Virginia begins tough stretch at No. 2 Seminoles
The Cavaliers beat the Seminoles 14-13 in 2011 on their way to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Now, Virginia is riding a three-game losing streak that has derailed its season and had left the Cavaliers needing to beat the odds to qualify for a bowl game and possibly save coach Mike London's job.
The Cavaliers (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) face the daunting task of winning at least two of their last three games to reach their first bowl game since the 2011 season.
And with a schedule that starts with the No. 2 defending national champion Seminoles (8-0, 5-0, No. 2 CFP) and also includes red-hot Miami and rival Virginia Tech, the odds are not looking all that promising.
The Seminoles, meantime, have won 24 in a row and are led by Heisman Trophy Jameis Winston. They haven't been beaten in a conference home game since that night three years ago.
Still, coach Jimbo Fisher sees the Cavaliers team that rode an effective, ball-hawking defense to a 4-2 start as a dangerous opponent, especially because it has virtually run out of room to lose again.
''I think any team is. Whether it's Virginia or anybody else,'' Fisher said of teams in desperation mode. ''People know that they have to do things and it's amazing what the mind can do when it has to do it.
''Kind of like us when we come from behind. I mean, our guys say, `We have to do this' and you lock in. Virginia's a very talented team and a very well-coached team. And we have to play great football.''
Beyond dreams of finishing the year in a bowl game, the Cavaliers are also facing another motivation: Avoiding a third consecutive loss that could cost coach Mike London his job.
''He was the one who brought me in because, at first, I didn't have an offer from UVa,'' senior linebacker Daquan Romero said of London, in his fifth season. ''So of course you've got to play for him. Some of the stuff he taught me, it's not just about football but about the man, his morals and the way he lives his life, everyday life. Of course you have to play for him. He gave me the opportunity to come to a great university. Academics, football, doing things I love. ... You play your heart out for him.''
The Cavaliers seemed to be heading in the right direction a month ago.
After forcing 19 turnovers and turning them into 72 points in its first six games, Virginia has forced just two turnovers in its last three contests, and scored just six points of those takeaways.
Also, in their past four games, the Cavaliers have been outscored 47-6 after halftime.
Senior tight end Zach Swanson, who played on that bowl team in 2011 and has seen Virginia win just 10 of 33 games since, said players are drawing their motivation from a variety of areas.
''We're playing for coach London, we're playing for our teammates, we're playing for the season, we're playing for a bowl game,'' he said this week. ''We have three more opportunities to win two and I think it's a big thing for us to get these wins, and play hard, for whatever our reasons may be.''
Figuring things out now would help erase a lot of frustration, especially for the 22 seniors who went through the 4-8 and 2-10 seasons the last two years and resolved to make certain this would be different.
''It's been tough to try to figure out why we're losing, how to turn it around, and then, when we do win, how do we keep that level?'' said Swanson, who has just seven catches this season, and about as many drops. ''Why don't we have winning seasons? Why don't we win games? Why don't we have successful second halves? Why aren't drives successful? Each time, (the answer is) something a little bit different.''
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