|Cavalier Daily Staff Writer|
Virginia (1-2) is coming off their emotional win over the South Carolina Gamecocks two weeks ago in Charlottesville, and has enjoyed the distinct advantage of a bye week. Akron is 0-3 on the season, after last weekend's close conference loss to Western Michigan.
Virginia Coach Al Groh considers this week a turning point in the Cavaliers' season.
"Teams that are going to do something during this season are teams that make a move around this time," Groh said in Wednesday's ACC coaches teleconference.
Sometimes bye weeks can work against a team, especially after a big win. Virginia freshman defensive end Kwakou Robinson said he doesn't feel that Virginia will fall victim, though.
"I don't think we've lost any momentum at all," Robinson said. "I think the young guys are taking it well."
Robinson and the rest of the Virginia defense have seen steady improvement, allowing South Carolina only 261 yards of total offense and forcing seven turnovers.
The Zips' one-touchdown loss to Central Michigan followed lopsided losses to another ACC team, Maryland, and the Iowa Hawkeyes. Despite the losses, Akron's offense has looked solid, producing 230 passing yards per game. A big part of that offense is sophomore quarterback Charlie Frye.
"We don't shy away from the so-called BCS conferences," Frye said. "Personally, I like playing those games. It's a chance to prove that I can play with these guys."
The theme for Virginia this year has clearly been the impact of the highly regarded freshman class, which continues to impress. With the return of sophomore defensive end Chris Canty, many expected Robinson to start on the bench, but Groh said that would not happen.
"I think [the starting defense] will stay the same, with Schmidt and Kwakou," Groh said.
On offense, Virginia needs another solid performance from junior quarterback Matt Schaub, who played well against South Carolina, completing 66 percent of his passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns. Schaub's career has been marked by inconsistency, but recently he has steadied his erratic ways.
"We need the same guy every week" Groh said in reference to Schaub. Schaub has excellent run support in Virginia's four-man tailback rotation anchored by freshman Wali Lundy and sophomore Alvin Pearman. Both average over 4.0 yards per carry.
Akron's defense has given up 125 points in three games, including the 44-14 loss to Maryland. Seniors Ryan Schultz and Ryan Gargasz are the foundation of the line, keeping blockers off star senior linebacker Ryan Myers.
Clearly, the Zips will need a better showing from their Ryan-Ryan-Ryan triumvirate at defensive tackle if they hope to contain the Cavaliers.
The Zips need a win to turn their season around, and a victory for Virginia would send the Cavaliers into the heart of the ACC season on a two-game winning streak.
starts fast, eyes school mark for sacks
As if that’s not enough pressure for a young linebacker, Blackstock promptly added more, declaring that he intended to break the Cavaliers’ career sack record.
As any football fan worth his fantasy league knows, 56 was the number worn by Lawrence Taylor, merely one of the most dominant linebackers ever to play the game.
Virginia’s sack record is held by Chris Slade, the first Cavalier to be voted first-team All-American for two seasons.
Blackstock has at least one thing in common with Taylor and Slade. Like them, he grew up on the Peninsula. Taylor is from Williamsburg, Slade from Tabb.
Blackstock hails from Newport News, where he recorded 29 sacks as a senior at Heritage High in 2000. He added 21 sacks in a post-graduate season at Fork Union last year, prompting coach John Shuman to call him one of the best ever at that school.
It didn’t take Blackstock long to make his presence known at Virginia.
He made his college debut on the second series of the Cavaliers’ opener against Colorado State. By halftime, he had his first sack. He finished with seven tackles in 59 plays.
Blackstock has been a fixture in the two games since.
Through three games, he’s tied for second on the team with 24 tackles. He has a team-high two sacks and three quarterback pressures.
Asked if Blackstock reminded him of himself when he was a freshman, senior linebacker Angelo Crowell shook his head.
“He’s ahead of where I was,” Crowell said. “He knows a little bit more about football. My first year, I just went out there and played.”
Blackstock’s development has been even more impressive considering that prior to this season, he had spent his entire career at defensive end. “He’s almost really kind of started from scratch,” coach Al Groh said.
At 220 pounds, Blackstock was not going to play defensive end in college. At 6-foot-4, he looks almost lean.
“I know I need to get bigger,” he said. “That’s hard to do during the season. I think I can get up to 240 without losing much of my speed.”
Speed, and a relentless motor, are Blackstock’s primary assets as a pass rusher.
“I just call him the freak,” Blackstock’s roommate, defensive end Kwakou Robinson, said. “Because he never stops.
“Even when we’re in my room, he doesn’t stop jumping on my bed, stuff like that. You’ve got to hit him to make him stop.”
Opponents have discovered that, too, and have begun moving a tight end to Blackstock’s side. He’s had his setbacks — Groh said he was “schooled’’ several times at Florida State. Still, one of Virginia’s outside linebacker spots appears to be Blackstock’s for the next four years.
“He’s 20 percent towards what I think he could be,” Groh said.
