Jeffrey Fitzgerald earned recognition as the BB&T Student Athlete of the Week.
Virginia has defeated the Yellow Jackets three straight times, but following the frustrating loss to Western Michigan on Saturday, things don’t look to promising this week. Coach Al Groh joined Mac McDonald for the Cavalier Call-in show on Monday night as the Hoos prepare for Georgia Tech on Thursday night.
McDonald asked Groh how his knee was doing – the coach was taken out during a sideline play on Saturday. Groh reiterated something from his Saturday postgame press conference: “It won’t keep me out. I won’t miss any plays.”
With the short week of preparation, Groh said the team had a full practice on Monday and that it was a good session.
Groh also recognized the BB&T Student-Athlete of the Week. Groh said that this player has “really excelled in a short period of time. It was very obvious during the course of the game what Jeffrey Fitzgerald from Richmond did. He played very well. … Jeffrey was one of the Rock Weir winners as one of the most improved players in the spring. He’s continued that right through training camp and into the season. He continues to show that he’s got one of those really important capacities for those players that become good players have and that is the ability to continuously get better. … He’s really off to a nice start.”
From there, it was on to the calls.
Scott from Charlottesville asked about the offensive line, noting that the starting five played almost the entire game. He asked about the strength of the offensive line and wondered if the team could make better use of a fullback on short yardage situations.
“The strength level of players like [Eugene] Monroe, [Will] Barker, [Branden] Albert is significantly improved from what it was last year. … As we saw with the players that preceded them … it really wasn’t until about their third year that they got the requisite strength level. It continued to get better so I would expect and certainly would hope that these players have more strength gains ahead of them,” Groh said.
He also addressed the fullback question.
“We’re kind of like a lot of other teams that have evolved here over the last few years in which the fullback is part of the system but … that’s not our prevalent formation,” Groh said. “We’re usually looking for someone within the team to fill that role. In the last few years, Kai Parham, who was a linebacker and a high school fullback, filled that role for us. Now it’s Rashawn Jackson , who was a real good high school tailback and has plenty of size on him. … He did a nice job in the goal line period that we had today in practice.”
Groh added that one of the tight ends in a two tight end set fulfills the fullback responsibility in a lot of cases.
Brad from Salem called in and asked about the quarterback position. He said it was obvious that the Hoos don’t have an “every down” quarterback. He asked why the leash was so short for Kevin McCabe on Saturday since the team was moving well other than the two interceptions.
“It seems pretty obvious to me. I’ll give you an honest answer, but I’m not here to trash Kevin. I like Kevin a lot and he’s done a nice job for us, but Kevin’s thrown 35 passes this year and he’s had three interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns and one to the 21-yard line. That’s one interception every 12 passes. Those will cause you to lose,” Groh said. “On Saturday, the other team moved the ball proficiently enough to score three points on their own. They scored 14 points off interceptions. This year, our team has given up 57 points, 28 of which have come directly off interceptions. Interceptions will cause you to lose. If you have a high number of them or have shown a propensity to throwing them, then whatever else you do, the player is doing things to cause the team to lose. How much is it when enough is enough?”
“Then on top of that we had some what I’ll refer to as operational problems, that is getting the proper play called in the huddle from that which was signaled in,” Groh added. “Clearly there were some things that were less than proficient in the overall operation. At that time, I thought that we had already given up 21 points as a result of it and couldn’t withstand much more. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I also didn’t have any indication that was going to be the last one of them. I didn’t know if there would be anymore, but I certainly didn’t know it would be the last one either.”
“In terms of moving the team, that’s the problem. We’ve only had one sustained drive for touchdown this year so it’s hard to say that any quarterback has moved the team a whole lot better than anyone else has,” he concluded.
Justin in Chesterfield called with a special teams question. He said he punted and did a little bit of kicking in high school, but that he couldn’t stay consistent in both areas in one game. He wondered why Chris Gould has to handle all the duties.
“Our preference would be that it’s not that way. We started out with that intention. We knew going into the season we actually had three kickers to replace,” Groh said in reference to Kurt Smith, Connor Hughes, and Gould as the punter. “We were hoping it might be otherwise but when we got into the season … Chris turned out to be our best candidate to be our punter in that your punter punts the ball more than the other kickers do on average in a game so we felt it important that we have our best candidate in there for punting. Chris was also by far our strongest kickoff man so we wanted to leave him there. He’s the one that really lobbied for it. He was quite insistent on the fact that he could do both and that he wanted to do both.”
Al Groh said he takes every loss personally and that the staff was always evaluating “the plan” for success.
Nick from Staunton called in and asked about the plan since the Hoos have had three tough losses in a calendar year – UNC, Virginia Tech, and Western Michigan.
“I’m not exactly sure what Nick knows about the plan. Everybody has a plan for something. If you don’t have a plan, then you’re just wandering around in the dark,” Groh said. “So our plan is to get the best players in here that we can, work on developing the players, and put together the best team that we can and try to win a lot of games. That’s what we’re interested in doing. I think everybody has a plan. If we didn’t have a plan, then people would call up and say ‘Gee, we have no chance, we have no plan.’ … There’s a system that we have in place that certainly has been successful, but we’re always evaluating it.”
“Yeah, we’re struggling with our team right now and not getting enough production and I’m well aware of the fact that when teams struggle there are lots of targets and personally, I’m ready to be the lightning rod for all of that,” Groh added. “For all those people who are concerned about it, I take every loss personally and frankly, every game that we’ve ever lost regardless of what my position on that staff was, whether it was the lowest coach or the highest coach, I felt I was the reason that we lost the game and that if I had done something different somewhere, some place, then we would have won the game. I feel the same way about this one and every loss. When it happens, we’re always looking and trying to find ways everyone in the organization can get better. Frankly, we did that until about 4 o’clock in the morning Saturday. So I guess I can say that we’re closely scrutinizing the plan.”