By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The biggest win of Mike London’s first season as UVa’s football coach was also the last one.
After holding off the 22nd-ranked Miami Hurricanes 24-19 at Scott Stadium, the Cavaliers dropped their final four regular-season games in 2010 to finish 4-8. The slide started with a 55-48 loss to Duke, an ACC game that easily could have been — and should have been — a Virginia victory, London’s players believe.
“There was definitely a letdown in that game,” sophomore defensive end Jake Snyder said Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. “We did a lot of good things in that game, but we also made a lot of mistakes. Especially defensively we made a lot of mistakes.
“There’s definitely a bit of a letdown after a big win like that. You think, ‘We just beat Miami, we’re going to Duke now, which perennially isn’t as big a powerhouse as Miami is.’ ”
Virginia is three days removed from another notable victory, this one over a Georgia Tech team that came in ranked No. 12 nationally. In front of a Homecomings crowd at Scott Stadium, the ‘Hoos edged the previously undefeated Yellow Jackets 24-21 to improve 1-1 in the ACC and 4-2 overall.
The Cavaliers’ challenge now is to avoid the lull that followed their upset of Miami last year. As satisfying as the win over Georgia Tech might have been, it was only one victory, All-ACC cornerback Chase Minnifield stressed Monday at JPJ, and he’ll try to make sure his teammates understand as much.
“Just move on,” Minnifield said. “Don’t worry about that. Winning programs, they don’t worry about big wins. You win and you go to the next week. The problem around here, I think, is a lot of times we get a big win, and it sticks around for weeks. Let it go. Let’s get to the next one.”
UVa concludes a four-game homestand Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against NC State (0-2, 3-3), whose coach, Tom O’Brien, knows Scott Stadium well. O’Brien was a longtime assistant under George Welsh at Virginia before leaving to become head coach at Boston College. This will be O’Brien’s first game in Charlottesville since he left for BC after the 1996 season.
The Wolfpack, beset by injuries, has struggled at times this season, but Virginia is not talented enough to take any opponent lightly.
“We have that understanding now that every team could beat us, and we could beat every team,” Snyder said. “We’re going to take every day as if it’s the last game of the season and the most important game of the season.”
The players have Mondays off during the season. On Sundays, they meet and lift weights and practice.
“It’s not always the first thing you want to do [after a victory],” Snyder acknowledged, “get up and go in on a Sunday and try to fix your mistakes. You want to enjoy it a little bit. But the bottom line is, we’re eager to get back in there, we’re eager to fix our mistakes, and guys couldn’t wait to get in there and start looking at NC State film. We had a good time [Saturday night]. We enjoyed the win with each other, and now we’re ready to get on to the next one and get another win.”
When London addressed his players Sunday, he reminded them that it was their preparation — the film study, the practices, the attention to detail, even their grueling summer workouts — that made the win over the Jackets and the subequent euphoria and celebration possible.
“You’ve got to put the work in beforehand,” London said Monday at his weekly press conference.
“When you’re trying to build a culture of winning, regardless of who you play and when you play, that becomes the constant. Some teams, no matter where they go, home or away, they’re consistent. That is the level we’re aspiring to be and hopefully reach.”
Asked why it’s often difficult for players to stay focused after an important victory, London smiled. “I don’t know,” he said. “If I find the answer to that, I’ll have guru status [like] some of the TV announcers.
“When you’re talking to a bunch of 19- to 20-year-olds about what they have to do to sustain the level of achievement and success, sometimes it doesn’t always reach their ears. But sometimes it does.”
Six regular-season games remain for the ‘Hoos. Victories in two of them would make UVa bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007.
“Hopefully [the win over Georgia Tech] does become the start of something,” Mihota said. “We can’t do what we did last year and get complacent. Hopefully we can take this and build on it and keep on getting better throughout the second half of the season. I feel like this year, especially, we’ve become more of a second-half team, where we haven’t in the past. So in being a second-half team, we have to be a second-half-of-the-season kind of team, too.”
