Amidst team struggles, several UVa football players are having stellar seasons - Cavalier Insider: Football

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Amidst team struggles, several UVa football players are having stellar seasons

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Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 6:00 am

Anthony Harris leads the nation in interceptions. Despite missing the last two games, Brent Urban is still tops nationally among defensive linemen in passes defended. Eli Harold is among the ACC’s top 10 in sacks, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. David Watford leads the ACC in completions. Jake McGee passed his reception total of last year in this year’s seventh game. Kevin Parks is on pace to have the program’s highest single-season rushing total in a decade.

Individually, they’re standing out. But collectively, they’re struggling to stand up.

Welcome to Virginia football 2013 — high numbers, low results.

The Cavaliers are 2-6 and 0-4 in the ACC. They’ll aim to break a five-game losing streak Saturday when No. 9 Clemson (7-1, 5-1) comes to Scott Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

“We can have crazy numbers, crazy stats and still win a lot of games,” Watford said Monday. “That’s what we’re trying to focus on. Each week, we’re getting closer and closer, so we just have to keep pushing.”

Two weeks ago, UVa placed six players on Phil Steele’s midseason All-ACC teams. That was the same amount of Clemson, then the nation’s third-ranked team. That was one more than Miami, then the nation’s 10th-ranked team.

But blending together superior solo performances with victories has been a challenge, especially during this skid.

In a 14-3 loss to Pitt, Harris made eight tackles, forced a fumble and made a pick; Urban made four tackles for loss, swatted down a pass and had a quarterback hurry.

In a 48-27 loss to Ball State, Parks ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

In a 27-26 loss to Maryland, McGee had eight catches for a career-high 114 yards; Harold had two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

In a 35-22 loss to Duke, Parks had 138 yards on 21 touches with three touchdowns.

In a 35-25 loss to Georgia Tech, Watford set program records for attempts (61) and completions (43) while throwing for 376 yards, the fourth-most in UVa history.

“It does make it positive just because it shows how hard we’ve been working at our execution on the field,” Watford said of the individual success. “But at the end of the day, it’s a game of wins and losses. You want to have more wins than you have losses. Of course, I know any of my guys will trade stats and all the accolades for a boat load of wins.

“I would do the same thing.”

Same goes for Harris, the junior safety who has emerged as one of the best ball hawks in the country just a year after making all of one interception. His five picks are one more than Virginia’s 2012 team total.

But after eight games, the ’12 Cavs have the same record as the ’13 Cavs.

“If I could make more plays or take away a few plays that I made where our team could be more successful, I’d definitely do that,” Harris said. “I really don’t think about myself. I just go out there and do whatever I can to help my team win — whether that’s interceptions, tackles, motivating guys or just anything I can do on the field.

“My main focus is just my team right now, not really my individual accomplishments.”

Exhibit A came last Saturday when Harris made his second interception against Georgia Tech.

It was a jumping effort, one where the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder perfectly read the eyes of Yellow Jacket quarterback Vad Lee and pounced in front of a pass intended for Robert Godhigh.

But it also came at the Virginia 4-yard line — on a fourth down at the 31. If Harris knocks the ball away instead, the Wahoos gain 27 yards of field position.

“Once the play snapped and you started going through the play, your mind just kind of goes and you see the ball in the air,” Harris said. “So I went up, made the interception. Once I came down and guys started celebrating, I realized that I could have batted it down and gave the team better field position.”

But that’s a nitpick on what has been an All-ACC-worthy season for the Chesterfield native.

“I’m very proud of the way he's playing,” said UVa head coach Mike London.

London can say that about more than a few players on his roster this season. He just needs to see the praise turn into wins.

“We'll keep asking individuals to get better,” London said, “because if an individual gets better, then the unit gets better, then the team gets better.

“And that's the goal.”

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