UVa Seeking Breakthrough in Blacksburg
Nov. 20, 2012
CHARLOTTESVILLE — From 1999 to 2011, a span of 13 football seasons, Georgia Tech went 3-10 against Georgia, as did Oklahoma State against Oklahoma.
In other notable rivalries, Washington State, Michigan and Texas A&M went 4-9 against Washington, Ohio State and Texas, respectively. Oregon State went 5-8 versus Oregon and South Carolina 5-8 against Clemson.
UVa can only wish it had been so successful against Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers have won only one of their past 13 meetings with the Hokies, and that was in 2003.
Elsewhere in college football, only Army (1-12 vs. Navy), Vanderbilt (1-12 vs. Tennessee) and UCLA (1-12 vs. Southern California) fared as poorly against their main rivals as Virginia did from 1999 to 2011.
But such trends can be reversed, as seen this past weekend in Los Angeles, where UCLA defeated USC. Virginia’s next opportunity to end its skid comes Saturday. At noon, in an ACC game that ESPNU will televise, UVa (4-7, 2-5) meets Tech (5-6, 3-4) at Lane Stadium.
The Wahoos haven’t won in Blacksburg since 1998. Their 2003 win came at Scott Stadium, where quarterback Matt Schaub starred in the Cavaliers’ 35-21 victory. Since then, Virginia has dropped eight straight to Tech, by an average margin of 22.6 points.
“The streak is there,” UVa sophomore quarterback Phillip Sims said Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. “You know about it. Everybody knows about it.”
Virginia defensive end Jake Snyder can attest to that. Snyder, a graduate of Deep Run High in the Richmond area, visited Virginia Tech before choosing Virginia, where his brother Matt was a wideout on the football team.
“I hear about it a lot,” Jake Snyder said Monday of the Hokies’ recent dominance in the series. “As far as people talking college football at home, that’s what they’re talking about, the UVa-Tech game. And so it’s a big deal to me, it’s a big deal to all of us on the team.”
Mike London was an assistant coach on the UVa team that defeated Tech in 2003. He’s now in his third season as the Cavaliers’ head man. In his first two games against the Hokies in that role, London saw his team lose 37-7 (in 2010) and 38-0 (last season).
“You get frustrated about a lot of things, but this is another game, another opportunity to change the fortunes of that, and you have to play well,” London said Monday. “We have to play better than obviously we played last week. We have to play probably our best football to date for anything like that to change.”
The Cavaliers are coming off a 37-13 loss to North Carolina in ESPN’s Thursday night showcase. That defeat ended UVa’s hopes of becoming bowl-eligible this season. Two days later, in Chestnut Hill, Mass., Virginia Tech beat Boston College in overtime, a result that raised the stakes in the regular-season finale.
The Hokies must win Saturday to advance to the bowl for the 20th consecutive season.
To end Tech’s streak of postseason appearances would be satisfying for the Cavaliers, Snyder said, but “that’s not the top priority, by any means. We’re looking to get another win. We’re looking to end our season strong and to send our seniors off on a good note and, obviously, beat a big-time rival. If it makes it a little bit worse for them by not making a bowl, so be it, but that’s not what we’re concerned about.”
Win or lose, the Cavaliers know, their season ends Saturday. Still, junior quarterback Michael Rocco said, the stakes are “just as high for us. It’s basically our bowl game. To go out on a winning note for our seniors and to win our last game is a big deal for us. [A victory] would send us into the offseason on a high note. We’re treating it like our bowl game.”
Sims said: “We know that we’re capable of winning this football game. We just gotta do the things that we’re capable of doing. We gotta prepare this week like this means something.
“I think we still have something to work for: getting better for next season. This game can set the tempo going into the spring offensive workouts and getting ready for next season. This is a big momentum-builder for us as a team.”
UVa’s current players were in middle school — or, in some cases, elementary school — in the fall of 2003. How, London was asked Monday, can he make his players believe they can do something they’ve never done: beat the Hokies?
“I think it requires you to revert back, [to] rely on even your parenting skills, your coaching skills, anything you’ve ever done to try to convince someone that they can do what they set their mind to,” London said. “I think the atmosphere has to be positive.”
London often describes himself as an eternal optimistic, and working to “create an atmosphere of being positive, despite the negative things that have happened, is something I will continue to try to keep doing,” he said. “You want the players to believe in themselves and you want them to believe that you believe in them, because if not, you’ll have no chance.”
FOND MEMORIES: Sims transferred to UVa from Alabama after the 2011-12 school year, so this will be his first game in Blacksburg as a college player. In the final game of his record-setting high school career, however, Sims played at Lane Stadium in December 2008.
All he did that afternoon was throw for 334 yards and six touchdowns to help Chesapeake’s Oscar Smith High cap an unbeaten season with a 54-24 rout of Osbourn in the state Group AAA, Division 6 championship game.
“So pretty good memories about playing there,” Sims said with a smile Monday.
Sims and Rocco split time at quarterback in UVa’s past three games, and a rotation of some sorts is likely again Saturday.
“It’s probably safe to say that both quarterbacks will play, but to the extent of how much and when and where, I mean, that remains to be seen,” London said. “But going into the last game, we will try to utilize every player that we have on our roster to help us.”
END OF AN ERA: The news that Maryland, a charter member of the ACC, was bolting for the Big Ten shocked London and his players Monday.
“It seems like everybody’s switching conferences these days,” Rocco said. “I know Maryland’s a big rival of ours, so it’s crazy that it’s happening, but it seems like it’s happening a lot, and that’s what the new thing is, to just switch conferences.”
Rocco is from Lynchburg. Sophomore safety Brandon Phelps grew up in Maryland, where he starred at Damascus High School.
“That was crazy,” Phelps said out of Maryland’s decision. “For me, that was always a fun thing, to know that I was going to be playing Maryland, but stuff happens.”
Once Maryland departs, UVa will be the closest ACC school for recruiting targets in the D.C. area. London believes the Cavaliers will be able to use that to their advantage.