Press Conference Notes ’09: TCU

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail to someoneGoogle+share on TumblrShare on Reddit

Coach Al Groh and the Cavaliers face TCU this weekend.

Stick together. Don’t crack. Bounce back. Don’t worry about negativity from the outside. These are the phrases that Virginia coach Al Groh is telling his players this week as they come off a loss to FCS opponent William & Mary and prepare for this Saturday’s contest with Texas Christian University, who some have said is the best non-BCS conference team in the country.

“One of the things that we tell [the players] before the season ever starts is, a team collectively and the players individually have to be prepared to handled both the love and the hate,” Groh said. “Every week, the team is going to get one or the other – every week. If you’re 12-0, the team has to be able to tune out the love, and if you’re 0-12, the team has to be able to tune out the hate. Because either way that affects how the players think, and all the players can think about is what they need to do their job.”

The Cavaliers will need to muster some positive energy from somewhere to pull out an improbable win this Saturday. Simply put, there are two possible conclusions that can be drawn from the Hoos’ loss to the Tribe: that UVa is a lousy team, or that the season opener was a fluke. Virginia is obviously hoping that it’s the latter.

A win against TCU, though, would be an upset even if Virginia had wiped the floor with William & Mary. One week after Gregg Brandon’s new offense flopped against the Tribe, the Cavs have the task of getting their new offense to function against a Texas Christian defense that was first in the nation in rush defense (47.1 yards per game allowed), total defense (217.8 ypg allowed) and opponent first downs (157); second in the nation in scoring defense (11.3 ppg allowed) and sacks (43); and fourth in the nation in pass defense efficiency rating (97.9) in 2008. Oh, and the Horned Frogs’ offense is pretty good, too: 12th in rushing offense (220.2 ypg) and 24th in total offense (421.3 ypg) last season.

The most telling statistics for Groh, though, affect both sides of the ball, and were areas that killed Virginia against William & Mary on Saturday; TCU was first in the nation in time of possession (35:10), and 8th in turnover margin (+1.0). Virginia Saturday was -6 in turnover margin and -11:12 in time of possession.

“They get it, they keep it, they don’t turn it over; that enables them to put together long drives,” Groh said. “Then they are real good at the turnover deal, taking the ball away. And then when they take it away and they’ve got it, they don’t give it back for a long time. What’s happened with a lot of teams, the other teams just don’t have the ball long enough to score enough points.”

Dashes of Optimism

Amongst the rubble of one of Virginia’s most disappointing losses in Al Groh’s tenure is a recent track record of elasticity. Arguably the most dismal loss in each of the last two seasons was followed by wins in subsequent weeks. In 2007, Virginia was trounced 23-3 at Wyoming before its gripping nine-win season en route to the Gator Bowl. In 2008, Virginia had six turnovers in its 33-3 loss to Duke, the Blue Devils’ first ACC win in its last 26 tries; after the humiliating loss to the Blue Devils, though, the Cavs went on to win three straight contests, two of them against ACC opponents who were ranked at the time. Going back even further, Groh’s 2002 team lost its first two games before reeling off six straight wins on the way to a nine-win season.

In particular, Groh addressed common threads between the two teams that went on to win nine games after being disappointed in openers – the 2002 and 2007 squads.

“That history doesn’t mean that that’s a resource to do it again, other than to point out that this has been done, it can be done,” Groh said. “But what [those teams] did have in common was they stayed unified, they stayed consistent in their approach, they kept working, they kept believing in what they were doing in the system.

“I think it’s probably unlikely that those two teams were getting a lot of positive reinforcement either, but they got it from where it was necessary, and that was from the relationships that they had from each other, and the confidence that they had in the system.”

Another point in Virginia’s favor that was brought up Monday is that, in a scheduling oddity, this Saturday’s game is TCU’s opener. That helps Virginia in two ways. First, coaches and players were able to begin scouting and watching film over the summer, knowing that there would be no additional game film prior to the match-up.

“Our preparation for that game, internally as far as our scouting report work and whatnot, was similar to with an opening game – we know nothing is gonna change,” Groh said. “When we came in [Sunday] or when we finished our review of the previous game, we did not have to start our research.”

Of course, this could work the other way too in that the Horned Frogs have had all of training camp to prepare for Virginia.

“They have had the opportunity to have as many practices that they want to have on this game,” Groh said. “Our focus didn’t really turn to this game until [Sunday] evening, and then the players will be off [Monday] as is normally the case, as part of our preparation for the game as well as their recovery from the previous game, and having worked [Sunday] night. So, there’s the possibility that the opponent could have anywhere to as many as twice as many practices as we do.”

