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Free-falling Cavaliers continue tailspin

No. 16 TCU dismantles Virginia in 30-14 embarrassment Saturday as team opens season with two home losses for first time since 1982

After a 34-yard punt return into Texas Christian territory, Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell took the snap from center and nimbly dropped back to pass on first down. Standing tall in the pocket and biding his time behind a rock-solid offensive line, Sewell proceeded to throw a 26-yard rope to freshman wide receiver Tim Smith in the left corner of the end zone for a Cavalier touchdown - and his sixth completion of the day.

Unfortunately for Virginia, the well-executed score came with only 1:48 remaining in the half - the second half, that is - and did little to salvage a deflating 30-14 loss against the No. 16 Horned Frogs (1-0) Saturday at Scott Stadium. The uninspired performance - which came on the heels of last week's embarrassment at the hands of FBS opponent William & Mary - leaves the reeling Cavaliers 0-2 for the first time since 2002 and marks the first season since 1982 that the team has dropped its first two home games.

"I don't think things can really get any worse," Sewell said. "We've just got to use it as a stepping stone."

Such an approach is easier said than done, however, as was proven early on against the Horned Frogs. After a disappointing debut against the Tribe, new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon's spread offense again sputtered against a TCU team which finished last season ranked first in the nation in both total and rushing defense.

"We understood it was going to be rugged moving the ball," Virginia coach Al Groh said.

Despite Groh's forewarning, Virginia nevertheless appeared ignorant of the Horned Frogs' ability to stop the run. Sewell, who started in place of injured senior Vic Hall and played the entire game in a stark departure from last week's three-quarterback system, ran the ball on seven of the Cavaliers' first nine plays from scrimmage while only attempting three passes in the entire first quarter.

The offense's only trip into TCU territory in the period came on Virginia's opening series and resulted in a turnover on downs after junior Danny Aiken launched a long-snap too high on a 40-yard field goal attempt by sophomore Robert Randolph. Hall, who Groh said was likely inhibited by his hip injury and in retrospect should not have played at holder, watched helplessly as the ball soared over his head and was pounced on by Randolph for a loss of 19.

"I trust [Hall] so much," Groh said. "I believe in him. Had the ball been where it was supposed to have been, I'm sure he would've gotten it down great.

The Horned Frogs took the ball on their own 42-yard line and, combining a methodical running game featuring the tailback tandem of senior Joseph Turner and freshman Ed Wesley with efficient passing by junior quarterback Andy Dalton, pieced together their first drive into Virginia territory.

The Virginia defense responded by forcing two straight Dalton incompletions, however, and it appeared as though TCU would be forced to punt when open wide receiver Jimmy Young dropped a pass on third-and-nine from the Virginia 36-yard line. A late hit personal foul on Cavalier sophomore safety Corey Mosley was called on the play though, resulting in a 15-yard penalty to extend the Horned Frog drive.

"The last thing I wanted to do was be unsportsmanlike," Mosley said. "Coach told us, 'Block to the ball every play, play hard, play every play like it's my last one.' That's what I was doing. I didn't mean anything bad by it."

Dalton completed a 19-yard pass up the middle to sophomore wide receiver Jonathan Jones on the very next play, and on first-and-goal from the Virginia two-yard line, junior wideout Jeremy Kerley tumbled into the end zone to give TCU an early 7-0 lead.

"[The penalty] turned out to be a seven-point play," Groh said. "The other team was stopped and was probably going to have to turn the ball over. Instead, they had the ball deep down in [our] territory."

It didn't take long for Virginia to make its next costly mistake, as one failed offensive series later, the Cavaliers found themselves facing fourth-and-two from their own 48-yard line. Attempting to infuse a little energy into his team's lifeless attack, Groh called for a fake punt attempt and rush by junior tight end Joe Torchia. But the Horned Frogs were quick the recognize the trickery, stopping Torchia short of the first down and regaining the ball on downs at midfield. Capitalizing on the short field, TCU scored six plays later on a one-yard run by Turner.

