Elliott explains botched time outs and late-game penalties in UNC loss

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Michael Bruder

Virginia didn’t really have much of a chance to win last Saturday’s game against North Carolina in the final minutes because the Cavaliers coaches burned their last timeout with more than six minutes remaining in the game.

Tony Elliott addressed the late-game situation and the miscommunication during his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon, and accepted part of the blame.

Virginia’s 71-yard drive on its final possession of the game, capped by a bullish, 8-yard touchdown run by Brennan Armstrong, pulled the Cavaliers within a field goal of the 18th-ranked Tar Heels with 3:24 to play, 31-28. But UVA couldn’t stop the clock and Carolina simply ate the remaining time.

Armstrong called the first timeout in the third quarter, as he tried to bait the Heels into jumping offsides on a fourth-and-one at the UNC 46. Carolina didn’t bite, so Armstrong called time. Virginia then went for it and made the first down on a Ronnie Walker run, keeping a scoring drive alive as the Cavaliers took a 21-17 lead.

Carolina scored on its next two possessions for the 31-21 lead.

After UNC scored, UVA had the ball at its own 14, was called for holding and eventually moved the ball to its own 22, facing a fourth down. There was miscommunication on the ensuing punt and instead of taking a 5-yard delay penalty, Virginia called timeout with 11:25 to play.

The Tar Heels were forced to punt on the next series to UVA’s 20. After five plays and a penalty on UVA, the Cavaliers were forced to punt again, this time from their own 32. Again, miscommunication, leading to its last timeout with 6:11 to play.

Those decisions had a huge impact over the remaining minutes because Virginia stopped Carolina on a fourth-and-three on the next possession, the Cavaliers taking over at their own 29 with 4:23 to go. Armstrong led the team down the field and scored with 3:24 to go, drawing within a field goal.

Elliott’s hands were pretty much tied at that point with the inability to stop the clock.

“I’d let [Armstrong] take that timeout any day,” Elliott said of the first stoppage. “But the other two were costly because we score, we’ve got three minutes left in the game. You have to onside kick because you have no timeouts. The clock management is going to tell you, with no timeouts [Carolina] can run about two minutes and 30, two minutes and 40 off the clock with its four downs.

“If you let that transpire, you kick it deep. Even if you force a stop, you’re going to get the ball back with about 30 seconds.”

Elliott said that had he still owned two timeouts, he would have put it on his defense and say, ‘Hey, boys, we’re going to kick ‘em deep, and let’s get a stop, use the timeouts.’”

“And now maybe we get the ball back midfield or just on our side of the field with a minute 20 with two timeouts,” Elliott said. “That’s a better situation than 30 seconds to go with no timeouts, and you’re probably going to be pinned deep.”

All Virginia needed at the end was to get within field-goal range for a chance to tie the game and possibly send the game into overtime.

“Obviously, I know there was some people that saw me get upset,” Elliott said, “but my frustration was not with the players, it was with the staff and miscommunication and wanting to take a chance, you know, that we didn’t need to take in that situation.”

Elliott said he called the second timeout.

“I called a timeout. We got so low on the play clock, Keith (Gaither) was mentioning, ‘Hey, coach, we probably need to get out of this,’ so I take the timeout there because in essence, it was a call that was pretty risky,” Elliott said.

“We were in third-and-long at our 22 and we just weren’t in the right call. So rather than back it up, we would have been backed up if we went with the play call, so I had to call the timeout to get us in a better call.”

After the onsides kick, and an offsides penalty on Virginia, the Tar Heels recovered and took over at the UVA 23 with 3:19 to play. UNC gained a first down at the Cavaliers’ 4. From there, UVA was penalized on the next three straight possessions for offsides, then a personal foul on Kam Butler, then an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Olasunkonmi Agunloye. Carolina took a knee to end the game.

Elliott and defensive coordinator John Rudzinski didn’t appear to agree on UVA’s aggressiveness on the last few plays.

“We’re going to play to the last snap,” Rudzinski said. “As long as that ball is live, shoot, I’ve seen a ball pop out of there at the end and guys get an opportunity to get the ball back. And so our guys are doing what they’re coached to do. I know that you’re gonna get in that [victory] formation, but we’re going to make sure that you have to earn it for 60 minutes.”

Pressed on whether he was frustrated with the penalties in that last series, Rudzinski was adamant that his players were doing their job.

“The young men did and executed what we asked them to do defensively,” Rudzinski said.

Elliott seemed upset with the penalties and explained why.

“That’s a slippery slope, because you’re challenging these guys to play every play for four quarters,” Ellliott said. “You want guys to play and you take a chance on the first one to see if you can get [the opponent] to make a mistake. And then, after that, I think you’ve got to concede the fact.

“When we jumped over the pile, that wasn’t necessary, but still, understanding guys are playing to the whistle. The problem is that could turn into a more significant costly penalty and now you’re out the next game. So biggest thing was guys were trying to play to the end, but we’ve got to play to the end the right way.”