Burned by the big play
UVa's defensive improvement undermined by lapses
By John Galinsky / Daily Progress staff writer
November 27, 2003
There’s no doubt about it. Virginia’s defense has been much stingier than it was last season. Except, um, for a few plays here and there.
Plays like the 99-yard touchdown catch by South Carolina’s Troy Williamson, the 52-yard run by Clemson’s Derrick Hamilton, and the 50-yard reception by Hamilton’s teammate, Tony Elliott.
Oh, and then there was the 79-yard catch by Florida State’s Craphonso Thorpe, followed by the 75-yard reception by N.C. State’s T.J. Williams. And don’t forget the 80-yard run by Maryland’s Josh Allen. All went for TDs.
Take those six plays away, and the Cavalier defenders could really be thumping their chests. Instead, they can only rue what those few disastrous plays - six out of 783 they have faced - have done to their season.
“Big plays have killed us, just killed us,” said linebacker Darryl Blackstock. “For the most part, we’ve been good. But, man, there are some plays we’d really like to have back.”
It’s been simple: When the Cavaliers (6-5) don’t give up big plays, they win. When they do, they lose.
In all five of UVa’s defeats, its opponents have produced at least one play of 50-plus yards. In six victories, the longest play by the opposing offense has been 47 yards. Most of Virginia’s games have been close, so one or two plays have made the difference in some of them.
“That’s why every play is of such great significance in a game,” said UVa coach Al Groh.
Those lapses have undermined an otherwise solid season by the defense. Going into Saturday’s final regular-season game against Virginia Tech (8-3) at Scott Stadium, the Cavaliers have given up 20.7 points and 385.6 yards per game, compared to 24.9 and 424.6, respectively, a year ago.
But while Virginia’s defense yielded yards in medium-sized chunks last season, it rarely gave up big plays. UVa’s opponents had just two offensive touchdowns covering more than 32 yards - a 72-yard run by Colorado State’s Cecil Sapp and a 77-yard catch by North Carolina’s Sam Aiken. The secondary, in particular, allowed many short completions but rarely got beat deep.
What’s the difference this year? The Cavaliers have cut their opponents’ completion percentage from 60.5 last season to 55.9, but the average yards per completion has risen from 11.5 to 12.0. That’s not much, but in some games it has proven costly.
Take the 51-37 loss at N.C. State on Nov. 1. Wolfpack quarterback Philip Rivers had five completions of at least 33 yards, including scoring strikes of 33, 34 and 75 yards.
Has Virginia’s secondary been too aggressive? Not necessarily. The Cavaliers are playing most of the same zones they played last season, says senior safety Jamaine Winborne, but they have blown assignments and missed tackles on several of those long passes.
“It’s mainly mental errors,” Winborne said. “We’re not playing the coverages like they’re supposed to be played sometimes.”
Assignment errors also have been conspicuous on some running plays. Against Maryland, for instance, Allen swept to his right midway through the second quarter. Every defender played his assignment perfectly, Groh said, except for one player who “was grievously out of position.”
Groh did not name the player, but the result was disastrous. Allen raced 80 yards for the momentum-turning touchdown, giving the Terrapins a 21-7 lead en route to a 27-17 victory.
“Psychologically, something like that is tough to take,” said linebacker Kai Parham. “Obviously it means they got seven more points, but it also makes you realize that you kind of blew it as a defense.”
The Cavaliers didn’t blow it last Saturday. On special teams, they gave up an 80-yard punt return. But their defense didn’t yield a single gain longer than 16 yards as Virginia beat Georgia Tech, 29-17.
“It shows that if we can stop the one big play, we can play with anybody,” Winborne said. “That will be a big focus this week. Virginia Tech has some guys who can make big plays.”
Tech’s star tailback, junior Kevin Jones, has been breaking off big plays all season. Three weeks ago, he had an 80-yard touchdown run against Pittsburgh. Last Saturday against Boston College, he scored on a 62-yard run and also caught a 55-yard pass. Overall, Jones has rushed for 1,419 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“He’s really a dynamic player,” Groh said. “On a per-carry basis, it’s a potential explosion every play.”
The Hokies also have a deep threat at receiver in 6-foot-4, 221-pound senior Ernest Wilford, who averages 16.6 yards per catch.
So the Cavaliers know what they need to do.
“That’s going to be the key, eliminating those big plays,” Blackstock said. “We have to eliminate mental errors, because physically we know we can do the job.”
