CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia hasn't won a football game in more than two months and hasn't beaten Virginia Tech in 10 years. The Cavaliers rank last among ACC teams in turnover margin, and for the first time this season coach Mike London's confidence in quarterback David Watford is wavering.
Given that landslide of grim for the orange-and-blue crowd, unearthing a pebble of good entering Saturday's finale against Tech is, shall we say, difficult. But here goes.
With little at stake last Saturday at Miami, Virginia showed a strong, and perhaps surprising, pulse.
Yes, the Cavaliers endured their eighth consecutive setback, by a resounding 19 points no less. But unlike their most recent outing, at North Carolina two weeks earlier, there was no doubting their want-to.
Perhaps the truest measure of such is rushing statistics. How willing are you to engage in the combat necessary to run effectively, and stop your opponent from doing the same?
Clearly Virginia (2-9, 0-7 ACC) aced that test against Miami. The Cavaliers outrushed the Hurricanes 243-90, a credit to not only the players but also London and his staff.
"I think we ran for over 200 yards in the first half," offensive tackle Morgan Moses said Monday, just missing the actual total of 203. "That tells you there's a lot of progress going on. … (But) we can say what we want to say. 'We ran the ball all over, we moved the ball as an offense.' But if we don't put points on the board, we're just killing ourselves."
They are, indeed, witness Saturday's four turnovers that led to 28 Miami points. And that's where Watford comes in.
A sophomore held in highest regard among teammates for his work ethic and leadership, Watford is prone to crippling errors, the most recent Saturday's first-snap interception that Miami's Tracy Howard returned 19 yards for a touchdown.
For the second consecutive game, backup Greyson Lambert posted credible numbers in mop-up duty, and for the first time, London said that Lambert definitely will play in the subsequent game.
As well he should. In fact, he should start. Not that Lambert is a cure-all, but since throwing for a career-high 376 yards against Georgia Tech, Watford has one touchdown pass, six interceptions and a completion percentage of 44.4.
The change might do the Cavaliers some good, much like 2008, when then-coach Al Groh started cornerback Vic Hall at quarterback. Hall was a record-setting quarterback in high school and rushed for two touchdowns against the Hokies in a 17-14 loss.
Virginia hasn't defeated Tech since 2003, a stretch of nine consecutive defeats.
"It's been forever since we beat them," defensive tackle Brent Urban said.
What would a victory over the Hokies mean? What would it feel like?
"It's something I've thought about for a long time," defensive end Jake Snyder said. "It's something we talk about all year long."
"I don't think anything can wipe away nine losses," fullback Billy Skrobacz said, "but it would be a big win."
The Hokies (7-4, 4-3) have won by a combined 80-13 in their last two visits to Charlottesville, in 2009 and '11, but this team has rarely displayed the firepower necessary for a knockout. A low-scoring slog similar to last season's 17-14 Tech escape is more likely.
Added motivation for the Cavaliers: NFL prospects such as Urban and Moses, both seniors, are playing their final college game, and junior tailback Kevin Parks needs 74 yards to become the program's first 1,000-yard rusher since Alvin Pearman in 2004.
"Trust me, we already talked about it yesterday," Moses said. "Being that Virginia Tech is leading the conference in defense, what a way to get 1,000 yards. …
"We're not far from winning. That's the thing we have to get in our head. We're not far from winning. We just have to cut down on the mistakes."
Sounds good in theory, but Virginia's only loss this season by fewer than 10 points was 27-26 at Maryland.
"I've seen improvement as the year has gone on," London said, "and it is frustrating that it's not happening at enough of a pace that affects the outcome of the game. That's what has to happen."
"We're not really playing for much at this point other than pride," Skrobacz said, "and there's a lot of guys on this team that have a lot of pride."