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- The opponent: Indiana Hoosiers (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten; 2008 record: 3-9, 1-7 Big Ten)
- Television: 3:30 p.m.
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The last time the Virginia football team played in Scott Stadium, the Cavaliers fell 30-14 to nationally ranked TCU. Only 48,336 fans attended that lopsided loss, the lowest number at UVa home game in 10 years (the 1999 game against Buffalo had 40,100 in a pre-expansion Scott Stadium).
There were even fewer people in the stands in the closing moments of the fourth quarter and those who remained semi-mockingly cheered when the Cavaliers attempted a pass of more than 20 yards in the final five minutes before scoring on two touchdown bombs that brought real cheers. Earlier in the game, boos rained down on the field, a trend easily noticeable in the high stakes world of sports. Yes, even college sports.
Will Barker and the Hoos are looking for their second straight win.
Al Groh was asked about the trend of booing home crowds at his weekly press conference.
“I think that it’s easy to keep everything in perspective. I guess I got home about I got home about 11:00 last night in 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 and watch the end of the game with her,” Groh said. “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 them.
“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 what they want is for their team to play better. It doesn’t necessarily. I haven’t ever been around a circumstance where players were saying, sounds like they’re getting on us, so let’s play better!”
The booing discussion aside, the fans should be in a good mood prior to kickoff Saturday. After all, the Cavaliers are retiring the No. 3 jersey of Anthony Poindexter, former Virginia safety and current assistant football coach, in a special pre-game ceremony. The on-field presentation is scheduled for 3:13 p.m., approximately 20 minutes before kickoff. Considering the popularity of Poindexter, the reception should be boisterous.
The question for the 2009 squad is whether it can translate the positive energy into an inspired performance against Indiana, a team the program has never faced. Coming to Charlottesville out of the Big Ten, Groh said the Hoosiers fit the physical, rough-and-tumble personality of their conference though they do play with a more wide open offense than the proverbial ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ style. The visitors, for example, list a third wide receiver on their depth chart instead of a fullback.
“We are pretty impressed with a physical team like this. They’ll play the most physical style of anybody we’ve played so far this year, so what typically is the longstanding reputation of the Big Ten, although clearly that’s changed, the style of the teams, the Michigan offense and what Purdue has done over recent years, but still known as a smash mouth league, and they clearly play a physical style,” Groh said. “They have that kind of players, I’m sure they played that way in high school, too. So it will be a real good challenge for our team.”
Let’s take a closer look at the match-up with Indiana.
- Offense: Multiple
- Returning starters: 6
- 2008 PPG: 20.5
- 2008 YPP: 5.4
- Offensive strengths: Offensive line, first down rushing efficiency, experience
- Offensive questions: Overall running game, pass protection
- Offensive players to watch: QB Ben Chappell LT Roger Saffold, WR Tandon Doss
Bonus Box – Offense
The Hoosiers’ offense has found more success in the air than on the ground so far in 2009 – 1,166 passing yards vs. 655 rushing yards. Regardless of the choice, Indiana can eat up yards in a hurry; the visitors have recorded 18 offensive plays this season of 20 yards or more.
Quarterback Ben Chappell, a 6’3″ junior, has been the arm behind the air assault. He has posted 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions to go with a 63.4% completion percentage. Chappell is gaining a reputation as a big play quarterback after his first five career TD passes all trumped 30 yards (33, 43, 43, 64, 77). So far in 2009, Chappell has dialed up 12 completions of 20 yards or more. Keep an eye out of the “pistol” formation with Chappell (the QB lines up four yards behind center and the running back lines up three or more yards behind the QB).
“Indiana is a very, very diverse scheme. They’re doing some pretty cool stuff. I’m impressed by their scheme,” Groh said. “The quarterback obviously is a player who has the capacity to handle a lot of variation in what they do. Many different personnel groups, some very unusual formations. They’ve got the whole passing package – they’ve got quite a bit in the control [passing and] most likely to be completed game, they’ve got a nice play action game, they will take their shots up the field. I wouldn’t say it’s beyond a normal amount but they’re going to threaten you up the field and he handles it all very, very well. You can see he’s very smart, very accurate with what he’s done. He’s impressive in how he plays.”
Indiana’s offense is diverse and dangerous thanks in large part to some talented skill players. Wide receiver Tandon Doss, a 6’3″ sophomore, is one of those players. He has led the team in receiving all five games this season while averaging 94.0 yards per game and 14.7 yards per catch. A threat to pick up carriers as a receiver or yards as a returner, Doss ranks third in the Big Ten with 131.4 all-purpose yards per game. Last week against Ohio State, he proved he could produce against one of the nation’s most reputable defenses with 96 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Another playmaking threat is Mitchell Evans, a junior receiver. Evans has 125 yards receiving on the season. But Evans is also a potential change-up quarterback for Indiana’s offense – he played QB against Central Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State in 2008 and has taken snaps against Western Michigan, Akron, Michigan, and Ohio State in 2009. When Evans shifts under center, he is a threat to run or pass and an option running play is one of the Hoosiers’ preferred calls for Evans; he was the pitch-man on a 25-yard touchdown run from Doss against Michigan.
