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Despite talent and experience, Virginia football team slips to bottom of ACC standings

Despite talent and experience, Virginia football team slips to bottom of ACC standings

The Virginia football team doesn’t fit the description of a typical ACC bottom dweller, but at 1-4 in league play, that’s exactly where the Cavaliers sit after Saturday’s 19-14 loss to No. 11 Miami.

The team’s fourth consecutive loss wasn’t due to a lack of effort. In fact, the Cavaliers played their best defense since the team’s season-opening win over Duke. They pushed a top-15 team to the final minutes.

“Our team tried hard, and they’re tough and they’re physical and they’re resilient, and I thought they played well,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I thought they played a really hard game, and they played with a lot of heart and great mindset and supported each other and probably the most physical and the most intense they played the entire year.”

Even with the effort, programs are judged largely by wins and losses, and the losses are piling up.

UVa (1-4, 1-4 ACC) joins Syracuse (1-5, 1-4 ACC) — which has a 17-point loss to Liberty on its resume — and turnover-prone Duke (1-5, 1-5 ACC) as ACC squads with just one win this fall. The Cavaliers join Duke, Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville to round out the list of five ACC teams with only one conference win this fall.

There are a few logical reasons for UVa’s subpar start.

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong missed a winnable game against Wake Forest, while also missing the second half of the loss to N.C. State.

The early schedule featured two extremely challenging road games, with the Cavaliers falling to both Clemson and Miami on the road. Those two squads sit atop the ACC standings with a combined record of 11-1 this fall. The only loss for those programs came when Clemson beat Miami.

Virginia is 0-3 in road contests and 1-1 at home. Fortunately for UVa, its next three games come at Scott Stadium.

New personnel — namely at quarterback and wide receiver — may also play a factor in UVa’s 1-4 start as chemistry slowly develops.

Missed opportunities — the Cavaliers failed to finish games against Wake Forest and Miami that could’ve been won in the fourth quarter — will haunt the Wahoos the rest of the season.

Any dreams of returning to this ACC Championship Game this fall were squashed before the loss at Miami. If it wasn’t for the NCAA scrapping traditional bowl eligibility requirements, the Cavaliers’ season might end after the Commonwealth Cup on Dec. 12.

The Miami loss feels particularly devastating given the defense’s effort to hold the Hurricanes’ high-flying attack to 19 points.

“You got to bring it and try as hard as you can, surrender to the outcome,” linebacker Charles Snowden said after the game.

Snowden emphasized that UVa won’t focus on its record or the losses moving forward. They want to take the season one game at a time. That’s easier said than done with the team’s record sitting at 1-4.

To snap the losing streak, the Cavaliers need to bring their A-game against a high-powered North Carolina offense this upcoming Saturday. The Tar Heels (4-1, 4-1 ACC) score in bunches and can turn a close game into a blowout in a few quick possessions.

UVa needs to string together a complete team performance to beat Mack Brown’s team and turn its season around. Everyone, from the offense to the defense to the special teams, needs to perform up to their ability.

Against Miami, that wasn’t the case.

Special teams had its moments, but a missed field goal and hesitation on a kickoff return that set up poor field position ensured the group wouldn’t post a mistake-free week.

The defense held strong throughout Saturday’s rainy defeat, but the offense didn’t carry its weight, even with its starting quarterback back. More than 350 total yards yielded just 14 points.

“I think our team had a great week of practice, offense especially,” Armstrong said. “It just sucks to not see the results on the scoreboard when they could’ve been there.”

Through five games, that’s the story of Virginia’s season.

There’s talent across the board, and the Cavaliers show stretches of being a top ACC team. The Cavaliers aren’t in the same boat as Syracuse and Duke in terms of talent or experience, but the results tell a different story.

Through five games, UVa players are being met with disappointment and frustration when they look up at the scoreboard after 60 minutes of play.

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Clemson was able to stay atop this week's ACC football power poll despite looking vulnerable against Georgia Tech, while Virginia and Virginia Tech slip down the rankings after road losses.

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