Virginia Coach Mike London was already feeling pressure from fans upset at the extended losing streak that has derailed the Cavaliers’ season for a second-consecutive year. But his latest game-management blunder in Saturday’s 35-25 loss to Georgia Tech may have provided more ammunition, and now London is looking for some answers.
Already with a reputation for shaky decisions — Virginia hired associate head coach Tom O’Brien this offseason to help him from the coaches’ booth — London watched his team drive all the way down to Georgia Tech’s 2-yard line with a chance to potentially take the lead heading into halftime this week.
On first-and-goal, Virginia elected to hand the ball off to tailback Kevin Parks and the play ended with about 11 seconds remaining in the second quarter. But before the Cavaliers were awarded their final timeout, five seconds ran off the clock. London has since asked for an explanation as to what happened.
“I’ll tell you, I called timeout with about 11 seconds left on the clock to my sideline official. How and why the clock was allowed to go down to six seconds, I’m still waiting for an explanation, and that’s all I’m able to tell you right now,” London said Sunday night during his weekly teleconference.
“I was running around, yelling and getting in faces and calling timeouts to make sure we’re not wasting any seconds. The play that Kevin Parks ran, I believe there were 16 seconds on the clock and even before he was down, as I said, I called timeout with 11 seconds left to the official that I’m responsible to call it to, and like I said, I’m waiting for an explanation of the mechanics that go into stopping the clock.”
Perhaps more confusing, though, is the play Virginia decided to call after the timeout. With just six seconds remaining, the Cavaliers brought their jumbo package onto the field and used Parks on a running play again. When he was stopped for no gain at Georgia Tech’s 1-yard line, the half ended and Virginia came away with no points.
London was quick to point out this wasn’t the only reason Virginia suffered another disappointing setback — they couldn’t score any points off of five Georgia Tech turnovers and their defense allowed nine plays of at least 24 yards and 394 total rushing yards — but calling a pass play would have perhaps given Virginia another opportunity to score a touchdown, or at least a chance to attempt a field goal.
The inability to power through the goal line bothered London more than the curious decision to run the ball without any way of stopping the clock again.
“It’s on the 1-yard line and even with what we just talked about, the opportunity with one play left to score a touchdown...our team needs to learn how to win and know how to win and that opportunity right there presented itself,” London said. “To speak to why we’re not getting it in would have to deal with execution or lack thereof, but not for the lack of trying or sending the message that if you’re gonna be a good football team, you want to win football games, you’re gonna have to be able to break a situation where you’re on the 1-yard line and have a chance to score.”
The sequence was particularly disheartening considering Virginia had shown improvement in short-yardage situations throughout a winless October. After going 12 for 29 (41.4 percent) on third and fourth down when needing four yards or less to convert through five games against Football Bowl Subdivision competition, the Cavaliers have converted more than 68 percent of the time in that situation the past three weeks.
The end of the first half did not technically fall into that category because Parks’s final run came on second down. Virginia also dominated time of possession against the Yellow Jackets, one of two teams in the country that controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes per game entering Saturday. But coming up short in crucial situations is why the Cavaliers have seen their losing streak stretch to five games now.
“We want to be able to get to the point where our execution is such that we’re talking about a close win and it’s been a few games here now that not executing in the very end or not executing at critical times has put us in position not to win games,” London said.
Note: London was unsure Sunday if injured cornerbacks Demetrious Nicholson (turf toe) or Maurice Canady would practice this week after missing Saturday’s game. Defensive tackle Brent Urban is out of a walking boot after suffering a high ankle sprain, but his availability for this week’s game against Clemson is also uncertain at this time.