Virginia downs Deacons
By Andrew Joyner / Daily Progress sports writer
November 27, 2003
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Three weeks ago, the Virginia men’s soccer team was concerned with just reaching the NCAA tournament. Now, the Cavaliers are left to ponder if they can win it.
Behind goals by Adam Cristman and Mike Littlefield, Virginia dispatched third-seeded Wake Forest 2-0 on Wednesday evening to advance to the NCAA’s third round and continue its somewhat improbable postseason run.
Virginia (11-9-2), which defeated the Deacons for the third time this season and has now allowed just one goal in its last 521 minutes and 33 seconds, will face Creighton on Sunday at Klockner Stadium. The winner of that game will advance to the NCAA quarterfinals. Creighton advanced to the third round by defeating 14th-seeded San Diego on penalty kicks.
“I can’t be more proud of the resolve of this team through the ACC tournament and into the postseason,” said UVa coach George Gelnovatch, whose team captured the ACC tournament two weeks ago to earn an automatic NCAA bid and remove expected selection-day drama. “They’ve bent at times but have never broken. … This is fantastic stuff for such a young group.”
Cristman, one of five freshmen to play significant roles Wednesday, gave Virginia the lead with 2:23 before intermission. Cristman blasted a shot from the top of the box that beat Brad McEachern just inside the left post. Coincidentally, the shot was Virginia’s first of the half compared to five for Wake at that point.
“I got the ball at midfield and began my run. I was able to eventually cut it in front of the box and fired a left-footed shot and was able to make it,” said Cristman, who now has a team-leading seven goals on the season.
Cristman’s tally in itself was a departure from the fortune that had beset the Cavaliers earlier this season when they would dominate play and the shot count but frequently end up on the short side of the score ledger. On Wednesday, Wake outshot Virginia, 11-4.
“It’s nice. I feel for Wake because I’ve definitely been there. Had they scored in the first 20 minutes that certainly would have helped them because I didn’t feel we were very good then. Had they scored earlier, I certainly think the outcome would be different,” Gelnovatch said. “I feel that I’ve said that about 100 times about my team recently.”
Virginia increased its lead to 2-0 with 24:15 remaining in the contest on a goal by Littlefield. Cristman dribbled down the right side and crossed the ball into the box. A charging Littlefield redirected the ball with a header and the ball slammed into the back of the net past a diving McEachern.
Virginia’s defense and goalkeeper Ryan Burke - playing without senior Matt Oliver, who was once again nursing a sore hamstring - recorded its second-straight shutout and fourth in its last five games. Burke, who made three saves, has not allowed a goal in the last 224:12.
“The defense is playing phenomenal. As a goalkeeper, you can’t ask for anything more,” Burke said.
Three weeks ago, Virginia ended its regular season with 2-1 loss to VCU - the team’s third-straight defeat. At that point, the school’s 23rd-straight trip to the NCAAs was certainly in jeopardy.
Now, the Cavaliers have shed those burdens and that, in itself, may be an integral part of this NCAA run.
“We’ve had some success and there’s been some happiness and joy. We’re also a spoiler now. We weren’t supposed to do this and do that. … The kicker is that they are having fun and you can see that. The result of that is a lot of confidence,” Gelnovatch said.
Added Cristman: “We’re all just having fun. It’s not like we have the pressure of being the first Virginia team not to make the NCAA playoffs in 23 years and all that. We had that on our shoulders the last three games of the regular season and lost all of them. Then, we just wanted to play and do what we could do. We’re having fun and coming together as team.”
Added Littlefield, simply: “It’s good times.”
UVa men take on 'different' Hokies
By Andrew Joyner / Daily Progress staff writer
November 27, 2003
The scene was certainly memorable enough.
Piles of Virginia Tech students leaping from the seats onto the Cassell Coliseum court as then-Tech coach and former UVa standout Ricky Stokes exhorted both his players and the crowd after a stunningly easy 73-55 victory over the Cavaliers.
A cliché - a very bad one - might follow how such a moment was frozen in time … well, at least to Tech fans.
Point in fact, in the ten months that have followed that occurrence last Jan. 21 in Blacksburg, that scene has somewhat melted.
When the two teams take the court this evening in University Hall, the “players” from that previous act in this rivalry will be mostly missing.
Stokes was removed as Virginia Tech’s coach last spring and replaced by Seth Greenberg.
Furthermore, through graduation and transfers or current injuries and suspensions, potentially only seven of the 20 players that participated in last January’s contest could see action tonight.
