Aaron McFarling: Change coming in Charlottesville shortly
By Aaron McFarling
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- We'll begin today by trying to make you laugh, or at least smile. Because even though it hasn't been much fun to be a college football fan in this state the past few weeks, you've got to remember to laugh.
Virginia running back Rashawn Jackson felt like crud Saturday evening. His team had just lost to Duke 28-17 in front of a sparse crowd at Scott Stadium. Somebody asked him if the team's sub-.500 record was truly indicative of its ability.
"You are what you are," Jackson said. "When you're born, your mom either has a boy or a girl, you know? There's no in between."
"But there are certain cases..." someone said.
"Of course," Jackson said. "But how many Jamie Lees are there?"
He's right, you know. The Cavaliers are no Jamie Lee Curtis, although to be fair to her, there's never been anything proven about the famous actress outside of her prodigious strength.
There's no such guesswork with UVa. The Cavaliers are bad, and their 3-5 record says they are bad, and their attendance says they are bad, and their schedule -- up next: at Miami -- says they'll probably still be bad this time next week.
And this is why Al Groh cannot stay. All the formulas that were thrown around earlier this year that would allow him to keep his job -- seven wins + bowl game + victory over Virginia Tech + semblance of hope in the grandstands = one more year -- aren't even worth discussing anymore. They were all predicated on improvement that has not been shown.
I don't think Groh has lost his players, because I don't think he'll ever lose his players. But his players still are not winning, which means that Groh has lost this town.
And he might be losing his mind. Groh peeled two more redshirts off true freshman Saturday, bringing the torching total to 14 this year. That's a ridiculous move this late in a lost season. The message -- intentional or not -- is clear: If Groh is going down, he's taking some of the future of the program with him.
Most weren't here to see this happen live. The crowd was announced at 41,713, nearly 20,000 shy of Scott Stadium's capacity. And while some would say that's a fan base turning its back on a struggling team, it's really not that at all.
It's a fan base collectively demanding change the only way it knows how, the only way that will resonate with the people who matter.
The UVa players are the unfortunate victims in all this. They happen to be playing here at the wrong time, in the midst of a movement.
"We don't control who buys tickets, who comes, who sits in the stands, who leaves," defensive end Nate Collins said. "It doesn't matter at the end of the day. Anyone who says the stadium helps, this and that, it doesn't help. It's all mental."
That's a square-jawed approach that you'd want the players to take, but it's also a reach. Noise helps. Atmosphere helps. And these guys notice even the minor encouragements.
"The fans that really stuck out to me were the ones screaming, 'Rashawn! UVa! Go Hoos!' " Jackson said. "Those were the guys that made this loss even worse, since they hung in there. I appreciate those fans, I appreciate that effort and I appreciate those people.
"They stayed to the end of the game, and I'm just disappointed we couldn't help their weekend go a little more smoothly. Hopefully they aren't getting bugged about it at work on Monday. I'm sure some of them might, and that's even more disappointing."
Oh, they will be. But they should be used to it by now. Their team is what it is, and they know it.
Still, they can take heart and the fact that their coach is what he is, too: Four games from being somewhere else.
Nobody should laugh when that happens. Any coaching change not involving retirement is sad on some level. But it's also a necessary first step toward bringing some smiles back to Charlottesville.
White: Wahoos' Woes Grow with Stunning Loss to Duke
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 10/31/2009
By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- The three-game winning streak is now a fading memory. After losing at home for the second straight week, this time to Duke, UVa is reeling.
"We put a lot into this," Al Groh said after the Cavaliers' 28-17 loss Saturday. "We put everything we got into it, and when you get nothing back in return, it's a haunting feeling."
The Blue Devils, who hadn't won at Scott Stadium in 10 years, scored 16 points in the final 3:45 to stun the Wahoos. The first thirteen of those points came in a span of 23 seconds.
"It all was an explosion," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team improved to 3-1 in the ACC and 5-3 overall.
To the Cavaliers (2-2, 3-5), it looked more like an implosion. One moment they seemed headed for their fourth victory in five games. Then, in a flash, they were left to contemplate a devastating defeat. UVa has lost back-to-back games to Duke for the first time since 1981 and '82.
"It's always tough losing, but it's especially tough when you should win the game and you come out a little short," senior running back Rashawn Jackson said.
Quarterback Jameel Sewell struggled through one of his worst performances as a Cavalier -- he finished 8 for 22 passing for 86 yards and threw an interception -- but his 1-yard touchdown run on a sneak early in the third quarter helped Virginia take its first lead.
Duke went back up 12-10 early in the fourth quarter, but UVa responded with a drive during which Sewell completed two memorable passes to junior tight end Joe Torchia. The first, on fourth-and-1 from Duke's 40, went for a 21-yard gain.
The second was a 19-yard strike that Torchia grabbed for his first touchdown at Virginia. Drew Jarrett added the extra point, and UVa led 17-12 with 11:17 to play.
To that point, Virginia had surrendered only four field goals, and its defense had had few breakdowns. But later, on third-and-9, Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon beat senior cornerback Chris Cook, perhaps UVa's best defensive back, on a slant pattern. Vernon caught a perfect pass from senior Thaddeus Lewis and raced to the end zone to complete a 42-yard play.
Vernon's touchdown made it 18-17 with 3:45 left. Lewis' conversion pass was incomplete, but the next series ended when Sewell, on third-and-10 from UVa's 13, was sacked and fumbled.
Nose guard Charlie Hatcher scooped up the ball at the 7 and rumbled in for a touchdown, and the PAT made it 25-17 with 3:22 left. The Cavaliers then turned the ball over on downs, and Will Snyderwine's fifth field goal of the game, with 1:05 to play, closed out the scoring.
"It's unfortunate," Groh said. "There's a lot of kids that really played their heart out today to make it a lot closer than it was at the end. Just too many gift points."
It's unfortunate, too, that the Cavaliers' fan base is shrinking with each passing week, but that's the reality. The attendance for UVa's first home game this season -- the shocking loss to William and Mary -- was 54,587.
The figures have since dropped to 48,336 for TCU on Sept. 12, 45,371 for Indiana on Oct. 10, 43,016 for Georgia Tech on Oct. 24, and 41,713 for Duke's Halloween visit to Charlottesville. That's the smallest crowd for a Virginia home game since Scott Stadium's capacity was expanded to 61,500 before the 2000 season.
By game's end Saturday, only a smattering of Virginia fans remained.
"This is UVa," Jackson said. "This isn't Michigan or LSU or Tennessee or Virginia Tech. The fans here aren't that patient, you know. I guess it's human nature sometimes to -- I don't want to say tuck your tail, but just to turn your back.
"There were a few fans that really stuck out to me that were screaming on the sideline, 'Rashawn, UVa, 'Hoos, we love you, we're here for you.' And those were the guys who made this loss feel even worse, because they were really hanging in there for us, and they were really giving us their all, and I appreciate that effort. I appreciate those fans, and I appreciate those people who actually stayed and finished watching the game. And I'm disappointed that we couldn't help their weekend go a little bit more smoothly, and hopefully they're not getting bugged about it at work on Monday. I'm sure some of them might, and that's even more disappointing."
Virginia must win three of its final four games to avoid finishing the regular season with a losing record for the third time in four years. Its upcoming opponents -- ACC rivals Miami, Boston College, Clemson and Virginia Tech -- have a combined record of 22-11.
"We're playing for our pride," defensive lineman John-Kevin Dolce said. "We're playing for the season. The season's not over."
Jackson, who rushed for a game-high 83 yard (on 16 carries) against Duke, is one of Virginia's most thoughtful players. He was asked if, as the saying goes, a team is only as good as its win-loss mark.
"I really feel like we're a lot better than our record shows, but also I agree you are what you are," Jackson said. "When you're born, your mom either has a boy or a girl. There's no in-between."
Lewis, who has blossomed into one of the nation's better quarterbacks, completed 24 of 40 passes for 343 yards, with one interception. He's surpassed the 300-yard five times this season.
"Our guy, if you look what he has done over the past four weeks, tell me a quarterback that has played better," Cutcliffe said.
