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Offense struggled against Duke

What a difference two weeks makes.

Following a 45-point offensive explosion against Brigham Young, the Cavalier offense looked like a well-oiled machine. Coming off Saturday's dismal 24-17 double-overtime loss to Duke, the offense has begun to experience mechanical difficulties, breaking down at the core.

In the BYU game, quarterback Dan Ellis threw for three touchdowns, completing 14-18 passes, and it appeared as if he had proven his ability to deliver during big games for the Cavaliers.

However, as is the case with most professions, quarterbacks are judged on their most recent performance.

And unfortunately for Ellis, the loss to the previously winless Blue Devils now is fresh in fans' minds. In Saturday's contest Ellis threw two interceptions, one coming on the final play of double overtime to seal the heart-wrenching loss.

"Bad throw," Ellis said of the pass that gave the Blue Devils their first win in Charlottesville during the George Welsh era.

Ellis had reason to be distracted on the final play. Two plays earlier, he threw an apparent touchdown to third-year Ahmad Hawkins on the edge of the end zone, which the referees ruled out of bounds.

"I said 'Come on Dan, throw it to me,' he threw it to me and I caught it," Hawkins said. "I dragged the right foot. I knew it was in. It was clear on the replay. I wish this [were] the NFL and you could challenge it."

Despite everything that occurred in the hectic ending, the Virginia offense sputtered for most of the overcast afternoon. In four quarters they only mustered 17 points against a Duke team that surrendered 44 points in the first half to Florida State. And whether justified or not, the quarterback is going to be faced with the majority of the blame when the offense isn't clicking.

"You have to be able to throw the ball down field and have some success and we have not," offensive coordinator Gary Tranquil said.

But more than just inaccuracies on the part of the quarterback are to blame when an offense isn't performing to its potential. Sometimes receivers run incorrect routes, or there is a missed blocking assignment.

"Everybody has to get better," Ellis said. "We didn't play well offensively in the first half, we moved the ball well in the second half. The team isn't one person, everybody has to contribute."

Ellis has been touted as the next in the solid line of starting Cavalier signal callers over the past decade. Sitting for two years behind Aaron Brooks, now with the Green Bay Packers, seemingly would have given Ellis the time needed to grow as a quarterback and learn the offense allowing him step to the forefront this season.

Sometimes, though, even the best plans don't materialize on schedule.

Just two short seasons ago, it was Brooks who was in similar situation. Starting in his third year, he struggled early on but improved toward the end of the season, posting big numbers and leading the Cavs to late-season victories against Maryland, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Over their next three games, the Cavs face N.C. State in Raleigh and Florida State and Georgia Tech back-to-back in Charlottesville. For Virginia to survive such a stretch, Ellis will need to step up in the same way Brooks did. If previous game plans are good indication, teams facing Virginia down the stretch will try to stack the line of scrimmage to neutralize tailback Thomas Jones and it will be up to Ellis to make plays.

"I'm not losing any faith in Ellis," Hawkins said. "I'm going to live and die with him. Me and him have been through a lot. I've got a lot of confidence in him."


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