CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — It is a rare feat to amass more than 280 yards and score the first 22 points of a football game, then get outgained by nearly 300 yards the rest of the way and lose.
That is a riddle Virginia will try to solve this week as the Cavaliers stare at the prospect of another lost season in the wake of a 35-22 loss to an ACC opponent only they seem unable to defeat.
Under coach David Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils are now 5-1 against Virginia and 5-32 against the rest of the conference. The latest loss mirrors last year’s 42-17 debacle in that the Blue Devils outscored Virginia 28-0 in the second half. Now 2-5 overall and 0-3 following the softer portion of their schedule, the Cavaliers face an uphill climb to bowl eligibility.
Worse than the result, though, the attitude of the team appeared to turn for the worse, said junior tailback Kevin Parks. He was the lone highlight of the day for Virginia, accounting for all three touchdowns on two runs and a 13-yard reception.
“I felt like once those guys started scoring, you started seeing [our] eyes get big. Like, ‘Here we go again,’” Parks said. “Can’t let that happen. You have to play four quarters. I don’t feel like we played four quarters of football. I feel like we played a quarter and a half. You have to play four quarters to win. Beat Duke.”
After Parks‘ third touchdown and a nifty faked extra point that resulted in a two-point conversion by Miles Gooch, Virginia led 22-0 and had outgained Duke, 286-101.
Perhaps it was the indignity of the faked extra point, or maybe it was Virginia’s outsized celebration on the sideline. Whatever the reason, Duke became a different team. The Blue Devils responded with an eight-play, 62-yard scoring drive during the final two minutes of the second quarter and went into halftime seemingly emboldened by the 22-7 score.
“One of our statements, mantras, or whatever you want to call it, is to finish,” Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “We came in with a lot of energy [and] we didn’t play our best football. … [Cutcliffe] came in and settled us down. He gave us a good second-half speech and we went from there.”
Did they ever — the Blue Devils scored the game’s final 35 points and outgained Virginia 371-77 after falling behind 22-0.
“Thirty-five unanswered points is ridiculous,” Parks said. That’s frustrating, very frustrating, right now. We’ll find out [this week] who’s still all-in. I know I’m going to be there. I’m not giving up on anything. Hopefully my teammates aren’t giving up, either.”
Finding four victories to attain bowl eligibility is difficult when looking at the remaining schedule. Georgia Tech and Clemson are next, followed by a road trip to North Carolina. The Cavaliers then finish the season with games at Miami and at home against Virginia Tech, two teams that are vying for the Coastal Division title.
“I think it’s probably easy for a young guy to hang his head and say I’ve got next year,” senior defensive end Jake Snyder said. “As a fifth-year guy who has been there and seen it happen, you can’t let any game pass. You can’t let five games go like that.”
In the preseason, Snyder said it was the “little things” that meant the difference between last season’s 4-8 mark and an eight-win season. Now, with a number of team goals no longer attainable, Snyder said this year is beginning to resemble 2012 in all the wrong ways.
“This is one of the best teams I’ve played on since I’ve been here,” Snyder said. “Talent-wise, I feel like there’s no question. It just comes down to putting it all together. It’s little things that add up in college football and we’ve been on the other side of those things a lot the last few weeks. One way or another, we’ve got to find a way to turn it around.”