Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009 | 8:52 p.m.
The last thing Virginia needed after a sputtering, turnover-filled season-opening loss was to be tested by the defense that led the nation in fewest yards allowed last season.
In its season opener Saturday, No. 16 TCU picked up where it left off last year, stifling the Cavaliers' new spread offense and cruising to a 30-14 victory that was more convincing than the score indicates.
How one-sided was it? Consider this:
— Virginia managed just seven first downs — three of them coming in the final quarter, and two on long touchdown passes after the outcome had long been decided.
— The Cavaliers never snapped the ball inside the TCU 20.
— Virginia (0-2) finished with just 177 yards of total offense, and 83 of those came on Jameel Sewell's late TD passes.
"We understood it was going to be rugged moving the ball, but still, we expect more out of ourselves," said Virginia coach Al Groh, already on the hot seat after the previous week's loss to William and Mary of the second-tier FCS.
TCU's offense, meanwhile, gave Virginia a tutorial on how to run the spread. The Horned Frogs gashed the Cavaliers for 203 yards on the ground, and Andy Dalton was 15-of-21 for 177 yards and one touchdown. They scored on all five of their trips into the red zone, although three times they had to settle for Ross Evans field goals.
"They were the No. 7 team in the country last year and it is pretty apparent why they're ranked highly," Groh said. "Their quarterback is an excellent player. He was really able to control the game in a lot of different ways."
TCU coach Gary Patterson found a few things on offense to complain about: 1 for 11 on third downs, and Dalton's inability to hit a few open receivers. But all in all, he was relieved get the opener behind him successfully.
"Crazy things happen in first games, and this was our first game. We didn't want to beat ourselves. Going on the road and beating an ACC team is a tough thing to do," said Patterson, whose 74th career victory at TCU ties him with Abe Martin for second, behind Dutch Meyer (109).
Nobody needs to tell the Cavaliers about crazy first games. A week ago, Virginia had seven turnovers in the loss to William and Mary.
This time they had just one — an interception on a tipped pass — but made plenty of other mistakes. A personal foul penalty on Corey Mosley kept one TCU touchdown drive alive, and a failed fake punt at midfield led to another Horned Frogs touchdown.
Groh gave officials an earful after the touchdown that followed Mosley's penalty. On the fake punt, Groh had nobody to blame but himself.
"In retrospect, I think that was a poor decision on my part," he said. "It had the same effect as a turnover."
Virginia also started two possessions at its 3 because of bad fair-catch decisions — once to catch the ball, once to let it go — and botched the snap on a field goal attempt.
But the Cavaliers' biggest problem was simply an inability to move the ball. Virginia ran a no-hurry, no-huddle spread offense, with Sewell milking the play clock before taking the snap, in an attempt to control the time of possession. It worked in the first half, but by the end of the game TCU had a 34:49 to 25:11 advantage with the ball.
The crowd of 48,336 — the smallest for a Virginia home game since 1999 — loudly booed the Cavaliers' deliberate pace in the final two minutes of the first half, with TCU up 14-0.
Sewell played the whole game after sharing time with Marc Verica and Vic Hall last week. Hall, sidelined by a hip injury, played only as a holder Saturday. Sewell was sacked eight times and was 8 of 18 for 120 yards, including TD passes of 56 yards to Javaris Brown and 26 yards to Tim Smith late in the game.
Joseph Turner and Jeremy Kerley had scoring runs for the Horned Frogs.