“It’s going to be like an ACC-type game. The intensity is always up,” said senior guard Todd Billet, who did catch himself and noted next year this will of course be a conference game.
Billet was one of two Virginia players to start that evening in January and will likely start tonight. Billet suffered through one of his worst games as a Cavalier as he was 2 of 10 from the floor for six points while committing six turnovers.
“That was an extremely disappointing loss last year. They are one of our biggest in-state rivals,” Billet said.
Actually, Billet’s last comment reflects something that deviates from popular perception.
There is a theory that the basketball rivalry between the schools has traditionally meant perhaps a little more to Virginia Tech. Even Virginia coach Pete Gillen has made reference in the past that this game is akin to a “Super Bowl” for the Hokies.
Yet, last January’s game and Tech’s future inclusion to the ACC schedule, may be altering the magnitude of the hoops rivalry.
“Certainly with the dynamic of them entering the ACC should change things, but we also want this game badly and we’ll be working hard all week for that,” Billet said. “It definitely should be a big-game, ACC-like atmosphere.”
Notes. Tonight’s game has been announced as a sellout. …
Junior guard Devin Smith is questionable for tonight’s game with back spasms. Smith missed UVa’s last exhibition game and Sunday’s 80-71 victory over Mount St. Mary’s. …
Virginia Tech is playing with six healthy scholarship players. …
Virginia Tech’s Carlos Dixon, who scored 15 against UVa last season, announced earlier this week that he’ll miss the entire season with a foot injury.
The strong, silent type, Cavaliers’ Miller lets his stats do the
By ED MILLER, The Virginian-Pilot
© November 28, 2003
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Kellen Winslow unleashes a profanity-laced tirade after his Miami team loses.
Jeremy Shockey calls Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells a “homo” in a magazine article.
What is it with this new breed of brash young tight ends? Do “big play” and “big mouth” go hand in hand?
Not for Heath Miller of the University of Virginia.
When Doug Hubbard, Miller’s high school coach, learned that a reporter had interviewed his former player recently, he chuckled.
“Get anything out of him?” Hubbard asked. Miller answers, somewhat reluctantly, to “Big Money” and “Baby Shockey,” nicknames hung on him by his teammates.
Needless to say, the names refer to his on-field exploits only.
“He’s real quiet,” said guard Elton Brown, the originator of the “Baby Shockey” tag. Asked if he could imagine Miller melting down with the cameras rolling and the profanity flying, the 325-pound Brown began to shake with laughter.
“Noooooo!” he said. “Not Heath Miller!” Not the young man from Swords Creek, a “suburb” of Honaker, population 925, in far Southwestern Virginia.
“It’s got an elementary school,” Miller offers. “A post office. A store.”
And one of the best tight ends in college football. Miller is a semifinalist for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end.
His 53 receptions this season are an ACC record for tight ends. He needs just 29 yards to set another conference record. His 14 touchdown receptions are an ACC career record for his position— and his “career” is all of 25 games old. “Mark Bavaro could do that kind of stuff.
Ben Coates could do that kind of stuff,” said Virginia coach Al Groh, who observed both players up close during a 13-year NFL coaching career. “And Heath does something like that on an ongoing basis.”
Miller possesses the best hands on the Virginia team. He’s got a knack for find openings in zone defenses. And, at 6-foot-5 and 254 pounds, he’s a load to bring down once he catches the ball.
“You have to take it for what it’s worth,” Miller says of the praise and postseason honors coming his way. “I know a lot of phases of my game need improvement.”
Miller’s sudden success has been dizzying.
He played quarterback and safety at Honaker High, where he was named Group A Offensive Player of the Year as a senior.
Like much of Southwest Virginia, Swords Creek is Virginia Tech country, and the Hokies offered a scholarship. So did Virginia.
“Basically it was between here and there,” Miller said. “And I just felt more comfortable here.”
Miller said the fact that Virginia throws to its tight ends more than the Hokies didn’t factor into his decision. At the time, he wasn’t sure he’d be playing tight end.
“He was a heckuva high school quarterback,” said Hubbard, his high school coach. “I’ve seen him sprint to his left, set up outside and hit a kid 40 yards down the middle. I think he could have played quarterback at that level.”
It wasn’t to be. Miller moved to tight end after arriving on campus and spent the 2001 season learning his new position. He caught four passes, including one for a touchdown, in his first college game, against Colorado State.
He finished the season with 33 catches and nine TDs, leading ACC tight ends in both categories and becoming quarterback Matt Schaub’s favorite red-zone target.
