Coach Al Groh is catching a lot of heat since the Wyoming loss.
Virginia’s loss at Wyoming on Saturday set off a firestorm among the fan base that is still burning hot three days later. And most of the venom is directed at UVa coach Al Groh, whose team struggled to a 5-7 record in 2006 before opening 2007 with a 20-point loss. The Sabre message boards have been active, Beta Bridge got a fresh coat of paint, and the Cavalier Call-in Show featured a barrage of Groh questioning.
The basic concept: What has happened to the Virginia football program? The blame is aimed squarely at Coach Groh.
“When you’re the head coach, it’s a position that you know by the nature of the position that you’re going to take your hits. So that’s just the way it goes,” Groh said Tuesday in his weekly meeting with the media. “It’s like playing quarterback – you now you’re going to get hit whether it’s on the field or off the field, it’s just part of the position. If you can’t get hit and get back up, then you can’t play the position.”
Among the hits? Clyde from Forest, Va., basically said on the Call-in Show that the best thing Groh could do is resign. Message board posts have called for everything from him being fired at season’s end to demoting offensive coordinator Mike Groh. Someone painted Beta Bridge with a ‘Groh Must Go’ message before the team’s flight even made it home from the west.
Groh said he’s troubled by the Wyoming loss as well, but that he’s focused on the next game and the rest of the season – not the frustration.
“I’m not familiar with the painting of Beta Bridge, but I’m troubled by the game. I don’t know why anybody else wouldn’t be either,” he said. “But I also understand that we have a lot of games to play. In ’02, we had an 0-2 team that won nine games. I happened to be on a team one year that lost its first two games then went to the Super Bowl. So if you’re going to get anything done in athletics, you’re wise not to cash your chips in too soon.”
Of course, for some fans, Wyoming wasn’t one game, it was the breaking point. It represented another dreadful road performance and extended Groh’s record to 10-24 away from Charlottesville. As MWJUVa posted on the football board, those 10 wins haven’t been against great teams. Syracuse finished 1-10 in 2005 for example. In fact, MWJ points out that Virginia has beaten just two teams in the last six years that went on to have a winning record.
Let’s not even get into the Virginia Tech debacle of 2005. Let’s just say Groh’s record against Virginia Tech isn’t helping his argument at all.
All of that has some Hoos frustrated. Including Al Groh. After all, 2006 was a rebuilding crossroads. 2007 was supposed to be better and one game in, it seems worse. Does Groh believe things are on the right track?
“Any time you don’t get the results that you want, it would be arrogant to say everything’s perfect. One thing that we try to avoid is that. Arrogance is one of the first steps towards failure,” Groh said. “We did quite a bit of research and analysis in the preceding nine months and a lot of those decisions were made without things moving very fast as they do during the season. Things were made on a rational basis, thinking out a lot of different alternatives and whatnot whether its utilization of players, or schemes, or trying to manage the talents, or the experiences, or inexperiences that we have. We feel that we have a well thought out plan going into the season. It’s a little bit different plan than we’ve had for some other years, but it’s a different team. The approach and the plan has actually been a little bit different every year based on how the team changes.
“The things that we are basing all of that on, whether it’s things that have been done here or other places before, they’re all things that have been successful. They’re not things that have been like ‘Why are these guys doing it? Nobody’s ever done that before.’ Some of the schemes are schemes that we’ve come up with in consultation with places where they’ve been very successful,” he continued. “But in the long run, it’s a combination of schemes, instruction, preparation, and player performance. It’s all of things that come together that produce high results.”
High results are what everybody in Hooville wants. It’s also something no one has really gotten consistently since the 2005 season or earlier. For 2006 (and now 2007), the offense has been nowhere near the “high results” category. Right now, the Cavs are ranked 113th in the nation on that side of the ball. UVa hasn’t scored a touchdown since the first half of last November’s Miami game. The Hoos haven’t hit the 20-point barrier since last October.
That’s turned a lot of the heat toward Mike Groh, who has been the offensive coordinator for 13 games. Al Groh said Tuesday that the younger Groh is “troubled” by how things are going offensively as well.
“He certainly feels the way that all of us do. He’s troubled by the results and that we’re not getting the production both out of the players and the schemes that we have,” Al Groh said. “Collectively, we feel that this is the most complete and most diverse overall scheme that we’ve had and yet there’s still some issues that prevent us from utilizing a good deal of it.”
It’s a good thing Virginia has some depth at linebacker this season because injuries have already hit that group. John Bivens missed last week’s game while both Jermaine Dias and Darnell Carter were injured in Wyoming. Carter is expected to be out for an extended period of time while Dias will miss the Duke game and is day-to-day.
“I’m disappointed for [Jermaine]. He was playing very well in the game,” Groh said. “He was off to a really good start with the year, but now this is the third year out of four that he has been hurt early in the season with an ankle. I’m sure it’s disappointing for him and we’re disappointed for him.”
Denzel Burrell likely will make his first career start in Dias’ spot on Saturday. Burrell was a key member of the dime substitution package entering the Wyoming game, but his duties increased when Dias left the game. It was his first extended action as a Hoo; he was lost for the 2006 season in the Wyoming game at Scott Stadium. Expect to see more of Aaron Clark possibly as well.
“He did a fairly decent job on [the dime] and deflected the pass that Jeffrey [Fitzgerald] intercepted,” Groh said of Burrell’s outing at Wyoming. “A fairly positive performance. He had some rough spots in there.”
Bivens practiced on Monday and got in a lot of work according to Groh. If his injured leg responds well to the workload, then he will make his Cavalier debut Saturday.
Another player returning from a knee injury also had a positive performance in Laramie: Andrew Pearman . The Charlotte, N.C., native eventually left the team and UVa for personal reasons last year before returning to school and the football team this fall. Upon his return, the staff decided to move Pearman to running back, a position he played heavily in high school with great success (rushed for 2,273 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior).
The move seems to have rejuvenated Pearman, who produced 17 yards in three offensive touches in Wyoming. However, more important than the statistics is the fact that he showed speed and elusiveness that the offense desperately needs.
“We all feel that his getting back to his natural position of playing running back has been a real positive for him,” Groh said. “Obviously one of his biggest plays in the game was not at running back, but we think it’s kind of a carry-over from it. It’s helped his overall attitude, his upbeatness, his confidence, and he looked pretty good on that screen pass that he had with a little bit of juice on that. He is a player who can make some plays for us.”
The big play Groh referenced was Pearman’s 67-yard kickoff return. He had 115 total return yards in the game. That gives UVa two talented kick returners in Pearman and Cedric Peerman .
“It certainly shows we have good balance back there between Big P and Little P,” Groh said.
Jeffrey On The Spot
Virginia sophomore Jeffrey Fitzgerald picked up another clip for his highlight reel in Laramie when he picked off a deflected pass. That gives Fitzgerald three interceptions and two fumble recoveries in his short career.
“Some of these interceptions that he has had, they do seem like they’ve just come to him, but they just come to him in practice too. He’s had maybe two of those in practice in training camp,” Groh said. “He seems to have a sense for the ball and an eye for the ball. He’s one of the better players that we have in his pass rush at knocking passes down. So he’s got very good ball skills. It’s probably a carry-over indicative of his time spent playing tight end and basketball in high school.”