The second way that the scheduling helps the Cavs it is the simple fact that Virginia has played a game this season, but TCU has not. More specifically, Virginia’s new major contributors – Steve Greer , Cameron Johnson , Kris Burd , Landon Bradley , Vic Hall at QB, etc – potentially have a leg up on the corresponding players for the Frogs, including six new starters on offense and five on defense.

“I think it is a little bit of an advantage, because we got used to maybe what game speed is, and especially for young guy,” quarterback Marc Verica said. “To feel what it’s like, how physical you have to play.”

A Few Bad Eggs

On Groh’s teleconference Sunday evening, he emphasized that while some bad plays led to Virginia’s demise, that some players actually had one of the best games of their careers.

Steve Greer led the team in tackles against W&M.

One of the players who impressed Groh was Steve Greer at inside linebacker. In the first start of the redshirt freshman’s career, Greer led Virginia with 10 tackles. His only mistake, Groh said, came on a third down play late in the third quarter, when Greer “zoned out” and did not come out as he was supposed to do when Virginia went to its dime package on third down. Otherwise, Groh said, Greer was exceptional.

“He was well prepared for a number of plays that came up that were part of the preparation that were even one-time occurrences in the game,” Groh said. “He was right on ’em,”

Groh also said he was pleased with his outside linebacker rotation, in which he utilized Denzel Burrell , Aaron Clark and Cam Johnson. Burrell “clearly played the best that he has played at Virginia,” Groh said, and he was also pleased with the way Johnson handled the most extended action he was given – 72 plays, Groh said. Groh also clarified the rotation at OLB; with Clark able to play on either side of the field, Groh said that Clark’s role is to play on first and second down on whatever side is necessary in order to keep Burrell and Johnson fresh for the sub packages on third-down passing situations.

As for the defense as a whole, Groh said he was pleased with a unit that allowed just five third-down conversions in 20 attempts by William & Mary and that held the Tribe to a field goal after they took over on the six-yard line following Vic Hall’s muffed punt.

“Clearly there were a lot of positives in what the defense did, certainly typified by when they had to go on the field at the seven-yard line, and I think three plays later, there had been three yards gained,” Groh said. “That was a test of mental strength at that time too as well as just execution, because it wasn’t the first time that had really happened in the game.”

What Needs to Change

Obviously, there is plenty that needs to be fixed very quickly, and Groh has had plenty to say since Saturday’s game on how much needs to change, particularly with respect to turnovers. But, Groh also said that he also has to show a degree of patience with his new units.

“Two of the three systems on our team are new, and that’s the first time the players have ever been in a competitive situation with it,” Groh said. “I told myself in the beginning that there was a degree of patience that was gonna have to be exercised, and along with that patience there was gonna have to be, on my part, positive reinforcement to the players. That if everything didn’t look the way that I wanted it to look on the first time we did it in practice, the first time we did it in a game, was to show composure and confidence and belief that it’s gonna be good. I think that’s what players are looking for in leadership.”

On the other hand, Groh and his players echoed that some of the mistakes were simply befuddling mental errors that had nothing to do with scheme.

“Being able to snap the ball properly, carrying the ball high and tight so that you don’t fumble it, catching punts properly,” Groh said. “Those things, it doesn’t make any difference what your system is – you did that in the previous system.”

Ras-I Dowling and the Hoos will work on the breakdowns in the secondary.

One such weak area that was discussed at length was shotgun snaps, particularly the one that never made it to Vic Hall, resulting in a turnover. After watching it on film, Groh said that “the ball just stuck to the ground.” And that wasn’t the only bad snap in the shotgun. Sewell’s first snap after entering the game was not on target, either; it ended up around his helmet, and Sewell dropped the ball and recovered it in the backfield for a loss of nine yards. Groh admitted that Sewell should have caught the ball anyway, but nevertheless added this snap to the evidence that the shotgun snaps from center Jack Shields need to improve.

“That’s the center’s job, put the ball in the bull’s eye. It’s only going five yards, you’ve gotta be able to do it,” Groh said. “The other ball really never got off the ground. How did that happen? It’s as befuddling to me as it is to you.”

In addition, Groh said that miscommunications in the secondary leading to wide-open receivers downfield Saturday would be addressed this week. One such lapse led to a 48-yard completion, and ultimately to William & Mary’s only offensive touchdown; two others easily could have been touchdowns if Tribe quarterback R.J. Archer hadn’t narrowly missed his target.

“One of them was just a matter of attention on the part of players involved – the attention given to the pattern was not good enough,” Groh said. “The other one was just a product of confusion on the part of one player – actually a play that was practiced during the course of the week – and we were in a combination coverage against a bunch, and he made a wrong decision, thought the other player was taking him. … That was addressed immediately after the series, and addressing it’s not enough – we’ll give it some turns in practice here too to make sure that it’s physically taken care of.”

