Press Conference Notes ’09: Indiana

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OLB Cam Johnson had three tackles and a quarterback hurry against North Carolina.

The Cavaliers won Saturday’s contest against North Carolina at least in part because they had a good idea what was coming at them. Diligence in two weeks of preparation and subsequent play recognition in the game, Virginia coach Al Groh emphasized, is what allowed the defense to hold the Tar Heels to just three points and 174 total yards.

Just about the only connection that Virginia has to Indiana, though, is that a former head coach of the Indiana football team is the grandfather of a Cavalier volleyball player. The Hoos meet the Hoosiers for the first time this Saturday for Homecoming in Charlottesville where the Cavs will emerge from the Scott Stadium tunnel coming off a win for the first time since Oct. 18, 2008. For Groh and the coaching staff, preparing for a Big Ten squad – even if Indiana isn’t one of the conference’s big ticket teams – will require quite a bit more homework than an ACC opponent.

“One thing for the coaches today [Monday], it’s pretty clear it’s a different kind of day from other weeks, because we don’t have any of that built-in information about the team,” Groh said. “How they tried to play us in the past, who the personnel is, we don’t know anybody from recruiting and what his natural speed is, and so it’s taken deeper research. It’s a fun project to be on, but it’s very challenging. That makes today a very, very important day because everything that follows from today is based on what is discovered during the course of the day from the coaches.”

What’s more, while Indiana has traditionally been a cellar-dweller in the Big Ten, it appears that this year the Hoosiers should be taken more seriously. Michigan needed a late touchdown to defeat Indiana 36-33 at home two weeks ago, and the Hoosiers’ only other loss of the season was a 33-14 defeat to No. 9 Ohio State.

“Indiana is a very, very diverse scheme. They’re doing some pretty cool stuff,” Groh said. “Clearly in having played back-to-back teams like Ohio State and Michigan, there is not much higher level of competition that their players will be exposed to. So I’m sure they’re very confident in the fact that whatever they meet here – we would like to say would be of that level, but we’ll have to prove ourselves that we’re like the guys from the Horseshoe and the Big House.”

Moving Up

With the Cavs’ first win of the season, Groh was naturally asked about the facets of Virginia’s play that have improved since week one. In general, Groh said, his team now knows what it needs to do to win – and in particular, how one poor aspect of Virginia’s performance can erase a number of positives, as turnovers did against William & Mary and special teams did against Southern Mississippi.

“The players have graphic examples just this season of how the result can be dramatically different as a result of those two circumstances,” Groh said. “We see on every level that the team that didn’t get any turnovers one week gets five the next week and they win, or the team turns it over four times the next week and they lose. Maybe they played the same game on offense and defense. It’s such a determinant that it almost trumps everything else that goes on with the game.”

One thing that changed as the Cavs went from winless to 1-3, players said, is that they watched film of old Virginia practices – in particular, they watched some of the Hoos’ reputably hardest workers, like Chris Long , Cedric Peerman , and Darryl Blackstock.

“Coach Groh put on a tape of a few old guys – how they practiced, and the difference in how we were practicing,” corner Chase Minnifield said. “We really were trying to change work ethic and how fast we practiced.”

Chris Cook has shown a “measureable difference” in his performance since week one, Virginia coach Al Groh said.

On an individual level, Groh noted several players who flourished against the Tar Heels. Groh said that the offensive line opened up holes for Mikell Simpson that allowed his 100-yard rushing day. Brandon Woods , filling in for an injured Rodney McLeod at safety against the Heels, was “outstanding,” Groh said – Woods had four tackles and a quarterback hurry. He also noted that corner Ras-I Dowling has come into his own after a slow start, and that fellow corner Chris Cook has shown a “measureable difference” in his performance after he appeared “rusty” in week one. As for the younger players, Groh said that both Steve Greer and Cam Johnson have shown week-to-week improvement that culminated in excellent performances Saturday.

Groh also noted that Jameel Sewell has improved in his downfield passing, which has shown in his last two outings. Though his stats against Southern Mississippi were more impressive – 312 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception against SMU, 136 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions against UNC – Sewell was also quite accurate against the Heels, impressing Groh on several occasions.

“I thought anybody could see there were four really well-thrown balls,” Groh said. “One is a touchdown pass [called back by an illegal procedure penalty] that unfortunately gets forgotten, but it was an excellent read on his part and he got the ball out of there right on time and that was an excellent throw. The ball that Jameel threw to Kris Burd on 2nd-and-18 over on the sideline was a real rope; and two balls that we led off the possession following the field goal, two balls that he threw both for 15 to 18 yard gains back to back were really well thrown balls.”

Even on his incomplete passes on shots downfield, Sewell put the ball where only his receiver could catch it. Groh approved of one such attempt, in which he attempted to connect with Tim Smith on a fly route down the sideline in tight one-on-one coverage.

“They’re like 3-point shots, they’re harder than the put-backs, but it was right there where we had a good shot at it and it was a small opening,” Groh said. “Their player had good position, but you wouldn’t tell the player to do anything differently with the next throw.”

Tired and Dirty

Vic Hall appeared on offense, defense, and special teams against the Tar Heels.