The 'Hoos didn't make it easy for Lewis. They sacked him six times, led by Dolce with a career-best 2.5. Nate Collins added two sacks and fellow end Zane Parr had 1.5. Those were career highs for Collins and Parr, too. In the end, though, Lewis prevailed.
"Obviously he made the difference for his team," Groh said. "Despite some challenging times there, a lot of pressure that he was under, he came up with a couple throws that had to be made, and that's to his credit, and that's why his team is in the position it is right now."
Collins said: "We pressured him, but we didn't get there enough. They did what they needed to do to win."
Duke totaled only two sacks, but Cutcliffe's defense held UVa to 196 yards. The running game wasn't the problem for Virginia.
How much Duke had to do with the Cavaliers' struggles in the passing game was difficult to say. Virginia's inability to successfully execute basic passing plays was, at times, mind-boggling.
Junior Marc Verica played two-plus series in the first half after Sewell got hit hard in the backfield, and he was no more accurate than the quarterback he replaced.
Verica completed only 5 of 16 passes for 21 yards before Sewell returned.
Of his team's problems in the passing game, Groh said, "Protection certainly would have to be better. We can all see that. We dropped some balls when we were open. We can all see that. And we missed some receivers who were open. We can all see that.
"In college football these days, except for some unusual exceptions, a great deal of the scoring comes from the passing game, and when there are problems in three different areas of the passing game, it's difficult to produce the amount of points that are necessary."
Duke's only turnover came when UVa cornerback Chase Minnifield, in the back of the end zone, made a spectacular interception of a Lewis pass intended for Vernon.
Leading 17-12, Virginia took over at its 20-yard line. The clock showed 8:01 to play. The Cavaliers needed first downs. Three straight runs netted only 4 yards, however, and the UVa had to punt. The Devils' next possession produced their first touchdown.
"Clearly it was a critical stage," Groh said of his team's three-and-out "If we can take the ball and move it down the field, we're going to eat the clock, maybe we're gonna get some more points. That's what good teams have to do offensively.
"We had the opportunity to do that. We had the ball, and we had the opportunity to respond to a positive circumstance, and we didn't do enough with it."
TOTAL DOMINATION: UVa was fortunate to be trailing only 6-0 after one quarter. In the first 15 minutes, the Blue Devils gained 122 yards, to a single yard for the Cavaliers.
Duke's time of possession for the quarter: 13 minutes, 26 seconds.
THE LIST GROWS: In the eighth game of the season, Connor McCartin and Paul Freedman became the 13th and 14th true freshmen to play for the Cavaliers.
McCartin, a linebacker from Warrenton, was on the field Saturday when UVa received kickoffs. Freedman, a tight end from Florida, caught a 6-yard pass early in the fourth quarter.
One of the true freshmen whom Groh has played this season -- tailback Dominique Wallace -- suffered a season-ending injury in September. He's expected to get his year of eligibility back.
DROUGHT ENDS: Tight ends from Heath Miller to John Phillips routinely caught touchdown passes during Groh's first eight years as UVa's coach.
Through the Cavaliers' first seven games this season, however, tight ends have combined for only eight receptions, none for a TD.
That changed Saturday with Sewell's 19-yard pass to Torchia, who made a difficult catch on a seam route.
"It felt good," Torchia said, "but right now the loss is what I'm thinking about."
A first-year starter, Torchia finished with 44 yards on three catches Saturday. For the season, he has nine catches for 98 yards.
ANOTHER OPTION: As true freshman, Jimmy Howell punted in all 12 games for UVa last year, and he handled the job this season, too -- until Saturday.
Groh went instead with junior Nathan Rathjen, a walk-on from Loudoun Valley High.
Rathjen averaged 40.2 yards on six punts against Duke. That's what Howell averaged in the first seven games, but inconsistency was a problem for him.
"We could see that the performance in recent games left a lot to be desired, so under those circumstances, we'd never know if we didn't try this," Groh said. "Probably some degree of improvement."
NEXT WEEKEND: After two straight games at Scott Stadium, the 'Hoos have a date with the Miami Hurricanes in South Florida. The starting time for this Coastal Division game will be announced by noon Sunday.
The Hurricanes lead the series 4-2. They rallied 24-17 in overtime at Scott Stadium last year.
In 2007, the 'Canes' final game at the Orange Bowl, UVa embarrassed them 48-0.
Miami scored the game's final 14 points Saturday and beat Wake Forest 28-27 in Winston-Salem, N.C.
PARTING WORDS: "We just gotta stay together," defensive lineman Nate Collins said. "Right now everyone [outside the program] wants to point fingers, everyone wants to know who's at fault, who's to blame.
"We're all to blame. We lose together, we win together, and the quicker we get this all figured out, the quicker we get ready for Miami."
Virginia Head Coach Al Groh Quotes
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 10/31/2009
On the game overall
"Unfortunately, this one looked too much like some that have preceded it. We played fairly well for a long time on defense and managed to push them offensively. But however many there were-there don't need to be many, 4, 5, 6-of the plays that cause teams to lose, they took us in the wrong direction. So it's unfortunate. A lot of kids played their heart out today to make it different, but there were just too many gift points. There were 10 points we can attribute to turnovers and a couple of mental errors that resulted in long plays."
On the defensive line's play against nation's No. 6 passing team
"They had some really good pushovers. I'm very pleased with the way they responded. We had some schemes that we thought would get some pressure and they did a really, really good job all week of tuning, as well as of executing, during the course of the game. And that was a big factor in what we were able to get accomplished."
On defensive strategy
"Obviously our defense was up against the sixth-ranked passing team in the country and passing the ball about sixty-five percent to a wide receiver, so that was one thing that had to be stopped. So we had some plays and some things we wanted to do and for a long time we did a nice job."
On the passing game
"Protection certainly should be better. We dropped some balls. In college football these days, with a few exceptions, success comes with the passing game."
On Duke's play during the game
"They were well prepared. They were on every one of our plays. They recognized the formation and they really challenged us. They anticipated where the ball would go, and I give a lot of credit to them. They played and executed at a critical time."
Virginia Player Quotes
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 10/31/2009
Senior Defensive End Nate Collins
On preparing for Thaddeus Lewis
"It's something that I thought we were ready for, but you have to tip you hat to them. They are good at what they do. We got to him a little bit early, but in the end it wasn't enough."
On pressuring the quarterback
"That's a product of coach Groh putting us in the right spots. We were there a few times, but we didn't make enough plays. As a D-line, we should have gotten our hands on a few more passes tonight."
On moving forward
"We have to pick it up on every level. The biggest thing is that we all stay together. After a loss, it is easy for a team to start pointing fingers, and pinning the loss on certain guys. We are all a team, and we lose together just like we win together."
Junior Tight End Joe Torchia
On rebounding from a game like this
"We made some mistakes, and they were able to execute better than us tonight. We have to go back to the film, learn from our mistakes, and work hard this week in practice."
On play of the defense
"Those guys play hard on every play, even in practice. They fight to make us better as an offense. Tonight they were put in some tough spots, and that's why the score ended up like it did."
Sophomore Cornerback Chase Minnifield
On his interception
"That was just a play where I recognized someone was open and when I ran to him the ball came my way."
On seeing more playing time and recording tackles
"We were just trying to do what we are supposed to do. On defense we emphasize the "Next Man Up" philosophy, and you just have to be ready to step up even when you are not playing that much. Everyone is expected to do it so it is really nothing new."
On holding Duke to field goals and not allowing touchdowns early
"It is always good to hold teams to field goals, but we would rather stop them earlier in the drive. They were able to move the ball downfield a number of times, so we just have to make more plays."
Junior Tackle John-Kevin Dolce
On a career high number of sacks
"I was just trying to play hard and keep the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket."
On pressuring the Duke quarterback
"That was a big part of the game plan, but we just have to work harder because they ended up with more points than we did."
On holding Duke to field goals and not allowing touchdowns early
"If a team can gain yards against you and get in the red zone, then you just have to buckle down and do the best you can to stop them. We were able to hold them to three instead of seven early on, and we look at that like a four-point play."
