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September 9, 2013

The Weekend Wrap: Oregon

When David Watford sat down inside the media room following UVa's 59-10 loss to No. 2-ranked Oregon on Saturday, he hadn't been there long before he began doing what leaders do: crediting everyone and blaming only himself.

Watford went 29 of 41 passing for 161 yards in the game but threw three untimely interceptions and also lost a fumble. But his play wasn't the only driving force behind UVa (1-1) getting manhandled by the Ducks.

"It wasn't really the offense, it was me," Watford said when asked about Oregon's defense and Virginia's inability to score points. "I [didn't execute] to the caliber that I wanted to."

Watford referenced his own "costly" mistakes and said it wasn't Virginia's offense as a whole that played poorly: "I'll take the blame solely. The offensive line, they held up really strong today and I'm proud of them. The receivers made plays. The running backs, they ran hard...I just have to execute better and that's on me."

Though Watford went on for several more minutes heaping blame on himself, he also said he disagreed with the idea that UVa's offensive game plan was too conservative. And he did all of this confidently, as odd as that might seem. For example, on the interception he threw early in the fourth quarter, two plays after an apparent TD pass to Dominique Terrell was negated by an offensive pass interference penalty, Watford was unequivocal.

"It was my fault," he said. "I saw something different than what Dom-T saw. We have to be on the same page. I'm not blaming him at all. It wasn't his fault. I threw the pass, it was behind him, and it is what it is. We just have to learn from it."

In the midst of owning basically every offensive mistake, Watford was asked how long it would take for him to bounce back from this game since it appeared that he was taking it hard. He barely blinked.

"It won't be hard," he said, "because Oregon's a great defense, they're a great team. They're No. 2 in the nation for a reason. That's why we have to learn from the film, learn from the mistakes, and just get ready for VMI. These [BYU and Oregon] are two of the toughest defenses in the nation. We played them back to back. I'm just learning every week. That's what I have to do."

Watford, in just his second start, may have played like the inexperienced quarterback he is but his confidence in his team sounded more like a cagey veteran.

"We moved the ball how we wanted to," he explained, "but I made a lot of mistakes that cost us, that really hurt us. We moved the ball down the field like we wanted to. I just have to keep the turnovers to a minimum. I can't turn the ball over, point blank....I feel like we have a lot of playmakers. I have to get the ball to more guys and let them just make plays with the ball. That's the main thing: I have to be able to spread the ball out, just get it out to my receivers, and just let them do what they do, make plays. We have a lot of weapons on the outside, we have weapons at tight end, weapons at running back. So I just have to get the ball to my guys."

One thing was also clear: Watford is a big fan of having offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild on the field rather than in the press box as he was during the BYU game.

"I loved it," Watford said. "It was a lot better. We were just able to talk more and I'm able to pick his brain more on the sideline, talk to him about certain things that I see. Instead of having to get on the headset I can just right walk up to him, see what he's looking at, see what he's trying to get done, what we're looking for on certain drives."


Tight ends show promise

One of the few things that seemed to work for the Wahoos against the Ducks were passes to tight ends, particularly in the middle of the field, and that meant good things for both Jake McGee and Zachary Swanson.

McGee, UVa's highlight reel a season ago, saw more time in this game than he did in the opener against BYU, catching eight passes for 53 yards. Swanson, meanwhile, hauled in four passes for 43 yards. As the team's two leading receivers on the day, both McGee and Swanson set career highs in receptions.

As you might imagine given the score, neither were very happy with the way things played out.

"It's definitely tough but it's something, especially with the bye coming up, you watch the tape and see what if anything we did well," McGee said. "You know they're a tough team. They've been a national power or whatever you want to call them the last couple of years. It didn't go the way we wanted but I didn't feel like we couldn't compete with them. It didn't seem, at least on the sideline, like it was that far off."

Said Swanson, "I felt like we had a decent amount of success offensively in the first half. Obviously, we didn't put the points up that we wanted to...I thought they were pretty good. Obviously, offensively they put up a lot of points. They're ranked second in the nation and there's a reason why. I felt like we played a decent game offensively."

McGee said that moving the ball was difficult but that he would need to see the film before he could really say why UVa struggled in that department and what the Ducks did to slow them down.

So is there anything wrong in the big picture with his team's offense?

"I think it's small things that we'll see now that we have two games of tape against two pretty good defenses," McGee replied. "Now we can see what our strengths are and what we can improve on and make strides as a team...We struggled at the parts that you know you can't do if you're going to win, turnovers and [in the] red zone. When you're doing stuff like that, you're not going to win the game."

McGee said Watford "kept his composure throughout the game" and never let the frustration get the better of him. "I know this is his first year being the starter but he's a confident, poised guy so it's something you trust him [with] throughout."

