Virginia may be one competent Penn State place kicker from having no wins over a Bowl Subdvision opponent this season, but Coach Mike London isn’t looking at his team’s prospects that way.
Coming off their fourth straight loss — a 42-17 drubbing at Duke on Saturday — the Cavaliers are reeling. Virginia has the worst turnover margin in the country (minus-12), the most penalties in the ACC in terms of yards per game and is on pace to have its worst defense in terms of points per game since 1975.
But even though Virginia has never qualified for a bowl game after starting a season 2-4, London reiterated Sunday night that the postseason is still a goal for these Cavaliers.
“We’re not cashing in the chips or anything like that,” London said. “There’s still a lot of football to be played. . . . Our focus is on this month of October.”
If Virginia has dreams of salvaging this season, it will have to begin the next two weeks. The Cavaliers face Maryland at home this weekend followed by a trip to Wake Forest on Oct. 20, the easiest stretch left on the schedule. Though the Terrapins are one of three ACC teams that haven’t lost a conference game yet, their wins have come over William & Mary, Temple and the aforementioned Demon Deacons.
But even though London has yet to give up on the season, he said Sunday he wants to get more playing time for the team’s younger players down the stretch, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines.
London felt fatigue played a large role in Virginia’s collapse at Duke. After entering halftime up 17-14, the Cavaliers were out-scored 28-0 in the second half. So on Sunday, he met with the defensive coaching staff and instructed them to rotate more players in the lineup going forward.
London singled out highly touted defensive ends Eli Harold and Michael Moore (DeMatha) as players who need to play more.
“There wasn’t a lot of energy there. A lot of it was expended in the first half,” London said of Saturday’s game. “For whatever reason, a lot of our guys were on IVs at halftime. We played at [TCU] and didn’t have that number of guys sitting in the locker room. That’s something I definitely saw.
“We need to play more people. . . . That’s a commitment I’m going to make for this team,” London added. “If they don’t get [snaps] soon, they don’t get them now, then the time that they have to go in the game in a critical situation, it may not be favorable because of the lack of playing experience.”
Though Saturday represented another setback for Virginia, it was an encouraging day for the running game — at least in the first half. Senior Perry Jones eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the first time this year, and sophomore Kevin Parks added 74 yards on the ground.
For the game, the Cavaliers averaged 5.3 yards per carry, although a big turning point in the third quarter came when Parks was stopped on fourth-and-one near midfield. Duke went on to score a touchdown that made the score 28-17 and never looked back.
Still, London came away impressed with how his offensive guard rotation played. The Cavaliers shook things up during the week, adding redshirt freshman Ross Burbank to the mix, and he “performed at a level that’s encouraging,” London said. He added that sophomore guard Conner Davis received the highest grade of his career for how played at Duke.
In addition to Burbank and Davis, sophomore Cody Wallace and junior Sean Cascarano received significant playing time as part of Virginia’s four-person rotation at guard. Redshirt freshman Jay Whitmire (T.C. Williams) also saw some snaps at right tackle in relief of junior Morgan Moses.