CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — One week after Virginia’s defense was dominant and its offense inept, the Cavaliers did a role reversal in a loss to Ball State: The offense put up a season high 27 points, but the defense fell apart.
And they didn’t wait long to start crumbling.
The Cardinals arrived at Scott Stadium having scored a touchdown on their opening possession in every game, and Virginia was determined to stop that streak. It did, forcing a punt after two first downs.
“We were very confident coming off the field on that drive,” defensive end Eli Harold said, “but they came back and responded,” driving 83 yards in five plays for a go-ahead touchdown run.
“That really got us down and we never got back up,” Harold said.
Virginia eventually went ahead 17-7, but faded quickly thanks to a well-worn recipe for failure: 13 penalties, many of which sustained drives for Ball State, four turnovers and allowing 506 yards.
Virginia (2-3, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) hopes to have a lot of that corrected Saturday at Maryland. The Terps (4-1, 0-1) are hurting, too, coming off an embarrassing 63-0 loss to No. 6 Florida State.
Cavaliers coach Mike London, whose team held Pittsburgh to 199 yards two weeks ago but lost 14-3 because its offense couldn’t make any plays, said the turnaround is frustrating, but fixable.
“Perhaps maybe focus; attention to detail at that moment, at the precise moment that it calls for you to be at your best,” London said of a possible cause. “… That has to be addressed and it has to be fixed. We’ve got to keep talking about it and keep harping on it until it becomes kind of ingrained.”
Harold said the tone of the defense, which came into the game ranked 16th in the country in total defense, spiraled downhill, and continued to suffer as the Cardinals continued making big plays.
The big plays contributed to penalties against Virginia, too.
Harold was called for a hit to the head on Cardinals’ quarterback Keith Wenning during a sack, and personal foul — one of four against the Cavaliers — for pushing a player down and a grabbing the facemask penalty.
“Like I said, when something happens that you don’t expect, it was a blow because they did it so quick,” Harold said of the first scoring drive. “I was like, ‘What are we doing? Is it the line? Is it the linebackers not reading their keys right? The secondary?’ We didn’t know what it was.
“That’s why we we’re like hanging our heads, you know, and a couple guys got beat, and during the whole course of the game, those guy that were getting beat were just hanging their heads. The energy was horrible. (Safeties coach Anthony Poindexter) was yelling at us. No one was … I don’t know what it was.”
The frailty of the Cavaliers’ confidence wasn’t helped by the crowd, Harold said. The announced attendance of 38,228 was the smallest at Scott Stadium since 2010, and it was vocally negative.
“There was not that many people at the game,” Harold said. “The crowd behind us is yelling at us, I mean, they’re our fans. It’s like they’re for the other team. And that all comes in play to winning.
“Like I said, when you hear things, it causes a cancer and causes you to act a certain way.”
And when the results are like they were last week, he said, it makes you not want to do it again.
“The game plan was there. We failed to do some things that would allow us to create turnovers or whatever, but I’ve got to personally man up when some things don’t go my way,” he said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of executing.”
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