At 2-1 again, Virginia vows to avoid slides of last two seasons

Senior linebacker texted coach Mike London on Saturday night for permission.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia defeated Brigham Young to open last season. The Cougars finished 8-5, the Cavaliers 2-10. Virginia bested Penn State early in 2012. The Nittany Lions went 8-4, the Cavaliers 4-8.

Senior linebacker Henry Coley, a team captain, lived through those dumpster fires and knows all too well how hollow last week's upset of Louisville will be if Virginia fades again. That's why he texted coach Mike London late Saturday night for permission to call a players-only meeting for Sunday.

London agreed, and Coley's message was clear: The Cavaliers are 2-1, the same record they had after three games in 2012 and '13.

"Louisville could go on and win nine games," Coley said Monday, "and we could still end up being that team that goes 2-10 … if we get complacent about these wins … and just think we have all the answers."

As of Monday afternoon, London had not spoken to Coley about the team meeting, but safe to say, he welcomed Coley's intention.

"I've heard the chatter up and down the hallway and the locker room about staying focused and not settling for anything," London said. "That's something different from what we've had in the past. …

"That type of leadership is the kind that can take you a long way. There's a buy-in to these guys, and we'll continue (to need) that buy-in because … we've got some really good opponents ahead of us."

Starting with Saturday at No. 21 Brigham Young (3-0). The Cougars are the third ranked opponent the Cavaliers have faced — they lost to UCLA and beat Louisville — but the first on the road.


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BYU opened with road routs of Connecticut and Texas, prompting considerable chatter regarding its chances of qualifying for the inaugural College Football Playoff as an independent. But the Cougars did not resemble a top-four squad while defeating Houston 33-25 Thursday, committing 11 penalties and three turnovers, allowing four sacks and nearly squandering a 23-0 lead.

Still, quarterback Taysom Hill, as usual, posted impressive numbers, rushing for 160 yards and a touchdown and passing for 200 and another score. He completed 21 passes, to 11 different teammates, in 34 attempts, far better than last season at Scott Stadium, when he was 13-of-40 for 175 yards.

That was Hill's first game under offensive coordinator Robert Anae, and it showed. The Cougars' 362 yards were their season-low.

"He'll tuck it and run a lot faster," Coley said of Hill this year. "He's a lot more comfortable in the schemes, and he's making the hot reads a lot faster on who he wants to throw it to."

Virginia sacked Hill three times last year and limited him to 42 yards on 11 carries. More than once the hits were jarring.

"I told him after the game, 'You've got heart, man,'" Coley said.

Virginia ranks seventh nationally in sacks, third in tackles for loss and 21st in rushing defense. But Saturday's game will be at altitude, approximately 4,500 feet above sea level, against a rapid-fire offense that averages 86.7 snaps per game, sixth among FBS teams.

More precise: BYU averages one play every 22.4 seconds of possession. That's not as fast as Baylor (19.7) or Oregon (20.3), but it's Usain Bolt compared to Virginia's 26 seconds.

Also, Cavaliers defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta does not substitute frequently, and for as good as his crew has been this season, it has shown fatigue. UCLA's lone offensive touchdown came late in the third quarter, and Louisville scored two in the fourth.

Coley dismissed fatigue as a factor, blaming lack of execution. But that's what tired teams do: fail to execute.

"We're going to have to play more players," London said. "(Altitude) particularly affects players with sickle-cell trait … and there's a few players like that on our team."

Altitude depletes oxygen in the blood, and the sickle-cell trait can compound the problem. The most notable case is Washington safety Ryan Clark, who while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers sat out two games in Denver because of that city's altitude. Previously, Clark fell ill after a game in Denver and had surgery to remove his spleen and gall bladder.

London was the defensive coordinator on the 2007 Virginia team that opened the season at altitude against Wyoming. The Cowboys ran 89 plays and smoked the Cavaliers 23-3.

"There are some things you have to do, be aware of and educate your players in order to be ready," London said, mentioning hydration, rest and nutrition.

Regardless of altitude, Virginia players vow to be ready, to dodge the lengthy slides of 2012 and '13.

"It was clear that was a big win for the program," receiver Canaan Severin said of Louisville. "We can talk about the win the whole week, or we can prepare for BYU, and that's what we did (Sunday). We started preparing for BYU."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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