​The beginning of the end for Mike London?


Coach Mike London and the Cavaliers suffered a 56-14 defeat against Boise State Friday night at Scott Stadium.

Celina Hu | Cavalier Daily

Like a high school bully squaring off against a younger sibling, Boise State didn’t take long to throw the first punch. It took just 14 seconds for the Broncos to return junior quarterback Matt Johns’ first pass for a touchdown.

And the Broncos kept punching. And punching.

Virginia was dominated in the trenches and on the perimeter — on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The Cavaliers committed nine penalties for 80 yards. Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild’s heralded power-running game gained a grand total of 40 yards, while the gun-slinging Johns threw three interceptions — two of which were returned for touchdowns.

Boise State dealt Virginia a 56-14 loss — arguably the most embarrassing of the coach Mike London era. Yes, there have been larger margins — such as a pair of 59-10 losses against No. 2 Oregon and No. 9 Clemson in 2013. But on national television under the Friday night lights, Virginia could not have picked a worse time to be dominated by the unranked Broncos.

“Obviously we played poorly tonight,” London said. “You can’t have five turnovers — particularly on the first play from scrimmage from us. It just went downhill from there.”

What was left of the 42,427-strong Scott Stadium crowd rained boos at halftime, hitting Virginia harder than the first-half precipitation. The Boise blue speckled the empty stadium by the end of the third quarter.

The helpless Cavaliers were not only punched, but also kicked and squashed. One has to think London can’t have too many beat-downs left.

Sitting at 1-3, Virginia needs to go 5-3 in conference play to reach bowl eligibility — the presumed requirement for London to earn a seventh year at the helm of the program. But London, who owns a 24-40 record at Virginia, is just 11-29 in ACC play. Against the eight teams left on the Cavaliers’ schedule, London has a record of 8-20, and half of those wins have come against Miami.

Virginia will have a bye week to regroup before it opens conference play on the road against Pittsburgh Oct.10.

“We need to get back on track mentally and get that focus back,” senior defensive tackle David Dean said. “We just need to try to fix the little mistakes we’ve been making these past four games.”

Make no question about it — London was put in a tough situation to start this season. Due to a combination of bold scheduling and a little bad luck, Virginia was the only team in the country to face three preseason top-25 squads in the year’s first four weeks.

The Cavaliers focused on staying positive after the loss, London said. In the postgame locker room, both London and the team captains preached the importance of not finger pointing and assigning blame, but rather continuing to strengthen the team’s bonds.

“We’ve gone through a four-game stretch where we’ve been tested,” London said. “We have an opportunity to address our issues with this bye week coming up. We’ve got to stay together.”

Virginia might very well stay together, but that should not excuse Friday’s performance. Perhaps the odds-makers chose to ignore the Cavaliers’ struggles last week in a narrow win against FCS foe William & Mary, but at kickoff, Boise State was just a 2.5-point favorite.

However, the Broncos out-executed Virginia the way the Cavaliers were supposed to do against the Tribe. The Boise State front seven manhandled Virginia’s offensive line, allowing a mere 1.2 yards per carry and pressuring Johns all night.

The Cavalier defense, meanwhile, could not fix its tackling woes, as evidenced by senior defensive end Trent Corney’s missed sack on Bronco freshman quarterback Brett Rypien on a 4th-and-5 early in the third quarter. Virginia’s secondary was burned on both blown assignments and simply lost battles in man coverage, allowing Rypien — in his first career start — to finish 21-32 for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

“Assignment-wise, they were on their Ps and Qs,” senior guard Ross Burbank said. “Tonight, we certainly were not. It’s frustrating when you look at the turnovers, first thing, and then you see the penalties — that’s lack of discipline and lack of focus.”

Now with a two-week break, the Cavaliers need to find an identity — both offensively and defensively — in order to fight back and make an effort for a bowl bid.

“I believe in them,” London said. “I know they believe in themselves.”

Virginia better hope it can rebound. Backed into a corner, London cannot survive too many more punches.

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