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Nov. 9, 2012
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – A long losing streak will test the resilience of any football player.
There’s a temptation to let up just a bit in practice, drop your head when things go bad and then shrug and accept another defeat.
Somehow, Virginia avoided those pitfalls. After losing six straight games – half their schedule – the Cavaliers roared back from a bye week to thrash NC State 33-6 on the road last weekend.
“We looked at ourselves and what we needed to do and focused on the mistakes we made and how to correct those,” explained defensive end Jake Snyder. “We did a good job with that and we also were able to prepare for NC State a little bit. That helped out and we took full advantage of it.
“A six-game losing streak is something I’ve never been a part of and it was tough the way we were losing games. We felt like we were playing well and it was a mistake here and a mistake there that really cost us. That’s really frustrating to not get the results that you put in the work for.
“We feel like a whole lot of times we’ve beaten ourselves. But we’re better for it now and we’ve grown from that and we feel that no matter who lines up against us we have a chance to win.”
The next team Virginia will line up against is Miami, the ACC Coastal Division leader. The Hurricanes present challenges because they can run and throw the ball well.
“They’ve got two great backs (Duke Johnson and Mike James), a good offensive line and a lot of weapons they can hurt you with,” Snyder said. “Their quarterback (Stephen Morris) has got a great arm and he can run, too.
“Anytime you have a quarterback like that he’s going to create problems and that presents a big challenge for us as a defense. We look forward to that. We want to play against the best and that’s what we’re doing.”
Virginia had to rebuild its defense from 2011 and one of the areas hit hard was the line. Only Snyder, now a junior, returned among the four starting down linemen. Still, he said it wasn’t as bad as it seemed because there were several other players on hand who got a lot of playing time last season.
It’s a similar situation this year. Nine players rotate in the four positions, including true freshmen Eli Harold and Mike Moore, redshirt freshman David Dean and sophomore Chris Brathwaite. Snyder has been the steadiest among them, totaling 35 tackles (four for a loss), a pair of sacks and one fumble recovery.
“Jake became the elder statesman, the guy that's been in football games before,” said coach Mike London. “He consistently grades out a winning percentage because he's just a smart football player. He knows and understands formations, down and distance. He reads stances. He can communicate well with the guys up and down the line of scrimmage.”
London said Snyder studies the game. He’s one of those reliable players that coaches consistently count on.
“He may not be the fastest guy off the edge, but he'll work to put himself in position to make a play,” London said. “It’s like having another coach on the field, particularly for … all those young guys out there. We're lucky to have him and he's very important to the defense.”
One of the reasons Virginia has him is, in part, because of his older brother. Matt Snyder joined the team as a walk-on wide receiver in 2007. During five years in the program, he worked his way into a starting role and was eventually elected a team captain.
Jake Snyder was his brother’s biggest fan and went to see him play as often as possible. Jake became familiar with the UVa campus and liked the atmosphere. He visited other schools and even got a late offer from Ohio State, but Virginia was his first choice. When Jake got to school as a freshman, Matt Snyder let him find his own way.
“(Matt) was definitely helpful; he’s been a great role model and an older brother in all aspects of life, not just football,” Jake said. “But once you get here as a freshman, it’s you and the guys who came in with you in the freshman class. He let me grow up with those guys and go through the aches and pains of being a freshman. He let me have my own time and make my own friends and learn my way. Once I became more comfortable, then we spent a little more time together and he helped me out. “It was an amazing five years for him. I knew he was a practice player his first two years but he’s a guy who works his butt off no matter what the situation is and I couldn’t be more proud of him for that.
“We’re definitely different body types and different personalities. We love each other and we get along great but we’re very different people. It’s interesting. A lot of times you see (brothers) who will play the same position but it didn’t work out that way and I think we’re even better for it.”
Watching his brother’s work ethic even when he wasn’t playing was a lesson for Jake Snyder that came in handy during the losing streak. As a unit, Virginia’s defense played well in six of the first seven games. But one thing missing was takeaways – only four in those games. Against NC State, it recorded five.
“Getting turnovers is a huge part of our defense and we weren’t doing a good job of that all year,” Snyder said. “Our turnover differential – I think we were last in the country for awhile there. So we focused on it in practice and finally it showed up. We started getting a little pressure and we made plays when we needed to.
“The first guy wraps up the tackle, the next guy comes in and tries to get the ball out. You prep it 100 times so it will pay off one time in a game.”
Snyder recovered a fumble against State when Brathwaite sacked Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon. Snyder came in to assist, the ball came loose and he got up off the ground and covered on it before anyone else could get there.
While it might seem that the Cavs (3-6 overall, 1-4 in the ACC) could be playing to build for next season, there are things left to accomplish in this one. Should they manage to sweep their remaining games, they would become eligible for a bowl.
“What’s on our mind right now is Miami and treating it as the most important game,” Snyder said. “But at the same time, in the back of our minds, we’ve had the goal all season to win the month of November.
“We feel like we’re built to win in the fourth quarter and to win in the second half of the season. And if we do go 4-0 in November, we’re in a bowl game, which is your goal from the beginning of the year.”
And what would it take to do that?
“Preparation is the main thing,” he said. “If we can do that through a six-game streak and stay focused with one goal in mind, which we absolutely did, then we can do it again. And it feels good to finally get a win. It had been too long and now we’ve got that winning taste back in our mouth and we’re hungry for another one.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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