High praise from a coach who knows linebackers. Groh coached Taylor for the New York Giants, and took pains to point out he’s not comparing Blackstock to the hall of famer.
By giving Blackstock 56, Groh said he wanted to let him know he thought he could be a special player.
Blackstock received the message.
“He wouldn’t let me wear any other number,” Blackstock said. “When he told me about No. 56, the first person I thought of was Lawrence Taylor.”
Now, all Blackstock has to do is live up to it.
|Cavaliers assuming nothing vs. Zips|
|Al Groh says today's game will be a litmus test for his team, which hasn't played since a Sept. 7 victory over South Carolina.|
By DOUG DOUGHTY
THE ROANOKE TIMES
There was no doomsayer who looked at Virginia's football schedule and didn't concede the Cavaliers a victory over their homecoming opponent, Akron.
Nothing has happened to change that point of view, with Akron (0-3) already having suffered losses by 30 points or more to a pair of unranked opponents, Iowa and Maryland.
So, how does UVa head coach Al Groh sell the Zips, who come to Scott Stadium as 22 1/2 -point underdogs?
"It's not about them right now," Groh said. "It's about us."
In other words, Groh wants the Cavaliers (1-2) to continue the progress that was evident Sept.7 in a 34-21 victory over 21st-ranked South Carolina.
Virginia benefitted from seven Gamecocks turnovers, including six fumbles, but also held the visitors to 262 yards in total offense. It was the first time in the 15-game Groh "era" that an opponent had failed to gain 300 yards against the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers are coming off an open date, an opportunity for Groh to "take stock" - as he put it - following three games against opponents all ranked in the Top 25 at some point.
Virginia lost its opener to Colorado State 35-29, followed by a 40-19 setback at Florida State that left the Cavaliers 0-2 for the first time since 1987.
Virginia's next three games are against teams with losing records - Akron, Wake Forest and Duke - the latter two on the road.
"Training camp and those first three games ... that was then and this is now," Groh said. "The teams that are going to do something during the course of the season are the teams that make a move kind of at this time."
In Akron, the Cavaliers face a team that was impressive for a half last Saturday, zipping to a 17-3 lead before falling to unbeaten Central Michigan 24-17 in Akron.
"We better be ready to block pressure," Groh said. "You let one guy free and he makes a hit on your quarterback or he makes a hit at the handoff point, it can change a game right there. That's a constant threat."
Apparently, the Zips haven't been breaking free too often because they are one of two Division I-A programs without a sack to date.
There is cause for concern in Akron quarterback Charlie Frye, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound sophomore who passed for 2,053 yards and nine touchdowns in 2001 and already ranks seventh on the Zips' career passing list.
"We better be able to defend this quarterback and be able to put pressure on him, which nobody's been able to do," Groh said. "Last year, they called over 350 passes and were sacked 20 times. This year, he's rarely hit."
Akron also boasts the No.6 rusher in school history, senior tailback Brandon Payne, who missed the last five games of the 2001 season after knee surgery and has an ankle injury that will prevent him from playing today.
Akron has not rushed for 100 yards, as a team, in any of its first three games. The Zips are 104th out of 117 Division I-A teams in rushing defense, but their opponent is No.110 against the run.
Virginia, too, has injuries that will sideline center Kevin Bailey for the season and probably cause outside linebacker Raymond Mann to miss today's 3p.m. start.
"Whatever happened to the 1 o'clock game?" said Groh, who was personally responsible for the 3p.m. start. "We picked this particular one in the interest of the fans. It's homecoming weekend and there's a lot of activities the night before and in the morning.
"I wanted to make sure nothing got in the way of the crowd's ability to get to the game."
Far be it from me to shovel dirt on a guy while he's down, but there's been new, damaging evidence in the case against Roanoke Times sportswriter Randy "Nappy" King.
King was just beginning to dig out from underneath a pile of angry Marshall fans last weekend when I was witness to a horrifying incident involving Franklin County sportswriting icon Steve Marsh.
"Scoop," as Marsh is known in Franklin County, was preparing for a hard-hitting post-game interview with Emory & Henry coach Lou Wacker following the Wasps' 13-10 victory over Ferrum when his heel became tangled in a 2-foot-high rope ringing the sideline.
The harder Scoop pulled, the more resistance he got from the rope, until he did a face-downer on the rain-slickened turf at W.G. Adams Stadium.
"Worst pratfall involving a sports editor since last year at Halifax County," was my observation.
Readers of this column may remember an account of a Halifax County game last year in which Marsh's fellow Southside heavyweight, Tucker McLaughlin, was upended by Halifax running back Alonzo Coleman and inadvertently bared his behind to the Comets' crowd.
(If it's true, as McLaughlin recently contended, that he needs to get under 350 pounds, you have to wonder how some 180-pound scatback could flatten him. Be that as it may, Marsh's dive was one of the most memorable I've witnessed).
"Not even close," Marsh said.