In the final analysis, McGee said the players knew they'd have to "bring it all" to be able to beat Oregon and they know where they are at 1-1 going into the bye week.

"We would've had to be clicking on all cylinders to win today," he said. "You're not happy with 1-1 but it's something we can build off of and improve on as the season goes."


Romero also showing well

Oregon rolled up 557 yards of total offense, most of it (350 yards) coming on the ground. Given the scheme, the skill, and the speed of the Ducks, it's no surprise that Daquan Romero and the Cavaliers struggled to keep them out of the end zone.

But the UVa defense, behind new coordinator Jon Tenuta and his aggressive scheme, also forced the Ducks into going 3 of 10 on 3rd down and 0 for 2 on 4th down. Romero led the team in tackles with eight total, including five solo. He also was credited with a pass breakup.

On the first Oregon score, a 71-yard run by Marcus Mariota through the heart of the UVa defense on a 3rd and 5 in the first quarter, Romero said a blown assignment was the reason it opened up so easily for the Ducks signal caller.

"We called the call from the wrong side," he said. "It should've been from the other side. The hole was wide open. I think they spread us out, from film study, to see what we did and they capitalized on it. We knew that they knew what we were going to do and we just called the wrong call."

Even though the defense had moments, there weren't enough of them and there were too many missed assignments to stay close. With the offense turning the ball over and giving UO short fields, some of what the Virginia defense was asked to do was impossible.

How do they build on the positives?

"You can't dwell on this loss," Romero said. "We've just got to get better and move on from this. I feel like no matter the situation, as a defense we have to be ready. Even if they're on the 1-yard line. You see we got the goal line stop so we're capable of doing it. It's just a matter of us focusing on it and getting it done."

Though Romero disagreed that what the Ducks do is in some ways similar to what Georgia Tech does offensively, he did say the game plan to cut off the edge (to limit Oregon's speed) wasn't properly executed. That will help the team as it moves forward.

"I feel like it's always good to play tough teams so you can get right mentally," he added. "You know what you're getting into."

Romero also said the Cavaliers saw De'Anthony Thomas, the faster player he's ever faced, do the same things on film that he did on the field. It was just a matter of the defense missing assignments and not making plays.

"You get what you earn, not what you deserve," he said. "I guess we just didn't earn it."


The Hot 5

The Hot 5 returns with a couple of tweaks from last week's edition. To recap, these are five players who may not necessarily be the team's five best but their efforts in the previous game showed them to be standouts and vital pieces of the win.

5. Khalek Shepherd, RB: UVa had one big "highlight" play of the day that led directly to points and it was Shepherd's 45-yard TD run late in the first quarter. With that run and juke downfield, fans may have forgiven Shepherd for the fumbled kickoff return he had against BYU. The Cavaliers have shown flashes with their running backs but still need to find consistency from the running game.

4. Jake McGee, TE: While he didn't produce any points, McGee seemed to be back to his old self. Having battled a shoulder injury through much of training camp, against BYU he didn't look like the player fans had come to expect. But against the Ducks, he did. It's clear that the sooner Fairchild and Watford learn how to lean on McGee, the better the offense will be.

3. Kevin Parks, RB: Finding consistency in the running game will greatly depend on Parks. As the back at the top of the depth chart, he's got to be someone the Wahoos can lean on. Like Shepherd, he showed flashes against Oregon and carried the ball 19 times for 60 yards. Virginia needs a workhouse and Parks has shown he can be that guy. Production will depend on the offense as a whole.

2. Daquan Romero, LB: Two games, two solid efforts by the Hampton native. Romero has really found his niche in Tenuta's defense: In just his fifth start, he showed he was capable and dependable against the Ducks. His 12 tackles last week combined with his eight this week give him a great start to the 2013 season. It's the kind of start fans and coaches alike were hoping to see.

1. Anthony Harris, S: After being named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week following his effort against BYU, Harris' seven tackles and one pass breakup seemed pedestrian. For UVa's scheme to be successful, the Cavaliers need a safety playing the way Harris is right now. He has set a high bar and he must continue to reach it if the Wahoos are going to have a good defense.


Looking ahead
The Cavaliers sit at 1-1, which is where most fans had hoped they'd be going into the bye this week......London said on Sunday that all three of his running backs were nursing sprained ankles but as the team looks to heal up in the off week, there will be plenty of rest ahead......Next on the team's schedule is VMI, which means that Virginia has to deal with the largest talent disparity between opponents in back-to-back weeks in all of college football.....When the Cavaliers host the Keydets on September 21, they'll be facing an FCS team that lost to Richmond 34-0 in the season opener and needed a goal-line stand late to beat Division II's Glenville State 34-27 this past weekend.......VMI will host North Greenville before heading to Charlottesville in two weeks.



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