CHARLOTTESVILLE — Mike London managed many a crisis as a cop. He's done the same as a husband and dad. Let's see what he's got as a head football coach.
London's Virginia Cavaliers continued not only to lose Saturday but also to unearth maddening methods for doing so.
This time it was special teams gaffes and erratic passing that squandered effective, often dominant defense.
"It's going to take some time and it's going to take some corrections to get this turned around," quarterback Phillip Sims said after the 27-20 loss to Maryland.
Problem is, the Cavaliers (2-5, 0-3 ACC) don't have time. They've lost five straight after an encouraging 2-0 start, the longest such streak in London's five seasons in the corner office — two at Richmond and three at Virginia.
Moreover, with the Sims-Michael Rocco revolving door displayed again Saturday, the Cavaliers have no dependable or acknowledged leader on offense. The minute you think one has established himself, he throws a pick, overthrows a potential tying touchdown pass or loses a fumble on a sack.
Oh, and don't look now, but after next week's home game against Wake Forest, the schedule gets much thornier with North Carolina State, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
"I'm more resolved and resolute to help these young men experience success," London said.
"We want to play well on the field," he said later, "and we will play well on the field."
They did Saturday in limiting Maryland (4-2, 2-0) to minus-2 yards rushing and 235 yards overall. They did as sophomore tailback Kevin Parks rushed for a career-high 129 yards.
But Virginia doomed itself against a pedestrian opponent in front of a homecoming crowd of 45,556 — that's more than 15,000 shy of capacity — that voiced its displeasure frequently and headed for the parking lots early.
The Cavaliers trailed 7-0 after Stefon Diggs returned the opening kickoff from out of his end zone for a touchdown.
They trailed 14-0 moments later after the Terps converted Anthony Nixon's interception of Sims with a 20-yard scoring pass from true freshman Perry Hills to Justus Pickett.
"You have to stay mentally tough and dig your way out of it," linebacker Steve Greer said of such holes.
Virginia did just that.
Until: Zachary Swanson was flagged for an extra-curricular personal foul on an Ian Frye field goal that drew Virginia within 17-13. Forced to kick off from his own 20 instead of 35, Frye attempted a bloop kick, which Diggs returned 34 yards to Virginia's 47. Maryland then marched to its final touchdown.
Until: Rocco, subbing for the ineffective Sims in the fourth quarter, overthrew a lonesome Khalek Shepherd on what would have been a tying, 49-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining.
"That's kind of … indicative of the season," London said of Rocco's misfire.
"You have to make it count," said offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who couldn't have diagramed the play any better.
Give Rocco credit. He lost his starting job to Sims last week at Duke, but when summoned Saturday immediately marched the Cavaliers 81 yards, connecting with tight end Jake McGee on a 24-yard touchdown strike.
Still, with a chance to force overtime, he lofted the ball too high in an attempt to clear a charging defender.
Sims was worse. In his two starts, he's thrown three interceptions, lost a fumble and produced no wins. In the first half Saturday, he was a meager 5-of-17.
"I really have a lot of confidence in both," Lazor insisted. "We certainly could pull up video from points of the season, you'd watch it and you'd say, 'This guy can play quarterback for us.'"
"Points" is the key word. At no time this season has Virginia received consistent play at quarterback, or anywhere else for that matter.
Granted, few, if any, expected the Cavaliers to match or better last year's 8-5 record. But barring reversals of form from players and coaches -- the confusion that forced Sims to waste two timeouts before a third-quarter third-and-2 was on the staff -- this season will not end well.
"It's a pretty down group right now," Sims said.
"The worst thing we could do right now," London said, "is start pointing fingers and blaming and things like that."
These are the most trying times of London's head-coaching career. How he copes will reveal volumes.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times