Check Out More
Two in a row. Following the Wyoming debacle, Virginia has gotten back on track with back-to-back wins against Duke and North Carolina. The latter came on the road, making that victory even more impressive. How did the Hoos pull it off in Chapel Hill? The Sabre’s Mike Ingalls, WCAV’s J.W. Stehle and Dave Strumpf, The Daily Press’ Melinda Waldrop, and Sabre fan Beetle split the uprights five times in this Sabre Roundtable.
Cedric Peerman has been strong for two straight weeks. What has been the biggest turnaround in the running game since Wyoming?
MIKE: I think the Cavs have improved their running game in several areas since the disaster at Wyoming. They’re running off tackle more than attempting the sweep. When you have linemen like Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert , it makes no sense to run away from them and to the boundaries. I couldn’t understand why Virginia didn’t run the ball up the middle against Wyoming when most all other phases of the game were failing. They did against both Duke and UNC, and both games ended up as wins as a result. In addition to more intelligent play calling and solid run blocking, Cedric Peerman has run very hard and is showing signs of becoming UVa’s next great running back. I’ve been impressed with his second (and often third) efforts to gain additional yards after contact. Peerman has also showed patience when finding a hole, rather than running up the backs of his linemen. Against UNC, Peerman paused when needed and cut perfectly off his blocks.
J.W.: For starters the offensive line has been doing a great job. Just ask Peter Lalich . After Saturday’s game, the true freshman told me that the offensive line is the reason they are winning. That’s good enough for me. Someone new to the program like Peter is noticing good offensive line play speaks volumes. I think Cedric would say the same thing.
As for Cedric himself, he’s just running the ball with a little more passion that he did in the past. He is making people really have to bring him down, making them miss. You won’t see Cedric get taken down with arm tackles – you really have to wrap him up or take his legs out with your body. He’s leading the ACC in rushing as we speak.
MELINDA: Well, it helps that he’s been getting better blocking from an offensive line that is coming together quite nicely. And he also seems to exude a greater determination – refusing to be stopped on the first and sometimes second and third hit, putting his head down and his pads north and south. He’s the most dramatic example of an offense awakening from the sleepwalking that went on in Laramie. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in this weekend’s match-up with Tashard Choice in a showdown of the ACC’s top two rushers.
DAVE: Let’s be honest: It is unfair to judge any ACC team after performances against Duke and North Carolina, and unrealistic to think that Cedric Peerman will torch another conference opponent for 186 yards. That said, Cedric has been absolutely relentless in these past two games, breaking tackles and fighting for yards. He’s been, surprisingly, the most exciting Cavalier to watch out there on the field. The Virginia offensive line is showing its maturity, and on Saturday had one of its best performances in the unit’s 15 games together. This trend must continue for the Cavs to succeed.
BEETLE: The biggest turnaround in our running game may simply be the level of our competition. We can’t forget we played a Duke team that lost 21 straight games before coming to Charlottesville and a Carolina team with a bunch of inexperienced players. But competition aside, Cedric seems to be getting into his cuts more quickly and once he gets beyond the line of scrimmage he is difficult to bring down. Our offensive line seems to be getting a lot more push allowing Cedric an opportunity to have momentum before he gets to the defense. When we run the stretch play, Cedric seems to be looking to cut up field. In the Wyoming game, I thought he simply followed his blocking to the outside until he ran out of running room. Cedric is a hard runner with good speed and he needs to be running between the tackles where we can take advantage of our size on the offensive line.
Maurice Covington led the team with 4 receptions for 40 yards. Do you see Covington becoming more involved as the weeks move on?
MIKE: My hope is that Covington will become more involved, but it’s tough to say as Coach Groh’s offensive system doesn’t include passes to the wide receivers as often as I’d like to see. Covington can get open and has sure hands, so it would be nice to see him included more in the game plan. Perhaps Peter Lalich will have a better shot at finding him down field as Jameel Sewell seems to be ignoring the receivers and focusing more on short throws to the tight ends and backs. To be successful, Virginia is going to have to find a way to get Covington the ball (Dontrelle Inman as well).
J.W.: I do think Mo will become more involved – he has to. He’s too talented to not have the ball thrown his way more often. At the same time, the running game is producing and you don’t need to mess that up by trying to throw the ball too often. Interesting side note about Maurice … his uncle was on the last Georgia Tech team to beat Virginia at Scott Stadium. That was back in 1990 when Virginia was 7-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. Maurice was just 3 years old then and the Yellow Jackets haven’t won in Charlottesville since.
