When Virginia Coach Mike London went back and looked at the film from the Cavaliers’ season-opening win over Richmond on Saturday, the breadth of early-season mistakes he expected weren’t there. Despite a tinge of disappointment in the immediate aftermath of the game, Virginia was better on tape than he expected.
One sequence, however, remains on London’s mind as the Cavaliers turn their attention to Penn State’s visit to Charlottesville this weekend. The coach was still shaking his head at Virginia’s inability to convert a on fourth and one on its first drive of the second half.
“We’ve got to get it,” London said. “Even if you say, ‘We’re going to run the play over here,’ and everybody knows it, I’ve been bragging on the offensive line, so that’s probably … one of the biggest disappointments.”
Though the failed conversion had little bearing on the outcome Saturday, London has used it to drive home an important point this week: The Cavaliers will need to play better if they want to defeat the Nittany Lions, even if Penn State is coming off a 24-14 loss to Ohio to begin the year.
While Penn State Coach Bill O’Brien spent Tuesday discussing the loud environment he expects when his team comes to Virginia for its first road game since the program was put under NCAA sanctions related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the Cavaliers were busy making sure everybody knows they aren’t overlooking the wounded Nittany Lions.
Defensive end Jake Snyder referenced last year’s victory over Indiana as a prime example of what could happen. The Hoosiers lost to Ball State to open the 2011 season, but Virginia needed a game-winning field goal to beat them the very next week.
“It’s easy to fall into that trap. You hear a team that’s like Ohio, that’s not from one of these big-six conferences … but they’re a good team. They won 10 games last year,” Snyder said. “Just because [Penn State] didn’t get a win their opening week doesn’t mean anything negative about them and that’s something the older guys know … We learned our lesson last year.”
Added offensive tackle Oday Aboushi, “They’re gonna come [as] a real emotional team with a vengeance.”
Penn State lost nine players to transfer after the NCAA sanctions were levied in July and returns just six full-time starters from last year. But quarterback Matt McGloin and linebacker Gerald Hodges are both veteran difference makers that remain in the fold. Running back Bill Belton, who rushed for 53 yards on 13 carries and also had a touchdown catch before spraining his ankle in the third quarter against Ohio, is listed as probable for Saturday’s game at Virginia.
But with so many new players and the wide range of emotions the Penn State scandal has elicited, O’Brien is focusing on how his team will deal with the adverse conditions that come along with his first road game.
“The big thing is we’ve got to be able to deal with the crowd noise, because having gone to Charlottesville many times [as an assistant] at Georgia Tech and Maryland and Duke, it’s a very, very loud crowd,” said O’Brien.
When Penn State arrives at Scott Stadium, they could see a slightly different starting offensive line from Virginia. Sophomore Conner Davis has moved ahead of sophomore Cody Wallace on the left guard depth chart. London also said linebacker Daquan Romero’s performance Saturday earned him some more playing time, although redshirt sophomore Henry Coley remains the starter at strongside linebacker.
But if you believe some, London could very well have been in O’Brien’s shoes this week. He acknowledged Tuesday that his name came up as a potential replacement for former Coach Joe Paterno last fall.
London called the attention “flattering” but reiterated he’s happy in Charlottesville.
“There are always people throwing your name out there and then it [grows] legs, and all of a sudden, it’s a centipede and you have all kind of people talking about it,” he said. “My focus is here and this is where I want to be.”