For any football team, the first few days after a loss are always a time for second-guessing, but the Cavaliers engaged in more than their share of what-ifs and hypotheticals yesterday, two days after their season-opening overtime loss to Brigham Young.
Virginia coach George Welsh faced plenty of questions about his fourth quarter play calling, but the topic du jour was the Cavs' continuing penchant for blowing leads. Saturday, Virginia's 21-0 halftime lead degenerated into a 38-35 loss reminiscent of collapses against Georgia and Georgia Tech in 1998 and North Carolina in 1997.
"It was embarrassing," senior captain Byron Thweatt said. "I've been through it so many times, but you never can explain how it feels. Especially because this is my last year, I wanted to go out in the first game and show people that we were ready to play."
Welsh said he knew the complexion of the game had changed when BYU opened the second half with a pair of 80-yard scoring drives to cut the lead to seven.
Welsh also said he regrets sending tailback Arlen Harris on his unsuccessful off-tackle run on fourth-and-one from midfield with just under five minutes to go. With the Cavaliers struggling to hold a 35-28 lead, Welsh chose to go for the first down instead of attempting to pin the Cougars deep in their own territory with a punt.
"I should have punted," Welsh said. "My thinking was that we weren't stopping them anyway, and if we could get one more first down, then you can probably take another two minutes off the clock. If you can get another first down, then the game might be over or thereabouts. I tried to win it on offense."
Four and a half minutes after his ill-fated fourth-down run, Harris embarked on another controversial run. Angling for a potential game-winning field goal, Welsh sent Harris on a run up the middle with 14 seconds left from the BYU 32-yard line. Harris managed only one yard and Cavalier placekicker David Greene missed wide left on his subsequent 48-yard field goal attempt.
"I think that was the right thing," Welsh said of the decision to run instead of attempting a pass to give Greene a closer look at the field goal. "We had it blocked, but [Harris] made the wrong cut. That's a play where you've got to slow it down a little bit and he just got excited, I guess, and went running up in there too fast."
For all the controversy swirling around Virginia's offensive play calls, the game may have been decided by the Cavs' defensive performance in the second half. In only his second collegiate start, Brigham Young quarterback Bret Engemann piled up 447 passing yards by exploiting the Cavaliers' underneath coverage and poor tackling.
"In our defense, you have to make tackles," Thweatt said. "You're the only person in that zone. It's just basic, fundamental football."
Then again, Thweatt also suggested a less secular reason for the disheartening loss.
"Ever since I was little, I've believed that there's a football god," Thweatt said. "Piss him off, and he'll do something to make you lose or make you not play as well. I think we pissed him off in the second half."