MELINDA: I think he’s going to have to be. It’s kind of sad to be talking about a good performance – 4 catches for 40 yards – when the opponent that day had two receivers with more than 100 yards, but any sign of improvement is a good one for Virginia’s passing game. The Cavs will have to develop more of a downfield threat than they’ve shown so far to compete against the ACC’s top tier teams, and Covington, with his big body and leaping ability, is as viable a threat as any to stretch the field. Covington is the most experienced of a young receiving corps, which has shown promise but also made mistakes. Preseason talk centered on Covington stepping into a leadership role, and there’s no time like the present.
DAVE: Yes. While the Virginia passing attack hasn’t come close to meeting preseason expectations, it has definitely improved over the past three games. Sewell’s passes are more frequently on target than not as of late; Lalich is getting more comfortable; Santi has become a consistent and reliable go-to receiver; and the freshman WRs (Staton Jobe and Dontrelle Inman ) are getting some plays. That said, we’re still seeing a majority of low-risk, short, swing, and screen passes, and virtually zero downfield passes (a Virginia WR has yet to break a pass play of 20+ yards). But I think as this offense gets more comfortable, the field will be opened more, giving Covington more of an opportunity to catch the ball and make plays. Just don’t expect this on Saturday against Georgia Tech.
BEETLE: Actually, I think something in the range of 4 to 6 catches is a good number for Covington with his style of play. He looks more like a possession style receiver. I would like to see several receivers and TEs coming up with 4 to 6 passes a game along with Covington. Last year, Kevin Ogletree was almost the only target and everyone knew where we were going to throw the ball. A bigger issue for us this season is whether we can find a receiver who can get open for the intermediate pass. If our QBs don’t start looking down field more often, I am afraid better defenses are going to shut down the short quick hits.
Other than Vic Hall’s monster return against Duke, Virginia is getting nothing out of the punt return game. Should Hall get more looks back there?
MIKE: While I love the effort of Andrew Pearman , I think Vic Hall has more ability as a punt returner. I think Hall should get more looks, but I can understand why Groh isn’t putting him out there regularly. Hall still has to play every down on defense and it might wear him out to take on full time punt return duties. But, if he’s got the stamina for it, I say put him back there more often and see where it goes.
J.W.: There is something to be said here that doesn’t fit. Andrew Pearman appears to be getting more looks than Vic and I don’t know if that’s the best thing for the Cavs. Vic has proven he can make a big play, why not go to him more often in these situations? Vic is what we call a raw athlete. It’s time to use him more and get Virginia’s money’s worth out of his scholarship.
MELINDA: It’s sort of mystifying why he hasn’t. I can understand wanting to get Andrew Pearman involved in as many phases of the game as possible as well, but Hall has demonstrated an exciting ability and has had surer hands than Pearman. Hall is obviously an athlete who hasn’t known how to do anything but win in his high school career, so it would seem to follow that getting the ball to him often would be a good idea.
DAVE: Yes. Playmakers need to be the ones returning punts. Vic Hall is a playmaker. Period.
BEETLE: We have to do something to give Vic or Andrew Pearman more separation from the defenders on the punt. We don’t do enough to disrupt the gunners coming down the filed to make the tackle. Too often they break away from our blockers at the line. As a fan, I am still waiting to see Vic Hall become something special on the field. I am not convinced it will be at DB and I would love to see the ball in his hands more often.
Virginia seemed to lose its ability to pressure in the quarterback in the second half. Should UVa be concerned that double teaming both Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald could essentially shut down the pressure?
MIKE: Virginia came out aggressive in the first half and practically dominated the offensive line of UNC. Then for some reason, Virginia decided to stop putting pressure on the quarterback. UNC would not have been able to double team both Long and Fitzgerald had Virginia not gone into the dime (6 defensive backs) on two series that almost cost Virginia the football game (late 2nd quarter and late 4th quarter). I come from the school of thought that you don’t fix it if it isn’t broken. Virginia’s pass rush and overall defensive pressure was working well early in the game. When they elected to play six defensive backs on known passing downs, the Cavaliers lost their ability to rush enough linemen and linebackers up field, which provided UNC’s Yates plenty of time to locate his receivers. My final thought on the matter is that Virginia needs to stay aggressive for a majority of the game. With talented guys like Long, Fitzgerald, Copper, Dias and Sintim, Virginia should continue to turn up the heat.
