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The Virginia football team got back on track this weekend with a win against Duke in Scott Stadium. The 11-point victory wasn’t as dominating as some fans wanted, but it was an ACC win nonetheless. How important was it to get the W? Which players looked solid in the game? Sabre contributor Nick Sauer, WCAV anchors Marc Davis and Kris Budden, Best Seat in the House producer Michael Bisceglia, and Sabre fan SteelCav tackle this Sabre Roundtable to answer 5 questions.
It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t satisfy some Virginia fans, but just how important was Saturday’s win over Duke?
NICK: “A win is a win” and all of that, but I don’t think beating Duke at home is anything to get excited about. A good team doesn’t get excited about beating the cupcakes on its home slate and Virginia fans want a good team. If Al Groh can’t prepare the team to win on the road at Carolina (or anywhere else this season), then these home games become pretty meaningless outside of the rivalry game with Virginia Tech. I can’t see anyone being really positive about a 6-6 campaign and with the schedule this year, no one should be.
That being said, 1-0 in the conference is a necessary first step towards accomplishing any positive goal the team has set for this season. Kris Wright posted a good story on Wake needing a blocked field goal to beat Duke at home last year, so maybe the Hoos can use this game as a springboard to an important road victory (and a 2-0 Coastal Division record) next week in Chapel Hill.
MARC: Any win is important and especially your conference opener. Hopefully, it gives the Cavaliers some confidence heading into this week of practice that they can carry over. Granted, while it was a win, I think that any decent team would have capitalized on a lot of Virginia’s mistakes. Long snapper Danny Aiken will have a long week of practice. Also, the offense still didn’t look as sharp as it needs to in order to compete with 90 percent of the teams in the ACC.
MICHAEL: I hate to say there is a must win in week number two, but it was. There was no way Virginia could start off the year 0-2, especially losing to Duke to at home. Think about how upset, angry, and disappointed Virginia fans were after the Wyoming loss? It would have been disastrous to fall to Duke at home. They now are back at the .500 mark and have a chance to redeem their road woes in North Carolina game Saturday. Now as bad as the Wyoming loss was, Virginia still has the opportunity to be 2-0 in the ACC. No it’s not the best ACC competition, but it is still 2-0.
KRIS B.: I think Wahoo fans are split. Some will think a win is a win and some will not be pleased with how they won. I think it’s important because it gives Coach Groh a little more room to breath. He’s off the hot seat … for now.
STEELCAV: Despite our opponent’s pedigree, this was a very important win. Lose, and the wheels may fall off. Win, and the players get some return on their offseason investment and pick up some much needed confidence. But there is still a lot of work left to do.
Coach Groh talked about Jeffrey Fitzgerald ‘s strong outing against Duke. What did you think of his performance? Did anyone else stand out to you besides Chris Long on Saturday?
MARC: Fitzgerald performed well, and should once again be an anchor on Virginia’s defense. Chris Cook stood out to me a lot. He was all over the field, breaking up passes and disrupting plays. At one point in the fourth quarter, he knocked down two consecutive passes in the end zone that would have certainly been touchdowns. I think Cook is proving to be the most reliable member of Mike London’s secondary. He may not put up the interceptions that Marcus Hamilton did, but look for him to make a positive impact during every game.
MICHAEL: Fitzgerald did an excellent job of disrupting the Blue Devils’ run game and getting to the quarterback. He is proving to be a fantastic complement to Long again this season. Considering the trouble the secondary has had, having Fitzgerald and Long get pressure on quarterback is critical. Besides Fitzgerald, true freshman Peter Lalich stood out to me. When Duke was making its comeback Lalich came in and gave the Hoos a much needed boost. He finished 13-18 for 131 yards with a drive in the fourth quarter that put Duke away.
KRIS B.: I thought Chris Cook and Jon Copper bought had solid performances. Copper had one INT, a sack, and two tackles. Cook also had 3 solo tackles.
STEELCAV: Chris Long was a warrior – again. But, starting with the first play of the game, #95 came to play, as he always does. He pushed his guy off the LOS, fought off the block, and wrapped up the ball carrier for a two yard loss. For the second straight game, he consistently pushed his guy(s) around – whether at his regular end spot, or when he slid over to tackle to make room for Alex Field . Not only does he play outstanding against the run, but he can also get after the QB and bat down a pass or two. He saw his fair share of double teams as well.
I thought Jamaal Jackson not only stood out in a positive fashion, but also gave arguably his best performance as a Cavalier. He saw a lot of snaps, and responded by breaking up several passes and demonstrating his great athletic skills. Oh, and a request to London … can we see more of Jackson on the blitz?
