After all the film was reviewed by players and coaches in the postgame breakdown of Virginia's losses to Louisiana Tech and Duke, the sweeping conclusion for U.Va.'s inability to get takeaways against both opponents came down to one general concept.
Close, but not quite.
That's how U.Va.'s players and coaches are approaching the discouraging reality that the defense simply isn't creating turnovers.
U.Va. enters Saturday's game against Maryland (3-2 overall, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) second-to-last in the nation out of 124 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in takeaways (three) and second-to-last in turnover margin (average of minus-two per game).
"There's little things you can continue to keep doing, but you've got to keep pressing the players about creating the turnovers and the mindset of doing that," said U.Va. coach Mike London, whose defense had 21 takeaways last season.
"Once one happens, a lot of times they start coming, and we just need to have the game where those opportunities occur for us."
Though U.Va. (2-4, 0-2) is credited with three takeaways, only two of those were actually caused by the defense — both coming in a 27-7 loss at Texas Christian. One of U.Va.'s takeaways came via a muffed punt by Georgia Tech. U.Va. has scored just one touchdown off turnovers.
"It's pretty frustrating," said free safety Anthony Harris after Saturday's 42-17 loss at Duke. "(On Saturday), we had an opportunity to get our hands on a couple balls. We would've liked to have turned them into big plays for us to get the ball going the other way. The thing we can do is try to get people off the field on third down."
U.Va. held Duke to 3 of 14 on third-down conversions, but the Cavaliers have otherwise been marginal on third-down conversion defense. They're eighth in the ACC and 56th in the nation in third-down conversion defense, giving up first downs 36.6 percent of the time.
U.Va., which has lost four consecutive games, only has one interception. U.Va.'s sports information department has team statistics back to the 1946 season. Since that point, U.Va.'s lowest season totals for interceptions were seven in 1955, '65 and '75.
The lack of takeaways could be partially attributed to a nearly non-existent pass rush. U.Va. has just four sacks, which is tied with Boston College for last in the ACC.
London said he talked with his defensive coaching staff about getting a better rotation of defensive linemen in games. He was particularly disturbed by the increased number of players that needed intravenous fluids at halftime of the Duke game.
In addition to the dearth of interceptions, U.Va.'s defense could surpass a few other dubious marks it hasn't come close to since that '75 season, in which the Cavaliers went 1-10.
U.Va. is surrendering 34 points per game. The last time a U.Va. team gave up more points per game was in the '75 season, when opponents averaged 38.9 points per contest.
U.Va. is on pace to give up 52 passing and rushing touchdowns in a 12-game season, which would be the most since the '75 team gave up 58 touchdowns to opposing offenses in 11 games.
Maryland could provide some assistance for U.Va. in its efforts to boost takeaways. The Terrapins are last in the ACC in turnovers with 16, including a conference-worst 10 lost fumbles. Maryland is also ninth in the ACC in third-down conversions, picking up first downs on just 36.1 percent of third-down plays.
"I think with any defense our main goal is to get turnovers and our main goal is to get off the field," linebacker La'Roy Reynolds said. "I think we've done a good job as far as getting off the field on third down. … But I just think we've got to get more turnovers. As far as from a leadership standpoint, we've really got to step up and make more plays."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times