The Virginia football team hasn’t started 3-1 since 2007. The Cavaliers haven’t won an ACC opener in the Mike London era.
Both trends can change Saturday when UVa travels to Pittsburgh. Kickoff from Heinz Field is 12:30 p.m.
“It’s definitely a big game for this team,” tight end Jake McGee said Monday during a media session at Scott Stadium. “It’s the first conference game, being on the road. It’s one you want to get bad.”
Especially with what’s ahead.
In a quest to make the postseason, the Wahoos have smaller hurdles in the immediate future as opposed to the back stretch.
Virginia’s next five games include the trip to Pittsburgh (2-1, 1-1 ACC), a home clash with the Mid-American Conference’s Ball State (3-1), a trip to Maryland (4-0, 0-0) and back-to-back Scott Stadium visits from Duke (2-2, 0-2) and Georgia Tech (3-0, 2-0).
The Cavs then close with No. 3 Clemson (3-0, 1-0) at home, North Carolina (1-2, 0-1) on the road, No. 15 Miami (3-0, 0-0) on the road and Virginia Tech (3-1, 0-0) at home.
“Every game is important to us right now, and we’re not looking at the back half of the schedule,” said London, the head coach who is 18-22 since he took over at UVa in 2010. “We’re looking at who we have right in front of us right now and the opportunities that are presented right now.
“We know the challenges that are ahead. The biggest challenge is on the road against Pittsburgh and everything else will take care of itself after that.”
UVa’s last 3-1 start, sparked by eventual ACC Defensive Player of the Year Chris Long, got to 7-1 and finished 9-4 with a Gator Bowl appearance.
The last win to begin ACC play was in 2009 at North Carolina.
“That would be perfect,” said UVa quarterback David Watford. “That’s a great start for us. If we’re able to string together win after win after win, we’ll be back in the bowl game in December. So that’s exactly where we want to be.
“That would be a great start for us — 1-0 in the ACC, a road win.”
Valles gets starting nod
Freshman Max Valles didn’t touch the field in Virginia’s first two games.
Now he’ll start UVa’s fourth.
Valles, a Fork Union product who began preseason camp as a defensive end, has moved to strong-side linebacker. Against VMI, he made his debut, nearly registering a sack on his initial play late in the first quarter.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder is now ahead of Demeitre Brim and Mark Hall on the depth chart.
“Max, even during the open week, had been demonstrating some abilities to be a pretty good pass rusher, to be dynamic off the edge,” London said. “There was competition at that position and he was a guy that went out and practiced and showed coaches that he had what it takes to be put in that position.
“So through that competition, he’s going to start this particular game.”
Added defensive end Eli Harold after Saturday’s game: “He’s fast. I thought I was fast. I thought Trent [Corney] was fast. Max Valles is fast. ... He’s really going to benefit our team a lot. He’s learning. He went from tight end to defensive end to linebacker. He’s really going to help this team.”
No word on Swanson
London didn’t give a full medical report on tight end Zach Swanson, the junior who injured his knee in the third quarter of Saturday’s 49-0 win over the Keydets.
“Zach was walking around in a knee brace in our walk-throughs,” London said. “We’ll see what happens as far as whether he’s ready to play or not.”
Swanson’s status for the upcoming Pittsburgh game should be known Thursday when the ACC-mandated injury report is released.
Players of the week
Sunday, London announced Virginia’s players of the week stemming from the VMI win.
On offense, it was running back Kevin Parks, who combined for 204 yards (135 rushing, 69 receiving) and two touchdowns against the Keydets. Corney, an end, took the defensive honors after making five tackles, including three for loss (two sacks), forcing a fumble and breaking up a pass. Dominique Terrell, who returned eight punts for 75 yards with a long of 30, took special teams honors.
Corney’s numbers came during the most extended playing time of his career. The sophomore is behind Harold on the depth chart.
Are the Cavs looking for more ways to get Corney on the field?
“The best way to keep improving your team is to have guys like Trent Corney that can come into the game and produce,” London said. “The competition at that position makes the players better. ... I’m quite sure that Coach [Jon] Tenuta and the defensive staff, whether it’s a four-man down package or three-man package or whatever it may be, they’ll try to find ways to get guys like that involved in the game plan.”
Ball State set for noon kick
Virginia’s Oct. 5 home game against Ball State will start at noon and will be broadcast by regional sports networks, the ACC announced Monday.