Coach trying to break trend vs. Virginia Tech
In three years, inspirational Virginia coach Mike London has made Charlottesville the cool destination for the state's top high school talent, challenging the dominance of Virginia Tech. As the Hokies saw their nation's best streak of 10-win seasons end this year at eight, they could look north, to the recruiting prowess of London, as part of the reason.
But while London has chipped away at the powerhouse program built by Frank Beamer, there are questions about his own ability to turn talent into wins. After an 8-5 breakthrough in 2011, the Cavaliers have taken a step backward this season.
Saturday in Blacksburg when Virginia (4-7, 2-5) meets Virginia Tech (5-6, 3-4), London needs a win to reverse the backslide, beat Beamer for the first time and end two significant Hokies' streaks -- 19 straight years in a bowl game and eight consecutive wins over the Cavaliers.
|Virginia at Virginia Tech|
|When » Saturday, noon|
|Where » Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.|
|TV » ESPNU|
"We have to play probably our best football to date for any of that to change," London said. "The biggest thing for us is to win a game, particularly going out. As frustrating as this season may have come out, we'd like more than anything else to end on a positive note."
It's been a season in which London has faced many questions. The young Cavaliers have shown a lack of discipline, ranking last in the ACC in turnover margin (minus-1.2 per game) and next to last in penalty yards (62.1 pg).
For a second straight year, London's handling of the quarterback situation has lacked direction as he has gone between junior Michael Rocco and sophomore Phillip Sims. There was brief success with a quarterback rotation, but Saturday in a loss to North Carolina it led to Virginia's undoing.
After Sims directed a touchdown drive in the second quarter to cut the Tar Heels' lead to 14-10, Rocco entered and on his first snap threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, the decisive play in a 37-13 loss that extinguished the Cavaliers' hopes for a second straight bowl berth.
"You keep looking at the things that you could do or [the quarterbacks] could do and try to tie that into your game plan," London said. "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."
Regardless who is under center, the quarterbacks can expect a heavy rush on Saturday. In its last five games, Virginia Tech has registered 22 sacks, led by linebacker Bruce Taylor and tackle Luther Maddy with four each.
In recent weeks, Virginia also has played more disruptively on defense by turning to young, talented players such as freshman cornerback Maurice Canady and freshman end Eli Harold. Both from Virginia, they are examples of highly coveted high school talents who chose the Cavaliers over the Hokies. For the trend to continue, however, Virginia will eventually have to beat Virginia Tech on the field.
"A lot of these players, they know each other, they went to school with each other, they've played against each other," London said. "And obviously there are recruiting implications."