Tuesday Press Conference Notes – Wake

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Cary Koch had his first UVa touchdown against N.C. State.

Lost in the shuffle during Saturday’s contest at N.C. State: Cary Koch’s first career touchdown catch at UVa. The junior wide receiver hauled in a tough catch in the final seconds of the first half for the score, marking just the second time this season that a Cavalier wide receiver has visited the end zone. Virginia coach Al Groh said he has taken notice of Koch in recent practices.

“He looks a lot faster. I’d say that’s the difference,” Groh said. “Whether or not he’s actually with time faster or not, I couldn’t say but he looks a lot faster because he clearly is much clearer with what his role is and how to execute the different patterns and what the depth of the route is and when to make the conversions. So he’s playing at a much higher tempo.”

Koch is starting to make plays in games for Virginia lately as well. After missing the first three games of the season while rehabilitating from a knee injury in training camp, Koch has made a catch in five straight games (he didn’t have one in his debut against Georgia Tech).

In the last two games, the 6-0, 198-pound wideout has emerged as a potential go-to target in tight situations. At Maryland, he had two catches for 23 yards – a third reception was called back at the start of Virginia’s game-winning drive. At NCSU, he hauled in three passes for 28 yards – two of those were first down catches and the third was the touchdown grab. He was also the target on two other third down throws by the quarterbacks.

Virginia defensive back Vic Hall, who faces Koch in practice, said the receiver has always had the ability to make plays.

“Ever since Cary’s got here, he’s had the ability to make great catches,” Hall said. “Now he’s in the game and he’s showing he can do the job.”

Koch arrived at UVa as a Tulane transfer last fall after Hurricane Katrina and was granted permission to play right away. (Check out Sabre partner WCAV’s story on Koch from last fall.) He eventually appeared in just two games, making one reception against Duke for four yards.

It wasn’t an attention-grabbing season for Koch, who had ranked fourth on Tulane’s team in receiving yards and receptions as a true freshman with 23 catches for 308 yards. He also had two touchdowns and was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team. His biggest game was a 6-catch, 107-yard, 1-touchdown performance against Tulsa.

But transitioning to Virginia on short notice meant an adjustment period was needed.

“We thought he had the skill level to be a contributing player here. Even though he had played at Tulane and had a feel for college football from knowing the systems, he was just like any other rookie player coming in,” Groh said. “He wasn’t part of the summer program. In fact, the probably had less orientation to how we do things around here than even the incoming class. … He was really having to orient himself to ‘This is Virginia’ and these are the habits and beliefs of these coaches in addition to learning the system.”

Defense Disappointed

Every Hoo was disappointed following the Cavs’ first ACC loss on Saturday, a 29-24 setback at N.C. State. But no one, perhaps, was as disappointed as the Cavalier defense. That unit gave up more than 23 points for the first time all season and couldn’t come up with critical stops when the team could have used the boost – trailing 13-10 late in the first half and leading 24-23 late in the second half. In both cases, the offense had just scored a touchdown and the team seemed to be gaining momentum.

Chris Long , a key part of the defense to say the least, said the unit was upset with its performance against the Pack.

“We let the offense down. … The defense never should have put the offense in that position,” Long told reporters after the game in Raleigh. “I’ll take the responsibility for that. There’s no excuse for us to give up 29 points.”

Long’s defensive teammates echoed his thoughts on Tuesday at the weekly meeting with the media.

“It’s unacceptable – to give up 29 points to anybody, it’s going to be hard for you to win regardless of whatever else happens,” said Vic Hall, who indicated that his missed man-to-man assignment against Koyal George led to a first half TD. “It’s our job to keep the points down and that’s what we’ve got to work for this week.”

Despite the sub-par showing at NCSU, the defense is trying to regroup and refocus for the difficult stretch run against Wake Forest, Miami, and Virginia Tech by establishing a higher standard. Jeffrey Fitzgerald said Tuesday that because the opponents are getting better each week, the defense knows it has to raise its level of play. So the D is setting what might seem like an unreachable goal this late in the season.

“We try to keep the score low,” Fitzgerald said. “We haven’t had a shutout this whole season so we’re trying to focus on that – we need to get one of those. We have three tough teams coming up so that’s our goal because we know we have to play our best ball out there to achieve that goal.”

Waiting On The Bye

The Virginia football team will play its 10th straight game this weekend when Wake Forest comes to Scott Stadium for a noon contest. The Cavs then travel Miami on Nov. 10 for the 11th game on the schedule. After that? The Hoos finally get a break with their bye week, the latest open date of any team in the ACC. All of the other league teams have already had a bye.

Coach Groh said that the coaching staff has been monitoring individuals and units to make sure the players stay fresh and energized with the late bye situation. So far, he thinks the team has handled the time without a break well.

“We’ve been pretty ready to go every Saturday. We’ve tried to with certain individuals -through the course of the week or particular day – tried to pay attention to those guys we think might need it in terms of a little bit more rest or certain days backing off with a few things,” Groh said. “We try to make it a point to make sure that we’re ready and to take their input. You want to take input and input comes in two ways. Input comes in watching and they tell us a whole lot by how they look, and then input also comes just by asking: ‘How do you feel?, do you need a little rest?’ ‘No, I’m ready to go’ or ‘Yes, I could use a few plays [off].’ We’ve tried to take that as a principal thing the last three or four weeks.”

Worth Quoting

“We thought the team would rebound after the first game of the season [too.] That resiliency and that determination and sense of purpose is pretty well set as a personality of this team. Does that mean we are going to win by 10 or lose by 4? Whatever the result is will have no bearing of how the players rebounded, it will indicate what the performance was on Saturday. … If bouncing back means rebounding, then everybody is over it.” – Al Groh on whether the team’s response to the Wyoming loss gives him greater confidence in their ability to bounce back from this loss.

Worth Mentioning

  • Mikell Simpson is being looked at in the kickoff return mix again.
  • Tom Santi , Rashawn Jackson , Chris Cook , and Mike Parker all practiced on Monday. Their status for this weekend is unknown.
  • There is a chance, Groh said Tuesday, that Cedric Peerman could miss the rest of the season. Surgery for his injured foot has not been ruled out as an option in the future.
  • Groh said Ras-I Dowling should have taken a “good deal of confidence” away from the game Saturday because he played so well in his first extended action on the college level. He compared some of Donald Bowens ‘ catches to a hot shooter beating good defense in basketball.
  • The Wake Forest game is a big weekend for recruiting at Virginia as one of the final two home contests. “We’re pretty far down the road on future classes so this will be one of the last of two opportunities to get a lot of those players here before the winter,” Groh said.
  • Marc Verica has been working as the scout team quarterback this year. “He has done a real nice job with that all fall. His development has been apparent in what he’s been doing. It’s been good for him.”

  • (For complete coverage of the Virginia football team, please sign up for the Sabre Edge. Edge subscribers get exclusive analysis, features, and more!)

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