And then the wheels fell off the offense.
Gardner struggled and the offense sputtered, completing just one of his next 12 passes as Virginia forged ahead 10-7 at the half. Gardner was pulled for freshman Reggie Bonnafon, who didn't spark the offense, and then put back in the game in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals took the lead 21-20 on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to James Quick with 6:59 left but the Cardinals couldn't hold on in a 23-21 loss.
"We lose as one," senior running back Dominique Brown said when asked about the performance of Gardner for the entire game.
While he did throw two TD passes, Gardner struggled mightily for much of the game. He completed 14 of 34 passes for 164 yards but also threw a pair of interceptions - with a third negated by penalty - and was sacked three times.
"He showed his competitive spirit there," Petrino said of Gardner. "He competed on the two drives where he came back and we scored. We're just not very good offensively right now. We have a long way to go on offense."
And that starts with the quarterbacks.
Gardner looked sharp to start the game but finished with seven balls that were batted down at the line of scrimmage by the Cavaliers. One of those plays resulted in an interception and several appeared to be going to a wide open receiver.
"There were certainly way too many balls batted down," Petrino said. "There are a number of things responsible for it."
The Cardinals were also an awful 4 of 14 on third-down conversions, starting the game by converting on just one of the first 10.
"We weren't able to make the throws, we had some guys open and then we dropped one," Petrino said. "It was kind of an accumulation of the entire team's protection, throws, catches. Just a poor job of me getting them ready to play."
With Gardner struggling, Petrino tried to spark things with the move to Bonnafon. He helped the offense gain 34 yards in a last-minute effort of the first half but the offense had minus-1 yard on nine plays on the first three series of the second half.
The field position was at the U of L 25 twice and the 1 the third series.
"We thought maybe we could get a spark and get something going," Petrino said. "He made some plays there before half but we weren't able to move the ball at all so we decided to switch it back up again and finally we were able to get it going."
In the end, it was a special teams mistake that cost the Cardinals the most but Petrino said it was a total team loss. He noted the quarterbacks "have to improve," before they hit the road next week for Florida International.
"We just didn't make enough plays to win the game," Petrino said.