The Cavaliers are preparing for the rivalry showdown with the Hokies this week.
Game week is here for the annual Virginia-Virginia Tech rivalry and while this showdown is always big, there is a heightened sense of anticipation and intensity floating around the Commonwealth this week. After all, this year’s contest is a winner-take-all meeting -either the Hokies or the Hoos will advance to the ACC Championship game as the Coastal Division representative.
Jon Copper said the implications might add a little luster to the festivities, particularly for fans, but that the team is sticking to its one game at a time mantra.
“It adds some. I think every year, it’s pretty much the same. It’s Virginia Tech and being the rivalry game, we’re looking to win this game,” Copper said. “That’s the focus. We’re not looking about all the different things that can go on whether we win or lose this game. We’re looking to find a way to be able to compete and be in a position to win this game against Tech.”
Virginia coach Al Groh likened the scenario to a playoff system where you survive and advance. Last week, Boston College did just that by defeating Clemson to secure the Atlantic Division crown. With that said, however, he knows that the task at hand is a difficult one regardless of the ramifications of the rivalry and the conference – that’s because Virginia Tech is that tough of an opponent.
“This will be an awesome challenge for us. This is certainly one of the finest teams to come into Scott Stadium in quite some time,” Groh said. “They’re tremendously impressive in all areas.”
Indeed. The Hokies have hit their stride in recent weeks. The offense is producing more than it has all season. The defense is its usually stingy self, ranking fourth in the nation in scoring defense – throw out the LSU debacle and VT would be No. 2 behind Ohio State. The special teams with Eddie Royal ‘s 4,275 career all-purpose yards leading the way are explosive.
The Hokies are 9-2 and looking for their fourth straight 10-win season. Only two other schools – Texas and Southern Cal – can claim three consecutive years of at least 10 wins.
Virginia, meanwhile, is also 9-2 but the program is looking for just the second 10-win season in school history. The 1989 team accomplished that feat with 10 victories in the regular season.
This year’s version of UVa football is looking forward to testing itself against one of the ACC’s best teams.
“I’m excited. I mean I’ve been waiting for this game for a while. They’re a great team and they’ve been winning a lot of games,” Cav LB Clint Sintim said. “They’ve got a lot of impact players on their team. I’m ready to see how well we are as a team by playing them.”
Under The Weather
Virginia star defensive end Chris Long is battling illness this week. While it would probably take a lot to keep him from playing in one of the biggest games in school history, Groh said the team would see how things work out this week.
“Chris has been ill. He’s had strep throat. He does have a history of this developing into pneumonia. He didn’t participate yesterday – came out dressed in sweats and a stocking cap and left halfway through feeling miserable,” Groh said. “We’ll just have to wait and see where that goes.”
Ogletree To QB
Virginia has made a position switch with the extra bye week in preparation for Virginia Tech. The move? Receiver Kevin Ogletree is playing quarterback for the Hoos. The Hoos’ scout team that is.
Ogletree, who is redshirting this season after offseason ACL surgery, has rehabbed to the point where he can provide an athletic and explosive look for the Cavalier defense as it prepares for VT quarterback Tyrod Taylor , who is a dynamic athlete under center.
“I figure that he’s probably one of our best athletes on the team and he’s feeling a lot better so he had the chance to go back there and try to make people look silly and put some moves on people,” Sintim said. “There’s not too many athletes on our team as explosive as he is.”
Of course, the Hokies have been using a two-quarterback system of late with Taylor and Sean Glennon both receiving snaps. That presents the defense with two different challenges. Sintim said you just have to remain focused on the strengths of each quarterback when there’s a switch, while remaining acutely aware of Taylor’s improvisation ability.
“You just have to understand what both quarterbacks are good at,” Sintim said. “Like I said earlier, Tyrod is a dual threat. He can run the ball as well as throw the ball. You have to be more conscious of rushing lanes when Tyrod is in the game rather than when Sean Glennon is in the game. Not to say that Glennon can’t run the ball as well, but you just have to be knowledgeable of the strengths and weaknesses of each quarterback.”
Sewell’s Turning Point
In that season-opening contest, Sewell struggled mightily. 11-of-23 passing. 87 yards. 2 interceptions and 0 touchdowns. Minus 16 yards rushing. The team lost 23-3.
“My performance at Wyoming. I just knew that I wasn’t that type of quarterback. I don’t consider myself being that type of quarterback. I played like just a pure rookie, like somebody who didn’t know what he was doing out there,” Sewell said. “I just had to focus a lot more on film, little things, and on mechanics and everything like that. And relying on my team to get help me get through things – basically that’s just it.”
Since then, Sewell has progressively gotten better. That includes two career performances at N.C. State and Miami in his last three outings. He also played fairly well at Maryland, making it three straight road games that he has performed at a high level on the road. Most recently against the Canes, Sewell threw for 288 yards and 1 touchdown while completing 20 of 25 passes.
Virginia guard Ian-Yates Cunningham is the lone member of the 2007 Cavaliers who played in the 35-21 victory in 2003 against Virginia Tech. He started that game as a true freshman before taking a mid-career redshirt to recover from a back injury. That pushed him to his fifth year at UVa this season.
“I remember the excitement for winning that game. I remember as a true freshman coming from Texas, I really didn’t understand the rivalry of Virginia-Virginia Tech,” Cunningham said. “I was more familiar with the rivalry of a Texas and Oklahoma or a Texas and Texas A&M, but this rivalry is unbelievable. I’d say one of the best in the nation. So just to be a part of that, and playing in that [game], was awesome for me.”
“We really needed a break. Our bodies were beat up and kind of tired. That week off, everybody wanted to play, but it was a good chance for us to sit down, get a little rest, and get a little time off and lay back. We had been going for a long time straight through so it was a well-needed rest.” – Jameel Sewell on the open date.
Virginia fans are being encouraged to wear all orange for this weekend’s game.
During Al Groh’s media meeting, two orange-painted students crashed the party to let the coach know he has the students’ support this week and that the Hoo Crew has launched “Operation Orange” with the mission of creating an “Orange-Out” at Scott Stadium on Saturday.
“UVa’s student spirit group, Hoo Crew, has launched Operation Orange. Our mission is to ‘Orange-Out’ Scott Stadium for Saturday’s football game by wearing orange from head-to-toe. We have also encouraged UVa students to wear all-out orange to class on Tuesday – the last day of class before Thanksgiving break,” a letter from the Hoo Crew states. “We hope Cavalier fans across the Commonwealth and the nation will join our efforts leading up to game. Wear orange and blue everyday. Let’s proudly fly Virginia flags and decorate your business, office, and home.”
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