Virginia's unlikely quest to get bowl-eligible begins at N.C. State

When you've struggled as much as Virginia has this season, it's often difficult for players not to be full of contradictions.

Take linebacker Steve Greer's assessment of what U.Va. addressed during its off week prior to Saturday's game at North Carolina State (5-3 overall, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).

He mentioned how U.Va. worked on correcting the little things, making sure the tiny details wouldn't sneak up and bite the Cavaliers like they have during their current six-game losing streak. Then, he discussed the keys to U.Va.'s success down the stretch as such:

"Eliminate mistakes and penalties and turnovers and costly errors. … There's no question we can do it."

If those are any relation to the "little things" he spoke of, it's hard to imagine what would qualify as the really confounding issues in Greer's mind. In any case, there's no confusion about U.Va.'s goal in the final month.

"Without question, we've got to win out," Greer said. "Every season, we talk about winning the month of November and kind of finishing strong. To make a bowl game, we've got to win these last four games."

Getting to six wins and bowl-eligibility will be a tall order for U.Va. (2-6, 0-4), which begins the quest against an N.C. State team coming back home after a stinging 43-35 loss last weekend at North Carolina. U.Va. has lost three of its last four meetings against N.C. State dating back to 2003.

While U.Va. has struggled to post points in its last three games, posting an average of 383 yards per game but just 15.7 points per contest in losses to Duke, Maryland and Wake Forest, the Cavaliers' defense has shown improvement of late. U.Va. surrendered only 235 yards to Maryland and 213 yards to Wake Forest, but of course, those two teams have the worst offenses in the ACC.

Now, U.Va. has to get ready for the ACC's most productive quarterback in Mike Glennon, who leads the conference with an average of 307 passing yards per game to go along with 19 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.

"I think most of the teams that go and play NC State, the game plan is to try to (make him uncomfortable)," U.Va. coach Mike London said. "You hear about that on the TV games they play — not letting it be kind of seven-on-seven where he jumps back and he can stay in the pocket and just throw the ball.

"That's been the game plan for a lot of the teams that have played him, but he's done a good job staying on the spot. He's done a good job moving out of the pocket. It's evident when you watch him play, that experience of a fifth-year guy in that system has done him well. He's definitely a major concern for us."

U.Va.'s pervasive troubles in pressuring quarterbacks and creating turnovers are well-known at this point in the season. It has seven sacks, which is 11th in the ACC. Only Boston College and Eastern Michigan (six sacks each) are the only teams in the nation with fewer sacks than U.Va.

The Cavaliers are last in the nation in takeaways with four (including just one interception), which is the primary contributing factor to them also being last in turnover margin (minus-two per game). Despite U.Va.'s lack of sacks and turnovers created, the Cavaliers are still third in the ACC in total defense, giving up 356.9 yards per game.

N.C. State has surrendered 24 sacks, which is the second-most in the ACC. That's not too surprising when you consider Glennon has attempted more passes than any other quarterback in the conference. Of course, more pass attempts equals more opportunities to get sacked.

While U.Va.'s defense was able to do some self-analysis during the off week, the extra time also provided struggling new starting quarterback Phillip Sims a chance to take a closer at an opposing defense for a change.

N.C. State is last in the ACC and 108th in the nation in pass defense, giving up 278.1 yards per game, but it's also tied for second in the ACC in interceptions with 10. Cornerback David Amerson, who led the nation with 13 interceptions last season, is tied for the conference lead with four interceptions.

"They're playing with Sims basically as a first-year quarterback," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said. "The open week can do wonders for a quarterback to go back and research what he's done. He's got some things in their offense they can correct. It gives chances to the quarterback coach and their offensive staff to emphasize and to make him successful."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad