The hallmark of Virginia football -- consistently winning games it is expected to win -- faded a bit last weekend when visiting Duke upset the Cavaliers, 24-17, in overtime. As a result, Virginia's 12-year streak of at least seven victories may end.
Not since 1988, when the Cavaliers began 2-4, has Coach George Welsh's team struggled to win seven games. That season Virginia won the rest of its games to finish second in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Only three teams -- Florida State, Nebraska and Michigan -- have won at least seven games each of the past 12 seasons. But for Welsh, win totals are a distraction.
"They're all crossroads games now," Welsh said. "It's N.C. State this week, and that's all we're talking about. We're not talking about seven wins, eight wins or five wins."
Nevertheless, last weekend's loss was uncharacteristic of a Welsh-coached team. Duke's upset marked the third time in 10 years that a team considered more than a two-touchdown underdog defeated the Cavaliers (3-3, 2-2).
All of those losses have come at home. In 1990, 22-point underdog Maryland defeated Virginia, 35-30, and fellow 17-point underdogs Clemson (1996) and the Blue Devils round out the short list.
A fourth ACC win might be difficult for the Cavaliers, who have won at least five conference games in 10 of the last 12 seasons. They play at North Carolina State this weekend and also will face No. 1 Florida State, No. 8 Georgia Tech and Maryland (4-1).
The Cavaliers may struggle to win six times and thus qualify for a bowl game. Assuming Virginia defeats Buffalo Nov. 13, the team will need to win two of four conference games to qualify.
But six wins may be enough to get the Cavaliers into a bowl, since a fifth ACC team can be invited to one of the two bowls in Hawaii on Dec. 25.
There is a sense of urgency after losing to Duke.
"This has to be the ultimate wake-up call," wide receiver Ahmad Hawkins said. "We're losing a lot of our fans. That hurts when the fans start booing you."
Cavaliers Note: While coaches and players were in agreement today that the Cavaliers need to exploit the deep passing game more, many were unsure why the Virginia passing attack has struggled to stretch the field. Except for a 39-yard pass play at the end of the first half, quarterback Dan Ellis's longest completion of the day Saturday was for 13 yards.
"We tried to go deep, maybe not enough," Welsh said. "We were not getting open enough when we go deep, though."
"I feel we get open," Hawkins said. "You have to be in the [pocket] and know what Dan [Ellis] has to read. Sometimes we can be open deep, but we're not one of his reads.
"It's probably more the linemen getting used to holding their blocks longer, because we've been doing so many quick hits," Hawkins said. "I think that's the only thing that's stopping us right now."
But left guard Noel LaMontagne said it's more of a team effort.
"You can look at it in any direction, really," LaMontagne said. "This is really not a time in the season where we need to start pointing fingers and find who's to blame. You really have to look at yourself as a unit and see what's going on as a unit. We've got a lot of guys who've been pass blocking up there a long time and know what they're doing."
Ellis refused to talk about play-calling after drawing the ire of offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill for comments he made to the press last week.