CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Virginia needs only to look at Georgia Tech to see how quickly the outlook of a team can improve.
The Yellow Jackets (4-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) ended a three-game losing streak a week ago by beating Syracuse 56-0, their largest victory in an ACC game.
Suddenly, a season that was going off the rails has been infused with promise again.
"On Monday, I pointed out that there's a huge difference between 5-3 and 4-4," Jackets coach Paul Johnson said this week. "It's a conference game and nobody knows what's going to happen. We didn't know we would be in the conference championship game a year ago and, lo and behold, there we were. You just keep plugging and keep playing and let that take care of itself. One game at a time. It'll work itself out."
The Cavaliers (2-5, 0-3) sorely need a day that works out. They have lost four straight, blew a 22-point lead against Duke last week at home and probably won't be favored in another game this season.
The game against the Blue Devils also drew only 39,071 fans, 22,000 below Scott Stadium's capacity.
Tight end Jake McGee said it's on the team to turn things around and prevent the kind of slide that saw Virginia lost six in a row last season on its way to a deflating 4-8 finish.
"If there's no one there or it's a packed house, it's on us to get up for the games and get the guys motivated to win," said McGee, who leads the Cavaliers in receptions with 31. "Regardless of who's in the stands, it really starts with the players and coaches to achieve the success we want."
Several times this season, Virginia has started fast, jumped to a big lead, then faded.
"Coming out fast and playing with enthusiasm and passion, those things are critically important," coach Mike London said. "And then sustaining it for four quarters - that's the issue for us right now."
The Yellow Jackets have always posed a challenge on offense with their unique triple option, but they look even more daunting this year, arriving with a defense allowing 328 yards per game, 12th nationally.
Here are five things to look for when Georgia Tech visits Virginia:
STINGING STARTS: Georgia Tech opened last year's meeting with a 70-yard touchdown pass on the first play, and a 77-yard run on its third offensive play, while Virginia went three-and-out in between. The Yellow Jackets won, 56-20. Getting a few defensive stops will be key for Virginia early in the game.
SUSTAINING SOMETHING: The Cavaliers had David Watford slinging the ball all over early on last week and they built a 22-0 lead against Duke, but then the offense stalled. Coach Mike London says his team needs to learn to play four quarters, and with offensive help, they have the defense to do it.
TIME OF POSSESSION: Despite their quick-strike ability, the Yellow Jacks rank second nationally, holding the ball for 35 1/2 minutes per game. Virginia leads the country in getting off the field after third down, allowing foes to convert just 26.6 percent. Getting the ball, and keeping it, will be huge.
CASHING IN: Turnovers often tell the tale when these two meet. The Cavaliers have won nine of 11 when forcing more turnovers than they commit, but they have struggled turning takeaways into points this year.
BIG PLAYS: Virginia needs some, and Georgia Tech often seems to get some against the Cavaliers. Solid defense that suddenly gets gashed for a quick strike is demoralizing, and Virginia hasn't shown the ability to bounce back from it. The Yellow Jackets would love to challenge that resolve again.