State of the Program, Part 3: The Defense

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Al Groh won championships as a defensive coach in the NFL.

During his 13 years in the NFL, Al Groh earned a reputation as a defensive guru. As the linebackers coach of a dominant LT-led defense with the Giants and as the coordinator of some stingy units with the Patriots, he went to Super Bowls with both teams.

So when Groh took the job as Virginia’s head coach in 2000, many fans were hopeful he would build a championship-level defense in Charlottesville. Sure, his 3-4 scheme was almost nonexistent in college, but he won big with it in the pros. Could he do the same here?

The short answer: Not yet.

The long answer? I’m glad you asked.

Going into Groh’s fifth season at UVa, let’s take a thorough look at how his defense has evolved and progressed. And make no mistake: The defense has progressed. Last year’s performance by the “Orange Crush” represented a major upgrade over the previous five years. Keep in mind that the Cavalier defense, so good through most of the ’90s, slipped badly in George Welsh’s final two years. (Remember the 63-point Illinois uprising in the 1999 Bowl? Or the 30-plus points scored by half of UVa’s opponents in 2000?)

Groh inherited a subpar defense with personnel ill-suited to his scheme, and it got even worse in 2001 and 2002. Things took a turn for the better in 2003, however, and improved by leaps and bounds last season. There’s no denying it. Just check out the most important defensive stats over the course of the Groh era…

Points per game

2001: 27.6

2002: 24.9

2003: 20.4

2004: 17.7

Total yards per game

2001: 430.6

2002: 424.6

2003: 384.7

2004: 312.8

Rushing yards per game

2001: 202.8

2002: 208.9

2003: 161.7

2004: 118.1