Just Walk Away

One play that was given a significant amount of attention Monday was the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on Jameel Sewell following his touchdown run. As Groh pointed out, the penalty could have been significant; on the ensuing kickoff that was penalized by 15 yards, W&M took the short kick by Robert Randolph back to the Tribe 43 yard-line. With good field position, the Tribe gained just 36 yards before a 43-yard field goal try, which William & Mary’s Brian Pate missed.

Groh made it clear that, in his eyes, Sewell’s celebration following the touchdown was not over the top, nor was B.W. Webb’s after his interception return for a Tribe touchdown, when he was also flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“I thought in a lot of ways, it was natural human reaction the other day,” Groh said. “But maybe we’ve got some droids that are writing the rules in terms of human reaction.”

On the flip side, Groh said, it’s on the players to know what the rule is, and, in general, to play it safe and “just walk away.”

“You just have to know, because you don’t know the mindset of the guy who is calling you,” Groh said. “They are all different. You get a different guy every week, so all you can do is drop the ball and walk away in order to be safe. That’s all you can do. Otherwise you are putting yourself in jeopardy.

“Now, that’s a hard thing for an energetic, young player that’s just done something positive. You all put yourself in his position; what would you do? Be a grouch?”

And, Groh noted that Saturday was not the first time that he disagreed with an official ruling of what constitutes unsportsmanlike conduct.

“Wali Lundy was always [pointing to the sky to] praise God when he scored,” Groh said. “Wali Lundy was in a game against a MAC team, ran into the end zone, simply pointed at the sky, and the official flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct. I said to the official – this is a couple years ago – ‘You can’t even celebrate God anymore? That’s all he’s doing.'”

In walking the fine line of discussing his disagreement with officiating without getting himself in trouble, Groh jokingly offered that the media assist him in changing the rule.

“If any of you would like to start a petition and send it around to the gentleman who is in charge of all this nationally, it would be much appreciated,” Groh said. “And you won’t get fined for it.”

Worth Noting

  • Unlike last week in which the Virginia depth chart was released at Monday’s press conference, it will not be released until Tuesday for the remainder of the season.
  • Groh made no indication who would start at quarterback, nor did he say if Robert Randolph would continue on kickoffs. He did say that there would be no “significant” personnel changes.
  • Virginia has now lost its last four openers. TCU, meanwhile, has won its last six openers under coach Gary Patterson, four of which were on the road.
  • The only other time Virginia and TCU have met was in the 1994 Independence Bowl, which the Cavaliers won 20-10.
  • This will be the first ACC opponent the Horned Frogs have faced since they lost to North Carolina 31-10 in 1997, the year before Gary Patterson debuted with TCU as the defensive coordinator. TCU has another ACC opponent this season, though, when it takes on Clemson on Sept. 26, also on the road.

Worth Quoting

“That was a pretty exciting play, and showed the explosive nature of the player himself. That wasn’t a spread play, that wasn’t an I-formation play, that wasn’t a single-wing play. That could have happened out of any system – that was a Vic Hall play all the way. He quickly saw the opportunity, and had the speed to make something out of it, so it is confirmation of some of the explosiveness that he brings to the position.” – Al Groh on Vic Hall’s 34-yard touchdown run on Virginia’s opening drive Saturday.

“They’re two of the better runners on the team. Clearly, they had two excellent runs for touchdowns, so in terms of allowing the playmakers to make plays, to inhibit them from doing such would be taking the ball out of their hands in a way that perhaps the defense would have difficulty doing so. Some of those runs came on scrambles, which added to the total, but I would say that it’s unlikely that we’ll see the number that high in the future.” – Al Groh on the frequency of Hall and Sewell’s carries Saturday.

“I know that a lot of the teams that are majoring in this system are Big 12 teams. This style of offense has prolificated throughout high school football – lots of teams are running it. Texas is an area where it’s very abundant – in fact, the coaches there at North Texas achieved tremendous success in high school in it, and went directly to the job at North Texas. Many of the quarterbacks who are playing in the Big 12 in these systems have been in this system now literally for eight, nine years, because it’s what they played in high school, and then they came and redshirted for a year, and now at Kansas and Missouri for example, the three previous three or four years, both those teams had great success after switching to this offense. Those quarterbacks chose their schools and were recruited by those schools principally because they knew this offense almost before the coaches did. I think that probably the learning curve is probably a little bit more significant or a little bit more extreme for [our] players than if they were players that had a long-term background in it.” – Al Groh on assessing his team’s learning curve in the spread offense compared with other teams who run it.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail to someoneGoogle+share on TumblrShare on Reddit