It turns out, Marsh had another candidate.
"The worst I ever saw was the night Randy King fell in the fountain at Victory Stadium," Marsh said.
I thought I had heard all the "Nappy" stories (did you hear, they sent him a $963 bill for denting a guardrail in Rockbridge County?), but I'd never heard the one about Victory Stadium.
King was on the way to College Station, Texas, on Friday and was unavailable for comment -- kind of like he was unavailable for the Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch ("I was, too, available," he said.).
"We hear Al Groh talking all the time about having your face in the fan," said media gadfly Jeff White, King's longtime sidekick on the Virginia Tech beat. "I can't wait till Nappy gets back so we can hear what it was like to have his face in the fountain."
IN NO WAY WOULD I dismiss King's column on the Marshall-Virginia Tech game, but on matters of taste, let me share this tidbit: Here's a 46-year-old guy with such questionable musical taste that the only two albums he ever purchased were "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple and "Tres Hombres" by ZZ Top.
"The only song I can remember by ZZTop is 'Sharp-Dressed Man,'" Notebook Plus music critic Robert Anderson said Friday. Sharp-dressed man? Hmmmm. Couldn't be Nappy.
MY APOLOGIES TO the legion of critics who dislike the silly tangents toward which this column sometimes deteriorates. The recruiting scene has quieted down, but I did see something interesting today, made available to me by Roanoke Times poobah Andrew Svec.
Svec passed along an item from the Centre Daily Times, which serves State College, Pa., home to Penn State. It concerns backup Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson, a Varina High School product who scored two touchdowns for the Nittany Lions in their 40-7 romp over Nebraska.
In an interview with reporter Marc Weiszer, Robinson said he signed with Penn State after talking with former Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick, now with the Atlanta Falcons after his selection with the No. 1 pick of the 2001 NFL Draft.
"He told me that Virginia Tech really didn't get you ready to be an NFL quarterback," Robinson said. "He told me if he had to do it all again he might have gone to another school. He said if I'm serious about being a college quarterback that I might want to go to Penn State or some other schools that get you ready for the NFL."
Apparently, that's not too far removed from what Vick told his brother, Marcus, before MV2's recruiting heated up last year. Marcus Vick eventually signed with the Hokies, but only after former offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle resigned to become the new coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.
New Tech quarterback coach Kevin Rogers obviously received the blessing of Michael Vick, who clearly was not fond of Bustle's approach, but, if you can play for the national championship and enjoy back-to-back 11-win seasons with Bustle as your offensive coordinator, he must have something going for him.
BUSTLE, BY THE WAY, has struggled in his inaugural season at Louisiana-Lafayette, whose 36-17 loss to Houston was its 16th straight in Conference USA Games. The Ragin' Cajuns also have lost to Texas A 31-7 and Minnesota 35-11.
Louisiana-Lafayette is averaging fewer than 300 yards in total offense and already has 16 turnovers, including nine interceptions yielded by quarterback Jon Van Cleave, who has thrown one touchdown pass.
CHRIS BEATTY, FOOTBALL coach at Salem High School in Virginia Beach, said Tennessee probably is the team to beat for Salem wide receiver Shannon Lane, rated the No. 5 prospect in Virginia in The Roanoke Times' preseason rankings. Beatty said that Lane has set up visits to Tennessee for the Volunteers' game with Miami of Florida, to Virginia over the weekend of Dec. 6-8 and to Michigan State. Lane is looking at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech for his other two allotted visits, Beatty said.
Beatty said that first-year Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham was a major factor in a decision by Salem running back Isaiah Gardner to commit to the Irish. Gardner is rated the No. 11 prospect in the state by The Roanoke Times — the highest rating for a running back.
Gardner has family in Detroit and returns there each year to visit his father. Michigan and Michigan State were among the schools that offered him, but Oklahoma and Tennesse joined Notre Dame in the final three.
"He had been offered by 25 schools or so — all the way out to UCLA," Beatty said. "I thought he would attract strong regional interest, but it surprised me that so many big, big-time programs were after him."
IN BASKETBALL RECRUITING, Virginia expects a visit next weekend from Gary Forbes, a 6-4 shooting guard from Banneker Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y. Forbes is at Georgia Tech this past weekend and is expected to choose either the Cavaliers or Yellow Jackets, although he may visit Connecticut.
The Cavaliers, with four scholarships at their disposal, already have taken a commitment from 6-3 J.R. Reynolds from Roanoke and Oak Hill Academy. This weekend, they are entertaining 6-7 Luol Deng from the Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., and 6-8 Terrance Roberts from St. Anthony's Prep in New Jersey.
UVa is considered the leader for 6-8 Sheray Thomas from Montreal by way of Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro, Md. Thomas visited UVa over the weekend of Sept. 6-8.
IF ANYBODY IS STILL reading, we've received some late word from "Nappy" King upon his arrival in College Station.
On the subject of the alleged incident at Victory Stadium, all King would say was, "Which one?"