Not surprisingly, Miller has received more attention from defenses this year.
Nevertheless, his production has increased.
“Heath knows how to read defenses,” Brown said. “He gets to the soft spots and sits down and waits for the ball. If Schaub’s on the move, you know, he’s on the move with Schaub. He just finds that opening and makes things happen.”
Miller’s success is big news back in Swords Creek. The community’s population thins considerably on football Saturdays, when many residents make the trek to Charlottesville, 4½ hours away.
“You’d be amazed at how many people go to watch him play,” Hubbard said.
If Miller keeps it up, those same fans will be watching him in the NFL. For that reason, and others, Miller has zero regrets about moving from quarterback.
“Sometimes I wonder what could have happened, what might have happened,” Miller said. “But I’m definitely happy where I’m at right now. I have no complaints.”
Statements about Mapp defy common sense
Extended stint against The Mount was a fair shot
By DOUG DOUGHTY
Exclusive to roanoke.com by 5 p.m. Thursdays
As a prelude to Pete Gillen's last preseason teleconference, Virginia sports information director Rich Murray advised reporters last Friday that Gillen would be fielding questions only about the upcoming season.
Gee, wonder what that was about? It didn't take a mind-reader to see what was up.
Gillen didn't want to answer questions about the status of fifth-year guard Majestic Mapp.
I have not spoken to Gillen on the subject, but I know that he has told media gafly Jeff White, among others, that he has decided not to bring back Mapp for a sixth year in 2004-2005.
First off, Mapp could have returned in 2004-2005 only if he had appealed to the NCAA and the NCAA had ruled in his favor. In most circumstances, a Division I athlete is given five years in which to play four, but Mapp's situation is one upon which the NCAA looks favorably.
Mapp missed two full seasons and part of a third as the result of a knee injury suffered in the summer of 2000. What the NCAA frowns upon are hardship appeals for athletes who were redshirted for non-injury reasons and later miss a second year due to injury, but Mapp's inactivity was totally injury-related.
So, let's say that Mapp did get a sixth year. Would he even want to come back in 2004-2005? As a reserve? Would Mapp want to wage a battle for playing time against younger players with three or four years of eligibility?
Maybe not. After all he's been through, however, Mapp deserves a chance to make that decision himself.
The reaction to Gillen's decision, among some people I know, has bordered on outrage.
Nobody who observed Mapo's return to action last year could have missed the warmth of the crowd reaction. You could almost make the case that Virginia fans have a better feeling about Mapp at this time than they do about Gillen, at least until he wins some more games.
Why Gillen chose to make a decision at this time doesn't make any sense. The inference is that Gillen felt he could not have signed premier point guard Sean Singletary unless Mapp was out of the picture.
Gillen already had made a huge commitment to Singletary by backling off longtime in-state recruiting target Marquie Cooke, but you wonder if Singletary even knew who Mapp was. He probably did because rival recruiters probably told him — or Gillen feared they were going to tell him — about Mapp's history as a former McDonald's All-American.
At that point, Gillen could have shown Singletary tape of Mapp's impaired 2003-2004 season. Privately, he could have told Singletary that he would NOT play behind Mapp. Or, if Singletary was like most great players, he would not have worried about who else was in the mix.
Moreover, if Gillen felt that Mapp would not be back in 2004-2005, why go public? Why not hold open the option? What if Singletary were to tear up his knee in a summer pick-up game? It's happened before. Just say you'll address the issue after the season.
Mapp's a smart guy. Left to his own devices, he's not going to overstay his welcome.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT Gillen can do now to rectify the situation, although it was interesting Sunday night to see him use Mapp for 23 minutes in an 80-71 victory over Mount St. Mary's. There were times last year when I was wondering whether Gillen was almost scared to use Mapp, for fear that he might play well and make the coaches look bad. Against Mount St. Mary's, Gillen seemed to sense that the Cavaliers would benefit from Mapp's leadership. After all, Mapp's rebuilt knee wasn't the problem last year. The problem was his jump shot.
