North Carolina 7,
The euphoria following Virginia's upset of Florida State last week temporarily masked any concerns about an offense that had turned stagnant by game's end. The last traces of that euphoria were stripped away by Saturday afternoon, and underneath, the offensive decay remained.
With quarterback Marques Hagans apparently limited by the lingering effects of a right hamstring injury, the No. 23 Cavaliers failed to score a touchdown in a 7-5 loss to North Carolina that was every bit as ugly as the final score would suggest.
The Tar Heels (3-3, 2-1 ACC) had given up a school-record 69 points and 451 yards in their previous outing, a loss to Louisville. Against that same North Carolina defense, in front of an announced crowd of 52,000, Virginia's offense managed just three points and a season-low 199 yards. Their most productive plays of the game? A pair of 13-yard passes in the fourth quarter.
"Nothing worked," said Brad Butler, who moved from right tackle to right guard when Marshal Ausberry went down with an ankle injury. "Special teams, defense, they did a great job. We just didn't do our part."
The 12 total points were the fewest in a Virginia game since 1981, the fewest in a North Carolina game since 1980.
Still, there were chances for the Cavaliers (4-3, 2-3) to escape with a win and continue the momentum from last week's apparent breakthrough victory. The what-ifs began with a 32-yard missed field goal attempt by Connor Hughes in the first half, his first miss in 10 chances.
They continued with a dropped pass by Fontel Mines at the 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers got their only offensive points on that possession, but a touchdown would have given them the lead. A trip into North Carolina territory later in the fourth quarter ended when Hagans was sacked on third down, forcing a punt.
"We had the opportunity to make a couple plays; we didn't make the plays," said Virginia Coach Al Groh, whose team fell to 1-3 on the road. "We wish we had, but we didn't, and we have the result that we have."
Finally, there was the bizarre final three minutes, which proved a fitting end for an afternoon of tedium. A punt return gave Virginia the ball at the North Carolina 38-yard line, but two plays covered two yards and Hagans then threw his only interception of the game.
It gets weirder. North Carolina ran the ball twice and would have faced third and short with 64 seconds remaining, but Virginia elected to accept a holding penalty, leading to a replay of second down. And by the time the Tar Heels ran twice more and then punted, there was no time left on the clock.
Groh said he accepted the penalty to try to prevent the Tar Heels from getting a first down.
"In that particular case your only option is to guard your opportunity to get the ball back, because if you don't get the ball back, you have no chance to win the game," he said by way of explanation.
In any case, there were plenty of problems in the preceding 59 minutes. North Carolina, for example, had the worst rushing offense in the ACC and the 110th worst in the country, but the Tar Heels racked up a season-high 172 yards on the ground.
And the Virginia offense picked up exactly where it had left off against Florida State, when it had scored three points in the second half and amassed zero yards of offense in the fourth quarter.
The trip to North Carolina was equally grim. The Cavaliers didn't gain a first down through the first 19 minutes. Their offense didn't score until Hughes connected from 37 yards early in the fourth quarter, in the process becoming the school's career leading scorer. That field goal broke the offense's streak of more than 72 consecutive scoreless minutes.
The Cavaliers, who fell to fifth place in the ACC's Coastal Division, now have two weeks to regroup before Temple, Division I-A's official pinata, arrives in Charlottesville. They might be advised, though, not to take anything for granted.
"We thought we were going to come in here and I guess blow [North Carolina] out, and it just didn't happen," Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. "This is college football. You can lose to anybody."
Cavaliers Notes: In addition to Ausberry, defensive lineman Ron Darden (head), running back Michael Johnson (ankle) and defensive lineman Vince Redd (head) were sidelined at the end of the game. North Carolina cornerback Jacoby Watkins broke his right leg and will be out the rest of the season.