Virginia Game Notes
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 10/31/2009
Game Notes • Virginia vs. Duke
Oct. 31, 2009 • Scott Stadium
• UVa dropped back-to-back games to Duke for the first time since losing in 1981 and 1982
• Duke's Thaddeus Lewis threw for 343 yards, becoming the first opponent to throw over 300 yards against UVa since USC's Mark Sanchez (344) in the 2008 season opener
• UVa's six sacks of Duke's Thaddeus Lewis were the most allowed by the Blue Devils this season
• Virginia had six sacks. Duke entered the game third in the ACC having allowed just 14 sacks all season
• UVa's six sacks are the most since recording six against Richmond in 2008
• John-Kevin Dolce had a career-high 2.5 sacks
• Nate Collins had a career-high two sacks
• Connor McCartin and Paul Freedman both appeared in the game to become the 13th and 14th true freshman to make their collegiate debuts for UVA this season.
• Freedman finished the contest with one reception for six yards
• Joe Torchia scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 19-yard strike from Jameel Sewell in the fourth quarter
• Torchia's 21-yard reception in the fourth quarter was the longest of his career
• Sewell's passing touchdown in the fourth quarter marked UVa's first redzone passing score of the season (11 FG)
• Jameel Sewell tossed an interception in the first quarter, halting his streak at 145 pass attempts without an interception. He entered the game with the fifth-longest active streak amongst Division I players
• Sewell was last picked off during the Southern Miss. game on Sept. 19
• Sewell connected for 86 yards on the afternoon, moving his career total to 4,865 where he still stands in sixth place in the Virginia annals, needing 13 yards to pass Marques Hagans (4,877) for fifth all-time.
• UVa has gone seven games without allowing a first quarter touchdown and is now outscoring its opponents in the opening period 40-16.
• Duke's passing touchdown in the fourth quarter was the first passing touchdown allowed by the Cavaliers in five games (last one allowed was in the Southern Miss game)
• UVa has been held under 100 yards rushing for the third straight game, marking the first time this has happened since the opening three games of the 2008 season
• The game was the 1,200th in Virginia history, the 12th most in NCAA history
• Al Groh coached his 174th career game at an ACC school (Wake, Virginia) today. That moves him into sole possession of fourth place all-time, passing former N.C. State coach Earle Edwards.
Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe Quotes
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 10/31/2009
Virginia vs. Duke
Duke Coach Quotes
October 31, 2009
Head coach David Cutcliffe
"I am really proud of our entire operation. That was a complete football game, but certainly not an easy game. My hat is off to Virginia - they were well prepared, they played extremely hard and they made it difficult for us on offense. They were a tough match-up for us. The best part of it was that we were relentless. We kept playing. I told Kurt [Roper] to just keep throwing it, we gave up (six) sacks, but the end results were good. I knew we had a tough match-up in the red zone, and I was too prophetic. I said to our coaches earlier in the week that when the field gets shorter and we are physically mis-matched, their secondary is really powerful and quick and it got a little tough for us down there but our offense kept playing. Our defense played a complete football game. They had a lot of big hits, did a tremendous job of stopping the run, and a tremendous job of competing and challenging every pass. Our kicking game - five field goals, wow, what can you say - it was huge. We still have things to shore up in the kicking game as we continue to move forward, but I could not be more proud of a group of people."
On looking back at the game and the fact that Duke was trailing with four minutes left
"It all was an explosion. When you kick field goals like we did in the first half, you just know, experience tells you that you are going to have to overcome a deficit. So I was not surprised when Virginia came out, did a good job and took the lead. So I was not overly concerned, but it was a pretty amazing finish on our team's part. It does not happen just because you want it to. It takes a lot of courage against a front like that coming at you at quarterback, an absolutely perfect route run by Conner Vernon, focus to catch it - when you are playing zero coverage there is nobody else there. So tremendous execution on the touchdown. The fumble return for a score is not an accident either. That is pressure, persistence in rush, and awareness to quickly scoop and score. Our defense was tremendous at that point."
On Thaddeus Lewis' ability to hang tough in the pocket
"Thad Lewis knew he was going to have a tough day of pass rush. End on end, we talked to him about it, but he is a tough son-of-a-gun and does a good job of keeping his eyes down field. They are so big up front that they are very difficult to see through sometimes. They got their hands on the ball a little bit too much, we did throw an interception, but we were fortunate. But Thad was tremendous in never faltering, never backing off - he kept it full throttle. He is one of those guys that has a lot of talent, and if he just keeps keeping on he is going to make big plays."
On Duke's performance and momentum from three and out after the interception
"That was a big stage in the game, and we had them back on the 20-yard-line. They did the natural thing to try and run the football, and they really did not have a ton of success running the ball so our guys responded. It was huge. When they threw the touchdown pass to take the lead I went immediately to the defense and said, 'guys, that is OK. We are going to score a touchdown somewhere in here.' I kept telling them it is the next series that they had to focus on. They needed to energize for the next series. And they did a good job of it. I think our conditioning really paid off, and our front continued to play really fast defensively."
On the Duke players as fighters week after week
"It is consistency of practice habits. We have great young men that buy in to what we ask them to do. They have never questioned how hard we practice, how much we run and how much we push them. That is a great tribute to the kind of young people they are."
On Thaddeus Lewis' success in three straight weeks against veteran quarterbacks
"Our guy, if you look what he has done over the past four weeks, tell me a quarterback that has played better. The guy we have never gets mentioned, and that is OK if that is what you want to do, but show me one playing better. We just do not get the highlights. I was talking to Sean Renfree as the game was going on and telling him to just keep competing - what a great lesson for our young quarterbacks to see."
Duke Player Quotes
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 10/31/2009
Senior Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis
On overcoming the deficit late in the game
"We know whatever situation we are in, we can come back. We are fighting every play, no matter what the situation or the score is. We know when we have to step up. We look into each others' eyes and motivate each other. We know what we are capable of."
On reactions to the interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter:
"You know that there is a lot of time left on the clock and I believed that my defense was going to get us the ball back. The next time you go down, you have to score."
Junior Placekicker Will Snyderwine
On tallying five field goals in the game
"I was pretty busy in the first quarter, but anything I can do to help. I'm excited we got the win in the end - I'm pretty happy."
On anxieties on the field
"I don't really feel anything when I'm out there. Hitting field goals feels pretty good and I've done it about a thousand times in my life at this point, so I don't get nervous."
On sneaking up on teams
"Honestly, I'm not really sure if we are sneaking up on people - maybe you'll have to ask them. We are pretty happy about ourselves; we've been doing pretty well. We will just keep working to get a big win next week at Carolina."
Senior Defensive End Ayanga Okpokowuruk
On the transformation of the Duke program
"We are enjoying every minute of it. This is why we came here - to turn it around. It feels great."
On forcing a fumble in the fourth quarter
"Coach [Marion] Hobby was just telling us to finish our rushes. We had plans on how we were going to pressure the quarterback. I just did a spin move. I didn't think it was going to work really. I turned around and the quarterback was right there and when I tackled him, I went for the ball. I didn't even know it came out. I looked up and I saw [Charlie] Hatcher bringing it up in the endzone."
On emerging as ACC Championship contenders
"It feels good; we just thank God it worked out this way. We just played every game game-by-game, taking it one day at a time. For us to be in this position, it helps us to see the big picture, but we still have to focus on every day working hard and the things that got us here. We have to focus on that.
Cavs stumble in the stretch in loss to Blue Devils
By Michael Phillips
Published: November 1, 2009
Updated: November 1, 2009
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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Each dropped pass in quarterback Jameel Sewell's 8-for-22 outing was an inkblot test for fans.
Some blamed Sewell for not delivering a good pass. Others blamed a receiving corps with the tendency to drop those passes. And the rest turned toward the coaches' box and blamed offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon.
This wasn't a single-answer test, though. Virginia's 28-17 loss to Duke was all of the three, and defensive disarray at unfortunate times.
"We kind of gave that game away," fullback Rashawn Jackson said. "It's a collective effort."
