In the hours after his team sprung the upset of Louisville on Saturday, Virginia linebacker Henry Coley dialed up head coach Mike London, asking what the protocol was for calling a team meeting Sunday. The high of beating the No. 21 team in the country had worn off, and Coley and his three fellow Cavaliers captains needed to ensure that the rest of their teammates were not looking back.
"They told us we can't just get complacent, because in the past two years we started off 2-0, 2-1 and then we ended up going 4-8 (and 2-10)," safety Brandon Phelps told ESPN.com. "They said we've got to find it in ourselves to keep this thing going, to stay motivated, to stay hungry so we can win some games."
Through three weeks, the Hoos have already matched last year's win total, and they were dangerously close to upsetting then-No. 7 UCLA in Week 1. Awaiting them this weekend is a trip to Provo, Utah, to face a BYU team that has replaced Louisville at No. 21 in the AP poll. The Cougars boast a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in Taysom Hill. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, they have the nation's best chance at an undefeated regular-season record (21.7 percent).
But discussion about what the College Football Playoff selection committee should do in the event a schedule-challenged independent team runs the table is the last thing on the minds of the Hoos, who are used to being overlooked. BYU, after all, was one of only two teams to lose to Virginia last season during an otherwise-hapless year for the ACC program.
Phelps said that last year's two-win season was embarrassing, and that the players carried that sting this offseason through everything from workout competitions to video-game battles in order to stoke the competitive edge. Still, in what looked to be (and still is) a wide-open Coastal Division, Virginia entered the season as an afterthought, and Phelps said he and his teammates have embraced the underdog role.
Through three games, the Hoos have shown signs that this year won't be a repeat of last year. The defense has been relentless up front, tallying 12 sacks (No. 6 nationally) and allowing just 2.62 yards per rush (No. 16). That will be tested against the elusive Hill, whose 356 rushing yards this season trail only Boston College's Tyler Murphy (401) among quarterbacks. BYU runs more than 85 plays per game, fourth-most nationally. And its home field, LaVell Edwards Stadium, sits more than 4,600 feet above sea level, with the altitude further stretching visiting teams physically.
Fans ran onto the field at Scott Stadium this past weekend after Virginia's win over Louisville, marking the home team's first field-storming since an upset over 12th-ranked Georgia Tech three years ago. The milestone meant plenty to London, who was emotional afterward and whose job has been the topic of much discussion after a winless league campaign a year ago.
His players are well-aware of the hot-seat talk, and they were thrilled to help change the narrative.
"He's doesn't think about it, we don't think about it," Phelps said. "We're going to go out and play for him and we're going to win games. He's a great coach. He really cares about each and every single one of his players, and it's a great feeling to see a big smile on his face after we won that game."
The most important gesture, however, came back in the locker room following London's postgame speech, as he said that one player held the rest up to deliver parting words on the dawn of another game week.
"(He) said, 'Hey, listen, don't do anything dumb tonight. We've still got a long way to go. We've got to focus on getting ready for BYU,' " London said. "That type of leadership is the kind that can take you a long way. There's a buy-in to these guys, and we'll continue to keep having that buy-in because we've got really good opponents ahead of us, but the first one, what's foremost on our mind is BYU."