April 23, 2017

Virginia football: Hoos stumble out of opening gate at No. 13 UCLA

At the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. on Saturday afternoon, two programs met with an eye on the future. The hosting UCLA Bruins featured a true freshman at quarterback and looked to prove their status as a dark horse contender for the Pac 12 championship, if not a College Football Playoff spot. Visiting Virginia also had a new starter at quarterback, a junior whose poise and promise had Wahoo fans dreaming of a potential upset, or at least some competitive fire against a quality opponent.

At the end of the day, the scoreboard read 34-16 in the Bruins’ favor, as offensive play-calling woes, ill-timed penalties, and lack of second-half opportunities for UVa quarterback Matt Johns to get quality throws off allowed No. 13 UCLA (1-0) to pull away from the Cavaliers (0-1) in the second half. The Bruins outscored Virginia 17-0 over the final two quarters before Johns threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell with 3:29 left in the game.

Down 14-6 with less than two minutes left in the second quarter, UVa opted to play it very safe and kick a field goal from the two-yard line. Johns was 12-for-15 in the first half for 137 yards, but the trademark conservative (if not downright dumbfounding) decision-making by UVa offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild, who is known for calling screen plays and between-the-tackles draws in distance-yardage situations, somewhat neutralized Johns’ ability to find the open man. His accuracy, especially in the first half, can be something for optimistic Virginia fans to point to ahead of next week’s home opener against Notre Dame (3:30 p.m., ABC).

Johns was 21-for-35 with a touchdown and an interception. Bruins fans have to be happy with Rosen’s performance in his first game in blue and gold – he was 28-for-35 for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Mizzell had a team-high eight catches for 100 yards and a touchdown for UVa, along with 45 yards on a team-high 16 carries.

About Eric Hobeck

Eric Hobeck is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Redskins and Capitals. Eric contributes to high school sports coverage at InsideNova.com. He served as sports editor of The Rotunda at Longwood University for two years, where he was also the men’s basketball beat writer. He hosted a campus radio show for three years and called basketball and baseball games for the station’s award-winning sports team. You can follow Eric on Twitter @eric_hobeck.

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