The Wahoos led 17-12 with 12 minutes remaining, a testament to a defense that had contained Blue Devils quarterback Thaddeus Lewis for most of the game with steady pressure.
But the same formula worked for Duke down the stretch, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown that gave the Blue Devils an eight-point lead in the final minutes.
Coach Al Groh wouldn't cite Brandon -- "I don't critique my coaches in public," he said -- but added that a number of aspects of the passing game weren't working.
"Certainly, we have to be better," Groh said. "The protection has to be better, there were dropped balls when we were open, and we missed some receivers when they were open. We could all see that."
Virginia dropped to 2-2 in ACC play, and 3-5 overall, meaning a sixth victory for bowl eligibility will be challenging to achieve.
The Cavs' offense gained 1 yard in the first quarter and finished with 196, compared to Duke's 424. Jackson was a bright spot, but little else went right for the unit.
Sewell, a proficient runner, did not have any carries in the game. He was injured in the second quarter but returned to action. After the game, he was not available for comment because he left for X-rays, but Groh said that the lack of running was unrelated to his injury.
He found a way to deliver late in the game, with a key fourth-and-1 play in Duke territory. He rolled out left and threw a strike to tight end Joe Torchia, who then caught the touchdown pass that gave U.Va. the lead.
"Jameel went to his reads, there was a good job blocking, and it all worked out," Torchia said.
That was all the offense could muster, though, and with the team down 18-17 and 3 minutes left, Sewell stayed in the pocket too long on third and 8, was hit by Ayanga Okpokowuruk, and Charlie Hatcher took the fumble back for a touchdown.
"They made plays, and when we needed plays, we didn't make them," defensive end Nate Collins said.
The defense did a strong job sniffing out Duke's early strategy. The Blue Devils tried to establish the running game, but the defensive line shut that down in a hurry and made Lewis go back to the pass.
"It seemed in the first quarter, they wanted to run the ball a lot more than we expected to catch us off guard," lineman Zane Parr said. "But we shut that down pretty quick."
For the rest of the half, the unit bent but didn't break, allowing the Blue Devils into the red zone several times, but they couldn't escape with more than field goals.
But the breakdowns started in the third quarter. With Duke trailing 10-9 and taking the field, the defensive calls got mixed up, freeing up receiver Donovan Varner for a 32-yard catch that led to a field goal.
At another point, the unit had to call a timeout because of personnel questions. Cornerback Chase Minnifield slipped to allow another long pass by Lewis, who wound up with 343 yards on a 24-for-40 effort.
Still, with the score 17-12 Virginia, the mood was optimistic.
"I thought we had it," Parr said. "When the offense took the field, I thought they would get another score and put us even further in the lead."
Instead it was a few key plays that turned things for the Blue Devils and left the Cavs wondering what might have been. One of those was Lewis' 42-yard touchdown pass to Conner Vernon with 3:43 left that made put Duke in front 18-17.
Now the Cavaliers will try to rebound, knowing they play in a conference in which every game is winnable and no team is much worse than another.
Still, Groh said that as he left the field after this one, there was disappointment.
"We put a lot into this," he said. "We put everything we had into this. When you get nothing back, it's a sinking feeling."
U.Va. notes: Defensive switch
By Staff Reports
Published: November 1, 2009
Updated: November 1, 2009
Taking aim at a Duke offense that was pass-heavy, Virginia played most of the game in a nickel formation, the first time that defensive package had been used all year.
"We were definitely working to get a lot of pressure on the QB," defensive lineman Zane Parr said. "The offensive line was coming off the ball hard, and we just had to come off harder and really push their tackles and guard back."
Groh said that there were three specific subgroups within the formation. The switch resulted in Chase Minnifield getting additional time at cornerback as he played the role of the fifth defensive back, while linebacker Denzel Burrell was not used for most of the game.
Minnifield had one of the game's most memorable plays when he intercepted a Thaddeus Lewis pass in the back of the end zone to preserve a Virginia red-zone stop.
This week's punter was junior Nathan Rathjen, as he filled in for sophomore Jimmy Howell.
Howell joined the team for the game and did not appear to be injured.
"His performance had left a lot to be desired," coach Al Groh said of Howell. "There was some degree of improvement."
Rathjen punted the ball six times with an average of 40.2 yards.
Crowd hits new low
The 41,713 fans in attendance represented the lowest number since Scott Stadium was renovated in 2000.
When Virginia returns home in two weeks to face Boston College, the number could drop below the attendance for a 1999 game against Buffalo, when 40,100 watched the Cavs.
Aboushi gets time
Left tackle Oday Aboushi played a small portion of yesterday's game, subbing in for Landon Bradley at the start of the second quarter.
"Coach told me to be ready, that you're going to get your reps," Aboushi said. "Whatever they need me to do, I'm willing to."
The touted offensive lineman is a true freshman, and it's rare for players that young to compete at the collegiate level. But Aboushi spent the summer working out, and said that he told the coaches he wanted to make an immediate impact.
He played the end of a blowout against Indiana, but yesterday's time was with the outcome still undetermined.
Aboushi is one of 14 true freshmen to see playing time this season. Only one will be able to redshirt, as Dominique Wallace was injured before playing his fourth game of the season.
Of those 14, two had their redshirts removed yesterday. Linebacker Connor McCartin played some with the special teams, and tight end Paul Freedman was on offense for a brief portion of the second half, logging one reception.
Verica appears briefly
When quarterback Jameel Sewell left with an injury in the second quarter, junior Marc Verica got some time behind center. He finished 5 for 16 with just 21 yards, mostly on screen passes.
Sewell returned to the game, but went for X-rays afterward. He was hit in the chest by a Duke defender after throwing the ball.
While Verica is regarded as more of a true passer, he stayed in Sewell's offense. Interestingly, the team did switch to the spread offense briefly, but Sewell was in the game for that portion of the first half.
Sewell also saw his streak of passes without an interception end at 145.
* This was the first time U.Va. had back-to-back losses to Duke since 1981-82.
* Duke kicker Will Snyderwine made five field goals, the first time Virginia has allowed that many since a 2002 game with Colorado State.
* After a costly personal foul against U.Va. last week, it was Duke's turn this week. Receiver Conner Vernon caught the ball, his helmet was ripped off by Chris Cook in the tackle, then Vernon stood up and made a first-down signal. The officials gave him a 15-yard penalty.
* Joe Torchia caught his first career touchdown pass. -- Michael Phillips
Grading U.Va.‘s three keys
Grading the three keys
(D-) Match Duke's scoring. Didn't happen. Duke had three strong drives early, and Virginia failed to answer. The Cavs' offense could have provided the defense with some momentum after holding the Blue Devils to three field goals, but failed to. With just 1 yard in the first quarter, the offense failed to get off the ground. Running backs Mikell Simpson and Torrey Mack were held in check until Rashawn Jackson started taking over. Late in the game, Virginia could not answer three Duke scores.
(B-) Return game. Chase Minnifield took some vicious hits on punt returns, but the Duke special teams, which specialize in forcing fumbles, were unable to. The yardage wasn't there, but credit goes to Minnifield for hanging onto the ball. On kick returns, he had mixed results, but was more impressive than he has been in recent weeks.
(D) Avoid pressure/quick release. Jameel Sewell was sacked only twice, but repeatedly was harassed by the Blue Devils' defensive line. Oday Aboushi was briefly inserted at left tackle, and after a false start penalty, was able to hold his own, but Landon Bradley returned to the game. The problems are on the offensive line and with Sewell. He seems to take his sacks at the most inopportune moments, leading fans to believe he's under duress more often than he actually is.
Frightening setback for Cavaliers
After a fourth-quarter Duke flurry, floundering Virginia loses on Halloween in front of nearly 20,000 empty seats at Scott Stadium.
By Doug Doughty
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Pity the poor youngsters who missed trick-or-treating for a chance to watch Virginia's football team play on Halloween.
It was the same feeling as ringing the door at an empty house.
There was a glimmer of hope when the Cavaliers twice overcame second-half deficits to take the lead Saturday, but a late Duke flurry resulted in a 28-17 Blue Devils triumph.
