Oct. 19, 2012
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Two struggling teams will collide Saturday afternoon in an ACC football game at Scott Stadium.
UVa (2-5 overall, 0-3 ACC) has dropped five games in a row since defeating Penn State 17-16 on Sept. 8. Wake Forest (3-3, 1-3) has lost three of its past four games, in part because of off-the-field issues that led to suspensions of players.
The Cavaliers and the Demon Deacons have had two common opponents this season: Duke and Maryland. The Blue Devils and the Terrapins swept them both.
"We've had some good things and some bad things," Wake coach Jim Grobe said of his team's performance so far, and the man who will be his counterpart Saturday, Mike London, could make the same statement about UVa's season.
A marquee match-up, then, this isn't. Still, the game is crucial for a Virginia team that remains hopeful that it can revive its season.
"It's very important," sophomore defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite said Friday. "We try to treat every game the same, but we gotta get over this hump. This is just another opportunity for us to get over this losing streak."
In each of its past three games, Virginia has finished with more total offense than its opponent. But the Wahoos have shown a propensity for self-destructing this season, and that, more than anything else, is why they're last in the Coastal Division. UVa ranks 119th nationally in turnover margin -- out of 120 teams -- and only 23 teams are averaging more penalty yards per game. Moreover, special-teams breakdowns have become all too common for the Cavaliers.
"We can't beat ourselves, and that's what we've been doing," Brathwaite said.
On the ACC coaches' teleconference Wednesday, Grobe noted that turnovers have plagued the `Hoos.
"I'm sure Mike and his guys work on it all the time," said Grobe, a UVa graduate. "Usually if you're putting up really good numbers, which they are offensively, it usually comes back to taking care of the football."
Five regular-season games remain for UVa, three of them at Scott Stadium: Saturday against Wake, Nov. 10 against Miami (4-3, 3-1) and Nov. 15 against North Carolina (5-2, 2-1) in ESPN's Thursday night showcase.
Virginia plays Nov. 3 at NC State and closes the regular season Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech. To become bowl-eligible for a second straight year, London's team must win four more games. Given that, it's difficult to overstate the significance of UVa's first meeting with Wake in four years.
"The most important game for us right now is this game," London said.
The losing streak has been hard on the players, sophomore tight end Jake McGee said, "but I still think it's close to us turning it around."
Safety Anthony Harris, another sophomore, agreed.
"We just feel like we're one step away, one play away, from actually breaking a big play," Harris said, "whether that's on offense, defense or even special teams."
Yet another sophomore, Phillip Sims, will make his third consecutive start at quarterback for UVa on Saturday. Sims struggled last weekend against Maryland, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor benched him in the fourth quarter.
"I don't even recognize the quarterback that played today," Sims said after Virginia's 27-20 loss to Maryland, a game in which he completed only 13 of 28 passes for 139 yards, with one interception and one touchdown.
Sims, a transfer from Alabama, where he was the No. 2 quarterback last season, vowed to do better. But he knows it will take a collective effort for Virginia to reach its goals.
"No one man is going to win a football game," Sims said. "No one man is going to lead this team to 10 or 12 victories [by himself]... You can't do that on any team."
Freshmen and sophomores dominate the depth chart UVa released Monday: 15 on offense and 16 on defense. And that doesn't include sophomore punter Alec Vozenilek, sophomore long-snapper Matt Fortin or redshirt freshman kicker Ian Frye.
"The process of this team maturing at this point is evident, but we're not maturing quite as fast as what we'd like," London said.
With so many inexperienced players in key roles, "your patience does get tested," London said. "But at the same time, you talk about resolve, being resilient, working through this adversity.
"We're not where we want to be by any stretch of the imagination." But UVa's veterans "are committed to try to finish this thing out" on a high note, London said.
So are the underclassmen.
"Everybody's got a vibe of the team being young and having a bright future," said Harris, one of four sophomore starters in the secondary.
"But at the same time, we want to capitalize on the opportunity that we have now. So we're just trying to compete every week and just try to get as many wins as possible and not wait until junior and senior year to take advantage."
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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