On a practice field Sunday in Charlottesville, Virginia quarterback David Watford worked alone with many of his pass-catchers, an alleged repeat of the same scene from Saturday night after U.Va. returned from its 14-3 loss at Pittsburgh.
It was the kind of initiative that could encourage the coordinator of a struggling offense, but Steve Fairchild knows there's a sense of urgency. After seeing his offense score just three touchdowns in three games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents to start the season, Fairchild realizes it's time for good intentions on the practice field to turn into results on game days.
"We need to improve in every area in a hurry, myself included," said Fairchild, who is coaching a unit averaging 322.3 yards per game (112th in the nation in total offense out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision programs) heading into Saturday's game against Ball State (4-1 overall, 1-0 Mid-American Conference).
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"We're not going to throw more at (offensive players) and try to reinvent the wheel. We're just going to try to do the things we do, and do them better than we've been doing them."
Against Pittsburgh, U.Va.'s offense posted only 188 yards and turned the ball over once in the red zone on a fumble by Watford that led to a Pittsburgh touchdown. Pittsburgh's other touchdown came via a muffed punt by U.Va.'s Dominique Terrell in the red zone.
U.Va. (2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) was 3 of 18 on third-down conversions, and 1 of 4 on fourth-down opportunities. Of course, U.Va. gave up 199 yards to Pittsburgh, sacked quarterback Tom Savage seven times and forced three turnovers.
"If you're asking me what's frustrating, you set back and we played very well defensively, and it's probably a game that was definitely winnable — a conference game on the road that was winnable," said Fairchild, whose offenses when he was head coach at Colorado State from 2008-11 averaged 25 more yards per game over the final two-thirds of the season in three of his four seasons. "You hate to let those get away, but obviously, we didn't do our part offensively."
On Monday, U.Va. coach Mike London announced plans to move starting right tackle Jay Whitmire to right guard in place of Cody Wallace, and Eric Smith will slide into the starting right tackle position with fellow true freshman Sadiq Olanrewaju backing him up. Ross Burbank and Jackson Matteo are competing this week for the starting center job.
London also said there will be competition all week at the wide receiver spots. Many of U.Va.'s 10 drops at Pittsburgh were registered by receivers.
Watford, a Hampton High graduate, will continue to start. He's going to have to improve numbers that include 59 percent completions on his pass attempts, 604 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions in Fairchild's pro-style offense that has expanded to include some read-option looks for Watford.
"I know the media," Watford said. "They don't really like coach Fairchild or like his style of play-calling … but it's not his fault. We as an offense just have to go out on the field and just execute and just show him we can do the type of stuff that we have, because we have so much, but we haven't been able to do it because we're not able to execute right now.
"There's nothing to try and hide, because we know it and everybody else knows it. … It's not on him, it's on us."
There's precious little thus far to indicate a turnaround is on the horizon.
U.Va. is eighth in the ACC in rushing yards per game (163.8), but 357 of its 655 rushing yards this season came in a 49-0 win against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Virginia Military Institute. U.Va. averaged just 99 rushing yards per game against Brigham Young, Oregon and Pittsburgh, and the Cavaliers are 12th in the ACC in rushing yards per attempt (3.7).
Kevin Parks (294 rushing yards) has been the only one of U.Va.'s top four running backs who's been healthy for all four games, but the only ACC teams with fewer running plays of 20-plus yards than U.Va. (three) are North Carolina and Wake Forest.
U.Va. also is 13th in the ACC in passing yards per game (158.5), last in passing efficiency and tied for last in turnovers lost (10). There isn't a team in the nation with fewer pass plays of 20-plus yards (four, tied with Arizona, Army and Massachusetts) than U.Va.
No ACC team has fewer plays of 10-plus yards than U.Va. (43), which also has fewer such plays than all but 10 FBS teams. U.Va. has fewer plays of 20-plus yards (seven) than any other team from an automatic-qualifying Bowl Championship Series conference, and all but two FBS teams.
"It's disappointing about where we are," London said. "The facts and statistics don't lie about that part of it.
You're going to have some drops in game, but you can't have 10 drops in a game. If you eliminate [turnovers and drops], we feel it can give us a better chance of being more representative of how this team can play."
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642