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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Much to fix, if Cavs’ coach gets last shot

CHARLOTTESVILLE—A 2–10 record is usually a ticket for a head football coach to dust off his résumé and call a moving company.

Those are two tasks Mike London won’t have to worry about this offseason. That’s fortunate, because Virginia’s coach will have a lot on his plate.

Despite Virginia’s failure to win an Atlantic Coast Conference game for the first time since 1981, London will return in 2014. Athletic Director Craig Littlepage has given London a vote of confidence.

But it’s clear that London’s fifth season will be his last if the Cavaliers don’t show marked improvement.

“I believe we’re close [to a turnaround],” London said after Saturday’s 16–6 loss to Virginia Tech capped a 2–10 season.

Not everyone would agree, considering eight of Virginia’s losses came by double digits. There were breakdowns on offense, defense and special teams, lapses in performance and discipline and glaring deficiencies in team speed, on the offensive line and at quarterback.

Of equal concern to Littlepage, fan interest dwindled. The Cavaliers averaged just 46,279 fans for their eight home games in Scott Stadium (capacity 61,500).

“We want to take this season and remember how bad we all felt,” sophomore quarterback David Watford said. “We do not want this to happen again. We need to get better and go up and beyond what we have been doing.”

The good news is that Virginia loses only six contributing seniors. Many underclassmen were forced into action, perhaps too soon, but should be better for the experience in 2014.

And London (18–31 in four years at Virginia) expects a strong signing class in February that includes two five-star prospects (defensive tackle Andrew Brown and safety Quin Blanding).

But talent doesn’t guarantee success, and London and his staff have plenty of work ahead. It begins with an offense that ranked last in the 14-team ACC in pass efficiency and 13th in scoring (19.8 points per game).

“I’ve sort of been at a loss all year,” junior tight end Jake Snyder said. “ This is not something you expect to happen. There’s too much talent in this locker room to be 2–10.

“On offense this year, it really didn’t matter who was on the other side. We didn’t do enough to give ourselves a chance.”

In his first season as a starter under new coordinator Steve Fairchild, Watford threw just eight touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. He was benched in the third quarter of Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech in favor of redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert, who went 4 for 16 with an interception.

London hinted that quarterback—and nearly every other position—would be up for grabs in spring practice.

“Players need to understand their position is guaranteed next year,” he said. “Coaches need to look at systems and schemes.”

There are some building blocks. Junior tailback Kevin Parks became Virginia’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004. McGee caught 43 passes, and freshmen receivers Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins showed size and promise.

But the offensive line never lived up to billing and will lose two starters (left tackle Morgan Moses and center Luke Bowanko). Freshman right tackle Eric Smith had his moments, both good and bad.

The defense allowed an ACC-worst 34.3 points per game, but will build around junior safety Anthony Harris (who leads the nation with eight interceptions) and sophomore defensive end Eli Harold (who had three sacks Saturday). If Brown lives up to billing, he could replace the graduating Brent Urban at defensive tackle.

“You can look for feel-good stories,” McGee said, “but at this level, in this business, it is wins and losses, in my opinion. When you look back in the future, all you’re going to see for the Virginia Cavaliers is 2–10.”

Clearly, there’s lots of work to do to stay competitive in an improving ACC.

“We know we’re going to have to fix it,” McGee said. “If we don’t fix it, there’s going to be even more changes.”


Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443