Cavs welcome bye week after series of losses
Despite desire to correct mistakes, players, coaches value two-week break
The bane of diehard fans and fantasy football owners everywhere, bye weeks actually serve an important purpose for football teams needing a respite from the rigors of the months-long football season.
To Coach Mike London and the Virginia offense, however, the bye week represents both a blessing and annoyance. Eager as the coaches and players are for a week to heal injuries and correct many of the maladies that have plagued the Cavaliers (2-6, 0-4 ACC) during their current six-game losing streak, their longest under London, many of them crave an opportunity to launch right back into game action and erase the sting of a difficult string of performances.
“That losing taste lingers in your mouth for a while and the only way you can get rid of it is to play another game,” London said. “Obviously we won’t play for a while, but you can go back and do things while you wait.”
Last Saturday’s 16-10 defeat to Wake Forest marked the third loss in four where the Cavaliers have fallen by less than seven points and the fourth straight in which they have outgained their opponents, indicating that victory has barely eluded them. To players such as sophomore defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite, the frustration of knowing how close the team has approached winning only compounds the pain of a 2012 season that has skidded off the rails for Virginia. It also makes the extra-long wait to resume game action all the more agonizing.
“I want to play again right now,” Brathwaite said after the loss Saturday.
From a coaching perspective, Virginia must address a litany of nagging issues should the squad hope to improve before it takes the field again Nov. 3 against N.C. State. The Cavaliers have accrued a staggering 56 penalties through the season’s first eight weeks, rendering them the second-most penalized roster in the ACC behind North Carolina. Many of these penalties have stemmed from issues with communication or overzealousness after the whistle, such as the illegal substitution that cost Virginia a chance for a final drive in the 44-38 heartbreaker to Louisiana Tech Sept. 28 or the personal foul at the end of the half last week that ultimately set up a crucial Wake Forest field goal. In addition, Virginia has struggled with many of the fundamental aspects of the game, prompting London to prioritize the little things during the team’s brief break.
“We can dedicate time to improving our fundamentals in blocking, throwing, catching and all those things,” London said. “It’s not going to be about the schemes of who we’re getting ready to play, but taking care of ourselves and eliminating some of the things that we do that continue to keep costing us. That’s what the open week will be dedicated to, is fixing ourselves.”
Brathwaite agrees that avoiding self-inflicted wounds provides the key to the Cavaliers’ success.
“You have another opportunity in two weeks against N.C. State,” Brathwaite said. “We just have to go practice hard, work on … the little stuff and [being] more disciplined as a team.”
Despite their eagerness to amend their mishaps, the players will certainly benefit from a measure of rest and relaxation after a grueling eight-week stretch. A number of significant players have dealt with injuries this season and could emerge from the bye week feeling rejuvenated, including senior defensive end Billy Schautz, who has a lower extremity injury; senior wide receiver Tim Smith, who has a lower extremity injury as well; and junior offensive tackle Morgan Moses, whose medical concerns have not been disclosed. Senior linebacker LaRoy Reynolds has been playing through a broken hand, and current starting quarterback sophomore Phillip Sims is struggling with a balky knee.
If anything, the bye week arrives at a vital time for a team heading into the most arduous portion of its schedule. After visiting the surprising Wolfpack, who boast a 5-2 record, Virginia hosts Miami and North Carolina before the annual Commonwealth Cup rivalry game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Nov. 24. All four teams currently sit at .500 or above, and under London the Cavaliers are a combined 2-5 against the four teams with the only triumphs against Miami.
Nevertheless, the squad is trying to remain optimistic and keep the faint possibility of bowl eligibility alive. Virginia must win all four games to qualify for a bowl.
“We can finish the season 6-6 and go play for 7-6, so that’s what we are working toward,” Brathwaite said.
Although it may frustrate players pining for another opportunity to redeem themselves, the bye week has come at a useful time for the Cavaliers — a realization not lost on senior linebacker and defensive captain Steve Greer.
“After a loss you want to get right back on the field, but I think the bye week is going to be good for us,” Greer said. “It will be a good week to watch film and try to fix a lot of the mistakes we were making.”