Sabre Roundtable – What Happened In Wyoming?

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Virginia’s season-opening loss at Wyoming on Saturday certainly changed the mood around the football program. The eternal hope of a new season has evaporated and the Cavaliers are left to deal with the 23-3 debacle out west. So what happened in Laramie? Sabre Editor Kris Wright, WCAV sports anchors J.W. Stehle and Dave Strumpf, Daily Press beat writer Melinda Waldrop, and Sabre fan DLWAHOO weigh in with their thoughts in this Sabre Roundtable.

What was the most surprising part of Saturday’s loss to you?

KRIS: The fact that the team – other than special teams – was unable to execute all day long. The offense and defense simply looked unsteady and unsure of themselves from beginning to end. There was not an aggressive approach in too many critical situations. But most surprising? The most surprising was the vanishing act of nearly every player talked about in the preseason that was supposed to change things for a struggling offense and big-play prone defense. Where was Mikell Simpson ? One reverse and gone. Dontrelle Inman and Staton Jobe ? Two catches each (by the way both averaged more than 10 yards per catch). Brandon Woods ? The list goes on and on. It seems like the offseason rhetoric from Coach Groh was just that.

J.W.: I’m surprised we are back to square one. Virginia was better off last year when things weren’t going all that well. This team and coaching staff took a giant step backward in the development of this program. If you haven’t already, it is indeed time to panic. I know it is just week one, but things are in shambles right now.

Jameel admitted to me personally after the game that he was a little nervous prior to the start of this game. When I asked him if he felt like he put his starting role in jeopardy, he said that Peter (Lalich) now has a great chance to play. He went onto say that if it’s in the best interest of this team for (Jameel) to sit and Peter start, he’s all for it. Not exactly the confidence you want to hear from a starting quarterback of a Division I football program, but I give him credit for being honest with his feelings. No matter what anyone says, Al Groh is considering starting Peter Lalich this weekend versus Duke.

MELINDA: That would be hard to say. I wasn’t that shocked that Wyoming played well – the Cowboys’ recent record and stats show they are a good team. But I didn’t expect them to run roughshod over a veteran Cavalier defense. And while you would have expected Jameel Sewell to struggle a bit in his first game back after December wrist surgery, he didn’t seem to be on the same field as his receivers sometimes, much less the same page. And I found his postgame comments interesting – that he didn’t have much energy from the get-go. Altitude and long trip notwithstanding, if you’re not fired up to open the season, when will you be?

DAVE: Maybe I’m just cynical, but this game didn’t surprise me too much. The Cavaliers have yet to prove to me over the past two years that they can win on the road, and I went into this game with low expectations. To be honest, the score could’ve been a lot worse. Other than the punting game (which impressed me), every other aspect of the Cavaliers’ team under-performed. This team has incredible talent and potential, and it boggles me as to how they look so anemic on the road.

DLWAHOO: The most surprising part of Saturday’s loss to me was the total inability of the team and coaches to respond to what Wyoming was doing. The offense never tried to do anything new or different to challenge the Wyoming defense. It was almost too easy for the defense of the Cowboys!

It was an awful day offensively obviously. Did Virginia abandon the run too soon? Could they have tried something different?

J.W.: Wyoming had a great run defense and they had it going all day. Cowboys head coach Joe Glenn said, “if this were a heavyweight match, we threw the first punch, the last punch.” Virginia had to abandon the run because they were not able to penetrate the front line at all Saturday. When Jameel threw the ball, he consistently underthrew or overthrew his receivers. He didn’t get much help either – when he was accurate, his receivers dropped the ball.

MELINDA: Virginia probably could have tried to pound it inside a little more. The blown-up reverse to Mikell Simpson that lost 10 yards seemed to shake the Cavs’ confidence as well. But the Cowboys’ defense did a commendable job against an experienced offensive line, and UVa’s supposed plethora of backfield playmakers – Simpson, Cedric Peerman , Andrew Pearman – didn’t show much at all.