IT WAS THE CONTENTION of former Virginia men's basketball Tommy Herrion that Cave Spring coach Billy Hicks was uncooperative when the Cavaliers were trying to recruit J.J. Redick, and Hicks isn't doing much to change that perception. Hicks was serving as the master of ceremonies at a dunk contest Friday at Cave Spring's MidKnight Madness when he asked one of the contestants, senior Brian Peters, where he wanted to go to college. When Peters said Virginia, Hicks said, "You've got to get your priorities straight." Later, when Peters missed a dunk on a 9-foot hoop, Hicks said, "You could play for UVa." This is a school that has sent the likes of Tiki Barber, Ronde Barber, Tom Hagan and John Hartman to UVa. Hagan and Hartman, who have prominent roles for the UVa football and men's soccer teams, once played basketball for Hicks at Cave Spring. "Do you think it might have been tongue-in-cheek?" asked Dave Trumbower, father of a UVa graduate, as well as 2003 Cave Spring basketball star Adam Trumbower. We won't ask for Herrion's opinion.
Advancing After Many Setbacks
Cavs' Schaub Moved In Fits and Starts
By Jim Reedy
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 28, 2003; Page D01
Matt Schaub lived in West Chester, Pa., for most of his life. He roots for the Philadelphia Eagles and likes cheesesteaks. But before he got there, Virginia's senior quarterback spent his first eight years in Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago and Ann Arbor, Mich., bouncing around as his father's company transferred him from city to city.
With each move, Schaub and his older sister, Lindsay, were the new kids. They introduced themselves through sports, putting to use all the hours they spent playing basketball and baseball against each other.
"That was our way of making friends everywhere we went," said Lindsay, now 25.
Her brother might have needed the help; he wasn't the most gregarious boy. Even when he became a star quarterback in high school and college, Schaub wasn't a social butterfly. His potential for popularity remained untapped, largely because Schaub was more concerned with tapping his potential as an athlete.
"I knew what I wanted to do and I was willing to work to get there," he said, matter-of-factly.
Unlike most boys who aim for athletic stardom, Schaub had the physical talents to reach his goals. With two games left in his Virginia career -- Saturday's home game against arch rival Virginia Tech and a yet-to-be-determined bowl game -- he holds nearly every school passing record and ranks among the most productive quarterbacks in ACC history.
"I think he's just about as good as any of the ones that we've had here, and we've had some really good quarterbacks," said former Virginia coach George Welsh, who recruited Schaub and coached him during his first two seasons.
Schaub, 22, built his reputation with a breakout season in 2002, shattering Virginia's season passing records to earn the ACC player of the year award. Despite slipping to the all-conference second team this season -- in part because he missed most of the first three games with a separated throwing shoulder -- he has pushed his career totals to impressive heights: 6,900 passing yards and 53 touchdowns. His 66.9 career completion percentage would be an ACC record if it holds up. And NFL scouts believe Schaub could be selected in the first three rounds of April's draft.
Yet two years ago it was uncertain whether Schaub would ever be a full-time starter at Virginia, let alone an NFL prospect. He was approaching the end of a turbulent sophomore season in which he alternated at quarterback with classmate Bryson Spinner as the Cavaliers stumbled to a 5-7 record in their first season under Coach Al Groh.
The problems began in the season opener at Wisconsin. Schaub faltered badly in his first start, completing 3 of 10 passes with two interceptions that helped fuel a 26-17 loss. "It didn't go nearly as I had planned," he said. "Right off the bat, it's hard to handle that situation."
The rest of the season was a mix of achievement and frustration. Schaub topped 240 yards passing three times, including a 334-yard day at North Carolina, but the Cavaliers lost all three games.
Schaub's parents, Debbie and Dale, wondered more about Groh's quarterback plans than their son did. "He kept it all to himself, didn't talk much about it," Dale Schaub said. "He felt, 'If I keep preparing and practicing, hopefully my time will come and I'll be able to show what I can do.' "
"What transpired really helped me to become a much better quarterback and person," Matt Schaub said. "It was difficult times, a lot of ups and downs, but I think I came out of it a better quarterback and a better person. Learning how to deal with adversity and ups and downs prepared me to deal with things last year and this year."
Schaub's career at West Chester East High got off to a similarly rocky start after he earned the starting quarterback job as a sophomore in 1996. "His first game, I think he threw three interceptions. Like a deer in headlights," East Coach Joe Carroll recalled.
Schaub completed 43 percent of his passes that season, but progressed steadily the next two years and added 25 pounds to his spindly frame. By his senior year, he was one of the better high school quarterbacks in the country.
"More than anything it was he really wanted to be a Division I quarterback, and he worked really hard to put weight on," Carroll said. "He came in at maybe 175, 180 at 6-foot-3. Looked like a little stringbean, but he just kept working at it. . . . He went to a really regimented diet, weight training and it really produced big things for him."
