The Washington Post

Virginia football vs. Oregon: Cavs no match for dominant Ducks

Oregon defensive back Terrance Mitchell (27) celebrates his interception with defensive tackle Ricky Havili-Heimuli (90) and linebacker Rodney Hardrick (48) against Virginia. (Andrew Shurtleff/AP)

For a brief moment Saturday, it appeared Virginia might turn Oregon’s first trip to the East Coast since 1970 into an uncomfortable one. When running back Khalek Shepherd burst through the line of scrimmage and Scott Stadium erupted late in the first quarter, the Cavaliers seemed unfazed by the Ducks’ dazzling offense and fancy uniforms.

But holding off an Oregon onslaught is easier said than done, and it wasn’t long before Virginia became the Ducks’ latest victim. Done in by their own miscues and an array of big plays, the Cavaliers were no match for No. 2 Oregon, falling, 59-10, before a crowd of 58,502.

The manner in which Virginia (1-1) lost, rather than the actual outcome, will perplex the Cavaliers’ coaches heading into a bye week. A week after an encouraging 19-16 victory over BYU, Virginia helped Oregon’s cause with gaffes on special teams, turnovers and an offense that struggled to sustain drives.

Cavaliers quarterback David Watford completed 29 of 41 passes but only threw for 161 yards with offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild keeping the game plan conservative. The sophomore, making just his second career start, also threw three interceptions and fumbled late in the third quarter after right tackle Jay Whitmire (T.C. Williams) was beaten cleanly on a speed rush by Oregon defensive end Tony Washington.

Watford shouldered much of the blame for the loss.

“It wasn’t really the offense. It was me,” he said. “I executed not to the caliber I wanted to. I made three costly mistakes, three costly turnovers. It wasn’t the offense’s fault as a whole. It was my fault. I take the blame solely.”

But Coach Mike London suggested during his postgame news conference the issues could be deeper than simply the struggles of an inexperienced quarterback.

Though Shepherd made things interesting when he cut Oregon’s lead to 21-7 with a 45-yard touchdown run with 45 seconds left in the first quarter, the Cavaliers’ offense was mostly stagnant otherwise.

The Cavaliers gained just 298 yards on 86 plays and averaged 3.2 yards per carry a week after mustering only 223 yards against BYU.

With a chance to cut Oregon’s lead even further — Virginia’s defense forced two straight three-and-outs after Shepherd’s score — the Cavaliers’ offense went quiet and squandered the momentum near the end of the first half. After a fourth-and-goal stand by defensive tackle Brent Urban that allowed Virginia to enter halftime down by 18, the Cavaliers started the third quarter with another three-and-out series. They were outscored by Oregon, 31-0, in the second half.

Virginia’s two leading receivers were tight ends Jake McGee (eight catches, 53 yards) and Zach Swanson (four catches, 43 yards), although a penalty by McGee negated a fourth-quarter touchdown catch by wide receiver Dominique Terrell. One play later, Oregon cornerback Dior Mathis returned a Watford interception 97 yards to set up the Ducks’ final score of the afternoon, a one-yard plunge by running back Thomas Tyner.

Virginia’s longest reception went for 16 yards since Fairchild’s conservative game plan called for Watford to keep the ball away from talented Oregon cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olumu.

“We need to find out what our identity is going to be. Does it entail the quarterback running more? Is it a personnel issue or schematic or whatever it may be?” London said. “We want to run the ball. We want to be committed to running the ball, but we’ve got to find those guys that can run it and move the chains for us.”

Oregon (2-0) had no such issues. The Ducks got a 71-yard touchdown run by quarterback Marcus Mariota on their first drive, a 40-yard touchdown run from running back De’Anthony Thomas and blocked a punt that Thomas turned into another touchdown, all in the first quarter.

Before the game was 11 minutes old, Oregon had built a 21-0 lead. The Ducks later had one drive that covered 80 yards in 41 seconds.

Its longest touchdown drive of the day — and for that matter, this season — lasted 3 minutes 8 seconds.

Mariota finished the game with 199 passing yards, 122 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. Thomas ran for 124 yards and scored three touchdowns as Oregon racked up 557 total yards. The Ducks averaged 8.8 yards per carry.

“Their speed was something that we’ve never really seen before,” Virginia linebacker Daquan Romero said. “There were a whole lot of missed assignments.”

Virginia actually postponed a game at Penn State to face Oregon this year and entered Saturday well aware it would take a near-flawless effort to upset the Ducks. By the end of the afternoon, however, fans in Scott Stadium had begun to grumble about Fairchild’s predictable play-calling.

Perhaps it was because they only needed to glance over at the visitor’s sideline for evidence of what a prolific offense can look like.

“They’re ranked number two for a reason,” Swanson said.

Mark Giannotto is a Montgomery County native who covers high school sports for The Washington Post. He previously covered Virginia and Virginia Tech football for five years.



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