Whenever I watch The Godfather, my skin crawls when the slimy studio executive Jack Woltz wakes up with his sheets soaked in the blood of his prized racehorse. But I never understood how the man felt until Saturday night, after the University of Virginia’s stunning home loss to the Football Championship Subdivision College of William & Mary, 26-14. The shock, disgust and panic that I and thousands of other UVA fans felt must have been close to what comes with finding a horse’s head under the covers.
The Virginia Cavaliers’ problems began with simply hanging on to the football, and really didn’t go much further than that. Three UVA quarterbacks combined for five of the team’s seven turnovers. Jameel Sewell, returning after an academic suspension in 2008, threw three interceptions, the last one returned for W&M’s final touchdown of the game. Mark Verica, Sewell’s replacement last year, fumbled on a critical fourth quarter drive. And the speedy Vic Hall ran for 58 yards on eight carries but added on a fumble in the second quarter. With the extra opportunities that the turnovers provided, William and Mary made three field goals and scored a defensive touchdown.
The game was the debut of Virginia’s new offensive coordinator, Gregg Brandon. He brought the popular “spread” offense to UVA from Bowling Green, hoping to breathe some life into an offense the was one of the worst in college football in 2008. But the season opener obviously showed no signs of improvement. The Cavaliers managed only 268 yards of offense, and its possible that the new formation played a part in the rash of turnovers.
Saturday’s game was supposed to be a freebie, a solid win to start off the season before the real challenges began. After losing the game in such a pathetic fashion, I’m bracing for the possibility of a winless season. Virginia will face one of their toughest opponents of the season in their next game against Texas Christian. TCU’s legendary defense is led by Jerry Hughes, a monstrous defensive end who led the nation with 15 sacks last year. It would be amazing if Virginia scores at all. Could they somehow score negative points? The shocking loss to William & Mary makes it seem possible.
The Cavaliers just don’t seem to stack up to any teams in their conference, except maybe Maryland or Duke. Throw in the homecoming game against Indiana, and that leaves only three likely chances for a victory. It seems like a longshot that Virginia’s head coach Al Groh (coming off a 5-7 season) will return for the 2010 season.
I’m not going to give up on the Cavaliers after week one. Its possible that Saturday’s loss will be a learning experience, and the team will go on to play respectably for the rest of the year. The multimillion dollar racehorse that is Virginia football may not be dead just yet. But their awful performance against William & Mary can only mean that the knife is pressed close to its throat.