Three early October victories faded into the background as the noose tightened around the neck of ninth-year UVa head coach Al Groh.
UVa (3-5, 2-2 ACC) had won 12 of their previous 13 games against Duke in Charlottesville and had not lost back-to-back games to the Blue Devils since 1981-82.
Now, Duke (5-3, 3-1) has a second-year head coach, David Cutcliffe, who is unbeaten against the Cavaliers.
The Blue Devils claimed a 31-3 victory over Virginia last year in a game that was not as lopsided as the score indicated. The Cavaliers had six turnovers that day and actually held Duke's high-powered attack to 258 yards.
This time, Duke outgained Virginia 424-196.
Leading the way was quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, a four-year starter who completed 24 of 40 passes for 343 yards. In the previous three games, he had passed for 359, 459 and 371 yards.
"Our guy, if you look at what he's done the last four weeks, tell me a quarterback in the country that's played better," said Cutcliffe, perhaps best known as a mentor for Peyton and Eli Manning.
"I'm pretty good at evaluating quarterbacks. I'm not going to be cocky or arrogant, but I am, OK? But the guy we got never gets mentioned and that's OK, but show me one [who is] playing better. We just don't get the highlights."
A less experienced or talented quarterback might have gotten flustered after being sacked five times in the first half, as Lewis was Saturday at Scott Stadium.
"Absolutely," Cutcliffe said. "Absolutely. I'm talking to [backup quarterback] Sean Renfree as the game was going on and telling him, 'See, you've just got to keep competing.' "
The Blue Devils may have been down to their last bullet, facing a third-and-9 from the UVa 42-yard line and trailing 17-12 when Lewis connected with freshman Conner Vernon on the go-ahead touchdown pass with 3:45 left.
Vernon beat one of Virginia's most capable defensive backs, fifth-year senior corner Chris Cook.
A failed two-point pass left the Blue Devils with an 18-17 lead and Virginia with plenty of time to stage a late comeback, but the Cavaliers were backed up to their 13-yard line when Mike Parker was called for a block in the back on the ensuing kickoff.
After two incompletions, UVa quarterback Jameel Sewell was unable to escape Duke's pass rush and fumbled when he was hit by the Blue Devils' Ayanga Okpokowuruk.
Duke's Charlie Hatcher scooped up the loose ball and returned it 7 yards for a touchdown, at which point the Blue Devils had scored 13 points in 23 seconds.
That put Duke on top 25-17 but, with 3:22 left, Virginia could have sent the game into overtime with a touchdown and two-point conversion. The best shot the Cavaliers had came on a first-down bomb from Sewell that slipped through Jared Green's hands at the Duke 15.
Virginia didn't pick up a first down on any of its final four possessions, forfeiting all of the momentum created by an end-zone interception by Chase Minnifield with 8:01 remaining.
The Cavaliers took over at their 20 following Minnifield's pick and ran three straight running plays as a restless crowd groaned in frustration.
"Clearly, it was a critical stage," Groh said.
"If we can take the ball and move it down the field, we're going to eat up the clock and maybe get some more points. We had an opportunity to respond to a positive circumstance and didn't do enough with it."
Sewell and Marc Verica, who replaced an injured Sewell for two series in the first half, combined to complete 13 of 38 passes for 107 yards. Sewell was not sharp from the start; his first attempt of the day went straight to a Duke defender, who may have been so startled that he dropped it.
"Actually, two or three people remarked to me that [Sewell] seemed to be especially positive and energetic during warmups," Groh said.
By the end of the afternoon, Sewell was a wreck and took a late shot that caused Verica to re-enter for the final series. Sewell was often off-target and an old habit of holding onto the ball too long may have led to two late sacks and the fumble.
"Protection certainly would have to be better," Groh said. "We can all see that. We dropped some balls when we were open. We can all see that. And we missed some receivers who were open and we can all see that.
"In college football these days, a great deal of the scoring comes from the passing game. With problems in all three areas of the passing game, it's difficult to produce the amount of points that are necessary."
New punter shows promise
By Doug Doughty | The Roanoke Times
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Walk-on Nathan Rathjen took over as Virginia's punter Saturday, replacing sophomore Jimmy Howell, who had done virtually all of UVa's punting for the past two seasons.
"We could see that the performance in recent games left a lot to be desired," UVa coach Al Groh said.
Howell was averaging 40.2 yards per punt after the Cavaliers' first seven games, but rainy weather didn't agree with him in outings at Maryland and against Georgia Tech at home.
Howell averaged 32.8 yards for nine punts against Maryland and 38 yards on four punts against Georgia Tech. A reduction in hang time was particularly noticeable against the Yellow Jackets.
Rathjen's average Saturday was the same, 40.2, as Howell's average for the season. Rathjen, a junior from Loudoun County High School, had an early 50-yarder but also had another punt go 18 yards off the side of his foot.
Groh said there was "probably some degree of improvement. You would never know if we didn't try this."
Rathjen had punted once all season before Saturday and actually had served as UVa's holder when Vic Hall was sidelined earlier in the season.
Duke quarterbacks had been sacked only 14 times in seven games before the Cavaliers got to Thaddeus Lewis five times in the first half and six times overall. Junior defensive end John-Kevin Dolce, who didn't start, had 2 12 sacks.
Senior Nate Collins had two sacks and sophomore defensive end Zane Parr, making his second career start, had 1 12. Collins has 35 tackles -- six for losses -- and four sacks in the last three games.
For the second game in a row, UVa gave up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and time of possession may have taken its toll. Duke ran 80 offensive plays, compared to UVa's 66, and had the ball for 35:26, as opposed to UVa's 24:34.
By the numbers
With 198 yards in total offense, Virginia failed to crack the 200-yard mark for the third time this season. The Cavaliers had 177 yards in a 30-14 loss to TCU and 198 yards in a 34-9 loss to Georgia Tech. ... The crowd of 41,713 was the smallest at Scott Stadium since 40,100 turned out in 1999 for a Cavaliers game with Buffalo. The crowds for UVa's last four home games have been the four smallest at Scott Stadium since 1999. ... Duke's three-game winning streak is its first since 1994.
Odds 'n' ends
Duke wide receivers Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon, both of whom had seven receptions for more than 100 yards, were teammates at Gulliver Prep in Miami. ... Jameel Sewell had attempted 145 passes without an interception before yielding a first-quarter pick by Leon Wright. Sewell's streak was the fifth-longest in Division I-A going into Saturday.
Two more true freshmen made their first appearance of the season, tight end Paul Freedman and Connor McCartin. Groh has used 14 true freshmen this season after redshirting most of his previous three classes. He used a total of 11 true freshmen between 2006-2008.
The analyst for the ESPN360.com broadcast was Danny Kanell, whose last appearance at Scott Stadium had come Nov. 2, 1995, when he was the Florida State quarterback when the Seminoles lost for the first time in 30 ACC games.
Virginia knocked off then-No. 2 Florida State 33-28 despite a record-setting performance by Kanell, who completed 32 of 67 passes for 454 yards, the high at Scott Stadium until Georgia Tech's George Godsey passed for 486 yards in a 2001 loss to the Cavaliers.
UVa next week
The Cavaliers (3-5, 2-2 ACC) will seek to avoid a three-game losing streak when they visit Miami (6-2, 3-2) at a time that will be announced at noon today. The Hurricanes rallied for a 28-27 victory Saturday at Wake Forest.
Gloomy final 4 minutes for Cavs
By Norm Wood | 247-4642
November 1, 2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE - By the time Virginia cornerback Chris Cook finally lifted his head Saturday from the Scott Stadium turf, Duke's Conner Vernon already was standing in the end zone. Cook couldn't bear to watch.
It was the beginning of the end for U.Va. in its 28-17 loss to Duke, and Cook must've known it. He put his face mask right back down in the grass, unable to watch the celebration. Most of U.Va.'s fans shared the same sentiment.
Duke scored 16 straight points in the last 3 minutes and 45 seconds to claim its second straight win against U.Va. (3-5 overall, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), a feat the Blue Devils achieved in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1981 and '82. Duke also beat U.Va. 31-3 last season.
