Coach Al Groh’s team allowed UConn to score on its first four drives and trailed 28-0 at halftime.
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – When the Connecticut-Virginia game kicked off at 7:34 p.m. on Saturday, the theme of the day for Virginia was ‘How will quarterback Marc Verica perform with just two days to prepare as the starter’?
Two hours later, the question had become ‘Can Connecticut outdo USC in its throttling of Virginia?’ The Huskies’ 45-10 victory may not have matched the 45-point spread from Pete Carroll’s bunch two weeks ago, but they certainly outdid the Trojans’ first half effort. A 24-7 halftime score against USC would have seemed at least surmountable against a different opponent; the 28-0 first-half thrashing by Connecticut, which included four touchdowns on as many drives by the Huskies (3-0), made the Cavaliers (1-2) look like a high school team.
“We did little if anything right,” Virginia coach Al Groh said in his opening statement, who clearly anticipated questions about quarterback Peter Lalich , who did not travel with the team. “It’s not about, in any way shape or form, anybody who wasn’t here. Our team is the team we put on the field today. I’m responsible for that, I take the blame for that, and there are really no other names necessary to discuss.”
The Huskies’ offense began the onslaught by utilizing the feet and left arm of quarterback Tyler Lorenzen to methodically dismantle the Virginia defense on its first two drives. The Cavalier defensive line was futile in its attempts to either mount a pass rush on Lorenzen or contain him to the pocket, as the senior threw for 60 yards and ran for 42 more on Connecticut’s first two touchdown drives.
“His ability to get drives started early on, throw accurately, get out of the pocket, had us coming and going,” Groh said.
As the game moved into the second quarter, the Huskies then began to pile on with huge runs from running back Donald Brown, who ended with 206 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries (including one for 63 yards).
Though Groh noted that Brown was “what we thought he would be,” there were numerous glaring missed tackles at every level of the defense.
Clint Sintim and the Hoos’ defense struggled to stop the Huskies.
“That’s just sloppy performance,” Clint Sintim said. “I know off the top of my head, I think I missed four clean tackles.”
To twist the knife even further into the hearts of Wahoos, the Huskies got 94 yards on 14 carries from freshman running back Jordan Todman and senior cornerback Darius Butler, neither of whom had a single career carry coming into the game. Butler’s lone rush, a 13-yard reverse, went for UConn’s third touchdown.
Sinking into the shadows of the Huskies’ overwhelming offense was Verica’s debut.
Similar to Lalich against USC, the sophomore’s first-half performance was decent, and was perhaps even commendable considering he had just two days to prepare for his first game in a hostile environment – he completed 14 of 19 passes for 81 yards and had no turnovers in the first half.
“He made some decent throws,” Groh said, but noted that “there were a lot of open guys out there too where the ball might have gone.”
One might have thought that Groh would try to establish the run on Verica’s first drive, but the new QB’s first pass – a quick-hitter to tight end John Phillips in the flat for nine yards – was the first throw on a run-less drive, setting the tone for the remainder of the game as Virginia attempted to play catch-up. Groh’s play-calling on the Cavs’ first, five-play drive was eerily similar to Peter Lalich ‘s first, three-play series against USC – like Lalich two weeks ago, Verica threw on each play of the opening drive, picking up a first down and completing four of five passes.
“Honestly, I didn’t really expect every single play to be a pass,” Verica said of the opening series. “We put in some certain formations and stuff that favored the pass, but we also [did] stuff to prepare for the run. It just happened.”
Verica received close to zero help from the running as running backs Mikell Simpson and Cedric Peerman combined for nine yards in the first half and 27 yards on the game. Due to a leg injury that has hampered Peerman the last two weeks, he rushed just twice for four yards. All told, UVa produced just 14 rush attempts and 3 of those were from quarterbacks.
“He was doubtful to questionable throughout the week, and just didn’t quite have all his stuff here today,” Groh said of Peerman. “It wasn’t fair to him to put him out there where he was going to be a target.”
Marc Verica completed 14 of 19 passes for 81 yards in the first half.
The sophomore QB remained in through most of the third quarter but following Verica’s first turnover on an interception by linebacker Lawrence Wilson and the ensuing 14-yard touchdown run by Todman, however, Groh went to a new quarterback. He called upon the guy who generally relays the plays in from the sideline, senior Scott Deke , late in the third quarter. Groh said that the move was spurred as much by Verica’s inadequacy as it was by the desire to get Deke some snaps.
“You get Scott some plays – he’s not a player that’s ever played either,” Groh said. “Plus, at that point we had no touchdowns, so that’s how you judge an offensive performance, that’s how you judge a quarterback’s performance.”
Between the defensive ineptitude and the offensive inadequacy, Virginia certainly has its work cut out in the bye week. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and otherwise.
“I don’t know how much of a psychologist I am,” Groh said. “It would be my hope that everyone would take their lead off of my attitude. That’ll be my psychology.”