CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — David Watford doesn’t want to hear about the numbers any more.
Virginia’s redshirt sophomore quarterback had a career day a week ago, and so did two of his favorite targets, but the bottom line made it all seem kind of meaningless. The Cavaliers lost 35-25 to Georgia Tech, pushing their losing streak to five games and with no more margin for error this season.
If Virginia (2-6, 0-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) wants to go to a bowl game, it can’t lose again.
“I know any of my guys would trade the stats and all the accolades for a boatload of wins, and I would do the same thing,” Watford said this week. “It just shows we just have to keep working, because we can do both. We can have crazy numbers, crazy stats and still win a lot of games. So that’s what we’re really focused on, and each week we’re getting closer and closer, so we just have to keep pushing.”
The Cavaliers will have their hands full when No. 9 Clemson visits today.
The Tigers (7-1, 5-1) have a dynamic passing duo of their own in quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Boyd, a native of Hampton, Va., is second only to North Carolina State’s Phillip Rivers with 10,296 career passing yards and 15 300-yard games, and Watkins is among the most dazzling players in college football.
On film, the Tigers see what Virginia can be, rather than what it has been in losing 14 of its past 18 games, defensive back Korrin Wiggins said.
“You always respect the opponent, respect what they have,” Wiggins said. “You never go in thinking these guys aren’t good enough. Their guys are on scholarship as well, so you have to respect that.”
On scholarship, and frustrated.
In the past three weeks, Virginia has repeatedly seen drives end when it failed to convert in short-yardage situations. Against the Yellow Jackets, it had a first-and-goal at the 2, and didn’t score on two tries before halftime.
“It’s frustrating. I don’t know what other way to put it,” tight end Zachary Swanson said.
“Those are the must-have situations. You gotta convert on fourth down and you gotta punch it in right before half. That’s what you gotta do to win football games.”
The meeting is the first between the teams since 2009, and barring a meeting in the ACC Championship, they won’t face off again until 2020.
Here are five things to watch for when the teams meet in Charlottesville, Va.:
OPPORTUNITIES: It’s one of Virginia coach Mike London’s favorite words, and if the Cavaliers got more out of their scoring chances, they wouldn’t be in such dire circumstances. They have forced 15 turnovers, which is more than they forced last season, but converted them into just 13 points. That’s dismal.
CONTAINING BOYD: Hampton native Boyd’s passing numbers are among the best in ACC history, but he’s also dangerous when he runs. He needs just 16 yards rushing to become the first quarterback in ACC history with 10,000 yards passing and 1,000 on the ground.
WHERE’S SAMMY? Watkins is coming off a game in which he had a school record 14 receptions for 163 yards. It was Watkins’ fifth 100-yard game of the season, and Virginia will be without starting DBs Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady because of injuries. That’s a dicey proposition.
PARKS AND RIDE: Virginia RB Kevin Parks shares the ACC lead with 10 touchdowns, but has also been stopped in some key short-yardage situations. The Cavaliers made an emphasis on finding the push to get those yards this week, and being able to do it would keep the offense on the field, and Boyd and Co. off.
DAVID v. GOLIATH: Watford started slowly last week, missing some key throws, but rebounded with a career day. He set Virginia records with 43 completions and 61 attempts, threw for 376 yards and helped Tim Smith and Darius Jennings become the first receiver tandem in school history to each catch 10 passes in a game. Watford has steadily improved, but has a tendency to overthrow receivers in key spots. If he can put some of those balls on target, Virginia’s fortunes could change.