Fans streamed out in the final minutes, leaving a stadium that started the day with just 41,713 in attendance looking even more empty at the end. It was the lowest attendance in Scott Stadium since it was expanded to 61,500 seats for the start of the 2000 season.
"Unfortunately, this one looked too much like some that have preceded it," said U.Va. coach Al Groh, who was booed along with his team after the game by a smattering of fans that remained above the tunnel entrance to the Cavaliers' locker room.
"We played fairly well for a long time on defense, and managed to push them offensively. However many (plays) there were — there don't need to be many; four, five six — that cause teams to lose, they took us in the wrong direction."
U.Va. gained just 196 yards — its second-lowest total of the season — while Duke picked up 424 yards. The Cavaliers converted four of 16 third downs, and have converted only 10 of 43 third downs in the last three games. Sewell completed 8 of 22 passes for 86 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Running back Rashawn Jackson had 16 carries for 83 yards.
Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis punished U.Va.'s pass defense, which entered the game giving up just 151 yards per game (fifth in the nation), by completing 24 of 40 passes for 343 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He had 136 yards passing in the fourth quarter.
His 42-yard touchdown pass to Vernon on third-and-9 was the longest pass play of the game, and put Duke ahead 18-17 with 3:45 remaining. Vernon ran a post pattern to get past Cook, who fell down in press coverage and didn't have help behind him, giving Vernon a clear path to Lewis' pass and the end zone.
The situation went from bad to worse for U.Va. on its next possession, as quarterback Jameel Sewell threw incomplete on first and second down from U.Va.'s 13-yard line. On third down, Sewell was hit by defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk, who forced a fumble that nose guard Charlie Hatcher scooped up and returned 7 yards for a touchdown to extend Duke's advantage to 25-17.
In the span of 23 seconds, U.Va. went from being on the verge of holding on for a win that would've kept it with Georgia Tech as one of two one-loss teams in the ACC's Coastal Division to a devastating home loss. Now, Duke (5-3, 3-1) is tied with Georgia Tech atop the division.
After U.Va. failed to complete three straight passes the possession following Hatcher's touchdown return, and Sewell was sacked on fourth down, Duke's Will Snyderwine tacked on a 43-yard field goal — his fifth field goal of the game — with 1:05 left to seal U.Va.'s fate.
Despite the lopsided statistics, U.Va. had a chance to win. Before Lewis' touchdown pass to Vernon, U.Va. had kept Duke out of the end zone on six trips in to Cavaliers' territory. U.Va. sacked Lewis six times, including 2 1/2 sacks from nose tackle John-Kevin Dolce and two from defensive end Nate Collins.
"I feel like (Lewis) just put the ball where it needed to be with his receivers," Collins said. "He's a good quarterback. He's come a long way, and he did what he needed to do. … When they needed to make plays, he was the one making plays for them."
Clinging to a 17-12 lead after tight end Joe Torchia caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Sewell with 11:17 left, U.Va. appeared ready to take control. Lewis completed four of six passes for 72 yards on Duke's next possession, but his seventh pass of the drive was intercepted in the back of the end zone by cornerback Chase Minnifield with 8:01 left.
On its next drive, U.Va. gained four yards on three running plays and had to punt, giving the ball back to Duke with 5:36 left. Lewis led Duke on its first touchdown-scoring drive, culminated by Vernon's big catch.
"We know whatever situation we are in, we can come back," Lewis said. "We are fighting every play, no matter what the situation or the score is."
Virginia's problem: Moving the ball down the stretch
By Norm Wood | 247-4642
November 1, 2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE - There's a difference in playing with a purpose to put games away, and merely playing with hopes that the clock will expire before anything bad happens. Virginia experienced that scenario the hard way with some questionable play-calling down the stretch in Saturday's 28-17 loss to Duke.
Duke (5-3 overall, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) took advantage of U.Va.'s inability to move the ball down the stretch. On its last four drives, U.Va. ran a total of 14 plays, lost two yards in the process and surrendered a fumble return for a touchdown.
When asked by a reporter after the game how he assessed offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon's play-calling, U.Va. coach Al Groh bristled in his response.
"I think it was what needed to be done here today," Groh said. "Clearly, I don't critique my coaches in front of the public. I'm sure you don't like to be critiqued by your editor in front of the public."
After Chase Minnifield intercepted a pass from Duke's Thaddeus Lewis in the end zone with 8:01 left in Saturday's game, U.Va. had its opportunity to build on a five-point lead. Instead of mixing up the play calls on its next drive, U.Va. (3-5, 2-2) elected to stick to the ground game.
The Cavaliers picked up just four yards – one on two runs by Rashawn Jackson and three on a scramble by Jameel Sewell – and punted the ball away with 5:36 left. U.Va. showed some imagination in the second half, operating out of the shotgun in a spread offense on several drives. Still, the Cavaliers managed to gain just 115 yards in the half and drove beyond their own 32-yard line two times in eight possessions.
"It was me," said Jackson regarding U.Va.'s possession after Minnifield's interception. "I should've broken some tackles. I should've made something happen. Unfortunately, we didn't get any first downs, so I definitely put that on me and I take personal responsibility for it."
DEVILS DELIVER FRIGHTS TO CAVS
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
--When Virginia sophomore cornerback Chase Minnifield made a diving interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers' home contest with Duke yesterday, it appeared his team was well on its way to its fourth win in five games.
The Cavaliers' sideline jumped around and celebrated with Minnifield as he sprinted off the field with 8:01 remaining and Virginia nursing a five-point lead.
"We were pretty confident after that," Minnifield said. "The team's morale was high."
But what transpired following Minnifield's pick left the Cavaliers despondent in front of 41,713 spectators in Scott Stadium.
The Cavaliers' moribund offense went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and the defense gave up a 44-yard touchdown pass from Blue Devils quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to wide receiver Conner Vernon with 3:45 left in the game, as Duke went on to a 28-17 Atlantic Coast Conference victory.
It was the second straight loss for the Cavaliers (3-5, 2-2 ACC) after a three-game winning streak had seemingly saved a dying season.
"Hurt for losing," Virginia head coach Al Groh said of his emotions following the game. "We put a lot into this. We put everything we've got into it. When you get nothing back in return, it's a haunting feeling."
Vernon's touchdown gave Duke (5-3, 3-1) an 18-17 lead. When Virginia got the ball back, senior quarterback Jameel Sewell fumbled as he was sacked.
Duke nose tackle Charlie Hatcher recovered the miscue and scooted into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown with 3:22 left in the game to make it 25-17.
"Too many gift points," Groh said of Virginia's 10 points allowed on turnovers.
The Blue Devils added Will Snyderwine's fifth field goal of the game with 1:05 remaining, and the Cavaliers didn't threaten again. Fans booed ferociously as Virginia players and coaches left the field.
"It's a bit heartbreaking," Virginia senior running back Rashawn Jackson said. "We've sold out and we're doing things the correct way during the week. Unfortunately, sometimes you have glitches in the game and we're not performing. Hopefully we can get this thing erased in terms of 'You can't have a long-term memory.' That's how you keep piling up losses."
It would take a long-term memory to recall the last time Duke won three ACC games in a row, which it accomplished yesterday. The year was 1994. The Blue Devils have now beaten Virginia in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1981-82.
After yesterday's win, the Blue Devils sit alone in second place in the Coastal Division, while the Cavaliers search for answers.
"We've just got to stay together," said senior defensive end Nate Collins, who recorded two sacks yesterday. "Right now everyone wants to point fingers. Everyone wants to know who's at fault or who's to blame. We win together. We lose together. The quicker we can get this all figured out, the quicker we can get ready for [next week's game at] Miami."
The offense and defense can share equal blame for yesterday's showing. The Cavaliers entered the game with the ACC's No. 1 pass defense. Duke has the No. 1 pass offense. The Blue Devils won the battle. They racked up 424 total yards, including 343 through the air.
Lewis hung tough despite being sacked six times.
"Obviously, he made the difference for his team," Groh said of Lewis. "Despite some challenging times in there, a lot of pressure he was under and so forth, he came up with a couple of plays that had to be made. That's to his credit. That's why his team is in the position it is right now."
