It was less than a year ago that Virginia’s Mike London was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year, and the Cavaliers were one of the hottest teams in the conference heading into bowl season. The program was bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007 -- heading to the prestigious Chick-fil-A Bowl -- recruiting was going well, and everything looked ahead of schedule in just the second season under London and his staff.
A win would be nice.
The Hoos are last in the Coastal Division, winless in ACC play, and have lost six straight as they try to correct a myriad of problems this week during their bye. Considering the team had to replace seven starters on defense entering this season -- including three defensive backs -- some growing pains were expected. Complete irrelevance in the division race, though, has been a surprise.
“You always go into a season with high hopes and expectations,” London said. “It's evident that every year there is a new team and there are new playmakers that have to arise and step up and make things happen for you. We talked about the close games last year. That we were able to pull out some close games on last-second wins on four occasions. This year three of the losses with 7 points or less and coming in the last couple of minutes and (we) just have not been able to execute well enough to pull those games out and win.
“It is frustrating, but at the same time we have to be mindful of the fact that with this open week our efforts and our energies have to be directed towards making good decisions, playing fundamental football and putting ourselves in position to help this team win. If that means schemes or systems or who we're asking to do what, then that's got to be required and will be required. All we can do now is with the four games left on our schedule is to play those games as well as we can.”
Virginia has to play two of its final four games on the road, and finishes the schedule with three straight division opponents in Miami, North Carolina and rival Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. One of the biggest problems has been the inconsistency at quarterback, where Michael Rocco was eventually replaced by Phillip Sims, but both have struggled. Turnovers have been a huge factor, as UVa ranks No. 120 in the country – dead last among FBS teams, having gained four takeaways and lost the ball 20 times.
Virginia has also struggled to run the ball – another surprise considering the talent up front in tackles Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi. The defense has failed to put pressure on quarterbacks with any consistency, and special teams have been especially atrocious. Virginia is also one of the most penalized teams in the country, averaging seven per game.
With the way the Hoos have played this year, it’s not inconceivable to think they won’t win again. London, though, said the program is still on track.
“Well, I know it's headed in the right direction in terms of the process of when you get to a place,” he said. “And this is the second recruiting class we have playing for us right now, currently recruiting the third recruiting class, the process of the expectations off the field of the players the process of look at the record. We are where we are as far as the record is concerned. I look at how this thing is being built and the expectations. There is still young, good, fresh talent that is here that has a chance, and as we develop them, have a chance to be good.
“You can look at the glass as half empty,” he said. “I look at it as half full. We just need to continue to pour into it and (keep) filling it. That's good with players and guys that are capable of handling the school work here. Guys that love winning and guys that give great effort. I would say that we're continuing the process of building this program to where we want it and to where it remains and will be attractive to young student-athletes out there.”