CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Virginia’s football season has already come to a crossroads of sorts.
The Cavaliers (2-2) have split their first four games in each of the past four seasons, and when they play Kent State (0-3) on Saturday, their goal is to show that this season is much different.
Virginia never won again after a 2-1 start last season, and their nine consecutive losses included a 48-27 loss to Ball State, which hails from the same Mid-American Conference as the Golden Flashes.
No worries, tailback Khalek Shepherd said. Twenty-two seniors are keeping everyone focused.
“We’ve been in the same spot that last few years and we don’t want the same thing to happen, so the seniors are staying on top of everybody making sure that we’re focused in and locked in and seeing that we have the opportunity to do great things this year, and we don’t want to let that slip away,” he said.
That team unity, coach Mike London said, has been a focus since last season ended.
“That’s been a strong, strong theme and an undercurrent that we want to do well,” he said. “As I told (the seniors) yesterday, after this game, it’s about halfway done for some of you guys. It’s come quickly for them, and you realize that you have your own fate, your own destiny that you can control.”
Receiver Darius Jennings, another senior, said each week brings a sole purpose this year.
“Our motivation this week is just to get a win,” he said.
Kent State would, however, be a prime candidate to be taken lightly.
The Golden Flashes have two freshmen and six sophomores that start on offense and are coming off a much-needed bye week. It followed a 66-0 loss at Ohio State in which they gained just 126 yards.
The week was helpful, coach Paul Haynes said, “just to refocus on what you’re doing, what you’re not doing well. You can go back and hit the fundamentals again and you can kind of get a little but healthy.”
Kent State last beat a Bowl Subdivision team in 2012, upending No. 15 Rutgers 35-23.
Here are some things to watch when Kent State plays at Virginia:
CAVALIERS QB: Greyson Lambert appeared to be locking down the quarterback spot last week until he rolled his ankle and Matt Johns took over. Both have played in every game this season, but Lambert has started each game. If he can’t go, Johns will likely make the first start of his college career.
RED ZONE: The Cavaliers could easily be 4-0, receiver Darius Jennings said, after 8-point losses to No. 11 UCLA and No. 20 BYU. Against the Cougars, they had four scoring drives stall, leading to field goals by Ian Frye, who already has attempted 11 this season. Mokre touchdowns is a priority.
DEFENSIVE HAVOC: Virginia defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s scheme focuses on making two things happen: sacks and turnovers. The Cavaliers have excelled at both so far this season with 13 osf each.
MAC ATTACK: Mid-American Conference teams have made an annual habit of pulling off upsets against schools from the top five conferences, and Virginia contributed to that last season with its 48-27 loss to Ball State. If the Golden Flashes’ 0-3 record doesn’t impress them, they could be ripe for an upset.
FAMILIAR FACE: Friday promised to be interesting on campus at Virginia. That’s when the television crew working the game got to sit down with London and others to find out more about the team. The crew includes former Cavaliers coach Al Groh, who was fired and replaced by London five years ago. London also had two tours as an assistant on Groh’s staff at Virginia before coaching for two years at Richmond.
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