CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia's four-game homestand opened with a make-or-break contest against Southern Miss. After narrowly losing, the Cavaliers' bowl hopes were on life support.
A month later, thanks to an upset victory, the homestand closes with a second opportunity for that crucial fifth victory.
U.Va. faces North Carolina State today in a game that will help chart the course for both teams in the second half of the season.
The Wolfpack (3-3, 0-2 ACC) are on the verge of being banished to the cellar with the conference's also-rans, but have had two weeks to prepare for this game, and no shortage of ties to the opponent.
Tom O'Brien is a former Cavaliers assistant who is making his first trip back to Charlottesville. His quarterback is Mike Glennon, a Chantilly native who flirted with the Cavs before committing to the Wolfpack out of high school.
On the other sideline, Virginia (4-2, 1-1) is trying to break a decade-long trend of coming out flat after big victories.
"That's the challenge in coaching, and if I knew how to do it, I'd write a book and be a millionaire," offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim said.
The coach told his players a story about when he was in training at the Air Force, and he had to do "survival training" for seven days in the wilderness without access to prepared food.
"All I thought about was an In-N-Out double double [burger] with fries and a milkshake," he said. "As soon as I got done with survival training and I had one or two In-N-Outs, I wasn't worried about eating.
"It's the same thing. You prepare and you win a game, and all of a sudden maybe you feel satisfied with that. Remember the joy you felt at the end of the game when you won? Let that increase your desire to have that happen again. It's a challenge, and every team has that challenge."
Wachenheim helped the cause this week with his own connections. The former Liberty assistant called current coach Danny Rocco, who faced the Wolfpack to start the season.
Rocco's nephew, Michael, is the starting quarterback for the Wahoos.
One thing Michael Rocco will have to find a way to do is lead the offense in the second half. The Wahoos have leaned on early leads in their last two victories, and struggled to gain footing in the second half.
"We have to be more consistent with it," U.Va. head coach Mike London said. "We've got to put more points on the board, particularly in the third and fourth quarter because you never know, you might get into the game and you're going to have a shootout."
The coach said he won't discuss the postseason implications of Saturday's game, only the X's and O's of beating the Wolfpack in an effort to keep a short-term focus.
"Because without taking care of the business at hand," he said. "There are no other opportunities down the road."
• Read Michael Phillips' Virginia blog at timesdispatch.com