Ball State blasts Virginia, 48-27
Offensive miscues allow Cardinals to pull away with 31-10 second half scoring edge
After scoring just three points against Pittsburgh, Virginia sought to find offensive production wherever it could against Ball State. Initially, it seemed to be working, as Virginia matched the Cardinals drive for drive, but after halftime, the effort fell apart.
Defensive miscues and careless penalties gave Ball State (5-1, 2-0 MAC) good field position time and time again, and the Cardinals took advantage, pulling away in the third quarter as the Cavaliers (2-3, 0-1 ACC) failed to provide many answers. Virginia racked up 459 yards of total offense but it was mostly in vain, as Ball State used a 31-10 second half scoring run to win 48-27.
“It was embarrassing,” coach Mike London said. “To have that happen here at home — it’s a good football team, I got to give them the credit — but you can’t have that many penalties, you can’t turn the ball over and you have to be able to do something to stop the run and particularly the passing game.”
Going into the week, London had stated a desire to make a change in the passing game, listing all receivers on the roster as starters. On the first play of the game, true freshman Keeon Johnson and redshirt freshman Kyle Dockins lined up on either side of the field. Johnson and Dockins combined for just one reception in the first half, but the passing game overall seemed to be in a much better place than it was against Pittsburgh.
Sophomore quarterback David Watford went 14-for-23 for 149 yards in the first half, highlighted by a 46-yard pass to senior Tim Smith, the longest by a receiver all year. Watford added 57 yards on 7 rushes in the half, and electrified the crowd with a flip over the pylon on a 27-yard touchdown run.
Watford’s run put Virginia ahead 17-7 in the second quarter, and it looked as though many of the Cavalier’s previous issues had been fixed. Ball State fought back, though, getting a field goal and an 11-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Keith Wenning to junior wide receiver Willie Snead to send the game into halftime tied.
After the break, though, the wheels fell off for the Virginia offense. After stopping Ball State on a three-and-out, Cavalier junior tailback Kevin Parks fumbled the ball on Virginia’s 32-yard line. The controversial call was upheld after replay, and Ball State took advantage of the good field position, taking the lead on a rushing touchdown by Wenning.
“I’ve just got to take care of the ball,” Parks said of the fumble. “The guy made a great strip but I’ve got to hang on to it. It was a big play in the game, and I need to hold on to the ball. In my opinion, I thought I was down [prior to the fumble].”
Virginia responded from the 24-17 deficit, tying the game on Parks’ second two-yard rushing touchdown of the afternoon. After the Cavalier defense stopped the Cardinals on their next drive, Watford threw a costly interception to senior cornerback Jeffery Garrett in Virginia’s own territory. Ball State scored just two plays later to move ahead 31-24.
“He has to be accountable, responsible for the throws that he makes and we got to be accountable, responsible for the routes that we run,” London said. “The whole passing game, the guys have to be in tune to what going on. It looked like out there today guys weren’t as in tune as we need to be, because of the turnovers.”
In their subsequent comeback attempt, the Cavaliers were often held back by their own mental mistakes. The team committed 13 penalties for 93 yards Saturday — by far the most they have had all season. Seven of the penalties resulted in first downs for Ball State, and Virginia had two touchdowns passes called back due to penalties.
“[We had] a lack of poise,” London said. “I can probably count three or four of them that extended the drive … That’s something that hurts you. You’ve got to have poise in those situations, and we just didn’t play very smart today.”
Ball State added two more touchdowns — one on a 72-yard pass from Wenning — and Virginia’s normally stout pass defense looked ill-fitted to stop them, even before giving up ground on penalties. The Cardinal offense finished with 506 total yards and 29 first downs on a humbling day for the Cavalier defense.
“You have to turn around and you got to be resilient, you got to bounce back from that,” London said. “We didn’t do a very good job of bouncing back today. Even with the sudden changes, they ran their offense, give all the credit to the quarterback, he knows their system in a very efficient manner. They outplayed us in every aspect, and they deserved to win.”
With seven games left to play, Virginia has time to address the mistakes that it has made throughout a disappointing start to the season. But the players still found the ineffectiveness Saturday disconcerting.
“It’s frustrating,” senior guard Luke Bowanko said. “You can talk about having seven games left and more football to play, but I’ve been here for a long time in this situation, and at some point, I can’t help you, the coaches can’t help you, you got to help yourself.”
After two straight demoralizing losses, London finds his team — and himself as a coach — in a concerning position. For now, at least, he is just focused on moving forward after starting 2-3 for the third time in four years at the University.
“My goal is to make sure that we do what we need to help these players be successful,” London said. “That’s what I’m committed to doing. I go to work everyday with that mindset … The players come to play … They’re not quitting in that locker room in there. They want to come back again tomorrow and get ready for the seven games left in this season.”