Given the caliber of teams the Hoos faced in their non-conference schedule, it's not too surprising that they have started the season 1-3. However, the way they got there is nothing short of frustrating. The UCLA game basically went as scripted, but the Hoos let one get away against Notre Dame. After a "harder than it should have been" win over William and Mary, Virginia looked lost in a 56-14 shellacking at the hands of the Boise State Broncos. Last time I checked, it only takes six wins to get to a bowl game. That's a tall task, but one that the Hoos can accomplish pending improvement iin many areas. Let's take a look at some of those From the Upper Deck.
1) Get a turnover - It's no secret that the Hoos are one of two teams in the ACC (Wake Forest being the other) who, through week five, have failed to register a takeaway. It doesn't take much football insight to know that is not a recipe for success. Compare it to last year when Virginia already had six through the first four games. With the offense having difficulty sustaining drives and finishing with touchdowns, it's going to be on the defense to provide some momentum changing plays that ultimately lead to scores.
2) Use the pass to set up the run - To say the run game has been a disappointment would be an understatement. Through four games the Cavaliers have only rushed for 375 yards and a paltry 3.0 yards per carry. That just isn't getting it done, especially when the play-callers insist on running on first down. Too many times the Virginia offense is behind on downs and distance making its next couple play calls extremely predictable. Going forward, the Hoos need to take advantage of their playmakers as an extension of the run game. Taquan Mizsell is a more capable receiver than a runner and Canaan Severin has established himself as Matt Johns' security blanket on short and intermediate routes. Add to that the threat of T.J. Thorpe over the top and Virginia should be able to keep defenses honest through the air which will open holes on the ground.
3) Take ownership of the season - Let me start by saying that I don't know anything about any of the players on this team or their psyche. Furthermore, they are college kids, not grown adults, so I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt and reserve the accountability for wins and losses to the coaches. That being said, I'd like to see these players take ownership of the rest of season. Whether they want to play to try to keep their coach's job, or whether they are playing to impress the next coach, or NFL scouts, I'd like to see the team play with passion, with fire. Maybe a Dabo-Swinney-Bring-Your-Own_Guts situation. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case against Boise State. Too many mental errors, me-first attitudes, and a seemingly apathetic approach probably cost the team more than anything that happened on the field. I think that was an outlier. I think this team is better than that, and given the week off with the bad taste still in their mouths, I think this is a team that will respond. And if they do, they will find success, however you choose to measure it.
The Hoos are back in action on Saturday when they travel to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers. With five wins needed out of the eight remaining games, this is a pivotal game if Virginia hopes to go bowling.