After football season ended, Schaub played basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. Then back to football in the summer, getting ready for the upcoming season. He was an all-star at East in all three sports, but his schedule didn't allow for much social time.
"Off the field, he was pretty conservative in high school," said Rich Boyd, a friend from West Chester who has known Schaub for more than a decade. "He kept to himself, but he was very open with his close friends. He wasn't the most social, outgoing person, I wouldn't say."
That underlying nature hasn't changed, but Schaub has "loosened up" as he matured, Debbie Schaub said. "He's gotten more of a sense of humor the older he's gotten, the more comfortable he's gotten with himself."
When the Cavaliers chose offensive and defensive captains for the 2003 season, he was an obvious choice.
"Matt's quiet, but then again he's not quiet," Virginia outside linebacker Dennis Haley said. "If you need to get something done, he's going to be the first one to step up and say he's going to get it done."
"He's got a laid-back personality. He's kind of quiet, reserved," Dale Schaub said. "Particularly in high school he was. It's amazing to see the maturity and growth that he's had over the last five years, speaking to people, speaking in front of groups, being comfortable talking to the media."
That maturity, forged in part through the tumultuous year alongside Spinner at Virginia, was tested again early in the 2002 season.
Spinner was long gone, having transferred at the end of 2001, leaving Schaub as the only quarterback in the program with any game experience and the obvious choice to take over as the full-time starter. But in the first half of the opener against Colorado State, Groh unveiled a surprise, alternating Schaub with redshirt freshman Marques Hagans, a dynamic athlete but raw quarterback.
Hagans nearly led Virginia to a comeback win that night, earning himself a start the following week at Florida State. But he was clearly in over his head against the fifth-ranked Seminoles, so a few minutes before halftime, Schaub returned.
"I just had to be ready when [Groh] told me that I was going to go in," he said then. "In that situation, I couldn't really get caught up in all" the controversy.
Two hours later, Schaub had completed 19 of 25 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns. He has been Virginia's starting quarterback -- when healthy -- ever since, averaging 238 passing yards in 21 games.
"You've got to applaud the young man," said Anthony Poindexter, a Virginia graduate assistant coach who works primarily with the wide receivers and quarterbacks. "He almost got booed out of the stadium the first game [last season]. Everybody on his back, and the year before that, he was trading off with another quarterback. For this guy to stick in there and believe in himself and do the things he's done, I got to applaud him."
"I'm glad that I was here to be around a guy like this, as good a player as he is," said Virginia quarterbacks and wide receivers coach Mike Groh, who owned most of the season records Schaub broke last season. "He's so deserving of everything that he accomplishes out on the field, because nobody puts more into it than Matt Schaub."
Some of Al Groh's strongest words of praise came after Virginia's 51-37 loss at North Carolina State four weeks ago. Marveling at the combined 803 passing yards Schaub and his Wolfpack counterpart, Philip Rivers, had put up that afternoon, the coach said the two senior quarterbacks clearly were "too good for the college game."
That bodes well for their chances of a professional career. Rivers, a four-year starter who likely will win his first ACC player of the year award this season, is regarded more highly by NFL draft gurus, as befits a player who sits atop the ACC career lists in nearly every passing category. But Schaub, who now stands 6-5, 240 pounds, is his equal in most respects except tenure in the starting lineup.
Joe Douglas, who scouted Schaub for the Baltimore Ravens, compared Schaub with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, pointing to his ability to run a complex passing offense and get the ball off quickly.
"The biggest thing I saw in Matt was a guy that had a lot of poise," Douglas said. "I thought his decision-making skills were pretty good. I thought he was very accurate. . . . They have a pro offense down there. He has a lot of quick reads, a lot of short to intermediate throws. He does a good job of getting the ball off, so it really helps his offensive linemen out. His accuracy, I think, is well above average. . . . His arm strength is not great, but I think it's not something where his arm is so weak that it would hold him back. A lot of his success has to do with the fact that he is a good person -- he's a guy that really takes time to study the game, to watch the little things to make him ready on Saturdays. And you can tell in the games, because he drops back and that back foot plants and the ball's off. . . . I was impressed with the fact that he can keep the passing game in a good rhythm. He's not holding the ball a long time."
Schaub threw almost exclusively short passes in the Virginia game Douglas watched in person, a 27-17 loss at Maryland two weeks ago, but he completed the only long throw he had to make: a deep out across the field from the far hash mark. "He showed me that he can make that throw," the scout said.
