Back to back road trips are never ideal, but when the second one comes against a Virginia team struggling every weekend, it eases the pressure a little bit. Saturday the Tigers will travel to Charlottesville to take on a squad that hasn't won a football game since mid-September. Yikes. The Hoos aren't really even looking that good in their losses, and have lost by double digits to its last three home opponents (Ball State, Duke, and Georgia Tech). It appears from my perspective that Virginia is going through some serious growing pains at the moment and that's unfortunate because Mike London seems like a pretty likable guy.
Facing Clemson means the Cavs will host a pair of top-10 teams in the same season for the first time since 2005. On Sept. 7, UVa was clobbered by No. 2 Oregon, 59-10. "I think the big thing is don’t let the game get too big," said junior tight end Zach Swanson. "Oregon was No. 2 when we played them. Clemson’s top 10. It’s not about that. It’s not about the game or the scenario. It’s about doing your job. I harp on it all the time. I tell everybody on the sideline before the game, ‘You don’t have to do anything special. Just do your job and good things will happen and you’ll make plays.’ "I think that’s the big thing that I learned from Oregon. It’s not about me playing Oregon. It’s about playing and doing my job and applying that to each of my teammates."
Two years ago London was one of the hottest names in college football leading the Cavs to a 8-4 regular season record and a spot in the Chick-fil-A bowl. Over the last two seasons however, Virginia is just 6-14 with just two ACC wins. The feeling I get in Charlottesville is that they want to give London one more season to try and turn things around in large part to help keep the recruiting class in tact. Their 2014 class could be special and the headliners Quin Blanding Andrew Brown are both five star prospects. Still there is a lot of head scratching and shaking at Virginia these days. London's game management has been sketchy to put it nicely, and poor handling of timeouts late in the second half against MD and before half against Georgia Tech had Hoos fans up in arms.
The skid hit five games and this one came with yet another flavor. Virginia didn’t waste a spectacular defensive performance with an offense that couldn’t move the ball like it did against Pitt. Virginia didn’t shoot itself in the foot with a bundle of turnovers and penalties like it did against Ball State. Virginia didn’t stall inside the red zone like it did against Maryland. Virginia didn’t blow a three-touchdown lead like it did against Duke. No, Saturday, the opponent was Georgia Tech and the method of losing was a failure to turn takeaways into points.
The offseason for Virginia was quite hectic. London essentially cleaned house following their 4-8 2012 season, hiring both former NC State coach Tom O'Brien and former Georgia Tech DC Jon Tenuta to go along with Larry Lewis who came over from Nevada. Steve Fairchild was hired as OC who spent 2012 in the NFL and three years before that coaching Colorado State. That's a whole lot of turnover, but even at a place like UVA which has lost a lot of its football luster, 4-8 isn't acceptable and change needed to happen.
Virginia Coach Mike London was already feeling pressure from fans upset at the extended losing streak that has derailed the Cavaliers’ season for a second-consecutive year. But his latest game-management blunder in Saturday’s 35-25 loss to Georgia Tech may have provided more ammunition, and now London is looking for some answers.
How much has this changed help? The results thus far haven't been pretty. To go along with their 2-6 record, Virginia is struggling statistically. The Hoos are 97th in the country in scoring offense, 78th in scoring defense, and are 100 or worse in passing efficiency, red zone defense, and kickoff returns. Their time of possession numbers have been good (5th in the country), but when you aren't scoring points (red zone offense ranks 78th) all that time holding on the ball doesn't help you very much. When you are struggling this badly across the board, your job as head coach becomes that much harder. You have to find ways to motivate your troops and that becomes exceedingly difficult when you have to win every single game from here on out just to have a shot at a bowl game and .500 season.
So, the losing streak is now at 5. And with the #9 team in the nation coming into Charlottesville next week. David Watford's career day may quiet the QB discussion for a while, but Mike London's seat just gets hotter and hotter.
As for Clemson, this game can serve as a much needed confident boost moving forward. With three very winnable games coming up (two of which are at home), Clemson can get some momentum going prior to the big showdown with South Carolina to end the season. Last Saturday, once again the Chad Morris offense took almost an entire half to get going (much like what occurred vs. BC and NC State). I want to see more more consistency in the red zone this weekend because leaving points on the board, especially on the road, drives fans and coaches mad. Virginia is similar to Maryland in that should Clemson not beat itself with turnovers and missed opportunities (something we struggled with against the Terps), it won't have problems scoring. If Clemson has any hope of winning out and striving for an at large BCS bowl, the commitment to disciplined and sound offense and defense will have to improve moving forward.