Virginia football brought back to earth after 34-14 loss to Florida State

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010; 12:00 AM

CHARLOTTESVILLE - What does a team take out of a contest that deflated its home stadium by the end of the first half and stunted the optimism that many of its fans had entering the weekend?

After all, those fans were there to see a Virginia football team that had hung tight against No. 18 Southern California three weeks ago in a 17-14 loss. But the 34-14 thrashing the Cavaliers suffered Saturday at the hands of Florida State yielded an entirely different reaction.

Just ask first-year Virginia Coach Mike London, who declared after Saturday's loss that "it was game four. It's easy to get discouraged and throw the players and the coaches under the bus and things like that, but we're not going to do that. It's early in the season for us. You're not as good as you think you are sometimes, and we're not as bad as people think sometimes."

Earlier in the week, London had said that the Cavaliers (2-2, 0-1 ACC) still were in the process of discovering their identity as a team. For instance, Virginia was not a squad prone to missed tackles before Saturday's game. And yet London said missed tackles contributed heavily to what he considered the most disappointing aspect of the loss: Florida State rushed for 256 yards on 42 carries.

Midway through the first quarter, Seminoles tailback Jermaine Thomas took a handoff to the right, broke a tackle attempt by sophomore Devin Wallace and sprinted 70 yards for a touchdown. Thomas averaged 7.6 yards on 16 attempts Saturday.

"On a younger team like our guys, the psychological effect is you let the wind out of you," London said. "An older team, a more experienced team, you're like: 'Hey, that's one play. Let's bounce back from that and let's just do better the next time.' . . . I think we're somewhere in the mix of that."

Thomas scored on a 10-yard run with just more than 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter after rolling over junior cornerback Chase Minnifield's back and into the end zone.

The Seminoles (4-1, 2-0) proved elusive on both ends of the field Saturday. Fifth-year Virginia quarterback Marc Verica was sacked four times, though offensive coordinator Bill Lazor acknowledged there were times when Verica held on to the ball too long. Redshirt freshman quarterback Ross Metheny entered the game for one series in the fourth quarter and was sacked twice.

London had lauded the speed of Florida State's defense throughout the week, but it was miscommunication after the ball was snapped that led to many of Virginia's early pass protection issues, according to senior guard B.J. Cabbell.

"I feel like we're playing in the mud sometimes," Cabbell said. "I wouldn't say it was the games that defensive linemen play, but I would pretty much say probably how the flow of the game was. In the first half, we would hit 'em with one play and then we're expecting something. And when that something doesn't happen, they counter it. So we were looking for something, but it wasn't there."

Virginia tallied 25 rushing yards against the Seminoles and converted on 3 of 13 third downs. The offense showed signs of life during a third quarter in which Verica threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to junior wideout Kris Burd. But Verica also threw two second-half interceptions that helped prevent the Cavaliers from climbing out of the 27-point hole they'd dug themselves before halftime.

Lazor said the quarterback should be concentrating downfield rather than watching for the pass rush, but Verica noted that's sometimes easier said than done.

"Any quarterback, after he's been hit or sacked a few times, I think the clock might start ticking a little faster in his head," Verica said. "But it really shouldn't be. And at times I started rushing things. I wasn't letting things develop downfield, so I have to do a better job of just hanging in there and staying with the right tempo to let the offense develop."

After soundly defeating division I-AA opponents in two of their first three contests, the Cavaliers were given a harsh welcome into ACC play. Virginia's players said they understand the level of competition the rest of the season will be similar to what they faced against the Seminoles, which again raised the question: What did they take out of Saturday's defeat?

"For real, in the first half, it wasn't us," Cabbell said. "I don't know what it was. It just wasn't us. We weren't playing to our full potential. Not at all."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company