Reliability and steadiness are usually welcome traits for any team.
Unless, that is, those apply to Virginia’s football program over the last year.
Rarely a month passed in the offseason when there wasn’t some roster attrition. And just five weeks into the season, the Cavaliers (1-3, 0-1 ACC) would be shackled with their worst start since 1982 if they can’t surprise Maryland (4-1, 1-0) at Scott Stadium on Saturday.
It’s the worst sort of consistency imaginable, especially since it is nearly impossible to escape the constant stream of setbacks facing the program.
“One of the things we’ve always understood is that adversity and the negativity that goes with it is just a part of life,” coach Al Groh said. “If you’re impacted by that, it just drains away all the positive energy needed to produce positive results. It’s an ongoing thing where teams need to insulate themselves from those circumstances.”
Perhaps now more than ever in Charlottesville.
Groh’s future is a popular topic, with murmurs circulating of a possible firing if the Cavaliers can’t reverse a woeful September. The month ended with Saturday’s 31-3 loss at Duke, which snapped the Blue Devils’ 25-game conference losing streak.
But it isn’t so much that Virginia is struggling a season after Groh was named the ACC coach of the year for producing a 9-4 season filled with fortuitousness and a New Year’s Day date in the Gator Bowl. It’s that a brutal offseason filled with academic and disciplinary matters sapped the Cavaliers of much of their remaining talent.
Losing a pair of first-round NFL Draft picks (defensive end Chris Long and guard Branden Albert) didn’t help. Then quarterback Jameel Sewell, a two-year starter, left school for academic reasons, as did cornerback Chris Cook and defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald.
Ultimately, almost a dozen players with eligibility remaining aren’t around - with opening-week starting quarterback Peter Lalich the latest to join the list after his dismissal from the team last month in the wake of a probation violation related to underage possession of alcohol.
“You have to try to cover your eyes and ears to it so you don’t let it distract you,” wide receiver Kevin Ogletree said. “Stuff that has happened, it all happened for a reason. We all know we can’t do anything about it at this stage. We’re just trying to go with what we have and finish this season out with what we’ve got.”
Ogletree, who missed last season with a knee injury and has 22 receptions, is one of the Cavaliers’ bright spots. So too is linebacker Clint Sintim, who leads the ACC with four sacks. Dependable fullback Rashawn Jackson fared well as a ball-carrier late against Duke, cornerback Ras-I Dowling had two interceptions Saturday and Virginia has found solid options at punter and kicker.
And that’s about it.
The Cavaliers rank 117th of 119 teams nationally in rushing offense (66 yards), 118th in total offense (251.3) and 119th in scoring offense (9.0). A woeful turnover margin of minus-1.75 - 113th in the country - exacerbates matters.
“We’re just trying to figure things out,” Sintim said. “We knew coming in it would be a little bit different, and we lost a lot of players. We’re continuing to get better. We’re developing, and we’re getting better, and we’re on our way to being a better team.”