With the cautious optimism of Virginia's season-opening victory at North Carolina shattered by a 33-14 loss to Clemson Saturday, Coach George Welsh spent the weekend trying to figure out what went wrong.
"Mentally, we weren't ready," said Welsh, whose team is out of the top 25 for the first time since 1997. "There's no question. We made too many mental mistakes."
Said guard Noel LaMontagne: "Some losses you like to forget. That's one I don't think we should."
The young defense was shredded by Tigers senior quarterback Brandon Streeter for a school-record 343 yards. Welsh said Streeter was releasing the ball quickly, making it difficult for the defensive line to reach him before the pass was thrown; the Cavaliers had only one sack. Welsh said the defensive end spot, depleted by injuries to Monsanto Pope (knee) and Travis Griffith (back and ankle), must put better pressure on the quarterback in order to help the inexperienced secondary.
"I know I belabor the pass rush, but when they are getting rid of the ball that quickly, it's difficult to get to" the quarterback, Welsh said. "You have to cover the wide receivers tighter. We didn't have the people to cover them."
The secondary, depleted by injuries to senior cornerback Dwayne Stukes (quadriceps and hip) and senior cornerback-safety Antwan Harris (hamstring), started a sophomore (cornerback Jermaine Lauzon) and two redshirt freshmen (safeties Shernard Newby and Chris Williams) along with junior cornerback Tim Spruill.
"Between the five guys we had back there, we had 10 critical breakdowns in coverage," Welsh said. "There's always some of those, but we had a lot."
Welsh said Harris and Stukes are not likely to practice this week, which means they probably won't play Saturday against Wake Forest. They are expected to play against Brigham Young on Sept. 25. Spruill and Lauzon are listed as starters at cornerback on the depth chart, while Newby and Williams are tabbed as the safeties. Stukes is not listed, while Harris is listed at second-string at cornerback and safety.
The defense's miscues gave the Cavaliers' offense little room for error, particularly inside the opponent's 20-yard line. In the first two games, Virginia got into the red zone seven times but came away with just three touchdowns and a field goal. The Cavaliers were inside the Tigers 20 five times Saturday and produced two touchdowns, a missed field goal, a fumble by tailback Thomas Jones and a turnover on downs.
"The offense has to execute better," Welsh said. "When we get down into the red zone, we have got to score. We haven't scored a touchdown in the first half yet. That's not good."