Sunday, August 24, 2008

Virginia Preview

2008 Schedule
Aug. 30
Sept. 13@Connecticut
Sept. 27
Oct. 18
Oct. 25
@Georgia Tech
Nov. 8@Wake Forest
Nov. 29@Virginia Tech

2007 Results: 9-4 overall, 6-2 ACC (2nd Coastal Division); lost to Texas Tech 31-28 in nauseating fashion in the Gator Bowl

Offense: What was a major bone of contention among Cavalier faithful in 2007 may now turn out to have been a blessing in disguise. The burning of heralded freshman QB Pete Lalich's redshirt in the middle of last year's drubbing in Wyoming set Hoo message boards ablaze in angst and disgust. And that anger didn't subside very much as the season played out, since Jameel Sewell remained as the starting quarterback while Lalich played sparingly. Flash forward to the summer of 2008 - Sewell is out for the season as an academic casualty and Lalich inherits the throne (although he hasn't officially been given the job), and his seemingly wasted '07 season now looks like valuable experience. Perhaps that QB job is still technically up for grabs because the offensive line is one of the least experienced in the country (4 starters are gone from '07), and some shiftier feet than Lalich's may be necessary in the early going. Thankfully for the Cavs, the rushing attack is in good hands as both Cedric Peerman and the clutch Mikell Simpson provide an excellent one-two punch to opposing defenses. The receiving corps is somewhat of a mystery - the top 3 players in actual receptions last year were two tight ends (both have since departed) and Simpson. 2006's top wideout, Kevin Ogletree, returns after missing last season to a blown ACL. Maurice Covington has excellent size but was injury-plagued last year.

Defense: That giant sucking sound you hear is the vacuum left in Charlottesville from the departure of last year's starting line, which was one of the best in the nation and probably the best in school history. The most gigantic loss is of course DE Chris Long (14 sacks in '07), picked #2 overall in this spring's NFL draft. The new first-team DL has exactly 1 previous start combined. The polar opposite case exists with the linebackers, as three three-year starters are back, led by OLB Clint Sintim (77 tackles, 9 sacks last year). The secondary is a mix of old and new - safety Byron Glaspy and corner Vic Hall are seasoned vets, but the rest of this unit is green. Look for the Cavaliers to focus heavily on stopping the run early in the season, as the DL will be getting it's feet wet. That puts a lot of pressure on the secondary to maintain coverage and it could be a field day in September for pass-happy Cavalier opponents. Like, say, USC.

Special Teams: Punt returner Vic Hall is back, although he was a bit mediocre in that spot last year. And that's about it for known quantities on special teams. The kick returner(s), the punter and the placekicker are all going to be making their debuts in 2008. The biggest loss from last year is Chris Gould, who surprisingly was money in field goal attempts of 40+ yards (5 for 5) but struggled a bit from the shorter distances (11 for 15). As of this posting, none of the replacements appear to be set so by default this looks to be the worst special teams unit in the ACC heading into the season.

: Allow me to depart from my usual overall coaching report to go off on a diatribe. When you have no division or league championships (let alone the national titles promised upon his hire), when your seven-year record is worse than the program's seven-year mark prior to your arrival, the arrogant, brusque and generally secretive demeanor exhibited by coach Al Groh point to a guy who made the wrong career decision seven years ago. It's not as if he's reinvented the game and is protecting his secret formula for winning national titles. While none of the qualities mentioned above are admirable, they'd at least be understandable if championship banners were fluttering in the breeze around Scott Stadium. Groh did, and would again, make a solid NFL coach. He's good at developing talent for the professional ranks. He sure as hell manages games like an NFL contest. And that's the problem - the NFL is about playing close to the vest and not taking many chances. It's about surviving the grind from week to week, but not necessarily winning every week. 9-7 in the NFL can still win your division and get you a shot at the Super Bowl. And the NFL is where Groh should've remained. College football is about taking chances, having fun, playing loose, and playing to win instead of playing not to lose. Does Al Groh do that? Not in my eyes. Al Groh will get you anywhere from 4-8 to 9-4 in a given year. He's good enough in that the bottom will never fall out. But his style makes UVA incapable of bringing home championships (division, league, national) and he's always going to be in some type of rebuilding mode. I know a lot of Wahoo faithful disagree, but I'm also aware that plenty are ready for a new direction. Virginia football can be so much more. It's about change! It's about hope! Thank you ladies and gentlemen, God bless America and God bless ACC football.

Odds & Ends: That seven year record of which I speak under Al Groh: 51-37; Virginia's seven year mark pre-Groh: 54-30.....Groh's NFL approach has produced one extremely impressive stat: the Cavaliers have finished on the plus side in turnover margin in every one of his seven seasons (+37 total over those seven years).....unless you've been living in a coal mine for the last year, you probably know that the Hoos' five wins by two points or less in 2007 is an NCAA record

Schedule Analysis: It's got the bookends from hell (opening with USC, closing with Clemson and Virginia Tech), but the meat of the schedule doesn't instill a ton of fear. I must confess that UVA is the team I have the least handle on this season. I have a decent-to-solid idea on how everyone else in the league is likely to finish, but I can see 8-4 out of the Hoos just as easily as 4-8. That makes it difficult to classify an opponent like East Carolina; are they a breather or a make-or-break game in terms of bowl contention? Nonetheless, after the certain loss to the Trojans in the opener, the next eight games can all be won without raising many eyebrows (just as they could all be lost, aside from the Richmond meeting I would hope). The problem is the final three matchups - the aforementioned clashes with the Tigers and Hokies, along with a trip to Wake Forest just prior. The Cavaliers almost certainly need to enter that final stretch at 6-3 for any real shot at a bowl bid, and I'm having a tough time seeing how they pull that off. But that's why the play the games. Of note, Boston College, Florida State and N.C. State are off the slate in this year's scheduling rotation.
Projected Wins: Richmond, @Duke, East Carolina
Projected Losses: USC, Maryland, @Wake Forest, @Virginia Tech
Toss-Ups: @Connecticut, North Carolina, @Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson

Primo Cavalier Blogs: The Good Ol' Blog, From Old Virginia

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The Hoos' loss is the St. Louis Rams' gain

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