The Cavaliers are in their position right now because of quarterback play, too. But it's not the kind that made Groh gush over Lewis.
Sewell was 8-for-22 passing, with a touchdown and an interception. When he sat most of the second quarter because he was banged up, backup Marc Verica went 5-of-16 for 21 yards.
"Our offense didn't play really well when we needed it to," Jackson said.
It had a few bright moments.
The Cavaliers trailed 9-3 at halftime, but Sewell's 1-yard rushing touchdown gave them a 10-9 lead with 11:38 left in the third quarter.
When Virginia trailed 12-10 early in the fourth quarter, Sewell converted a key fourth-and-1 play with a 21-yard pass to tight end Joe Torchia. On the next play, Sewell found Torchia for a 19-yard touchdown pass that gave Virginia a 17-12 advantage with 11:17 left in the game.
On its next possession, Duke got a 40-yard pass from Lewis to wide receiver Donovan Varner that put the Blue Devils on Virginia's 3-yard line, but three plays later Minnifield came through with his interception.
The Cavaliers immediately unraveled.
"With all due credit to Duke, they made plays and they deserve credit for doing that," Groh said. "By the same token, from our side we can say we did some things to give the game away."
Just like last season
By Jay Jenkins
Published: November 1, 2009
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On an evening when ghosts sauntered the streets for treats, Virginia was haunted in a matter of minutes.
Apparently headed for their third league win and needing to run out the waning minutes, the Cavaliers stumbled and fumbled and Duke rumbled to a stunning 28-17 victory that all but dashed Virginia’s postseason aspirations.
To register their second straight win over UVa, a feat that they had not accomplished in 27 years, the Blue Devils (5-3, 3-1 ACC) scored 17 unanswered points in the final 3:45.
“We kind of gave that game away,” said Virginia running back Rashawn Jackson. “It is heartbreaking.”
The coaches and players on Duke’s sidelines were just as surprised by the scoring spree in what had been a defense-dominated contest.
“It was an explosion,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “I was not surprised when Virginia came out, did a good job and took the lead.
“I was not overly concerned, but it was a pretty amazing finish on our team’s part. It does not happen just because you want it to.”
The comeback started with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to wide receiver Conner Vernon with 3:45 remaining, which gave the Blue Devils an 18-17 lead.
Vernon, who was guarded by press coverage from cornerback Chris Cook, sprinted upfield, was jammed and escaped the coverage as the ball arrived from Lewis, who was slammed to the ground by a hit from John-Kevin Dolce.
“It takes a lot of courage against a front like that coming at your quarterback, an absolutely perfect route run by Vernon [and] focus to catch it,” Cutcliffe said. “When you are playing zero coverage, there is nobody else there.”
While it appeared that Cook slipped to the ground, Virginia coach Al Groh said he was of the opinion that it was not a factor.
After Duke failed to convert the two-point conversion, Virginia still had time to move into field-goal range.
Yet a 16-yard illegal block penalty on the kickoff called on Mike Parker and two incomplete passes left the Cavaliers facing third-and-10 at their own 13.
While scrambling in the pocket on the ensuing play, Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell had the ball knocked from his left hand by Duke defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk.
“I just did a spin move,” he said. “I didn’t think it was really going to work. I turned around and [Sewell] was right there and when I tackled him, I went for the ball.”
The loose football was picked up moments later at the Virginia 6-yard line by nose guard Charlie Hatcher, who ran in untouched for a touchdown.
“The fumble return for a touchdown was not an accident either,” Cutcliffe said. “That is pressure, persistence in rush and awareness to quickly scoop and score.”
Despite a mass exit in the stands from the smallest crowd at Scott Stadium in 10 years, Virginia still had a chance for yet another comeback.
That opportunity fizzled quickly as Sewell threw three incomplete passes and was sacked for a 10-yard loss on fourth down, turning the ball over in a position that led to a 43-yard field goal from Duke’s Will Snyderwine with 1:05 left.
Groh said Virginia allowed “too many gift points” in the loss.
“Unfortunately this one looked too much like some that have preceded it,” said Groh after his team fell to 3-5 overall and 2-2 in the conference. “We played fairly well for a long time on defense against a team that is pretty proficient offensively.
“There don’t need to be very many — four, five, six, how many ever there were of the plays that cause teams to lose. It tilted it in the wrong direction. It’s unfortunate.”
Leading 17-12 in the fourth quarter, Virginia had its chance to add points or run out the clock following an interception by sophomore Chase Minnifield in the back of the end zone with 8:01 remaining.
Yet three rushes, including two from Jackson, netted just four yards and led to a punt with 5:36 remaining.
“The offense didn’t play really well when we needed to — that three-and-out was evidence of that,” said Jackson, who rushed for 83 yards on 16 carries. “I should have broken some more tackles. There were a few opportunities that we left on the field. It was a collective effort.
“Offensively, we didn’t protect well. We didn’t catch well. I didn’t run well enough and Duke won.”
Virginia was in a situation to win because of two offensive touchdowns in the second half.
In clockwork-like fashion, the Cavaliers clicked on their first offensive possession of the third quarter. In fact, Virginia gained 66 yards on eight plays, scoring on a 1-yard quarterback keeper from Sewell just 3:22 into the third quarter.
“As soon as we saw the play, got the play from the sideline, I realized, ‘Well, you know this guy is going to score and if someone if going to get in his way then I am going to help push him in,’” Jackson said. “Fortunately, I didn’t need to help push him in because he had a pretty good hole.”
After a 25-yard field goal from Snyderwine, the Cavaliers scored again as Sewell connected with tight end Joe Torchia on a 19-yard strike.
“Jameel put it perfectly,” Torchia said of his first career touchdown. “He works hard every day to put the ball where it needs to be and that’s what he did.”
Duke managed just three field goals in the first half and led 9-0 before Virginia trimmed the margin with a 33-yard field goal from Robert Randolph.
For the game, Virginia managed just 196 yards of total offense and was forced to play the final 13:50 of the first half without Sewell, who returned after the intermission.
Duke, running a game-high 80 plays, amassed 424 yards. Lewis accounted for 356 of those yards, including 343 through the air as he connected with seven different targets.
Virginia returns to action on Saturday at Miami. The start time for the game will be announced today.
Lack of run game dooms Virginia
By Jerry Ratcliffe
Published: November 1, 2009
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Over the Al Groh era at Virginia, generally passing statistics have generally been losing statistics.
The exception was in 2002-2003, when golden-armed Matt Schaub directed the team to 17 wins and back-to-back bowl wins. Even then, the Cavaliers had a decent ground game with Wali Lundy and Alvin Pearman.
With eight minutes to go in Saturday night’s home game against Duke, there was no running game to rely on when Virginia needed it most.
The Cavs had relied on the pass to cover 60 yards and take the lead over the Blue Devils, who hadn’t won in Charlottesville since 1999. Quarterback Jameel Sewell connected to tight end Joe Torchia on fourth-and-inches for a first down, then again for a 19-yard touchdown pass to go up, 17-12 early in the fourth quarter.
A few minutes later, the Devils were knocking on the door, third-and-14 at the Virginia 7-yard line, when Cavalier defensive back Chase Minnifield picked off a Thaddeus Lewis pass in the back of the end zone to end the Duke threat.
That was the last bright moment for UVa, which had hoped to even its record at 4-4 and remain in second place in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Instead, the final eight minutes had a nightmarish end for the Cavaliers.
Mr. Mo Mentum
Old Mo had swung in Virginia’s favor. All the Cavs had to do was make something positive happen.
“Clearly, it was a critical stage,” Groh said after the 28-17 loss, UVa’s first back-to-back losses to Duke since 1981 and 1982. “If we can take the ball and move it down the field, we’re going to eat up the clock, maybe get some more points. That’s what good teams have to do offensively.”
For Virginia fans, what ensued was akin to watching Bambi getting snagged in an electrical fence.
The next three UVa offensive possessions were disastrous: no first downs, minus-6 yards, five incomplete passes, a sack, and a fumble, all leading to two Duke touchdowns in a matter of 23 seconds.
