Virginia players needed little reminder Monday of what happened the last time they defeated a ranked team. In 2010, the Cavaliers knocked off then-No. 22 Miami, 24-19, at home and then preceded to lose their final four games of the season. That was one of the first things Coach Mike London mentioned to the players during their Sunday workout, and it proved to be a consistent message preached by the coaching staff throughout the day.
The week after Virginia defeated Miami last season, the Cavaliers dropped a 55-48 decision at Duke, which previously had won just two games in 2010. So forgive them if they weren’t still reveling in the accomplishment of knocking off then-No. 12 Georgia Tech, 24-21, on Saturday.
“Winning programs, they don’t worry about big games,” senior cornerback Chase Minnifield said Monday. “You know, you win and you go to the next week. That’s the problem around here, I think, is a lot of times we get a big win and it sticks around for weeks. You know, let it go. Let’s get to the next one.”
In 2008, Virginia defeated then-No. 21 Georgia Tech, 24-17, and then lost its final four games of the season.
In 2005, the Cavaliers defeated then-No. 4 Florida State, 26-21, and the lost to North Carolina, 7-5, the following week. Later in that season, Virginia beat then-No.24 Georgia Tech, 27-17, and then lost its next two games, albeit to ranked foes.
So the last two times the Cavaliers (4-2, 1-1 ACC) defeated a ranked Georgia Tech squad, the following game has not turned out well. Coach Mike London and his players are hoping that trend ends Saturday when Virginia hosts North Carolina State (3-3, 0-2).
“That’s definitely a big thing,” redshirt sophomore defensive end Jake Snyder. “We’ve already talked about it. We talked about that (Sunday) in the meeting rooms. Our coaches have done a great job enforcing that, the fact that we can’t have a letdown like we did last year.”
The Virginia offense tallied 643 total yards against Duke in 2010, and that would have been the story line had the Cavaliers defense not given up 489 total yards and six rushing touchdowns.
“I feel like the defense took a lot of the blame for that game, and rightfully so,” Snyder said. “There’s definitely a little bit of a letdown after a big win like [last year against Miami]. You think we’ll just keep winning. We’re going to Duke now. Duke perennially isn’t as big of a powerhouse as Miami is. But we have that understanding now that any team can beat us. We can beat every team, and every team can beat us.”
And so on Sunday the Cavaliers began preparing for an N.C. State team that has thrown for the second-most touchdowns (17) and the second-least interceptions (4) in the ACC. The Wolfpack offense is led by quarterback Mike Glennon, who is averaging 247.7 passing yards per game.
London spoke Sunday night about the importance of his players maintaining the attention to detail that they had displayed during their two weeks of preparation for Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense. Of course, from this point forward the Cavaliers will have just one week to prepare for each of their remaining opponents.
“It’s not always the first thing you want to do is get up on Sunday and try to fix your mistakes, get yelled at about the things that went wrong and move on,” Snyder said. “You want to enjoy [the win] a little bit. But the bottom line is we’re eager to get back in there.”
The players began learning about N.C. State’s pro-style offense and how its 4-3 defense likes to bring pass rush pressure out of zone coverage. They also caught initial glimpses on film of N.C. State punt returner T.J. Graham, who ranks No. 1 in the ACC – and No. 7 in the nation – with a return average of 18.5 yards.
How much of that film study and preparation will sink in? And will it sink in the same way it did in advance of the Georgia Tech game? London didn’t have those answers Monday. He wants Saturday’s win over the Yellow Jackets to serve as a tipping point in the team’s progression rate, but he knows he won’t begin to find that out until the Cavaliers take the field against N.C. State.
Why is it that building off what appear to be significant victories is so difficult?
“I don’t know,” London said Monday. “If I knew the answer to that, I’d have guru status like some of these TV announcers and things like that. … The focus and the challenge is always to kind of be the same guy every week. I know that’s coach talk again, but when you’re talking about a bunch of 19-, 20-year-olds about what they have to do to sustain the level of achievement and success, sometimes it doesn’t always reach those ears. But sometimes it does.”