news uva football needs packed house saturday

UVA football needs a packed house Saturday

scott stadiumIf ever there was a time that a football team needed its home-field advantage, it’s this Saturday with UVA getting ready to host Louisville.

Through two home games, Scott Stadium has drawn just over 79,000 fans, with only 34,533 taking in the 45-13 win over Richmond last weekend. With capacity at 61,500, and the school’s media guide listing the all-time record for a home game at 64,947, the 2008 home opener vs. USC, that’s an awful lot of empty seats, between 44,000 and 50,000, depending on one’s view of stadium capacity.

Which isn’t good for business, and that’s one issue, a big issue. A bigger issue is the environment that a half-empty stadium creates.

“We play to make sure that what’s seen on the field is a product that people want to come and support,” coach Mike London said in his weekly press conference on Monday. “Again, I appreciate the people that come out. But whatever it takes to galvanize our students, our fan base, whatever it is, love to get involved with it because I appreciate those who come to the game, and hopefully we make it exciting enough that people will keep coming back and they’ll bring someone else with them and bring someone else, and that’s how it grows.

“Hopefully this week against Louisville is another game that people will come and support the players,” London said.

Louisville is currently set as a seven-point favorite in the matchup with Virginia. In its first year in the second administration of coach Bobby Petrino, and the program’s first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Cardinals already own an impressive ACC victory, a 31-13 pasting of preseason Coastal Division favorite Miami.

This will be the first road trip for Louisville in 2014, which has Petrino a little worried, and the coach is impressed with what Virginia has been able to do in its first two weeks defensively.

“The big part of it is the pressure on the quarterback, they really rush the quarterback,” Petrino said Monday. “They come off the ball hard. They have two really active defensive ends and a couple good guys inside that push the pocket, so most of their turnovers have come as a result of pressuring the quarterback, and either the quarterback fumbling the ball or having to throw under pressure and have an interception.”

A loud home crowd can add to the pressure from the defensive line and blitz packages. Redshirt sophomore Will Gardner will be making his first road start as the Louisville quarterback. Gardner has looked impressive in his first two starts, completing 66 percent of his passes and not throwing an interception, but going on the road is a different challenge for a young QB.

That is, if the road environment makes it a challenge. Empty seats don’t make noise. The fewer of them there are, the better, from the Cavs’ standpoint.

There’s one way that happens: win games. London is well-aware of that.

“Obviously, being successful on the field leads to a lot of people wanting to know what’s going on. So that is the focus. Coach the team, play the games, and let everything else take care of itself,” London said.

– Column by Chris Graham

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