Blowout loss to Oregon was good experience overall for Virginia
A crowd of 58,502 was on hand to witness the brutal 59-10 thrashing No. 2 Oregon doled out to Virginia Saturday afternoon — the largest crowd at Scott Stadium since a 38-0 blowout loss to Virginia Tech in the final game of the 2011 season. That fact was not lost on many of the Cavalier players.
“We let a lot of fans down,” junior linebacker Daquan Romero said. “But as a team we have to bounce back. We can’t dwell on this moment, we still have a whole lot of games to play.”
Still, judging from the hordes of airplane-size liquor bottles, as well as a few larger containers left in the stands after the game, I can’t help but think at least a few Virginia fans enjoyed themselves Saturday in spite of the game. It was the outcome that many expected, but had hoped wouldn’t materialize.
As the merciless Oregon onslaught marched forward throughout the game, the contingent of Virginia fans questioning why their team would schedule a game against such a juggernaut opponent — born the moment the game was announced Jan. 28 — swelled. Some went so far as to advocate firing coach Mike London and Executive Associate Athletic Director Jon Oliver, who announced the matchup.
That opinion is ludicrous.
I’m not evaluating London or Oliver’s job performance. I am criticizing the idea that Virginia shouldn’t schedule marquee opponents just because they are highly ranked or a perennial football powerhouse. Nobody appreciates watching their team get spanked on ABC and ESPN2 for the whole country to see, but the opportunity to play the No. 2 team in the country on national television — not to mention hosting Oregon’s first-ever trip to an ACC venue — provides exposure that this football team can’t afford to refuse.
Yes, the Cavaliers were more than likely not prepared to compete against the high-flying, chromed-out Ducks, but it’s what a young team needs in order to understand what it takes to be a national competitor.
“We respect everyone that we play, but you don’t fear them or else you shouldn’t be playing in sports,” London said. “I think the first two games being challenging will kind of dictate the way that we approach our offseason right after spring practice, how the guys work in the summer months and the early part of August. We have an open week coming up and we have a chance to improve ourselves — that’s what we want to do.”
This game was the archetypal David and Goliath matchup, and no team left on the schedule — with the possible exception of Clemson — will be able to put up points on the Cavaliers in the demoralizing fashion that Oregon was able to this weekend. Though they were thoroughly humbled by the Ducks, Virginia players were adamant that they valued the experience to see how they measured up against one of the best.
“It’s something that brings you down to reality,” junior safety Anthony Harris said. “You want to play the best talent. Had you not scheduled a game like this you’d never know where you are. Playing a big team like that allows you to see firsthand what it takes to be a national contender, so I think it’s a great learning experience.”
The overabundance of hype coming into the game likely pumped up some Cavalier players. The defense in particular played aggressively and appeared ready to hold its own against the Ducks. Call me a lunatic, but aside from Marcus Mariota’s early 71-yard touchdown run, the unit impressed me against Oregon’s high-octane offense, especially given the short fields that the Virginia offense and special teams units gifted the Ducks on multiple occasions.
Senior defensive tackle Brent Urban blocked an early PAT and stuffed running back Byron Marshall on 4th-and-goal from inside the Virginia one-yard line. The defense as a whole forced Oregon’s first four punts of the season and allowed its opponents to convert just 3-of-10 third downs. In spite of the blowout score, the Cavaliers still believe they are good enough to compete with the likes of the Ducks.
“I would be lying if I said it was just another game,” Romero said. “To play a team like Oregon, it’s a good experience for all of us. If it weren’t for the mistakes we made, we are a good enough football team to have stayed in that game.”
There were a slew of Virginia recruits in Charlottesville for Saturday’s game, which could be an unsettling truth to anyone invested in the future of Virginia football. Rivals’ No. 12 national prospect Andrew Brown, a defensive tackle and Virginia commit, was on the sideline before the game. So was uncommitted defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, the No. 41 national recruit.
Brown and Nnadi are the top two defensive tackle recruits in the nation and the No. 3 and No. 4 prospects in the state of Virginia, respectively. Though they were likely unimpressed by the Cavaliers’ showing, London believed the recruits could still take positives from their visit.
“We obviously don’t want to have the score as it ended up,” London said. “But you also want to make it known that you’re going to play teams like that. If players are interested in … having the opportunity to play good teams and coming to a great school, I think it’s something we’re building this program off of. I’m quite sure that they were entertained by what they saw, a very good Oregon team — that’s the second best team in the country and they are as advertised.”
London’s message to his own players after the game was that the team endured a tough loss, but they need to move past it. His players seemed to share the mentality and said they won’t allow the loss to linger.
“All we can do is just keep working and working,” junior tailback Khalek Shepherd said. “We can’t worry about the mishaps and the mistakes. We need to come in here every week with a positive mindset and [try] to get better.”