When Vic Hall was sidelined with a hip injury following the Cavs’ opening loss to William & Mary, Jameel Sewell received nearly all the snaps in subsequent games. After his breakout performance against SMU led to 34 Cavalier points, there seemed to be no reason for there to be a QB controversy any longer.

Hall recognized Sewell’s emergence, and told Groh in a meeting last week that he felt Sewell should remain at quarterback, and that he wanted only a role for himself that would be best for the team. With Hall’s return to health, though, Groh was not about to let him be forgotten – “I told Vic, ‘We’re going to find ways to keep you tired and dirty,'” Groh said. And so, Hall lined up at quarterback, slot receiver, holder, and safety on Groh’s dime package against the Tar Heels.

“He’s just one of our best players,” Groh said. “He’s able to keep it all straight. For not having practiced any defense since preparing for the Clemson game last year, he played two different spots on the dime, and he played a number of positions on offense. So this is just a football guy.”

“To me, Vic’s living the life,” Minnifield said.

As for the punt return role – which is now occupied by Minnifield, whose comfort in that spot has steadily increased – Groh indicated that Hall is unlikely to return punts for the rest of the season, though he didn’t rule it out.

“There does become a point of reason here,” Groh said, “where we have to say, how many things can we ask this player to do?”

Forward Thinking

On his media teleconference Sunday evening, Groh said that as soon as he hung up the phone, he would be done talking about Virginia’s first win of the season against North Carolina. At Monday’s press conference, Groh stayed true to his word; when asked about Virginia’s success in the third quarter against North Carolina, Groh’s answer was not pleasant.

“I’ve been walking this line closely and entertaining questions on the past, but I think I’m going to stick with the way my whole day has been: I’m looking into the future here, so I’m not going back into the past here about that last game that we had,” Groh said. “In a polite way I think I’m saying I’m refusing to talk about the North Carolina game.”

When a reporter followed up by asking about the importance of the third quarter in general, Groh answered sarcastically, “The third quarter is really important. It’s one of the four most important quarters in the game.”

Whether the players simply picked up on Groh’s cue or whether they were instructed beforehand, they too were careful not to answer any questions directly about the game against the Tar Heels.

“Honestly, I really don’t want to talk too much about Saturday – I’ll get in trouble if I talk about that,” linebacker Steve Greer said. “Right now, I think there’s 100 percent focus on the game ahead of us.”

Worth Noting

  • Virginia defensive backs coach and former Cavalier player Anthony Poindexter will have his jersey retired Saturday in a pregame ceremony. Poindexter was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 1998, and is one of two two-time All-Americans in school history.
  • Virginia is 42-40-2 in Homecoming games since 1923. The Cavaliers are 15-3 since 1991, however, and 6-2 under Groh.
  • Indiana becomes the fourth Big Ten team that Virginia has played in Al Groh’s tenure. The Cavaliers fell to Wisconsin in 2001 and Penn State in 2002; they topped PSU in 2001 and defeated Minnesota in the 2005 Music City Bowl.
  • All-time, Virginia is 4-11 against current Big Ten schools. The next two games could likely come against Indiana, as the Cavaliers are scheduled to play the Hoosiers in Bloomington in 2011.
  • Groh said that he will “keep the competition active throughout” the season at placekicker between sophomore Robert Randolph and true freshman Drew Jarrett . Randolph has handled field goals all season, while Jarrett converted his first career extra point attempt on Saturday.
  • Groh said that he would feel comfortable having Randolph kick a field goal with the line of scrimmage at or inside the 30 yard-line – or a field goal distance of 47 yards or less.
  • After playing every snap against North Carolina, right guard B.J. Cabbell sat out practice Sunday and Monday, Groh said, as he continues to battle injuries.

Worth Quoting

“I got home about 11:00 last night on time to see Heath Miller make his second touchdown catch, and at that time it looked like the game was pretty well in hand, but if Heath Miller is in the game, my wife is going to watch it until the end. So I was happy to sit up with her and watch the end of the game. Toward the latter part of the game, the Pittsburgh fans were quite vocal in booing the Pittsburgh Steelers, if you can imagine that. So just take that as a perspective-orienting thing. They just won two Super Bowls in the last three years, and they are winning the game, and the fans are booing. The interesting thing is the psychology of that, if anybody believes that that helps anybody play any better. Now, if it makes thousands of people feel good, then I guess that’s good for thousands of people. But if what they want is for their team to play better, I haven’t ever been around a circumstance where players were saying, ‘It sounds like they’re getting on us, so let’s play better.'” – Al Groh on fans booing their teams at home.

“The last couple of years, we probably were much more nickel-oriented in the use of our personnel. This year because of the personnel available we’ve been more dime-oriented.” – Al Groh on using the dime package more than the nickel this season.

“A lot of my guys on the team were saying, ‘I already know what you were thinking – da-na-na! da-na-na! (ESPN SportsCenter theme)” – Chase Minnifield on his dropped interception against William & Mary.

“I’m real cool with Darrell [Green], and he’s real cool with my Dad, and our families have gotten real close since we’ve met.” – Chase Minnifield on his relationship with NFL Hall of Famer Darrell Green, father of Virginia receiver Jared Green , who roomed with Chase in their freshman years.

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