As memories of how last season spiraled out of control creep in again, Virginia tight end Jake McGee knows impressionable youth are being affected by all the losing going on in Charlottesville.
When U.Va. hosts Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) on Saturday afternoon, the Cavaliers will try to do more than just snap a four-game losing streak with an injury-depleted defense against the Yellow Jackets' potent veer option offense.
Putting a stop to the losing mentality isn't just critical to the future of Coach Mike London's job status, it's also important for all the young players who are getting playing time.
"Some of these guys are new to the college environment or haven't seen when bad slumps happen," said McGee, who is questionable for the Georgia Tech game with a lower-extremity injury. "So, you want to show them the way to try to get out of them and get back on the right path."
After opening the season 1-1, U.Va. (2-5, 0-3) has wandered off that path. It's in the midst of a losing streak reminiscent of last season, when the Cavaliers started 2-0 before losing their next six games, and eight of their last 10.
Last season, the nightmarish string of losses began with a 56-20 drubbing at Georgia Tech. It was the start of a stretch that has seen U.Va. lose nine of its last 11 ACC games.
"It was kind of demoralizing, but I think guys took it as a learning experience," said U.Va. safety Anthony Harris of last season's loss to Georgia Tech.
"Hopefully, guys who played in the game last year can bring some of their experience and help us this year."
Putting an end to the current losing streak was going to be difficult enough against a Georgia Tech offense that's generating 304 rushing yards per game (fifth in the nation), but missing cornerbacks Maurice Canady and Demetrious Nicholson and defensive tackle Brent Urban will make it even more challenging.
Canady is out for unspecified medical reasons, while Nicholson will miss his third consecutive game due to a toe injury and Urban will sit out his second straight game with a lower-leg injury.
Georgia Tech struggled during a three-game losing streak this season, but it's coming off a 56-0 win against Syracuse in which the Yellow Jackets ran for 394 yards. Now, Georgia Tech travels to play in Scott Stadium, which has had back-to-back games attended by fewer than 40,000 fans for the first time since the stadium was expanded in 2000 to a capacity of 61,500 seats.
"Now we're starting to play against guys we've played before," said junior left guard Conner Davis, who is also struggling with a lower-extremity injury that has him questionable for the game. "For me, I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to playing players maybe I struggled against last year, or teams we did. It's like redemption time now."
While preparing for Georgia Tech's option in one week is never fun, U.Va. also will face an improved Georgia Tech defense under first-year coordinator Ted Roof.
Georgia Tech is 12th in the nation out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in total defense (327.7 yards per game) and 16th in scoring defense (19.1 points per game), which doesn't necessarily bode well for one of London's primary objectives — simply keeping up with Georgia Tech's offense.
Both Georgia Tech and U.Va. are great at eating up clock — Georgia Tech is second in the nation in time of possession (average of 35 minutes, 28 seconds per game) and U.Va. is fifth (average of 33:52) — but the Yellow Jackets are scoring, while the Cavaliers aren't.
"If we're going to hang onto the ball, as we've shown, we're going to have to score points," said London, whose team is averaging 22.3 points per game (99th in the nation). "(Georgia Tech is) scoring 36 points per game (28th in the nation), and they hang onto the ball. … We need to score points to put ourselves in an opportunity to be competitive in the game."
U.Va.'s losing streak has coincided with a recent trend of jumping out to early leads it can't sustain. Last weekend, it blew a 22-0 lead in a 35-22 home loss to Duke.
Two weeks ago, U.Va. lost 27-26 at Maryland after taking a 6-0 lead in the first quarter and a 26-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Three weeks ago, U.Va. led Ball State 17-7 early in the second quarter, before the Cavaliers lost 48-27.
"It's something we can't let keep happening," McGee said. "It's games — we're sort of giving them away. We get a good lead at the beginning, and we have to be able to maintain it."
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun