At Virginia’s weekly press conference this week, the tone remained hopeful and to some degree confident for this weekend’s match-up against Maryland despite last weekend’s 31-3 demoralizing loss to perennial cellar-dweller Duke.
When the Cavaliers face Maryland this weekend, they will do so in a virtual ‘must-win’ situation. A loss at home would push them even farther back in the ACC standings entering the toughest part of their schedule.
Groh confirmed that this game is extremely important for the Cavaliers in the midst of the uphill battle they are facing.
“It would mean a lot to win period. That gives reinforcement to the players, but the one thing that can certainly be said about what the players on this team are doing is they’re respecting the game in the way the game should be respected…That means to prepare the right way, to work hard in practice every day, to continue to work to get better and be prepared for the opponent that you’re playing against, to stick together as a team, to not get into playing the blame game, keep grinding it out and sticking together with the belief that as performance and execution evolves that you just believe that this will all come together and you’ll be a good team.”
It’s beginning to sound repetitive but in all honesty things have to get better for the Cavaliers. If only because there is nowhere to go but up. It’s no secret that Virginia ranks second to last in the FBS in total offense (251 yards per game) but they are now averaging only 9.0 points per game, good enough for dead last among all FBS teams. The Cavaliers have only scored four touchdowns this season. Regardless of any amount of attrition, everyone should agree that this team has too much talent to only score four touchdowns. Turnovers continue to haunt Virginia as they have turned the ball over 14 times already this season with six alone coming against Duke. At least offensively, it can’t get much worse.
Reporters likened this years team, Tuesday, to the 2006 squad that lost early season games to Pitt, Western Michigan, Georgia Tech and ECU before rallying to rattle of some in-conference victories. Linebacker Clint Sintim agreed that there were similarities between the situations and said this team can learn from the attitude of the 2006 squad.
“Just the mindset that a lot of guys had on that team,” Sintim said. “A never quit attitude.
It was tough but once we got that ball rolling we won a couple games straight,” Sintim said. “We beat a good NC State team that year. We beat Miami that year.”
While the Cavaliers’ no doubt share the attitude that a win is vital this weekend, everyone knows it won’t come easily. Maryland is a team that is “playing like talented, mature, experienced, team that’s got a lot of confidence,” Groh said. “Their quarterback has done a real nice job for them, runs the game well, knows how to get the ball to the playmakers.”
While it is clear the offense will have to perform against Maryland to have any chance at all, much of the discussion Tuesday circled around the effort the Cavaliers’ defense will have to undertake to control Maryland’s dominant wide-receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey . Keeping him out of a position to make big plays will be one of Virginia’s biggest challenges, Groh said.
“He’s a game breaker,” Groh said. “In the fullest sense. This is a size player who can really run. He has an impact not only on the game, but how you plan for the game. At his position, He’s unreputably one of the fastest players in the country.”
Sintim agreed that a Heyward-Bey presents unique challenges to the defense.
“He’s a really good athlete. From a speed standpoint, he’s untouchable. He’s been around for quite some time, we’ve seen him. We know a lot of what he likes to do…He’s one of those guys that you really have to be aware and conscious of at all times.”
If Virginia is able to contain Maryland’s playmakers and eek out a win at home, Sintim said, he believes they can make a move this year.
“This year is not lost,” he said. “It’s still early. We’ve got a long road ahead of us. We’re in the ACC hunt now. If we can just get the ball rolling now, we can make something happen. I don’t think there’s any team in the ACC that’s that much better than any other team right now.”
Touché, Clint, touché.
Memories of Mikell at Maryland
Mikell Simpson carried the ball for 271 yards last season against Maryland.
One Cavalier who has to be excited to see Maryland come to town is Mikell Simpson who made his breakout performance last year tallying 271 yards and two touchdowns including the game-winner in College Park.
Groh told reporters Tuesday how Mikell’s appearance in that game came about.
“It was at the morning staff meeting that… I remember saying to Anthony, ‘ Look Anthony, lets just play a hunch here. Let’s just start Mikell and see what happens, are you good with that?,” he said.
Perhaps Maryland’s visit to Scott Stadium will jumpstart Simpson’s production which has trailed off this season. Whether it’s a result of ineffective blocking on the line or tentativeness on his part, Simpson hasn’t produced the numbers we’ve seen in the past so far this season, averaging only 27.0 yards per game. According to Groh, his struggles have not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
“This has kind been of the weekly items that we’ve discussed,” Groh said. “If we had a clear answer to it and a solution to it, perhaps we wouldn’t continue to try to answer the same question. But certainly it’s elements of all of those things. Just as we talked about with Darrius (Heyward-Bey) making big plays for Maryland, every team has got their core of those guys. They’ve got to step up and make those plays for the team. That’s part of the responsibility that goes with being in that role and right now we are not getting enough of those plays.”
Groh’s Uncertain Future
After a 1-3 start, the pressure to win now is beginning to mount on coach Al Groh.
When asked if he was concerned about his future at Virginia, Groh responded, “I don’t think about my future, I just think about the next game… I just try to do things to coach the team the way we think it needs to be coached and do for the players whatever that might mean, encourage, admonish, direct, care for, the things that goes with the title of being head coach in college football.”
Groh also acknowledged the amount of personal disappointment and frustration that accompanies defeats like those that have occurred early this season after such intense preparation, citing between 90 and 100 hours of work.
“Every week between 90 and 100 hours, just to have the sense of satisfaction that comes from the accomplishment of the team playing well. For anybody involved who puts in that amount of time and if you don’t get any reward for it, that’s a difficult end of the week. That’s a difficult end of the week if you’ve won the previous eight games. They don’t count for anything that day.”
Depth Chart Notes
This week’s depth chart reflects some small moves at certain positions.
- On the offensive line, redshirt freshman Lamar Milstead returns to the backup role at right tackle behind Will Barker . He replaces true freshman Matt Mihalik .
- Mihalik has moved in behind Eugene Monroe at left tackle replacing the redshirt freshman Landon Bradley .
- At ILB, redshirt freshman Terrance Fells-Danzer replaces Darren Childs backing up Antonio Appleby .
- Also in the secondary, Ras-I Dowling has moved back into the starting spot at cornerback moving Chase Minnifield into the back-up position.
Terence Fells-Danzer could see playing time against Maryland.
Fells-Danzer makes his first appearance on the depth chart as a redshirt freshman. Groh indicated that he specifically is a player who benefits from the pressure of competition.
“This is a player with a long future in front of him,” Groh said. “The way for his development to occur is to be part of the mix and to have the responsibility of keeping up with the challenge of getting prepared for every game.”
Wali Lundy flashback
The status of Cedric Peerman ‘s unnamed injury remains an on-going question this week according to Groh. Both after Saturday’s game and on Tuesday Groh likened it to the situation faced during Wali Lundy’s injury.
“When he’s ready to be Cedric, he’s going to start the game,” Groh said. “As I mentioned after the game the other day, we learned a little lesson from our circumstance a couple of years ago with Wali Lundy. It wasn’t dissimilar … He wants to do it so badly. He’s getting multiple treatments a day it’s just a case of how fast is Mother Nature working with him.”
Fun With Numbers
- Virginia has won 7 of its last 8 home games against Maryland since 1992
- UVa has posted a 12 wins in the last16 meetings with Maryland.
- The Cavaliers have won 6 of 7 of seven home ACC openers under Al Groh.
- Virginia has won 5 straight night games, those starting after 6 p.m. dating back to a 2003 loss to Florida State.
- The Cavaliers’ 251.25 yards of total offense ranks 118th of 119 teams in the Bowl Subdivision above only Florida International.
- When Maryland holds the Cavaliers to less than 100 yards rushing, they have been victorious 15 games in a row, dating back to 1957.
“I understand why every head coach and offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator under most circumstances become the target. I was told here recently that actually by someone within their organization that the person who is getting criticized in Indianapolis is Tom Moore. He’s only directed the most prolific offense in the NFL for a number of years but because they’re not prolific this year, apparently Tom’s lost his touch.” – UVa coach Al Groh in response to a question regarding criticisms of Mike Groh