Although Sewell opened the next drive with two longer runs to earn the Cavaliers just their fourth first down of the game, the senior was sacked on two of the final three plays of the half as the hosts entered the locker room to a chorus of boos, down 14-0. The Horned Frogs racked up 13 first downs in the opening half while holding Virginia to three pass completions for 11 yards and 72 yards of total offense.

Groh remained optimistic, despite the fact that his Cavaliers had yet to reach the red zone, much less score against the stout Horned Frog defense.

"Fourteen points is 14 points," Groh said. "You can't exactly say it's even-steven, but again, the message to the players was, 'Look, we got one drive stopped. An unfortunate circumstance allowed the drive to continue.' It was a seven-point play ... [then] I made a mistake and put you in bad position. Outside of that, I think you would've shut them out.'"

Although it may have been easy for Groh to convince himself of such a notion after 30 minutes of play, the defensive lapses that would transpire during the next quarter and half would not be as easily ignored. The Cavaliers' defensive line broke down in the third quarter to give up 40 rushing yards, and a porous secondary allowed Dalton to go 7-7 for 97 yards in the period.

A 31-yard strike from Dalton to Young - who had gotten behind junior cornerback Ras-I Dowling on a straight downfield route - put TCU ahead 21-0 barely four minutes into the second half. After a Mikell Simpson carry for a loss and two Sewell keepers failed to result in a first down on the Cavaliers' next possession, the Horned Frogs strung together a six-minute drive which ended in 28-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Ross Evans, giving TCU a 24-0 lead.

Sewell had only one completion in the third period, and at one point, the Cavaliers' offense had gone 17 plays without a successful pass en route to compiling only 80 yards of total offense.

"Obviously it's a different offense where you spread the defense out and get the ball going vertically," senior tackle Will Barker said. "We just couldn't do that today."

After three quarters, Virginia's longest completion was for eight yards, and the Cavaliers' longest play downfield by a player other than Sewell was on a nine-yard Simpson run in the second quarter.

"The ability of a quarterback on a team to go down the field is based significantly on the amount of time he has to do so," Groh said. "Those are pretty long routes - they take a long time to get there - and unfortunately, [Sewell] was under quite a lot of duress in doing that."

After TCU opened the fourth quarter with two more field goals, the Cavaliers finally managed to find some offensive rhythm. Facing mostly second-team TCU defenders, Sewell aired it out for the first time all game - a decision that was sarcastically applauded by what was left of the crowd of 48,336, the smallest at Scott Stadium since a 1999 game against Buffalo.

"As a quarterback, you want to air it out sometimes, but sometimes it's not the right time to do it," Sewell said. "You've got to go with the flow and make something happen with what's called."

The results were instantaneous. A 56-yard arrow to freshman Javaris Brown and a successful two-point conversion helped the Cavaliers avoid their first shutout since 2006, while the touchdown pass to Smith two minutes later may serve to remove some fans' doubts about Virginia's new offense, which has otherwise done little thus far to impress this season.

"We got beat up a lot but we never quit," said Sewell, who was sacked a total of eight times on the day. "There's nothing you can do about it now. It's over with ... You get roadblocks, but you've got to go through them ... I'm going to ride with the fellas all day, no matter what."

The Cavaliers will need to build off the little momentum they may have gained from the late touchdown passes if they wish to avoid another disappointing finish when they travel to Southern Mississippi for their first road test of the year next Saturday. Though the Golden Eagles do not boast the same illustrious defensive statistics as the Horned Frogs, their offense has scored a combined 76 points en route to a 2-0 start.

Senior fullback Rashawn Jackson remains hopeful that the Cavaliers still have the potential to turn their season around.

"It's sort of like the first touchdown," Jackson said. "You get the first touchdown - obviously you've seen today - the second touchdown is just contagious. You just follow the flow"


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