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The Cavaliers were unable to keep their momentum going after the blowout victory against Duke a week ago as they fell to the Cardinals 28-21 on Saturday in a disappointing road outing.

With the forecast of bad weather, I had a bad feeling about the game as UVa traveled to take on an improving Louisville team that looks poised to go to a bowl a year after finishing 2-10. I was reminded of another road game played last season in a deluge against a team dressed in red, Indiana. And the game seemed to flow similarly to that loss to the Hoosiers with UVa taking an early lead before falling behind and trying to play catch up late. Both ended on Hail Mary attempts into the end zone that failed.

Virginia had another terrific opportunity to put some distance between itself and the other Coastal contenders and came up short. But the division is so bad that the standings essentially remained the same with Duke losing again and Pittsburgh losing to Miami. But Duke's loss was North Carolina's gain. The Tar Heels, Blue Devils, Cavaliers, and Virginia Tech all are tied with two ACC losses. So Virginia's game this Saturday at Chapel Hill will be for first place -- at least for the time being. The only certain thing in the crazy Coastal is uncertainty.

So how did Virginia drop its third game in a four-contest stretch? Well, I'm not excusing the team again. It was an ugly game, and both players and coaches could've performed better. But, the outcome still came down to just a handful of plays that, had a couple gone UVa's way, I think the result would've been different. Some of these involved bad luck, and some of them were execution errors, or mental errors. This is not every scoring play, because that would be too obvious. But these are plays that I feel turned momentum in Louisville's favor or kept things going in the right direction for it. Let's break them down:

Time: Under five minutes left in first quarter

Score before play: 7-0 UVa

Possession, down, and yardage: Louisville ball, second-and-16 at the Cardinals 23

What happened: Louisville QB Micale Cunningham handed the ball off to Tutu Atwell for a 77-yard touchdown, tying the game at 7. Technically, it was a pass because Atwell was just in front of Cunningham, but for all intents and purposes, it was a run play. This came on Louisville's second drive of the game. On the first, the Cardinals drove down to the 35 of UVa before failing to convert on fourth-and-long. Facing a second-and-long, it was disappointing enough that the Cavaliers gave up a first down, much less a touchdown. A second consecutive stop to start the game by the defense would've been huge, and who knows what the offense could've done had it gotten the ball right back after scoring on its first drive.

 

Time: Under five minutes left in the first quarter

Score before play: 7-7

Possession, down, and yardage: Louisville kicking off to UVa

What happened: Joe Reed had a pretty good chance at scoring on two kickoff returns in this game, and this was his first opportunity. Louisville was smart and kicked away from Reed and to Chris Sharp, who then lateraled to Reed. It was a well-executed play by UVa. Reed got to the Louisville 41, but sort of overran his blocking. He had a chance to go for 6 had he cut to the left once he got to the 30, but he instead got just to the right of his blocker, and it slowed him down.

 

Time: About one minute left in the second quarter

Score before play: 14-7 UVa

Possession, down, and yardage: UVa ball, second-and-6 at the Cardinals 20

What happened: Bryce Perkins threw an inaccurate pass to Terrell Jana and was intercepted by Chandler Jones. I think this might have been the biggest play of the game. UVa seemed like it was on its way to going up 21-7 before halftime. The Cavaliers also got the ball first in the second half. I just feel like had UVa gone up two scores, they would have won. Certainly, Virginia's defense had a harder time stopping the Cardinals once they committed to playing Macale Cunningham at QB, but still, if UVa had taken a 21-7 lead, Louisville probably never would have taken a two-touchdown lead, as it did late in the game, and Virginia just would've had a much better chance overall of controlling the second half.

 

Time: About 11 minutes left in the third quarter

Score before the play: 14-7 UVa

Possession, down, and yardage: Louisville ball, third-and-11 at the Cardinals 10

What happened: Cunningham ran for a 15-yard gain on third-and-long, keeping the drive alive. Absolutely inexcusable from the defense to allow a first down on that type of play. Obviously, had he not gotten it, Louisville would've had to punt from deep on its own end of the field. This is actually the first in a series of three straight third-down conversions that helped turn the tide in the Cardinals' favor.

 

Time: Midway through the third quarter

Score before play: 14-7 UVa

Possession, down, and yardage: Louisville ball, third-and-9 at the Cardinals 26

What happened: Cunningham completed a pass along the sideline for 10 yards to Dez Fitzpatrick with Nick Grant defending. This was the next opportunity for Virginia's defense to get off the field. Instead, it was another clutch play Cunningham made to help the Cardinals continue marching down the field.

 

Time: Midway through the third quarter

Score before play: 14-7 UVa

Possession, down, and yardage: Louisville ball, third-and-3 at the Cardinals 43

What happened: And here's the third third-down conversion. On this one, it looked like the Wahoos were actually going to get off the field as Cunningham delivered an incomplete pass in the direction of Seth Dawkins. But linebacker Jordan Mack was penalized for targeting on the play for his hit on Cunningham. First down Louisville, and the drive continued and, of course, the Cardinals scored a touchdown. Additionally, Mack, a defensive captain and perhaps the second-most important defender after Bryce Hall, was ejected automatically as a result of the penalty. Also, because this happened in the second half, Mack will miss the first half of the game at North Carolina.

 

Time: About two minutes left in the third quarter

Score before play: 14-14

Possession, down, yardage: UVa punting to Louisville from the Cavaliers 21

What happened: Rodjay Burns returned the punt 34 yards to the UVa 31. Louisville did not end up scoring on this drive, but still, the return kept momentum in the Cardinals' favor and the ball in Virginia territory.

 

Time: About 30 seconds left in the third quarter

Score before play: 14-14

Possession, down, yardage: UVa ball, first-and-10 at the Cavaliers 31

What happened: This is the second big play Reed was involved in, and unfortunately, it went Louisville's way. Perkins completed a short pass to Reed, who was then tackled by Boosie Whitlow, and Reed fumbled. Louisville recovered the ball at UVa's 34 in prime position to take the lead.

 

Time: Fourth quarter just underway

Score before play: 21-14 Louisville

Possession, down, yardage: Louisville kicking off to UVa

What happened: Reed's third big play was another kickoff return, and this one he took the to Louisville 49. Unfortunately, he didn't score. If he had taken at least one of these two great kickoff returns all the way, it is a different game.

 

Time: About five minutes left in the fourth quarter

Score before play: 21-14 Louisville

Possession, down, yardage: UVa ball, third-and-1 at the Cavaliers 29

What happened: UVa's drive started at its own 1-yard line, so it had some momentum going. Rather than run the ball, something Virginia did well at times against Louisville, Perkins threw an incomplete pass toward Jana more than 10 yards down the field. So not only was it not a run play, but it wasn't even a short pass. The play didn't make sense, but that happens too often in Robert Anae's offense. Wayne Tualapapa rushed for 54 yards on 11 carries (4.9 ypc). Give him a chance to get the first down against a defense that came into the game weak against the run.

Clearly, there were other plays that didn't go Virginia's way in a game in which the offense compiled just 311 yards, but these stuck out when looking at all sides of the ball. These were the type of plays that went the Cavaliers' way against Duke, because in that matchup, UVa still only produced 310 yards, but scored 48 points (with one TD from Reed on a kickoff return).

There's still time for Virginia to turn this into a special season, but inconsistency and offensive woes are holding the team back. It will get another shot to remain in first place in the division Saturday in the South's Oldest Rivalry.