CHARLOTTESVILLE — Losing five consecutive contests might obscure just how well Virginia’s football team has performed in some aspects of the game.
In each of the past three games, U.Va. has outgained its opponent and held the opposing team under 30 percent on third-down conversions.
"That's been the message for a while — looking at the positives," coach Mike London said. "But also looking at the penalties and the disproportionate amount of turnovers.
"It's hard enough to win games as it is.
"If we concentrate and eliminate those types of things, we’re in games and doing things to win."
In all likelihood, today's game against Wake Forest represents the last time Virginia (2-5) will be favored this season. It is a critical opportunity to snap its losing streak and put one in the win column before a week off.
It also would boost a young team's confidence after a brutal early schedule that included losses to Georgia Tech, TCU and Louisiana Tech.
The Cavaliers are among the youngest teams playing in a BCS conference, with a sophomore quarterback and receivers on offense, and a secondary with no upperclassmen on the other.
That’s been reflected in a lack of game-changing plays. Virginia has generated just four turnovers this season, while giving the other team the ball 17 times. That’s negated their considerable advantage on the stat sheet.
"If you look at stats alone, you would have thought we'd won these games," offensive lineman Chris Brathwaite said. "It's stuff like penalties and turnovers — things we can control — that we need to take care of during games."
Starting with last week's game, London announced his intention to use his true freshmen and other young players on more series, a move that could bring more energy to the team but also may contribute to the mental mistakes that have hampered the Cavaliers.
Penalties have been a recurring theme, as well as lapses on special teams that have been particularly costly.
That's put the offense in poor situations. The Cavaliers are moving the ball, but with an 80-plus yard field to negotiate every time, the red zone has been a rare sight.
Darius Jennings, a sophomore receiver, said he’s still gaining a comfort level with the position. He played quarterback in high school.
"It was a big learning curve for me," he said. "I’m still trying to fine tune the smaller details and perfect my routes. I feel more comfortable this year, but I have a long ways to go. I’m not perfect, but I’m striving to be."
It's an attitude echoed by the team, which, for all its youth and inexperience, still has found a way to contend in games.
Cleaning up the little things — penalties and turnovers — has proven a tough task.
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