Defense Leads Cavaliers To Victory

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The defense led by Clint Sintim held Richmond to 1-for-12 on third down conversions.

In the spirit of the “Retro Day”, the Virginia defense brought back their patented “Orange Crush” defense in grand style on Saturday.

A week after uncharacteristically surrendering 52 points against USC, the defense showed up to play. Series after series, Virginia’s defense came up big. Two blocked field goals, six sacks, 10 tackles-for-loss, and three very big turnovers late, the Cavaliers’ defense almost single-handedly pushed UVa past Richmond 16-0. It’s the first time the Spiders have been shut out since 2005.

“That unit stepped up and did what had to be done today,” coach Al Groh said. “They were challenged significantly by field position and by schemes but they were able to adjust to a lot of things and feel the game as it went along and clearly we realized the value of having some veteran players who we could make adjustments with but we had some young players who played a substantial amount of time here today and had their first real positive performance.”

The score doesn’t quite tell the whole story though.

Virginia’s offense failed to convert a TD on its first drive and stumbled for the next two quarters. After a hot 7-of-9, 73-yard first quarter, quarterback Peter Lalich stumbled, facing a defense aware of a growing reliance on the passing game. An early strong hit on Cedric Peerman forced Mikell Simpson , who didn’t seem to be 100% himself, into the game. Unable to establish the run, Lalich was forced to go to the air and as a result forced two passes that were intercepted.

Kevin Ogletree led the Cavaliers’ offense with 103 yards receiving Saturday.

Whether the scoreboard showed it or not, Lalich, statistically at least, didn’t have a terrible game. With 204 yards through the air (21-39), including 103 to Kevin Ogletree (8 catches. The biggest blemishes for the young QB were the two interceptions, for which he took responsibility.

“I’m very comfortable with the offense, it’s just I left some plays out on the field and hopefully in the future they won’t be left out on the field … I had a few throws I was a little high on.”

For much of the game, momentum swung like a pendulum. Repeatedly, the offense stalled deep in its own territory and the defense would come up with another huge stop. The longer Virginia went without scoring, the more pressure mounted on the defense to make it stick. And the D responded in a big way. According to Groh, that is exactly what it takes.

“We’re real pleased with the win and proud of our team for how we hung in there time after time again,” Groh said. “That’s what teams have to do to put wins together. We were able to do that quite a bit last year. But that type of mentality has to be re-established and solidified again with each particular team.”

After their sub-par performance last week, the linebackers, in particular as a unit, played with a back-to-basics style against the Spiders, making clean aggressive tackles. Sintim, especially, stepped up his performance from last week; he was in on six tackles. As a leader of the unit and of the team, Sintim took it upon himself simply to play better.

“We’re supposed to be the leaders of this team and like you said we didn’t perform well as a unit so it was a gut check for me as a captain, Antonio as a leader, and Jon as on one of the better players on this team. We all had to step up and make this game better than last week,” he said.

For Groh, it was clear that last week’s performance by the linebackers was out of character.

“Besides the fact that we played a very good team last week, those players really weren’t on their game and out of their enthusiasm to try and do something, to help us win, they were trying to make plays instead of letting plays find them,” Groh said. “I emphasized during the week about just get back to reading the keys and get to the right plays and play well and the plays will find you. I spoke to all three of them after the game and congratulated them on the fact that it looked like they were back on their game today.”

Sintim and Groh were also both quick to praise the younger members of the defense who raised their level of play. Most notably was redshirt freshman Matt Conrath . Conrath played like a man on a mission, leading the team in solo tackles (7), sacks (2), and TFL (3). He also received credit for deflecting a field goal try. After the game, coaches and players praised the defensive end.

“We’ve always known he’s been a talented player its just now a lot of other guys know he’s a talented player,” Sintim said. “He made a lot of big plays and he’s one of those guys who just works and grinds and he’s going to be one of the better guys on this team in the future if he isn’t already.”

One area that made the need for improvement painfully clear was penalties. Penalties haunted the Cavaliers on drive after drive. Repeated holding penalties stunted the offense on several occasions. This problem, however, was not limited to the offense. The defense was forced to overcome debilitating facemask and pass interference calls.

“That’s a point of disappointment,” Groh said. “You’re exactly right about that, that’s out of character but if you do it often enough it becomes part of your character so it’s very important that that comes to an end here pretty quickly.”

In addition to the defense’s effort, the special teams also proved strong against the Spiders forcing two missed field goals. According to Groh, field-goal blocking was a major focus in this week’s practice with two days of live field goal practice.

“It’s a great effort to get two of those in one game,” Groh said. “We spent an awful lot of time working on blocks this week … those were obviously huge plays. They were point-erasers. They had the opportunity to put points up there and one that one single play, we were able to take points off. That’s why I put such an emphasis on it this week.”

However, despite the struggles of the offense, Virginia was able to grind out a win. Those aspects that need improvement, will continue to be a focus, Groh said, as the Cavaliers prepare to face UConn next week.

“There were certainly some flaws there,” Groh said. “We’re well aware of them. Sometimes when you know what your flaws are, it doesn’t mean you can get them fixed right away. But we think we know where they are and we’ve just got to continue to grind away at ’em.”

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