TIES THAT BIND: UVa’s schedule this season includes games against four teams — William and Mary, Georgia Tech, NC State and Miami — whose coaching staffs are anything but anonymous to London.
He worked as an assistant at W&M under Jimmye Laycock, still the Tribe’s head coach. Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator is Al Groh, under whom London had two stints as an assistant at UVa. London’s first job in Division I-A came as an assistant at Boston College, where Tom O’Brien, now at NC State, was the head man. Moreover, NC State offensive coordinator Dana Bible was on that BC staff too.
“I have a lot of fond memories of being up there at Boston College with Coach O’Brien,” London said. “Now he’s moved on, I’ve moved on, and we’ve stayed in contact ever since.”
Finally, London worked with Miami’s first-year head coach, Al Golden, at BC and Virginia.
“It doesn’t change anything in therms of the preparation for the game, but it does add to the human element,” London said Monday, “having worked with and become really good friends [with those coaches], our families knowing each other and those things.”
Virginia plays Oct. 27 at Miami in ESPN’s Thursday night showcase.
PHYSICAL SUPERIORITY: Against Georgia Tech, UVa ran out the clock with a punishing drive that lasted 5 minutes and 58 seconds. The Cavaliers attempted only two passes on that possession.
As Virginia’s offensive line gained confidence, center Anthony Mihota said Monday, he could feel the Jackets’ defensive linemen “quit a little bit. The last drive took a lot out of them, I feel like.”
Mihota praised the work of Evan Marcus, who returned to UVa in January after four seasons as a head strength coach in the NFL.
“He did a lot to make sure we got mentally prepared and physically prepared also,” Mihota said. “This is hardest we’ve worked out during the season since I’ve been here, with any weight coach we’ve had, and he wants to make sure we get stronger as we go on through the season and not just maintain.”
Mihota, a fifth-year senior, was named ACC offensive lineman of the week Monday. That’s the second time he’s collected that honor this season.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I worked hard, especially with the bye week. I had a lot of extra time to prepare and watch film and everything, and I felt like I was really confident and really ready in making the calls I had to make and making sure everyone did their job.
“It was a belief thing. I knew my teammates were going to do their part. Collectively, across the offensive line, everyone graded 85 or above, so we all played pretty well against them.”
BY THE BOOK: Minnifield intercepted a pass against the Jackets, giving him 12 picks for his career. That moved him into a tie for sixth place on Virginia’s all-time list with Bryan Shumock, Joe Crocker and Anthony Poindexter.
Minnifield also had five tackles against Georgia Tech, and as usual he displayed textbook form. He credits the lessons taught him at an early age by his father, former NFL cornerback Frank Minnifield.
“I was just telling some people upstairs,” Minnifield said Monday. “They were talking about my tackling, and I said I was raised by an old-school corner, where you’ve got to tackle [properly]. I’ve been practicing tackling drills since the first day of pads. So that’s what we do back home on my Little League team. We do tackling drills all day, every day.”
You won’t see Minnifield attempting the headfirst tackles favored by many defensive backs.
“I don’t like that,” he said. “It’s too dangerous. My dad always tells me, ‘We’d rather miss the tackle than not come up off the field.’ ”
ARMED AND DANGEROUS: Russell Wilson is gone, but NC State has another outstanding quarterback in Mike Glennon, a 6-6, 232-pound junior from Northern Virginia.
Glennon, whose brother, Sean, played quarterback at Virginia Tech, has completed 124 of 193 passes (64.2 percent) for 1,486 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, with only four interceptions.
“The kid has a rocket arm,” Minnifield said. “He throws the ball like some of the best quarterbacks in the country … That ball gets there real fast. It’s an NFL ball. When Peter Lalich was here, I got to practice against him a lot, and that’s the kind of ball he throws. He can throw it from anywhere, from across the hash to this side of the field.”