The small survey yielded the same results.
Virginia players and coaches insist the final four weeks of the Cavaliers’ regular-season slate provide enough chances to alter the narrative of their campaign.
“We’re 3-5,” first-year headman Tony Elliott said, “but we got four more games and an opportunity to possibly win eight games if you get hot, you win down the stretch, you get an opportunity for the postseason and win in the postseason. So, there’s still a whole lot left to play for.”
Said running back Mike Hollins: “There’s a lot to prove for us, but Coach was harping on that people always pay attention to what you do in November with the football season, so no matter what happened in the beginning of the season, we can win out and change a lot of people’s perspective of our entire team.”
Wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. added: “We can do it.”
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Hollins is likely to make his first start this season on Saturday, when UVa (3-5, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) welcomes No. 17 North Carolina (7-1, 4-0 ACC) for a noon kickoff at Scott Stadium and the 127th all-time meeting between the two schools as the sides renew the South’s Oldest Rivalry.
Starting running back Perris Jones is unlikely to play, according to Elliott, because of an ankle injury. But Hollins is eager for increased touches and said in order for the Hoos to push forward from a 1-3 mark in October and a heartbreaking four-overtime loss to Miami last Saturday, they need a one-game-at-a-time approach through this month. Anything else would unnecessarily distract from the immediate task in front of them.
“[That] is what we have to take pride in and if we focus on becoming 1-0 each week, then we’ll look back after, in December, having won four straight,” Hollins said.
Linebacker Nick Jackson, the Cavaliers’ leader on defense, echoed Hollins’ philosophy.
“We can’t control what’ll happen four weeks from now, five weeks from now,” Jackson said, “and so it’s every single day that we’ve got to attack that week to get better.”
And to upend UNC, which is cruising on an unimpeded path toward a Coastal Division crown and an appearance in the ACC title game, UVa must log its most complete performance under Elliott.
Jackson, whose 84 tackles this fall tops the ACC and are the ninth most in the country, and the defense have strung together eight straight quarters plus a pair of overtime possessions — before the bout against Miami became a contest of 2-point conversion attempts — without giving up a touchdown.
The Cavaliers’ 21.5 points allowed per game are tied for the 31st fewest nationally and their 26 team sacks are tied for the ninth most as defensive end Chico Bennett Jr.’s seven sacks pace the ACC. But Bennett, Jackson and the rest of the unit will encounter the most efficient and talented offense they will have seen to this point in the year.
Tar Heels signal-caller Drake Maye’s 194 points responsible for (29 passing touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns and one 2-point conversion rush) are the most for any player in the FBS. He’s divided up his scoring throws to 10 different pass-catchers, too. Wide receivers Josh Downs, Antoine Green, Kobe Paysour and J.J Jones as well as tight ends Kamari Morales and Bryson Nesbit all have multiple receiving scores.
“There’s a reason they’ve won a lot of games and scored a bunch of points,” UVa defensive coordinator John Rudzinski said. “What we’ll have to do is find a way to contain the quarterback and you’ve got to find a way to minimize big plays and get to some third-down situations and win those third downs. So, that’ll be the challenge for us this week.”
Rudzinski said what has pleased him about his group is that even through success those defenders haven’t wavered or strayed from the day-to-day strong practice habits created earlier this year. He said their high level of commitment is an attribute that has enabled them to thrive.
Hoos offensive coordinator Des Kitchings said he thought UVa’s offense put together solid practices earlier in the week and that impressed him because of the struggles that occurred in their previous outing against Miami. There was a heightened emphasis on cleaning up red-zone issues during drills after the Cavaliers’ three chances inside the 20-yard line netted them only 9 points a week ago.
“It’s frustrating for the players and the coaches,” Kitchings said. “The guys are working, we’re working and it just hasn’t benefited us in making a play yet in those situations. But, the beauty of it is we get another opportunity.”
He said he’s planning for the offense to take some deep shots down the field in an effort to score on big-play throws against Carolina, which has given up 20 pass plays of 25 yards or more this fall.
Davis, who last Saturday hauled in a 47-yard reception from quarterback Brennan Armstrong only to be tackled inside the Hurricanes’ 5-yard line, said the Cavaliers cannot fail to finish in the end zone on those chances versus the Tar Heels, who average 41.8 points per game.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go through adversity,” Davis said, “so I’m not going to let one play or one game define a season or define my confidence or how I feel, so I think we can turn it around. I honestly do, but it starts with us. We’ve got to make the plays.”
Hollins said even though players believe they can make their season right, at the same time, they understand their window to set a strong precedent for Elliott’s tenure and the future of the program during the rest of this season will close by the end of the month.
A win over UNC, though, would help shift that trajectory more favorably. It’d be UVa’s first victory over a ranked foe since beating the then-No. 15 Tar Heels on Oct. 31, 2020.
“I don’t think it really hit a lot of us until probably around now, midseason,” Hollins said, “when you’re starting to see the finish line … so it’s not much pressure but you have to live up to the expectations that your coaches and teammates have around you.”
Said Elliott: “The guys have turned the corner in terms of believing in what we’re trying to build from a program standpoint and they’re excited about the opportunity that they have left.”