In the more traditional ground game, redshirt freshman Darius Willis ranks sixth in the Big Ten by averaging 61.0 yards per game. He leads Indy in carries (45), yards (244), rushing touchdowns (3), and yards per carry (5.4). Indiana named Willis its co-offensive scout team player of the year in 2008. Demetrius McCray, Trea Burgess and Bryan Payton all have been involved in the running game at times in the past; McCray has one less carry than Willis on the season and has posted 237 yards and 1 TD.
Up front, the Hoosiers’ offensive line has been a cohesive unit the past four weeks and the starting five played every snap against Michigan. Rodger Saffold, Justin Pagan, Will Matte, Pete Saxon and James Brewer (left to right) have an imposing look – they average 307.6 pounds and only Matte is shorter than 6’5″.
- Defense: 4-3
- Returning starters: 8
- 2008 PPG Allowed: 35.2
- 2008 YPP Allowed: 5.8
- Defensive Strengths: Defensive ends, safeties
- Defensive questions: Run defense, third down defense, interior defensive line
- Defensive players to watch: LB Matt Mayberry, DE Jammie Kirlew, DE Greg Middleton
Bonus Box – Defense
When it comes to Indiana’s defense the conversation has to start with a pair of dynamic defensive ends. Seniors Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew have combined for 43 career sacks, the highest total for any tandem in the nation. Middleton’s 23 career sacks rank third in IU history while Kirlew’s 20 place him fifth. Middleton has seven multi-sack games in his career and Kirlew ranks second in the Big Ten and eighth nationally with 9.5 tackles for loss; he has forced three fumbles as well.
Groh noted that both players are “really, really good pass rushers” and candidates for the Ted Hendricks Award for the best defensive end in the country (Chris Long won that award in 2007). Middleton and Kirlew vs. Landon Bradley (left tackle) and Will Barker (right tackle) is one of the key match-ups in this weekend’s game.
The two ends are key components of a defense that has turned up the heat since the start of 2007. Indiana has averaged 2.9 sacks per game over that span of games, which ranks second in the Big Ten to Penn State (94 to 87). IU has piled up 200 Tackles For Loss in that same time. In 2009, the Hoosiers rank second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally with 7.60 TFLs per game and 17th nationally with 14 sacks.
When it comes to tackling, look no further than Indy’s linebacking corps. Will Patterson, Matt Mayberry, and Tyler Replogle rank 1-2-3 on the tackling list so the trio is going to make some stops Saturday. Mayberry, a senior that has started 17 straight games, leads the way with 36 tackles on the season; he had 10 tackles against both Michigan and Ohio State. Patterson, a senior that also had 10 tackles against OSU, has 32 tackles on the season, including 24 of the solo variety. Replogle, a junior that plays on the strong side, has 30 tackles; he posted a 19-tackle game last season at Purdue. Keep an eye on Mayberry in pursuit from the weakside and Mikell Simpson ‘s cutback success.
The Indiana secondary, meanwhile, is making more plays in 2009 than a season ago. Through five games, the DBs have helped IU match 2008’s interception total of six, a season mark that tied a school record last year. Senior safety Austin Thomas has two INTs in 2009. Fellow senior safety Nick Polk has three pass break-ups, 2 Tackles For Loss, and 23 total tackles this season.
One other player to keep an eye on the secondary is senior Ray Fisher, who switched to defense after playing receiver previously. He has recorded 23 tackles, 2 pass break-ups, 2 passes defended and 1 forced fumble so far in 2009.
The Special Teams
Fisher is also a key part of the Hoosiers’ kick return unit, which has excelled in the first five games this season. Fisher leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh nationally with an average of 34.6 yards per return. He returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Akron, covering 91 yards on the scoring run. Fisher also handles punt return duties; he averaged 9.6 yards per return in 2008 but has just four returns for 24 yards in 2009.
Doss is Fisher’s kick return counterpart. He has averaged 24.2 yards per return so far in 2009.
“They’re as diverse in their special teams schemes as they are on their offensive schemes, so it would appear it’s part of the program philosophy, and they’re doing a nice job of finding ways to put their players in good positions to make plays,” Groh said.
Placekicker Nick Freeland is in his first year as a starter. The redshirt freshman has made 9 of 12 field goals and all 14 of his PAT attempts. Freeland’s kickoffs have produced two touchbacks. Punter Chris Hagerup averaged 42.4 yards per punt in 2008 and he has averaged 40.6 yards per punt in 2009. Hagerup has forced three fair catches while placing four kicks inside the 20.
The Final Word
Virginia’s offense, despite an outburst at Southern Miss, is still struggling to consistently produce points – UVa has scored 20 or less in 8 of the last 10 games. The defense put together a very strong performance against North Carolina, but has not consistently produced the pressure needed to stuff the run. The special teams have yet to have a complete afternoon, the punting team being the most recent group to struggle. In other words, the Hoos remain an inconsistent operation and a tough team to figure out.
What does that mean for this weekend’s contest with Indiana? It’s hard to tell exactly, but if you look at match-ups, this should be an interesting one. IU’s strong defensive pass rush against an improving UVa O-Line. Indy’s passing offense and big-play potential vs. Virginia’s strong secondary and solid pass defense. The Hoosiers’ kick return game vs. the up-and-down Cavalier special teams.
In the end, however, Poindexter’s jersey ceremony may be the emotional boost the Hoos need to add win No. 2 to the schedule.
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