NICK: I thought Peter Lalich performed very well considering this was his first stint of extended action. Duke does not have a strong defense, but completing 13 of 18 passes is pretty good for a true freshman in his first game in front of the home crowd. Averaging 10 yards per completion means they weren’t overly conservative tosses either. He has a good demeanor about him on the field and played with poise. Tom Santi catching 2 touchdown passes was also an important step in the right direction. The TEs were open multiple times against Wyoming with no positive results so it was nice to see Santi and Jon Stupar get their hands on the ball with yardage and TDs to be had.
Certainly a bright spot on special teams was Ras-I Dowling, who saw his first action as a Cavalier. What did you think of his performance and who else stood out to you on special teams?
KRIS B.: Special Teams? There was a bright spot? The snapping woes overshadowed a lot of potential bright spots for that unit. I guess you have to give credit to Vic Hall. Without that 67-yard punt return, there’s a good chance the Cavs wouldn’t have scored on the opening drive. Those early 7 points gave the Cavs a cushion for all the other mistakes on special teams.
STEELCAV: I thought Ras-I looked pretty quick out there. Wouldn’t mind seeing his speed in our defensive backfield. But, the guy who impressed me the most on STs was Vic Hall. He displayed some quick cuts and elusiveness on two very good returns. I would have liked a cutback on that first return (or for Brandon Woods to pick up that last blocker), but you could tell he was pretty winded after all that running.
NICK: Dowling has a lot of natural athletic ability, and that could certainly be seen on the special teams units against Duke. Most of the time, new defensive players don’t have enough of a grasp on the defensive scheme to get tons of PT on that side of the ball so it’s great to see Dowling trying to create a niche early on the ST unit. Overall, the special teams had a horrendous day, but Dowling was one of the few bright spots. Vic Hall was another. His opening punt return put the Hoos in great position to break out of the offensive slump that began at the end of last season and get on the board early. I think that short field and subsequent touchdown was a very important bit of confidence for a struggling offense.
MARC: Dowling looked good, and he’ll do nothing but help Virginia’s special teams unit. The obvious choice for special teams is Vic Hall, who’s 67-yard punt return to the Duke 4-yard line in the first quarter is the 14th longest punt return in Virginia’s history. Hall shows good intelligence on the field and does a good job at using his blockers. Hall will contribute big things this season.
MICHAEL: For a true freshman to come in his first game and make four tackles on special teams is big. He showed excellent speed and had a knack for being around the ball. If he keeps showing the speed and ability on special teams, Coach Groh might want to think about putting him at wide out. Why not put him in the slot and make use of his speed? Long snapper Danny Aiken was good, just kidding … having Vic Hall nearly return the first punt of the game to set up a touchdown was important. Virginia was held to only 3 points the week before and he immediately put the Cavaliers in position to get a touchdown and get the offense some confidence.
Cedric Peerman had a solid afternoon running the football. Were you impressed with his effort? Can he keep it going this week in North Carolina?
STEELCAV: I was impressed with Peerman on Saturday. He’s the type of runner that needs some holes, and he got a few of them. However, I’m still worried about some of the run play calls – it seems to me that we’re not running enough to our strength: the left side. And the timing of some of the stretch calls still leaves me shaking my head. So, when I look to Carolina, a team with a very young and weak secondary, I see an opportunity to set up the run with the pass first. But we must plan and execute accordingly. If we succeed, there should be some opportunities for Ced to rack up some yards late in the game.
NICK: I have always been impressed with Cedric Peerman ‘s effort, and I was happy to see him notch solid results against Duke. Any time you average more than 7 yards a rush, it’s been a good day. He showed hard running and determination that sparked the offense. It’s important to take Saturday’s showing with a grain of salt, however, as Duke isn’t exactly a defensive juggernaut, allowing more than 200 yards of (positive) rushing to a Virginia team that couldn’t muster anything against Wyoming.
The type of runs that gained Peerman the yards against Duke is what has me worried. I cannot understand the attachment to slow-developing outside runs or inside handoffs where the RB is standing still when the ball is transferred from the QB. Those plays will not work against the faster defenses that the Hoos will play this year. They may against UNC, but UVa needs to get to pounding the ball between the tackles with some ISO plays, especially behind the left side with Rashawn Jackson leading the way.
