By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The losing streak is not extraordinarily long — three games — but it spans parts of two seasons, and it can’t end soon enough for the University of Virginia football team. The Cavaliers haven’t won since Nov. 22, 2014, when they hammered ACC rival Miami 30-13 at Scott Stadium.
“I feel like we need to get the ball rolling,” senior defensive end Trent Corney told reporters Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. “We need to get a win. I’ve come in here on Sunday two weeks in a row, and just the mood is not a place I’d want to be at all on a Sunday. And it’s crazy that a win and a loss can change the mood on a Sunday so drastically.
Corney said he wants to walk into the McCue Center the day after a game “and see smiles instead of people’s frowns.”
The Wahoos’ next opportunity for a mood-changing victory comes Saturday at Scott Stadium, where they host William & Mary (1-0) at 3:30 p.m. This will be UVa’s first game of the season against an opponent that’s not nationally ranked.
Virginia opened Sept. 5 with a 34-16 loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins clearly outplayed the Cavaliers in the opener. A week later, however, UVa rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns and led Notre Dame with less than a minute remaining at the Scott Stadium, only to give up a long TD pass with 12 seconds left and fall 34-27.
“It’s tough when you lose games like that [after being] right on the cusp of something great happening for these young men,” UVa head coach Mike London said Monday. “I love these guys. When they hurt, I hurt.”
In the latest Associated Press poll, Notre Dame (2-0) is No. 8 and UCLA (2-0) is No. 10.
“The last two weeks this team has played some really good football teams,” said London, a former William & Mary assistant coach, and “this season can go in either direction. It can go in a direction where it’s an impetus to take us further on, or guys can wallow around in what just happened, [saying] woe is me, and then fall.
“I believe this team is a team that embraces this challenge and is ready to move forward and move on and move up.”
As the `Hoos move forward, Reid said, they must do so believing they’re going to win.
“The pain that we felt after losing that game against Notre Dame, you could just feel it,” said Reid, a transfer from Maryland who scored UVa’s final TD on a 1-yard run Saturday. “As soon as we walked into the locker room after that, everybody was all quiet, and a couple people had their heads down. But there was no reason to have our heads down. We fought.”
The key, Reid said, will be playing “every game like we played against Notre Dame, giving it everything, no matter who the opponent is.”
London said: “You can wallow in self pity [and dwell on] what might have happened, what could have happened, or you can say, `That’s happened, now how do you embrace the next challenge?’ For us the next challenge is the next game.”
Led by redshirt junior quarterback Matt Johns and senior wide receiver Canaan Severin, Virginia totaled 416 yards against a stout Notre Dame defense. Johns completed 26 of 38 passes for 289 yards and two TDs and wasn’t intercepted.
Severin, one of Johns’ roommates and best friends, finished with 11 catches for 153 yards, both career highs, a performance for which he was named ACC receiver of the week on Monday.
“If we can play how we played the last game offensively for the rest of the season, I think we’ll be a very good offense,” Whitmire said. “We’ll just get better with time.”
After rushing for only 98 yards against UCLA, Virginia fared better on the ground against Notre Dame. Led by junior tailback Taquan Mizzell, the Cavaliers netted 127 yards on 30 carries Saturday. Still, Reid said, they must do better.
“We have to get the running game going in order to open up the passing game,” he said. “The passing game is going to complement the running game. The running game is going to complement the passing game.”
UVa and W&M, usually one of the better teams in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, haven’t played since 2011. The Cavaliers won 40-3 at Scott Stadium that season to extend their series lead over the Tribe to 27-6-1.
ON THE MEND: Whitmire, who’s competing as a graduate student this season, started all 12 games in 2013, the first four at right tackle and the final eight at right guard. He missed last season with a back injury and has yet to start this season, but the former T.C. Williams High School star says he’s steadily getting better.
The 6-6, 315-pound Whitmire estimated that he played about 40 snaps against UCLA and 50 against Notre Dame: all at right tackle, where junior Eric Smith has been starting.
“I wasn’t sure coming back from an injury exactly how much I would be playing,” Whitmire said, “but I think I’m definitely happy with how things have gone.”
He wasn’t cleared for full participation until this summer, and so he wasn’t in top condition when training camp opened early last month.
“The only thing that gets you in football shape, really, is playing football,” Whitmire said, “no matter how many gassers and things you run. Especially on the O-line, where you’re squatted down the whole time, wrestling with a 300-pound guy. There’s things you can do that will help you with that, but nothing’s like the real thing.
“Me, personally, I was very rusty coming into training camp, and I was kind of down on myself, because I wasn’t where I expected to be. But I think that I was able to get that all back, and I’m very happy with how my body is handling it physically. I’m very excited moving forward.”
This is the first season Whitmire has had a good view of how Johns leads the UVa huddle. Johns appeared in only one game at quarterback in 2013. He started three games at QB last year and backed up Greyson Lambert in six others.
“I love how Johns really doesn’t let anything shake him, and he just comes in and has fun,” Whitmire said. “I think that’s a very positive thing on the offense, to be loose and have fun and make plays. I think that’s really his best attribute, just keeping everybody positive and moving forward.
“He doesn’t flinch when things get tough or when things get good. He kind of just keeps pushing forward.”
LEARNING CURVE: For the 6-3, 255-pound Corney, this is his first season as a starter. Through his first three years in the program, he appeared in only 22 games and rarely played from scrimmage.
Corney, perhaps the Cavaliers’ best all-around athlete, is tied for fourth on the team with 11 tackles heading into the William & Mary game.
“I feel like I’ve improved a ton through the last two games,” Corney said. “I played against two of the best tackles in the country and two of the best O-lines in the country, and knowing that I did a decent job against those guys means that it can only get better from here.
“I feel like the main thing I need is just game experience. In practice you [don’t get that from the] scout team. It’s just a totally different speed, totally different level.”
Corney, who’s from Ontario, Canada, was not well-versed in the nuances of American football when he enrolled at Virginia in 2012, and his progress has been halting at times. But there’s still an opportunity for him to make an impact as a Cavalier.
“I feel like I’ve learned more in the last two games than I have in my last three years,” Corney said, “and I feel really good about where I’m going to be by the end of the year, or midseason.”
COMING-OUT PARTY: Reid, who played in 28 games during his career at Maryland, from which he graduated this summer, scored four touchdowns as a Terrapin. His first for his new team capped an 80-yard drive Saturday and put Virginia ahead 27-26 with 1:54 left.
Reid rushed five times for 23 yards against Notre Dame and caught four passes for 14 yards. He savored his first game at Scott Stadium.
“Just coming here and getting back on the field and just feeling that intensity and the crowd being in the game and things like that, there’s no better feeling than getting better and scoring a touchdown at the end of the game,” Reid said. “My adrenaline was rushing.”
SHOW OF SUPPORT: On Notre Dame’s game-winning touchdown Saturday, star wide receiver Will Fuller beat UVa’s top cornerback, senior Maurice Canady, on a deep route. Earlier in the drive, Canady had broken up — and nearly intercepted — a Deshone Kizer pass.
Canady was distraught after the game, but one play won’t define the former Varina High School standout’s college career, London said.
“I believe in Maurice Canady,” London said. “I love him. He is a great young man that takes a lot of pride in playing well.”
As an elite cornerback, Canady is asked to cover “the other team’s best receivers,” said London, who played defensive back at the University of Richmond. “That’s how good he is. You win some and you lose some. This one cost us.
“As a defensive back, you got to have a short memory, then move on to the things that are going to allow you to be successful, whether it’s man coverage, zone coverage, whatever it is. Maurice Canady will rise to the occasion. I believe that. ”