybody in the country.
A few feet away, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor echoed those thoughts, declaring he believes in his players and the overall philosophy Virginia is utilizing thus far.
But through four games, belief hasn’t been getting it done on the scoreboard.
With Virginia’s offense sputtering once again, and unable to take advantage when it did move the ball, the Cavaliers suffered their second straight road loss. TCU’s victory extended its national-best winning streak to 11.
But even with the odds stacked against Virginia to begin with, facing a ranked foe in a venue where the Horned Frogs have now won 28 of their past 29 games, there was no masking the issues the Cavaliers’ offense ran into Saturday.
Virginia (2-2) committed four turnovers and converted just one first down with Rocco in the game, negating the Cavaliers’ efforts on an afternoon in which they finally got the running game going. Led by 84 yards from sophomore Kevin Parks, Virginia churned out 164 yards on the ground, the first timeTCU (3-0) has allowed an opponent to eclipse the century mark.
“You can’t give the ball away four times in a situation like that, particularly against a team like that,” said Coach Mike London, who called the errors “unacceptable.”
Rocco finished the game 13 for 28 for 126 yards and two interceptions, and former All-Met Dominique Terrell (Osbourn) had a career-high five catches. Rocco was replaced by backup Phillip Sims early in the fourth quarter and has yet to play a full game this season.
Though Sims led the Cavaliers on a late touchdown drive — finding wide receiver E.J. Scott (Good Counsel) for a five-yard touchdown catch — he didn’t fare much better. The Alabama transfer finished the game 5 for 12 for 63 yards, saw a TCU defender drop a sure-fire interception on the scoring drive and fumbled on Virginia’s final offensive snap of the game.
It was miscues and near misses, not quarterback play, that defined Virginia’s offensive woes.
After falling behind 14-0 after a fumble by Parks early in the second quarter, the Cavaliers finally seemed to gather some steam on a 60-yard drive, their best of the game to that point. Senior running back Perry Jones led the charge, picking up 43 yards on four touches (two rushes, two catches) and becoming the 15th player in school history to eclipse 3,000 all-purpose yards for his career.
But the momentum came to a halt when a third-down pass by Rocco bounced off the hands of tailback Khalek Shepherd and resulted in an interception for TCU linebacker Kenny Cain. The junior signal-caller suffered another interception by Cain on Virginia’s first possession after halftime when he threw behind wide receiver Tim Smith.
After the Cavaliers’ defense held the Horned Frogs to two field goals to start the second half, the Cavaliers had one final shot at making a game of things late in the third quarter. They converted a risky fourth and one from their 25-yard line, and Parks then followed that up with Virginia’s first third-down conversion of the day when he took a designed sweep 49 yards down the sideline, the longest run of the season for the Cavaliers.
But wide receiver Darius Jennings, who saw a long pass bounce off his helmet in the first half, dropped what would have been a touchdown catch over the middle after TCU safety Chris Hackett connected on a big hit and caused an incompletion. Virginia chose to go for it on fourth down again, down 20-0, but Rocco’s pass sailed incomplete out of the end zone.
“I can’t put my finger on it. We’re close. We can see sparks of big-play potential,” said Rocco, who has more interceptions (five) than touchdown passes (four) this season. “We were moving the ball up and down the field, but turnovers and penalties and just missed opportunities got in our own way.”
The final score could’ve been worse if not for a defense that proved much more resilient than in last week’s blowout at Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers allowed 438 yards and gave up a 68-yard touchdown pass to TCU wide receiver Brandon Carter on the opening possession of the game, but they also forced their first two turnovers of the year when the Horned Frogs were in Virginia territory.
That, though, became a moot point with an offense that was supposed to carry an inexperienced defense stuck in neutral again.
“We believe in what we’re doing,” Lazor said after the game. “We believe in the players that we have, and we’ll make sure we’re getting the right people in the right spots.”