Schaub wasn't as accurate as usual that night in College Park -- the Terps held him to 13-of-26 passing, his only game under 63 percent this season -- but overall he has been remarkably accurate for two seasons. After setting a Virginia record last season with a 68.9 completion percentage, he's at 70.2 this season.
"I think that [accuracy is] really important," Welsh said. "It's important to his team, because his receivers can catch the ball and run with it. They don't have to jump and they don't have to go down, dive down to catch it. That makes a big difference in yardage after the catch."
"On this level, he's able to recognize very quickly and on top of that, he's able to react to what he recognizes very quickly," said Groh, who coached for 13 seasons in the NFL. "That's part of getting it there before the hole closes."
There will be a transition next season, as there is for nearly all rookie NFL quarterbacks. But Schaub is accustomed to change at this point, accustomed to competing for a spot, from his years bouncing from city to city to his first few years at Virginia.
"I see a lot of [NFL] players doing well who didn't enter with his credentials," Groh said. "So I think he's got a lot of things going for him to have a very good chance."
No Heisman, just the man at Virginia
Senior Matt Schaub is ready to complete his college career as the top QB in Cavs history
BY JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Nov 28, 2003
Despite never starting for an entire season, Matt Schaub will leave U.Va. as the school's passing leader in numerous categories.
CHARLOTTESVILLE On a Wednesday in late November 2002, University of Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub was named ACC player of the year. If that was perhaps the pinnacle of Schaub's junior season, the nadir came three days later in Blacksburg.
In frigid conditions that included winds gusting to nearly 40 mph, Schaub suffered through what he called a "miserable" outing. Virginia Tech beat U.Va. 21-9, and Schaub completed only 12 of 23 passes for a season-low 43 yards, about 185 below his average. In the final quarter, throwing into the wind, he passed for 6 yards.
The crowd at Lane Stadium that day included his parents, Dale and Debbie, who raised him in West Chester, Pa., but now live in Marietta, Ga.
"I can remember coming out of the stadium," Debbie Schaub said this week. "One of the Tech fans was leaving, and he didn't know who I was, and I heard him say, 'ACC player of the year? Hah!' Like, 'What a joke.'"
She didn't respond, but she wasn't happy.
"I wanted to go deck him," Debbie Schaub said.
Matt Schaub plays his final game at Scott Stadium tomorrow, and it also will represent his last opportunity to deck the Hokies. Tech (8-3) is seeking its fifth consecutive victory over Virginia (6-5). Schaub and the Cavaliers' other seniors will be recognized, along with their parents, be fore the 1 p.m. game.
"It's going to be an emotional week, and I realize that," Schaub said Tuesday.
Debbie Schaub said she's not worried about her son's ability to maintain his focus.
"After the fact, after everything's over, it'll all set in," she said. "The whole five years, I know how much it means to him, but reality won't set in till maybe next spring when they're all suiting up for spring practice and he's not."
In Virginia's 2004 media guide, Schaub's name will appear at the top of virtually every list related to career passing. He's the most accurate quarterback in school history. He's thrown more passes, more completions and for more yards than any of his predecessors. He's only two touchdown passes shy of Shawn Moore's career record.
And to think that Schaub appeared in only three games as a redshirt freshman in 2000 and didn't become Virginia's full-time starter until 2002.
"He certainly will go high on the list of players who, during their careers at Virginia, have had a profound impact on the success of their teams," said Al Groh, U.Va.'s third-year coach.
In 2001, Schaub shared the quarterback's job with classmate Bryson Spinner. Each started six games, and neither could establish clear superiority over the other. Their competition ended unexpectedly when Spinner left U.Va. after the 2001 season.
"When that happened," Schaub said, "I realized that now it's up to me. It's my team now, I'm going to get this opportunity, let's just go and get this thing done."
Had Spinner remained at U.Va., Groh said, Schaub might have won the job anyway.
"This isn't just games," Groh said yesterday. "This is practice, the weight room, overall interest in the position, the entire persona of being a quarterback. There was a fairly early point where it seemed as if [Schaub] was the one who could go the furthest, but whether it's with teams or quarterbacks, there's a process that has to be completed, and there was a point where things seemed to be going slowly."
Untimely interceptions marred Schaub's sophomore season. He started the 2002 opener but struggled and gave way to Marques Hagans, who nearly led the Wahoos to a comeback victory.
"And then there was a point where - wham! - it just kicked in, and he was on his way," Groh said.
