To get ready for Saturday's football game between Maryland and Virginia at Byrd Stadium, we traded emails with Andrew Ramspacher, who covers the Cavaliers for The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. You can check out more of Andrew's coverage on his paper's Cavalier Insider blog.
TRACKING THE TERPS: We've seen the words "Mike London" and "hot seat" attached more and more lately. Is there a sense that the pressure is rising in London’s fourth season?
ANDREW RAMSPACHER: From the fan base, the pressure is almost bubbling over. Last week's Ball State game was the second-least attended game in the London era. A loss against Maryland on Saturday and there should be plenty of seats available for next week's Duke contest.
Message board traffic isn't hard to come by these days.
But from the administration, the seat doesn't seem so piping hot — at least not yet. Athletic director Craig Littlepage gave London a vote of confidence less than 24 hours after the Ball State loss — stressing the youth of the team and the slow implementation for three first-year coordinators. It was given a theme of patience. But for a fourth-year head coach, "patience" is not a popular term with a fan base.
It should be an interesting two months.
You wrote this week about the number of mistakes the Cavaliers have been making. Is this a team that could be dangerous if it stops turning the ball over?
Considering UVa has yet to play a game without turnover this season, that's a tough call right now. The offense is a bit of a mess. There's an offensive line that's had its lineup adjusted three times since the spring game. There's a first-year starting quarterback who very much still looks like a first-year starting quarterback. There are receivers who dropped 10 passes in an ugly 14-3 loss to Pitt.
I think the entire team can be dangerous if Virginia's offense doesn't turn it over. That means it's playing sound, ball-controlling football and helping out the strength of the team, which is its defense. The talented Cavalier D has not been given much of a break all season. Virginia's only had two drives last longer than five minutes in 2013. Naturally, they both ended in interceptions.
Darius Jennings, a Baltimore kid, has seemed to get off to a slower start this season. Should we attribute that to Virginia’s struggles in the passing game as a whole, or is there another reason?
Darius Jennings' struggles can be bunched in with the woes of the entire unit. It's just been contagious. After the shaky WR performance at Pitt, the Virginia coaching staff opted to open up the competition at that position. Three-year regulars like Jennings, Tim Smith and Dominique Terrell had to fight for their spot all over again. The winners were freshmen Kyle Dockins and Keeon Johnson. Those two started against Ball State. Jennings played, but didn't have a catch. He's still in the WR rotation, but, right now, his main role is on kickoff return. He returned five Ball State kicks for 125 yards.
Can you give us a player to watch Saturday whom Maryland fans probably haven’t heard of?
Over the summer, Max Valles was a tight end. By the start of camp, he was a defensive end. Less than a month ago, he switched to linebacker. I'd say he's finally found a home. Valles is a 6-foot-5, 242-pound freshman who had 2.5 sacks in his first start against Pitt. He's an edge rusher with the quicks to perfectly complement coordinator Jon Tenuta's pressure-heavy scheme.
With his size and speed, you'd think he would have been more of a prized recruit -- yet he was a two-star coming out of New Jersey before spending a prep year at Fork Union. There's only been a small sample size, but I think UVa got a steal in Valles.
What’s the sense among Virginia fans about Maryland leaving for the Big Ten? Is this a game they’re going to miss?
There's some sentiment to the end of the era. Next to North Carolina, Maryland is Virginia's oldest rival. I think basketball might trigger some more emotions while football has been subdued lately.
Players and coaches-wise, there is a sense of ending this thing right. UVa has 15 players from the state of Maryland on its roster and the next winner's bragging rights could last for a while.
London said there's no stigma attached toward the Terrapins because of their move to the Big Ten. He wouldn't be opposed to seeing them on the schedule in future years.