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Mistakes, poor execution add up to tough loss

CLEMSON, S.C.--With 6:11 to go in the third quarter and the Tigers holding a gargantuan 33-0 lead, the ABC affiliate in Clemson decided to cut away to the game between Notre Dame and Purdue.

It was only then that Virginia succeeded in finding the end zone.

That kind of too little, too late success on offense embodied what was a very forgettable day for Virginia football.

So what happened exactly? How could the Cavs, who were coming off a dramatic victory over North Carolina, fall apart so badly against Clemson?

"We just didn't execute," Virginia coach George Welsh said.

Welsh wasn't the only one who thought so. Defensive coordinator Rick Lantz, cornerback Tim Spruill, safety Shenard Newby, quarterback Dan Ellis--they all said the same thing: the Cavs didn't execute. And they didn't execute on either side of the football, at least while they had a chance to get back in the game.

The turnover bug came back and bit Virginia hard Saturday afternoon. The Cavs fumbled three times, and each time Clemson responded with a touchdown. The most costly of these fumbles was Thomas Jones' at the 11-yard line.

The most exasperating mistake, however, came early in the second half. After Clemson started the second stanza with another touchdown, Tavon Mason fumbled the Tiger kickoff, and Clemson took the ball on their own 20, quickly adding another score to take a 33-0 lead.

"That was a tough way to come out" in the second half, Ellis said. "We gave up 14 points to start the half and that can't happen."

But while the mistakes on offense might have been more heartbreaking, there are much bigger problems defensively.

Statistically, the game was an embarrassment to the defense. Virginia gave up 343 passing yards -- a new single game school record -- to Clemson. When tight end Pat Cyrgalis took Streeter's pass and scored from 15 yards out, he became the first Tiger tight end to score a touchdown this decade, and the first to do so since Stacy Fields reached paydirt in 1989.

The secondary was undermanned Saturday. After all, a thigh bruise and a sore hamstring kept Dwayne Stukes and Antwan Harris, respectively, from even making the trip.

But after the loss, the Cav defensive backs didn't make excuses.

"We need to practice a lot better," Spruill said. "We know we can play with [Clemson's receivers]. They just outexecuted us."

Newby agreed.

"They didn't do anything new," he said. "We just didn't come out and play our best ball."

But the most glaring problems were revealed in the Virginia pass rush. Despite facing an offensive line with no returning starters, the Cav defensive front mustered only one sack. And when Clemson's wide-open offense forced the Virginia linebackers to drop back into pass coverage, all the pass rushing duties fell on the Cavalier defensive linemen.

But they didn't prove up to the task.

"Probably the most disappointing thing to me is that we don't have a pass rush," Welsh said. "We tackled like a high school team."

Tackling, however, is only part of the problem. With matchups against both Brigham Young and Virginia Tech looming on the horizon, and the home debut against Wake Forest this week, the Cavs had better find a way to bring everything together if they want another seven-win season.

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