J.W.: Virginia’s weakness all season long has been defending the screen pass. Wyoming knew that was a weakness from the start and exploited it in week one. Duke figured it out by mixing screens with the run in week two. North Carolina saw the ability to march down the field in the second half by utilizing the screen pass. Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald are going to get double teamed … it’s just a reality because they are so talented. When that is the case, Virginia needs some help to come from the secondary. Why haven’t we seen Chris Cook or Nate Lyles blitz at all this year? There’s my question mark. They have done it in the past, just not much this season.
MELINDA: The UVa coaches and players gave lots of credit to T.J. Yates’ ability to make plays on the run and to the UNC receivers for making leaping, athletic grabs. To some degree that’s valid, but it was a tale of two halves for Virginia’s defensive front. Yates was constantly harassed in the first two quarters before nearly winning the game in the second half. Long and Fitzgerald are obviously the catalysts for the Cavs’ pressure, but it’s equally clear that they need some assistance from their supporting cast.
DAVE: No. UVa’s inability to pressure the QB had less to do with Long and Fitz, and more to do with Tar Heels QB T.J. Yates. The redshirt freshman was showing no fear. He was moving around the pocket, buying time, showing poise, and making some great throws, which kept UNC’s hopes alive. T.J. Yates could be the most talented quarterback Virginia faces all season. He is LEGIT.
BEETLE: Yes. Both Long and Fitz are great but despite their skill and fitness, they are bound to wear down over the course of the game. I think we need to substitute more, especially in the first half. It seems we are quick to abandon different looks with the 3-4 moving into a conservative (and more predictable) mode when a) the game is on the line or b) when the other team’s offense has made a few plays. Sometimes the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent pressure on the QB.
Jon Copper led the team in tackles against UNC. How did the linebackers look to you?
MIKE: I thought the linebackers played solid until UVa elected to run the dime package and all but killed the ability to wreak havoc on the quarterback. Four linebackers that can pressure the QB are much better than two. Copper and Sintim both had solid performances. Copper has really come a long way since his days as a walk-on. Sintim is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. And while Sintim only had three tackles, he forced a fumble and played good assignment football. It was also nice to see Jermaine Dias come back from his injury and have a solid game (5 tackles, 4 solo).
J.W.: It was great to see Jermaine Dias back out on the field after getting injured in week one at Wyoming. He’s a real locker room leader for this team. Not too many people know that. Ask Chris Long and Clint Sintim who gives pregame and halftime speeches to the entire team. It’s Dias. Throw in Copper and Antonio Appleby and this bunch is something else. They all have similar body types. That’s the way Groh wants his linebackers to look. They are hard-nosed and get to the ball in a hurry. The linebacking corps is one of the best in the ACC and will continue to get better as the season progresses.
MELINDA: The linebackers look like the last line of defense for a secondary that still seems to have no idea how to read, defend, or stop screen passes, curl routes, and slants over the middle. Copper and company have been solid, but the corners are simply going to have to get better at chucking receivers at the line and then staying with them step for step. The Cavs have talked about shutting down the deep balls that did such damage last year, but a screen pass that goes for 53 yards and a touchdown gets the job done, too.
DAVE: The linebackers looked fine. Of the Tar Heels’ 21 run plays, only eight broke 3 yards, and three broke 6 yards. I’d be more concerned about the Virginia secondary. They missed too many tackles, failed to make four catchable interceptions, and gave up some big pass plays (21, 22, 23, 25, 34, and 53 yards).
BEETLE: In a 3-4 defense, the LBs should lead the team in tackles. Copper is going to get his tackles because he has a nose for the ball and he wraps his man up when he gets the chance. On the whole our LBs looked solid against the run, but not so good when they dropped back in coverage. If we don’t put pressure on the QB, we can’t expect our inside LBs to stay with a RB or TE. In addition, I think we often telegraph the blitz. We bring 2 LBs up to the line far too early to create any confusion and rarely run any delayed blitz or timed blitz from the outside. Our LBs on the blitz often look more like DEs and the offensive line seems to pick them up easily. I would like to see us bring some speed to the outside in substitution situations to generate a true speed rush from the outside. Where is the next Darryl Blackstock?