Mike London’s sixth season got off to an inauspicious start as Virginia dropped the opener in the Rose Bowl to UCLA 34-16. Here for the five biggest takeaways:
Can’t finish: Virginia was moving the ball well in the first half, but their inability to get into the end zone ended up costing the Cavaliers any chance they had at the upset. In Virginia’s three scoring drives in the first half, they went 10 plays for 60 yards, eight plays for 72 yards and six plays for 73 yards. Yet, they walked away with only nine points. Had they managed a touchdown on any of those first three drives, it could have changed the entire complexion of the game. When one team is overmatched, they have to take advantage of their opportunities. Virginia failed to do that which allowed the Bruins to pull away.
No normal freshman: When the UVa defense learned they would be facing a true freshman at quarterback, they must have been licking their chops. The Cavaliers found out very quickly, however, that Josh Rosen is not your average deer-in-the-headlights freshman. The Bruins were aggressive offensively from the very first play as Rosen threw a deep pass, but it was dropped. That should tell you how much confidence UCLA has in him. Even with that first drop, however, Rosen still managed to rack up 351 passing yards and three touchdowns. UVa was not able to get the same kind of pressure on Rosen as they were on Brett Hundley last year, but it remains to be seen whether that has more to do with an improved offensive line for UCLA or a Virginia defense that will struggle without so many of their top pass rushers from last season.
Johns plays well when playbook is opened: This game was over about midway through the third quarter, but it wasn’t because of Matt Johns' efforts. Johns performed reasonably well as the starter completing 21 of 35 passes for 238 years and one touchdown. He did throw one interception as well in which he put too much air under the ball allowing the UCLA safety Adarius Pickett to swoop in for the pick. When UVa began airing the ball out later in the game when the outcome was no longer in doubt, Johns played well. The biggest issue for Johns was not poor play, but conservative play-calling which brings us to the next point….
Way too conservative: There has been a lot of talk about London being on the hot seat heading into this season so it was surprising just how conservative UVa’s game plan appeared. In the first half, Virginia ran the ball 10 times and passed five on first down. Trailing 14-6 in the last two minutes of the first half, UVa drove the ball down to UCLA’s 2-yard line. Rather than go for it, they elected to take their third field goal of the game. This is not what you would expect from an underdog team with a coach on the hot seat. Virginia needed to take some chances, roll the dice a little and they didn’t until the third quarter when they ran a fake punt. It worked, but by then they were already down 31-9.
Receiving options: When Virginia actually did decide to throw the ball, several players showed some promise. Taquan Mizzell managed only 45 yards on the ground, but had 100 yards receiving off of eight catches. If UVa insists on sticking with their conservative offense, they could elect for some quick screens or check downs to Mizzell. That would be a way to mix up the offense at least a little. Canaan Severin also looked to be in midseason form with five catches for 58 yards. The surprise breakout player was tight end Evan Butts. Tight end was not a position the Cavaliers utilized well last season, but the redshirt freshman caught two big passes for 42 yards. Virginia has receiving weapons, the question is whether they will use them.