Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Loss to Miami the culprit

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Miami beat this team twice.

The standings won't show it. The players will never admit it. The coaches will tell you that every game is different, that once one game ends the next begins and all that good stuff, but anybody who saw Saturday's debacle knows better.

The Hurricanes cut Virginia badly last week. The way that thing ended -- the fumbles, the blown coverages, the missed opportunities, the dissolving confidence -- that wasn't going to disappear in six days. Guys could pledge. Guys could hope. Guys could practice hard. But the Cavaliers were clearly still bleeding when they stepped onto BB&T Field.

UVa played like a JV team for three quarters against Wake Forest on Saturday. The result was a deficit too large to overcome and a 28-17 loss. In two weeks -- actually, in five quarters -- the Cavaliers have plummeted from the top of the ACC's Coastal Division to one spot north of the basement.

And while the Demon Deacons deserve credit for whacking the Cavs, they can thank Miami for softening up what used to be a steely underdog.

Scores don't carry over from one week to the next, but negative feelings can. Doubts can. And in this case, they did.

What was once a confident group riding a four-game winning streak came out looking inept and unsure. The Cavaliers played about as lousy as a team can play in the first half. They dropped passes. They jumped offsides. They turned the ball over, squandered short fields, bickered amongst themselves.

Wake led 28-3 before the Cavaliers even threw a punch.

You could say this Virginia team was never that good to begin with, that it was playing above its talent level all along, and maybe that's true.

But the Cavs were great against Maryland, solid against East Carolina, resourceful against North Carolina and resilient against Georgia Tech. Add those characteristics up and you're a player in this league.

Or at least they were.

Until Miami.

"We might have got ahead of ourselves a little bit," UVa tight end John Phillips said. "Coming into this game, we knew we could kind of control our own destiny as far as the ACC went. I think we might have -- I wouldn't say we overlooked them, but we should have screwed down more on them and stopped thinking about the future."

If they'd won that Miami game, that big-picture pressure never would have been a problem.

They could have played this one more loosely knowing that still they had a margin for error. But once the Hurricanes robbed them of that luxury, they became a different team.

"I guess you could say that we understood the direness of this game," UVa safety Byron Glaspy said.

"We knew we couldn't lose this game if we wanted to go to the ACC championship. We had a little bit more leeway last week. We had a game to lose and we could still be in the race."

Gone now. For all practical purposes, the race is now to become bowl-eligible. UVa needs a home win over Clemson or a victory at Virginia Tech to make that happen.

If you're a Cavaliers fan, the guy you have to worry about the most is Cedric Peerman.

He is a positive guy, a spiritual guy who says all the right things, but he's now suffered through two brutal weeks in a row. And without his presence, the Cavs are less than average.

By most accounts, nobody took last week's loss harder than he did. Peerman fumbled on the final play of the game, sealing a 24-17 overtime win for Miami, and he lay on the turf for several moments.

"I have to say it was tough," Peerman said of the Miami loss.

On Saturday, he still looked bothered. He dropped a pass on the second snap of the game. Then, on UVa's second possession, he fumbled the ball away.

Peerman does not fumble. In fact, going into that Miami game, he had lost no fumbles in more than 400 touches.

"I guess it's the Lord's way of humbling me," he said.

They're all humbled now.

Mostly thanks to Miami.

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