Mike London’s fourth season in Charlottesville hasn’t been the step in the right direction needed after struggling through a 4-8 campaign in 2012. The Cavaliers (2-7, 0-5 ACC) opened the season on a high note, defeating BYU 19-16. From there, the momentum immediately shifted in the opposite direction due to a 49-point loss to Oregon. Virginia has won just one game since – a 49-0 rout of FCS-level VMI – before the current six-game losing streak started up.
London’s young team, full of several impact underclassmen, started the slide against Pittsburgh. From there, the Cavaliers fell to Ball State, lost a heartbreaker to Maryland (27-26), suffered back-to-back Coastal Division defeats to Duke and Georgia Tech and then endured a blow-out loss to No. 7 Clemson at home.
Virginia’s offense ranks 91st nationally (370.8 ypg) with the 76th-ranked rushing offense (157.2 ypg) and 82nd-ranked passing offense (213.6 ypg). Red-shirt sophomore quarterback David Watford leads the Cavaliers in total offense (1,477 yards) and orchestrates the passing attack. Five-star rookie tailback Taquan Mizzell (142 yards) offers a speedy threat out of the backfield for the ground game to go along with veteran Kevin Parks (696 yards, 9 TD). Virginia ranks 102nd in the country in scoring offense (21.2 ppg).
Defensively, the Cavaliers rank 79th in total defense (417.8 ypg) with the 84th-ranked rushing defense (181.2 ypg) and 74th-ranked in passing yards allowed (236.6 ypg). Anthony Harris (3 interceptions), Eli Harold (5.5 sacks) and Henry Coley (60 tackles) command the Cavaliers’ defensive unit. The strong suit statistically for Virginia comes with their ability to control the clock as the Cavaliers rank 6th in the nation in time of possession (33:42) this season.
“Our guys have practiced well the last couple days, and what's been striking is that there's about six seniors on our team that are playing their last couple games here, and the younger guys, everyone else, their aspect, their mindset is ‘we've got a chance to get better, we've got a chance to win, we've got a chance to go into next season getting better as football players.’ You have guys that still have the mindset of still being able to get ready, to prepare and get better every week as they play.” – London
“Last year they lost six games in a row and then they went to N.C. State for their homecoming and won the game. They’ve been in this situation before. Let me tell you, it’s tough when you look at them on film - they don’t look like a 2-7 football team. They’re in every one of these games. You keep looking and you say, ‘when’s the other team scoring?’ and ‘when’s it getting out of hand?’ It doesn’t until late in the fourth quarter. They’re playing a lot of young kids. They’ve got some talented guys. They’re doing some good things. We are going to have to play a really good football game.”- UNC head coach Larry Fedora
“Having the ball is fine, but if you can’t score points when you have the ball, that’s the biggest thing that has cost us opportunities to not score when we need to.” – London
Stat to Watch: Third Down Efficiency
John Tenuta’s defense is known for their blitzing habits. This factor is exemplified on third down and is key to their success. Virginia ranks 10th in the nation with its third-down conversion percentage defense (.304). This will be matched up against the Tar Heels, who rank 51st in third-down conversion percentage (.427).
“He’s blitzing about sixty percent of the time,” Fedora said of Tenuta. “He’s going to bring the heat and he may even decide to do more now and test Marquise (Williams) out. We’ve got to prepare for that. You have to understand that sometimes they’re going to get you on some of the blitzes. Hopefully you’re going to bust them your share of the time.”
Williams is 10-of-16 passing for 111 yards on third down and has picked up seven first downs on those plays. He’s also run eight times on third down, converting three into first downs.