That point came in Virginia's second game last season. Schaub came off the bench to complete 19 of 25 passes for 247 yards and three TDs in a loss at Florida State. He finished the season with a remarkable stat line: 288 of 418 passing (68.9 percent) for 2,976 yards and 28 touchdowns - all school records. He threw only seven interceptions.
Schaub graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in economics and entered his final season expecting to match his 2002 performance. Barely six minutes into the Aug. 30 opener against Duke, however, Schaub separated his throwing shoulder.
The injury was serious, and Schaub feared his college career might be over. But his rehab went well, and when U.Va. returned home to play Wake Forest on Sept. 27, Schaub took the field to a rousing ovation from the crowd. His injury doomed his Heisman Trophy campaign, and he fell to the all-ACC second team, but Schaub's impact on his team has been enormous.
In his nine games, he's completed 229 of 326 passes (70.2 percent) for 2,350 yards and 15 TDs, with eight interceptions.
"I think this player has carried his team [more] than almost any other player in the country," Groh said.
U.Va. more than a foe
Va. Tech's Greenberg was part of Cavaliers' run to'84 Final Four
BY JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Nov 28, 2003
CHARLOTTESVILLE - Seth Greenberg returns to University Hall tonight for the first time since the 1983-84 season.
Virginia Tech's first-year bas- VA. TECH AT U.VA.ketball coach was then one of Terry Holland's assistants at the University of Virginia. So was Dave Odom, now the head man at South Carolina, and the coaching staff led U.Va. through a magical, improbable postseason.
The Ralph Sampson era was over, and the Cavaliers went 17-10 in the regular season. In the NCAA tournament, however, they were transformed. U.Va., a No. 7 seed, knocked off Iona, Arkansas, Syracuse and Indiana to reach the Final Four. An underdog again, Virginia took Houston to overtime before losing in the semifinals.
"Dave Odom and Terry Holland kind of brought me in and nurtured me," said Greenberg, whose staff at Tech includes Odom's son, Ryan.
"It was just a great experience, seeing how they did things. I don't know how much I contributed to that year."
More than a decade has passed since Holland stepped down as coach, but Greenberg won't need an introduction to his counterpart on the home bench when the Hokies (2-0) meet the Cavaliers (1-0) tonight at U-Hall. Greenberg is a New York City guy - born in Queens - just like Virginia coach Pete Gillen, a Brooklyn native.
"Pete's a very dear friend," said Greenberg, who moved to the University of Miami after his season at U.Va. "We'll try to beat each other's brains in for two hours. When it's over we'll give each a hug and wish each other well, and hopefully both of us will win the rest of them."
In 2004-05, the Hokies will join the ACC, so this is the last nonconference meeting in a series U.Va. leads 72-45. Conventional wisdom holds that Tech always has attached more significance to the teams' annual clash, but the Cavaliers don't lack motivation tonight.
"We want this game," senior guard Todd Billet said.
The Cavaliers had won six straight over Tech before venturing last season into Cassell Coliseum. The score was 48-48 with 10:22 remaining, but Tech seized control with a 12-4 run. Billet's trey with 3:46 left pulled U.Va. to 60-55, but the Hokies scored the game's final 13 points - many on dunks - to record an emphatic victory before a raucous crowd of 8,152.
In a 2002-03 season filled with disappointing moments for Virginia, which finished 16-16, that game ranks high on the list.
"I remember the blowout at their place," sophomore forward Derrick Byars said, "so it's something I've been looking forward to for some months now."
U.Va. is 27-8 against Tech in Charlottesville, and Greenberg's club limps to town. Injuries have sidelined several Hokies, including guard Carlos Dixon, who scored 15 points and helped limit Billet to six at Cassell last season. Dixon will redshirt this season and return in 2004-05.
Tech swingman Bryant Matthews, who burned U.Va. for 30 points last season, could be the best player on the court tonight. The 6-7 senior is averaging 21.5 points, 9 rebounds and 3.5 steals.
The Hokies opened with a 30-point win over New Hampshire but needed a last-second tip-in to edge Western Carolina on Tuesday night. Gillen's club struggled in its only game, an 80-71 victory over winless Mount St. Mary's. The Cavaliers were outrebounded 41-36 and missed 16 of 45 free throws.
Virginia played without junior forward Devin Smith, perhaps its most potent offensive weapon. Gillen wasn't sure if Smith (back injury) would be available tonight, but the sixth-year coach knew one thing after Sunday night's opener.
"We got a lot of work ahead of us," Gillen said. "It's a good thing we got four days to get ready, because we got to play a lot better than that against Virginia Tech."