DAVE: After looking over some of the play-calling, what Virginia did abandon completely was the pass out of the backfield, which is a play we saw a lot of last year, and this offseason in practice. Out of Jameel Sewell ‘s 23 pass attempts:

  • Only two were intended for a tailback
  • Both were complete (Peerman, then Pearman)
  • Both gained yards (5, 15)
  • Both were in the first quarter

I think that this play needs to be the foundation of the Virginia offense. You can’t move the ball on a pass play without catching the ball. With Sewell’s throwing inconsistencies and inaccuracies, I think he should focus on making the easy pass. Put the ball in the hands of the physical Peerman or speedy Pearman or (insert RB here), and make them do the rest of the work. If it can generate at least 3.5 yards/play (which I think I can), then you’ve got yourself some first downs, you eat up some clock, and you keep your defense off the field.

DLWAHOO: Everything the offense did was easily known by the defense. I don’t know why we didn’t use the athletic ability of Sewell, his legs. We did it on the first play and no more really. The whole offensive plan for the Hoos was non-existent. It was as if the offensive team had no plan and no knowledge to adjust!

KRIS: I think Virginia abandoned the run too soon, but how many offensive chances did the team get? Not many. To me, the problem was in one of two areas: the gameplan or the adjustments. We saw very little of anything that could help the situation for a team that was obviously out of synch. No fullback to help the line and the backs. No swing passes to help Sewell. Few, if any, designed rollout runs to his throwing side to get him in rhythm as he often throws better on the run.

The defense gave up a lot of yardage and eventually 23 points. Was the approach as aggressive as you expected it to be? Did they play as well as could be expected in facing 88 plays and 40 minutes of football?

MELINDA: Karsten Sween was an elusive devil. Just ask Chris Long , who several times had the Cowboys’ QB wrapped up, only to see him somehow wriggle free. And there’s no doubt the defense spent too much time on the field – evidenced by Devin Moore’s fourth-quarter, 49-yard TD run. But there were problems before that – the 49-yard pass that set up Wyoming’s first touchdown and mirrored the problems UVa had in last season’s opener at Pitt, the ease with which Sween picked apart the secondary with short dump-offs – even when you could see the curl coming from the press box.

DAVE: You can’t expect any college defense to be aggressive for close to 90 plays. All you had to do was watch that Devin Moore 49-yard TD run late in the game to see how winded the Cavaliers were. On that delayed hand-off, Virginia seemed to be moving in slow motion. Take away that play, and the Cavs only gave up one TD, three field goals, and had two turnovers. Against any other opponent this season, I would consider that to be a solid outing.

DLWAHOO: The same can be said for the defensive effort. No adjusting at all. When it as an obvious run play we just put up three people so all the runner had to do was get past them and it was an easy 4 to 5 yards. No coverage of the short passes at all. We were not ready at all.

I think a lot of the defensive problem was the inability of the offense to sustain anything. When the defense has to come back in after 4 plays the game is long. Just look at how many plays our defense had to handle as compare to the defense of Wyoming. I wasn’t excited about the play of the defense, but I think they would have fared much better if the offense had lived up to their end of the bargain.

KRIS: The defense was no where near the neighborhood of the aggressive level I was expecting, at least not in critical third down situations. I had heard about blitzes of the day, faster linebackers, and more. I know the defense hit Karsten Sween 18 times, got three sacks, and forced two turnovers. That’s all rather impressive. I know the defense blitzed a ton without enough execution. However, Virginia’s fear of the deeper routes allowed Wyoming to have a field day underneath and the Cavaliers’ poor tackling (and you could argue that the tackling wasn’t of an ‘aggressive’ nature either since most of the ball carriers fell forward all day) did them in. With the hand they were dealt, the players did manage to keep the game in a winnable range for most of the afternoon despite playing nearly 90 plays.

