By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In its past three games, the University of Virginia football team has totaled 1,472 yards on offense. UVa’s defense has allowed 1,014 yards during the span. In each of those games — against Louisiana Tech, Duke and Maryland — Virginia finished with more total offense than its opponent.
“If you looked at stats alone, you would have thought we’d won those games,” sophomore defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite said Monday.
Instead, of course, the Cavaliers dropped all three to stretch their losing streak to five games — largely because of other stats that reflect poorly on third-year coach Mike London’s team.
Out of the 120 teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, UVa ranks 88th in scoring offense, 99th in scoring defense and 119th in turnover margin. Moreover, only 23 teams are averaging more penalty yards per game than the Wahoos.
“We’ve been getting penalties, penalties we don’t need to be getting,” Brathwaite said.
Brathwaite was one of five UVa players who stopped by John Paul Jones Arena to field questions from media members Monday. The others included sophomore offensive guard Conner Davis, who was asked what the `Hoos needed to do to end their losing streak.
“We gotta be a smart football team,” Davis said.
Sophomore tight end Jake McGee, like his teammates, believes the `Hoos are close to a breakthrough, he said, “but we gotta fix the small things.”
The Cavaliers are moving the ball well “but haven’t finished drives as well as we should have,” McGee said. “As an offense, our job is get seven points on the board. Three is OK, but we want to score touchdowns on every possession.”
Opportunities to do so are dwindling. Virginia passed the midpoint of the regular season last weekend and must win four of its five remaining games to become bowl-eligible for the second straight year.
Three of those games are at Scott Stadium, beginning Saturday, when UVa (2-5, 0-3 ACC) hosts Wake Forest (3-3, 1-3) at 12:30 p.m.
Statistically, the Demon Deacons, who are coached by Virginia alumnus Jim Grobe, have been unimpressive in many areas. They rank 90th nationally in scoring offense and 87th in scoring defense. But where the `Hoos have been bad, the Deacs have been good. They’re tied for 39th in turnover margin and are among the least-penalized teams in the FBS.
“It will be challenging again,” London said Monday. “But our team is hungry, desperate for a win.”
In the midst of the program’s longest losing streak since 2009, Al Groh’s final season as the Cavaliers’ head coach, London remains positive.
“You never stop teaching this game, how to play the game,” he said Monday. “You never stop teaching about concepts, things that can help you be great players: effort, energy, and preparation — all those things. It’s always constant.
“But it’s one of those things that you have to show these young men that adversity is going to happen in life. We’ve experienced our fair share of it. At the same time, on the other side, I’ve always said I feel we’re a few inches from making a catch or making a play, tipping a ball, whatever it maybe, to start or ignite a spark.”
London said he’s confident “that as we build this thing the right way, that this program, people, our fans, administrators, will be proud.”
TARGET DATE: A severe hamstring injury has sidelined defensive end Bill Schautz since Sept. 22, and he won’t play this weekend. The Cavaliers are off Oct. 27, and London said he hopes Schautz will be able to play Nov. 3 at NC State.
Schautz had a breakout year in 2011 and was expected to be one of the defense’s leaders this fall.
“It’s difficult on the young man,” London said.
It has also been difficult for the Cavaliers, whose pass rush has been ineffective for most of this season.
“We do miss him.,” London said. “That’s one of our counted-on playmakers that haven’t been playing. He’s a vocal guy, too. We have LaRoy Reynolds out there that’s very vocal. But you miss the energy [Schautz] has and plays with.
“Hopefully after the bye week, his last couple college football games are ones that he can finish on the field, not on the sideline.”
Heading into its eighth game, Virginia is healthier than many teams in college football. But the absence of junior wideout has limited the options of an offense looking to make big plays.
Smith, who missed the Sept. 15 game at Georgia Tech with a hamstring injury, is now dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of the Duke and Maryland games.
“He’s keeping his head up,” sophomore quarterback Phillip Sims said. “It’s frustrating for anybody when you’re out with an injury.”
Sims played at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake with Smith and Perry Jones, one of UVa’s top tailbacks. Smith, who has eight catches for 144 yards and one touchdown this season, might be available for the Wake game.
Jones’ status is unclear. He suffered a concussion in the third quarter against Maryland and didn’t return to the game.
“I think there’s still enough time for the Tim Smiths of the world and those guys to get themselves healthy, get back with enough time for the younger players to still play in games and gain game-time playing experience,” London said.
THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM? Sims, who backed up junior Michael Rocco for UVa’s first five games, is still looking for his first victory as a starter. Sims struggled against Maryland, completing only 13 of 28 passes before Rocco replaced him in the fourth quarter.
Sims said Monday that he’d like to be making “better decisions, and after last week’s performance, just being a lot more accurate. I was very disappointed with myself with that, because I know I’m much better than that.”
Asked about Sims, who will start against Wake, London said, “Obviously the skill level is there. There’s a difference between coming in the game later on and then starting the game and managing the game as you play. I know Phillip [was] a great player coming to Oscar Smith, going to Alabama, but that was his second game starting as a quarterback. Sometimes we lose the perspective of what that is.”
Against Maryland, UVa had only a single field goal to show for its two first-half trips into the red zone.
“It’s very frustrating,” Sims said. “As a quarterback, scoring points is your job. That’s how you stay around. If you don’t produce, the offense doesn’t produce, somebody else goes in, end of story.”
For the season, Sims is 62-for-116 passing for 747 yards and six touchdowns, with three interceptions. Three of those TD passes have been to sophomore wideout E.J. Scott, who wears jersey No. 19.
“I really don’t think that I’m going out there on the field looking for 19, but it sure looks like it, because he’s coming up with a lot of big catches,” Sims said, smiling. “He’s getting open, and I’m going to throw it to whoever’s open.”
The 6-5, 235-pound McGee, who played quarterback and safety in high school, leads Virginia with four TD receptions.
“Jake’s a huge weapon,” Sims said. “As a tight end, you don’t see too many guys that come along with that size and speed.”
McGee has caught 19 passes for 263 yards this fall. He had only two receptions against Maryland — one, from Rocco, for a 24-yard touchdown — but the Cavaliers were hoping to get him the ball more, London said.
“Had the look [from Maryland’s defense] been what we anticipated, we would have tried to execute that,” London said. “But the look wasn’t that way.”
“But Jake is an outstanding player … He is one player that gravitates to the ball. We’ve all seen great catches that he’s made. Obviously, we’ve got to find ways to get him involved in that.”