It's one step forward, two steps back in Mike London's first season as coach

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As folks prepared to turn their clocks back Saturday, Virginia's football team took several steps back.

"It's the most difficult thing on the planet Earth to lose that way," Cavaliers receiver Dontrelle Inman said.

"Disheartening and disappointing," coach Mike London said.

Indeed, one week after its finest performance this season, Virginia lost 55-48 at Duke.

The Blue Devils had dropped eight consecutive ACC games. Their quarterback has thrown a conference-high 15 interceptions and their defense is among the nation's worst.

But they defeated Virginia (4-5, 1-4 ACC) for the third consecutive year in a game that featured 1,132 yards total offense, a fake field goal for touchdown (U.Va.) and a successful onside kick to open the second half (Duke).

The Blue Devils have five ACC victories in the last three years, three against Virginia, their first such streak in the series since 1976-78. This marks Duke's first three-game run against any conference rival since it bested Wake Forest in 1993, '94 and '95.

Those trends speak to the Cavaliers' program and the macro challenges confronting London in his first season.

Most troubling from the micro view: Leading 48-47 with 1:07 remaining, Virginia allowed a 32-yard pass completion from Sean Renfree to Donovan Varner on fourth-and-20.

"One play gets you off the field," London said, "and you can't capitalize on that."

Was the Cavaliers' sideline preparing to celebrate?

"Of course," Inman said. "Everyone in the stands … thought we had them."

They didn't, and three snaps later, Duke scored the winning touchdown on Desmond Scott's 35-yard run.

The ACC's No. 11 rushing offense, Duke ran for a season-high 230, nearly double its previous average of 120. The Cavaliers tackled poorly and appeared bamboozled by Duke's wildcat formation, from which freshman backup quarterback Brandon Connette rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns.

The worst breakdown against the rush came on a fourth-quarter third-and-9 from Virginia's 37, when quarterback Sean Renfree ducked and dodged an all-out blitz and weaved 37 yards for a touchdown. Renfree's previous long run this season was 12 yards.

So many indictments, so little time.

Beat No. 22 Miami one week, lose to Duke (3-6, 1-4 ACC) the next? Such are the take-two-Dramamine swings of rebuilding a program.

No player personifies that mercurial nature more than senior quarterback Marc Verica.

He threw for a school-record 417 yards Saturday and career-high four touchdowns. He completed routes short, deep and intermediate.

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