J.W.: I think the key thing here is that the defense was on the field for 88 plays and more than 40 minutes. The offense only executed 46 plays and accounted for just less than 20 minutes in time of possession. The amount of time wore on the defense. It was only 10-3 Wyoming at the half. It tough for a NFL team to be successful when the defense is out there that long.

Who played well despite the poor team showing? Who should we expect more from in the upcoming game?

DAVE: Welcome back Andrew Pearman ! What I saw in training camp over the summer was validated in Laramie: he’s fast, he’s elusive, and he’s got to get the ball more. Pearman touched the ball six times, and accounted for more than half of Virginia’s all-purpose yards. He averaged 37 yards on kickoff returns … and the 67-yarder could have been a game changer if the Cavs’ offense could have capitalized (instead Sewell threw an interception). He only had three touches on offense (2 rush, 1 rec), and that has to change.

DLWAHOO: I think Inman showed promise, and so did No. 21 – Pearman. They should have a lot to do with the offensive game. They are great athletes and that is what the Hoos need. Of course, we have to find a QB that can throw the ball to either of them when they get open.

KRIS: Part of this is covered in the next question so I’ll focus on non special teamers. Andrew Pearman looked good pretty much every time he touched the ball. I thought Dontrelle Inman showed signs. Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald played fairly well in my opinion though the tackle numbers can be misleading.

J.W.: I don’t know what to say to this question because I don’t want to sugarcoat anything. This team as a whole flat out stunk. 23 yards rushing before loss of yards by sacks. That’s terrible. Peter Lalich deserves a look. I’m not saying start him, but I think if Jameel struggles early on Saturday, you gotta give the kid a chance. It’s a lot to ask for a young man, but it might be time. Look for Andrew Pearman to have an increased workload Saturday.

MELINDA: Andrew Pearman had a nice kickoff return and showed some flashes of speed, and Ryan Weigand – you can’t argue with a 51.6 punt average, altitude-inflated or not. That’s about it as to who played well. As to who should show more against Duke, that would be just about everyone. In particular, I’d have to say Sewell. He’ll have to get his head into this game more quickly, or we might be seeing more of Peter Lalich than anyone imagined.

There seemed to be a decent amount of preseason concern with the special teams and the kicking game, but both played well in Wyoming. Did that surprise you? Do you expect Ryan Weigand and Chris Gould to play that well going forward?

DLWAHOO: I was really pleased with the special teams play. That is one area of the game that really stood up. The punts and kick-offs were long enough and the coverage was good. The punt returning and kick-off returning units were good also. That was one area I was questioning before this game and the only area that I would grade B or above after the fact.

KRIS: I actually wasn’t all that concerned with the kicking game to begin with, though I might have been in the minority on that one. UVa’s net punting average last season wasn’t too bad and the Hoos ranked 21st nationally with just 6.43 yards allowed per return. That area was a little shaky on Saturday thanks to a booming day from Ryan Weigand . Plus, Chris Gould was perfect from 40 and in last season; he says he feels consistent up to 45 now. That’s solid. I’m more concerned with the offense getting him close enough. I expect both of those guys to have good seasons.

J.W.: Yeah, no problems here. Poor Ryan Weigand , he kicked the heck out of the ball. Put some ice on that foot. 9 punts with one that stretched 61 yards inside the 20. Gould hit a 42-yarder before the half that went right down the middle. No foot pointing… I mean finger point here.

MELINDA: The kicking game did acquit itself well. I can’t say I was really surprised, but it would be nice if the Cavs can count on consistency from that area of their game all season long. We’ll have to see, though, if that’s the case.

DAVE: I want to know what Ryan Weigand ate for breakfast. His punts were ridiculous. If the punt coverage can make a few better stops, his leg will be critical to the Virginia field position battle. I know Chris Gould worked hard in the offseason on his approach to kicking, both physically and mentally. It showed on his first kick. But let’s keep in mind … it’s only his first kick. We’ll find out more on Saturday.

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