It’s strange to me that Groh wanted Peerman to go back to full-speed, decisive, one-cut running, and then the types of runs that we install and call for the offense are not conducive to that type of style. Peerman is a lot better exploding quickly towards the line and getting what he can get – I just worry about our running game going forward if we don’t put him in position to get moving north/south.
MARC: Peerman’s outing is just what he needed along with the entire Cavalier offense. Peerman’s career high of 137 yards was more than Virginia gained in total offense at Wyoming in week one (100). His 58-yard touchdown run in the first quarter went a long way in giving Virginia the early confidence it needed. While Peerman is the man to give a lot of the credit to, don’t forget about the offensive line, which will have to avoid breaking down if the running back hopes to have a repeat performance next weekend in Chapel Hill.
MICHAEL: Any time your back goes for 137 yards, you have to be impressed. He showed his track speed with his 58-yard touchdown. What is concerning is that 120 of those 137 yards came in the first half. You hope as a Virginia fan that the Peerman of the first half of the Duke game shows up and not the one from Wyoming. Coach Groh and staff has to give him carries on the road in North Carolina, especially now that you have a freshman quarterback in Lalich who will get significant minutes in his first real road test.
KRIS B.: I was impressed. Just looking straight at numbers, he alone eclipsed the total amount of yards from the Wyoming game. It’s quite an improvement to post 137 yards after having just 18 yards in week one. We will just have to see if he can take that on the road with him, because this team is Jekyll and Hyde away from Scott Stadium.
OK, you knew this question was coming, but we saved the best for last. Can a two quarterback system work for Virginia moving forward?
NICK: It can work against Duke and some of the lesser defenses that we play this year, but not against the best. Sewell is a good runner when the defense truly respects his ability to throw the ball. But if the calls start to shift more towards the “Tebow” plays as the season goes on, there are going to be diminished returns for his running. He is a more deceiving runner than he is an explosive athlete, and part of that deception is the threat of the pass. For that reason, I don’t think the two quarterback system makes any sense if both QBs are running nearly identical packages. In that scenario, it just prevents either from getting into any sort of rhythm and both Lalich and Sewell strike me as rhythm players. I would much prefer going with one quarterback and letting him develop.
MARC: While both Jameel Sewell and Peter Lalich bring strengths to the table, I think a team is served best with one quarterback, and after Saturday, I think it’s clear who that quarterback should be. I’m a big Jameel Sewell fan. I think he’s a good kid with a lot of talent, but Peter Lalich showed the ability to run the offense the way it needs to be run. Lalich comes from a tremendous pass-oriented offense at West Springfield High School, and I couldn’t believe I was watching a true freshman when I saw him take control on Saturday. 13 of 18 passes were completed for 131 yards and a touchdown – not too shabby for your first ACC contest (even if it is against Duke). Penn State tried the two quarterback system three years ago with Zach Mills and Michael Robinson, and it was Joe Paterno’s first bad season in a long time. I think Al Groh needs to pick one and stick with him, and I think it should be Peter Lalich .
MICHAEL: For now this can work while both quarterbacks get comfortable playing. But for Virginia to have bowl type success, they need to stick with one quarterback. Right now I would say groom Lalich to be the guy. He showed the “IT” factor it takes to be a winning quarterback, getting points for the Cavaliers when they needed them most. It is also more difficult for the offense to get into a rhythm having to adjust to a different quarterback coming in. I am a firm believer that the leader of your offense needs to be the quarterback – you can’t have the other offensive players around him unsure who that is. This is not the NBA where the point guard needs a rest. Lalich has lost his redshirt, now let him become the man.
KRIS B.: I think it can work. It takes loads of pressure off Sewell’s shoulders. And let’s be honest … it worked a heck of a lot better than whatever they were doing in Laramie. As the saying goes … if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
STEELCAV: Yes and no. How’s that for a cop out? Let me start by saying that a 2 QB system is generally not a viable solution long term. But short term? In our unique case, I say yes. We have a young dual-threat QB as our incumbent, and an even younger pocket QB flashing some serious skills for a guy his age. Both bring different things to the table and each can cause problems for opposing defenses in their own way, especially when it’s time for opposing coaches to put together a gameplan and prep for 2 QBs. I like the way VBHOO put it on the EDGE – the idea of “hedging our bets” at the QB spot. Let’s continue to groom Pete for the #1 spot and give him the majority of reps in practice, but at the same time, keep Sewell involved with some #1 reps in case of emergency – for now. Of course, if/when Lalich takes off, he’s obviously the guy from that point forward and the next bet will be me playing #7 at the roulette table in AC.