Though it’s not some startling new revelation, it’s becoming abundantly clear Virginia misses two of its biggest contributors – Chase Minnifield and Kris Burd – from last season on both sides of the ball more than ever.

As he talked Saturday evening about U.Va.’s 42-17 loss at Duke, cornerback Demetrious Nicholson talked about what needed to change to get U.Va. back on the right track. Are U.Va.’s shortcomings a fundamental failure of the system in place? Or is it simply the sins of a few players being magnified in the form of big gains by opposing offenses and significant missed opportunities on the offensive side?

“It’s just little plays here and there that we’ve got to make,” said Nicholson, who was burned in man coverage on a 37-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Anthony Boone to wide receiver Conner Vernon that put Duke up 14-7 with 8:09 left in the first quarter.

“It’s little plays here and there that we made last year that we’ve got to make this year, plays that can win us or lose us a ballgame and change our whole season. For example, Chase Minnifield caught the guy (last season) from Florida State at the 1-yard line. One play, just like that, changed the whole season – one play.”

Minnifield is exhibit A in the list of players U.Va. (2-4 overall, 0-2 ACC). Nicholson was specifically referring to Minnifield running down FSU receiver Bert Reed at U.Va.’s 1-yard line after a 68-yard catch on a drive where the Seminoles eventually had to settle for a field goal. It ended up being one of the plays of the game in U.Va.’s 14-13 win in Tallahassee, Fla.

This year’s version of U.Va., which has been outscored 52-14 combined in the second halves of its last two games (24-14 in the second half of last weekend's 44-38 loss to Louisiana Tech), lacks any semblance of that killer instinct.

In red zone situations like the one described above, U.Va. entered this weekend having surrendered 14 touchdowns on 22 trips (64 percent), the third-worst percentage of red zone touchdowns given up in the ACC.

That percentage is now up to 67 percent after Duke scored on back-to-back trips inside U.Va.’s 20-yard line in the third quarter to take a 28-17 lead. Those two touchdowns came after U.Va. had forced Duke to punt on six consecutive possessions.

“It felt like we had them under control for 17 or 19 minutes after those first two drives (of the game in which Duke scored touchdowns),” U.Va. defensive coordinator Jim Reid said. “Then, they come back and we don’t get done what we’re supposed to get done and there’s a breakdown. You’ve got to man up when you get your back on that goal line. We’ve done it.”

While U.Va.’s inability to stop Duke when the Cavaliers’ backs were against the wall was disappointing for Reid, it wasn’t nearly the most damning example of U.Va.’s defensive issues.

Duke came into the game 10th in the ACC and 107th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging just 114.8 yards per game. It ended up running for 182 yards against U.Va., which was the most for the Blue Devils all season and the most rushing yards given up by the Cavaliers to a non-option based offense this season. Georgia Tech ran for 461 yards in a 56-20 win against U.Va.


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Coverage issues? There were plenty. Duke had four plays that went for 20-plus yards – three of which were on touchdown-scoring pass plays.

Actually, all four of the 20-plus yard plays resulted in touchdowns, including a 34-yard touchdown run by Juwan Thompson, who had seven carries for 71 yards, and touchdown passes of 54, 45 and 37 yards.

To be fair, the 45-yard touchdown wasn't an example of a coverage breakdown. It was just a perfect pass from Boone to Vernon, who got behind safety Brandon Phelps and cornerback Maurice Canady to score with 14:12 left in the game and extend Duke's advantage to 35-17.

On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Phillip Sims was plagued by overthrows on deep balls and a few drops on more precise passes. After completing 7 of 10 passes for 97 yards and an interception in the first quarter, he connected on just 14 of his final 32 pass attempts for 171 yards and an interception.

“I wouldn’t say I was rusty,” Sims said. “There’s no excuse. I just didn’t perform today. At the end of the day, it’s on me. No matter if I’m told I’m going to take the first snap, or if I go in for the fourth quarter, nobody can help me. It’s on me to play the entire game. No matter what I’m told, I have to be able to go in and I have to perform every single snap. I didn’t do that (Saturday).”

On third down pass plays, Sims completed 5 of 11 passes for 86 yards, and only two of his completions moved the chains. Michael Rocco, who played U.Va.’s final possession in the fourth quarter, failed to complete his only third down pass play.