CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Bronco Mendenhall has a simple explanation for why his Virginia football team has slumped to 5-3 after a 4-0 start, with three road losses over the past four games.
"What this season has shown us in our three losses is, what will get in the way of (winning the Coastal Division) is turning the ball over at a higher rate, and not taking it away," Mendenhall said this week.
UVA enters Saturday night's game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill tied with the Tar Heels for first place in the Coastal, with both teams sitting at 3-2 in ACC play. The Cavaliers are 5-3 overall, while UNC is 4-4.
Virginia is minus-6 overall in the turnover differential Mendenhall referenced, which puts the Cavaliers at the bottom of the ACC and 118th among FBS teams nationally. UVA is just plus-1 in turnover margin in its five wins, and minus-7 -- with just one takeaway -- in the team's three losses.
UVA gave the ball away five times in last month's loss at Notre Dame. In last Saturday's 28-21 loss at Louisville, Bryce Perkins threw an interception deep in Cardinals territory just before halftime that cost the 'Hoos a chance to extend their 14-7 lead, and a Joe Reed fumble set up Louisville for the go-ahead score in the third quarter.
At practice this week, UVA offensive coordinator Robert Anae said cutting back on those giveaways is "a matter of discipline."
"We've got to be a better disciplined group with the ball in our hands," Anae said. "And we've got to make better decisions, from top to bottom, and the number one decision is to secure the football."
UVA's 16 total turnovers ranks tied for 116th in the country -- with the twelve teams behind them a combined 34-63 on the season. Eight of those giveaways are interceptions by Perkins, which is tied for most in the ACC and sixth-most among all FBS quarterbacks.
Mendenhall says most of those turnovers come from Perkins "trying to lead, push and help our team win, which is a delicate balance." But the quarterback, who only threw nine picks in 13 games for the Cavaliers last year, acknowledged this week that he needs to worry less about making "Superman plays" and be safer with the football.
"I just need to improve on the stupid turnovers. A lot of those are stupid turnovers," Perkins said. "More of those this year than last year, and trying to do too much and trying to play outside of the system. Moving forward, being efficient and doing the little things that we have to do and I have to do to win out."