By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Barely 10 minutes into the game Saturday in Atlanta, Georgia Tech ended its second possession with its second touchdown, and UVa trailed 14-0 at Bobby Dodd Stadium. As costly as Virginia’s first-quarter lapses on defense, though, were its breakdowns on offense.
“We fell behind because we didn’t execute very well early on, kind of dug ourselves in a hole,” offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said after practice Wednesday morning.
The early deficit, Fairchild said, influenced how he called plays as the game went on. Virginia finished with 41 passing attempts, to 16 rushes, and fifth-year senior tailback Kevin Parks carried the ball only five times (for 13 yards).
“Early on,” Fairchild said, “we were still trying to get some of the run game going, but eventually the time and the score does become a factor.”
The Wahoos trailed 21-10 at halftime and 28-10 midway through the third quarter. The final was 35-10.
In UVa’s previous three games, Parks had carried 70 times for 355 yards and two touchdowns.
“We always would like to get Kevin involved, first and foremost, but a little of that is how [defenses] play you,” Fairchild said. “They’re going to take certain things away, and you gotta be good enough to use other parts of your offense.”
The Wahoos haven’t scored a second-half touchdown since Sept. 27, when they routed Kent State 45-13 at Scott Stadium. They’ve totaled only six second-half points — on a pair of Ian Frye field goals — in their past four games, the last three of which the Cavaliers lost.
“Obviously that is a big concern,” head coach Mike London said. “You have to be able to score points, and particularly finish games. That’s something we have to do a better job at. We have to make sure that we give ourselves an opportunity to win games and to finish games.”
Virginia’s next opportunity comes Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla., at Doak Campbell Stadium, home of defending national champion Florida State.
In an ACC game that ESPN will televise, UVa (4-5, 2-3) meets second-ranked FSU (8-0, 5-0) at 6:30 p.m. Virginia has lost three straight since defeating Pittsburgh on Oct. 4. The Seminoles, who lead the ACC’s Atlantic Division, are on a 24-game winning streak.
The Cavaliers haven’t played in Tallahassee since 2011, when they knocked off the `Noles 14-13. To pull off another upset, the `Hoos almost certainly will need high-level quarterback play, something they have not been able to count on this season.
UVa’s starter, redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert, who missed three games with an ankle injury, has completed 102 of 169 passes (60.4 percent) for 1,055 yards and five touchdowns, with eight interceptions.
Lambert’s backup, classmate Matt Johns, is 86 for 156 (55.1 percent) for 1,044 yards and eight TDs, with five interceptions.
“Greyson and Matt, they’ve had their moments,” Fairchild said, “but at that position when you have the ball every snap, you’ve got to be more consistent, and we need to be more consistent at quarterback.”
RARE TALENT: FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman in 2013, has been in the headlines frequently this fall for off-the-field incidents, but on the field he continues to play well.
Winston averages 325.6 yards passing per game and has completed 67.2 percent of his attempts.
“They compare him to Michael Jordan in [terms of] his competitiveness,” UVa senior linebacker Daquan Romero said Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. “Any time you’re going up against a player like that, or a team like Florida State, you gotta bring your A-game. You gotta prepare, you gotta be ready.”
Winston hurt his ankle against Louisville, but the injury isn’t expected to keep him out of Saturday night’s game.
“Pain is temporary,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters this week. “You have to put it away. The guys who can deal with it and play with it are guys that have tremendous success in this game for a lot time. I thought he dealt with it very well. It’s an injury, but no different than anybody else. A lot of guys have sore ankles right now. If you don’t practice with pain, how are you going to play with pain?”
UNFAZED: In ESPN’s Thursday night showcase last week at Louisville, FSU fell behind 21-0, and Winston threw three interceptions. By game’s end, however, he had passed for 401 yards and three TDs, and the Seminoles were 42-31 winners.
“Let me tell you something, very rarely do you go out there and have your best stuff every night,” Fisher said. “If you asked pitchers in pro ball, I bet you’d be shocked [how rarely they say], `I’ve got my A-game, every pitch is working, I’m throwing exactly where I’m throwing it.’ ”
Winston’s targets include wide receivers Rashad Greene, Jesus Wilson and Travis Rudolph and tight end Nick O’Leary, who among them have 138 catches for 1,881 yards and 13 TDs this season.
“They definitely have a lot of weapons,” said UVa cornerback Brandon Phelps, a senior who has five pass breakups, one interception and one fumble recovery this fall. “But we’re just looking at it as another football game against a really good team.”
Greene, a 6-0, 180-pound senior leads the `Noles with 58 catches for 853 yards and four TDs.
“He’s definitely a standout,” Phelps said. “He’ll definitely be one of the best receivers we’ve played against all year. It’s going to be a fun matchup.”
Of the Cavaliers’ running backs, Mizzell has the third-most carries (53), behind Parks (150) and senior Khalek Shepherd (54). Parks and Shepherd average 4.2 yards per carry, and Mizzell averages 4.1.
On a teleconference Wednesday, Mizzell said he’s embraced his supporting role in the offense.
“I just know I’ve got to do what’s best for the team right now, and then as the time goes on and years go on, my role’s just going to [grow],” Mizzell said. “All it’s doing is just getting me ready for that next step.”
Asked if he believes he can be an every-down back for the `Hoos, Mizzell answered immediately. “Yes,” he said, “I know I can.”
CRUNCH TIME: Virginia has three regular-season games remaining: Saturday night at FSU, Nov. 22 against Miami (6-3, 3-2) at Scott Stadium, and Nov. 28 at Virginia Tech (4-5, 1-4).
To become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011, when they played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Cavaliers must win two of the three. London doesn’t need to remind his players of that fact.
“No, they’re smart guys,” he said. “The reality is the reality. Three games left and the opportunity to still realize some of the goals you set for yourself this season, they’re still there.
“This is an older team that realizes that we have to make the most of our opportunities. We have to play better in the second half. We have to score points when we get in the red zone. We have to coach better. We have to create those turnovers. Those things we can control, and if you can do those things, you can control your own destiny.”
Because the Cavaliers have so much at stake this month, Fisher said, they’re especially dangerous.
“I think any team is,” Fisher said, “whether it’s Virginia or anybody else. People know that they have to do things, and it’s amazing what the mind can do when it has to do it. Kind of like us when we come from behind. I mean, our guys say, `We have to do this’ and you lock in. Virginia’s a very talented team and a very well-coached team.”