Groh tried to do what good teams do on that first possession, calling two straight running plays to his best back, the physical Rashawn Jackson, who netted one yard, followed by a third down scramble by Sewell for three yards and a punt.
Duke scored five plays later when Conner Vernon beat UVa corner Chris Cook on man-to-man coverage for a 43-yard TD and an 18-17 lead. Only 23 seconds later, the Devils were dancing in Virginia’s end zone again after two straight Sewell incompletions, followed by a Sewell fumble, scooped up for a TD by Duke’s Charlie Hatcher.
Game, set, match, for all intents and purposes, although UVa had a mathematical chance, trailing 25-17 with 3:22 left.
The implosion continued on the next series with three straight Sewell incompletions and a sack with 2:55 to go.
In reality, the game slipped away on that first possession when momentum was in UVa’s corner.
“Actually, I wanted to score there,” Jackson said after the game. “That was the mindset, let’s score. I should have gotten a first down. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that. If we had, the momentum of the game would have switched.”
Jackson may have been attempting to shoulder the blame and Groh had attempted to do what good teams need to do, but both forgot a crucial part of the equation.
There was no blocking, nowhere for Jackson to run for the second week in a row. Virginia’s running game has been pathetic the past two weeks because there are no holes.
The passing game has suffered as well, as it has most of the season in which Cavalier quarterbacks have been sacked 28 times, one of the worst in the nation, and kept Sewell running for his life.
The UVa quarterback didn’t show up for post-game media interviews because he was getting X-rays, and left Scott Stadium with his shoulder wrapped in ice.
For the night, the Cavaliers rushed for a measly 89 yards, the third straight game Virginia has been held to less than 100 yards on the ground.
When a team can’t control the line of scrimmage and becomes one-dimensional it doesn’t have much of a chance unless there’s a Schaub on the roster. Sewell tries hard, but he’s no Schaub.
Other than a mysterious 47-point outburst against Indiana a few weeks ago, Virginia’s offense has been rather putrid. It came into the game ranked No. 115 in the nation in total offense (out of 120 FBS schools) and will likely sink deeper after managing a mere 196 yards (nearly 100 yards less than its per-game average).
That’s not what good teams do.
This is not a good football team.
UVa’s defense, under constant pressure due partly to an inept offense, kept the nation’s sixth-ranked passing attack under control for most of the evening but eventually bowed as Lewis threw for 343 yards and a TD on 40 attempts, even though he was sacked six times.
Among his aerial darts were the 42-yarder to Vernon, a 40-yarder to Donovan Varner, and a 33-yarder to Austin Kelly.
The Cavs had no answer. Sewell, who left the game with an injury and returned, along with replacement Marc Verica combined for a 13-of-38 passing night and 107 yards. Sewell, one of the top six on UVa’s career passing yards list, was a less-than-impressive 8 of 22 for 86 yards.
“Protection certainly would have to be better — we can all see that,” Groh said. “We dropped some balls when we were open, we can all see that. And we missed some receivers who were open, and we can all see that.
“In college football these days, with some exceptions, the great deal of scoring comes from the passing game and when there are problems in three different areas of the passing game it’s difficult to produce the amount of points necessary,” Groh said.
When you can’t run the football and you can’t throw the football, you’re doomed, which explains why Virginia is 3-5 and has lost nine of its last 12 games.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who has reversed the fortunes of a program that was once the sad sacks of ACC football, also believed his team won the game on the sequence after falling behind.
As soon as UVa took the lead, Cutcliffe went to his defense and told them it was OK, that Duke would score another touchdown, and just to focus on the next series.
“That was a big stage in the game, and we had them back on the 20-yard line,” Cutcliffe said. “They did the natural thing to try and run the football. They really did not have a ton of success running the ball, so our guys responded. It was huge.”
Virginia failed to answer the bell and will likely not be favored to win any of its remaining four games: at Miami, Boston College (home), at Clemson, and Virginia Tech (home).
“Hopefully the guys will find it as motivation,” Jackson said of the loss. “That starts [Sunday at practice]. We have, what, four games left? Hope isn’t going to get us there. I hope guys are motivated because I damn sure am enthused and ready to go. I’m ready to play Miami.”
Question is, are his teammates?
Cavaliers rue missed chances
By Jerry Ratcliffe
Published: November 1, 2009
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Virginia’s victory train pulled out of the station with eight minutes to play Saturday night, but no one was aboard.
Two and a half minutes later, the train derailed as the Cavaliers imploded, choked away their 17-12 lead and lost 28-17 to visiting Duke.
Holding the five-point lead, it appeared that momentum had swung UVa’s way when defensive back Chase Minnifield picked off a Thaddeus Lewis pass in the back of the Cavaliers’ end zone, squelching a Duke threat to regain the lead.
With 8:01 remaining in the game, all Virginia had to do was keep making first downs, milk the clock and escape with a win over the Blue Devils.
Instead, the final eight minutes were a nightmare for the Cavaliers. Rather than hold that momentum, their next three offensive series were a disaster.
Following the Minnifield interception, UVa gained possession of the ball at its own 20. After back-to-back running plays by tailback Rashawn Jackson (gaining two yards, then losing a yard), the Cavs were faced with a third-and-nine situation.
Quarterback Jameel Sewell dropped to pass but was under pressure and scrambled for three yards, forcing a UVa punt. The series consumed two minutes, 25 seconds.
Duke took a chance on its third-and-nine and Blue Devils wide receiver Conner Vernon beat UVa senior cornerback Chris Cook in press coverage on a 42-yard scoring strike that definitely shifted momentum back in Duke’s favor. The Devils led 18-17 after failing on a two-point conversion try with 3:45 to go.
Virginia’s next offensive series was even less impressive. A block-in-the-back penalty on Mike Parker put the Cavaliers back at their own 13 after the kickoff return. Sewell threw two incompletions, then on third-and-10, he was stripped by Duke defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk, with teammate Charlie Hatcher picking up the loose ball and rumbling into the end zone.
“Coach [Marion] Hobby was just telling us to finish our rushes,” Okpokowuruk said after the game. “We had plans on how we were going to pressure the quarterback. I just did a spin move. I didn’t think it was going to work really.
“I turned around and the quarterback was right there and when I tackled him, I went for the ball,” the Duke senior end said. “I didn’t even know it came out. I looked up and I saw Hatcher bringing it up in the end zone.”
In a mere 23 seconds, Virginia found itself down 25-17 with 3:22 to play and reeling from one disaster after another.
The next series was no better. Sewell threw three straight incompletions, two to wide receiver Jared Green (one deep), then another over the head of slot receiver Vic Hall, then was sacked on fourth down.
Duke kicked a field goal to ice its second straight win over the Wahoos.
So, during Virginia’s three critical possessions at the end of the game, all the Cavaliers could muster was minus-6 yards, five incomplete passes, a sack, and a fumble resulting in a touchdown.
Woody: College presidents hold key to salary problem: Pay less
By Paul Woody
Published: November 1, 2009
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Many talk about reforming college athletics, but for the past 20 years, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics is one of the few organizations that actually
tries to do something.
The Knight Commission conducted a survey of Football Bowl Subdivision school presidents. They preside over colleges formerly known as Division I-A -- the power conferences.
Of the 119 presidents, 80 percent responded to the survey. The results are startling.
Eighty-six percent of the presidents said their football coaches are overpaid, 87 percent said their men's basketball coaches are overpaid and most said they don't know what to do about it.
The presidents see this as a major problem in financing athletic programs. Yet, we are left with the image of college presidents wringing their hands in anxiety as they mutter, "What to do?"
The first thing to do is take control of the athletic department. That means having a major voice in coaches' compensation, ignoring the market forces, limiting outside income and telling college trustees their support is essential.
Without the trustees' backing, college presidents have little chance for success. Loud, wealthy alumni with an overblown sense of self-worth can get college presidents and athletic directors fired.
Coaching salaries have lost all sense of proportion. Multiple coaches in football and basketball make millions of dollars per year.
We tend to write these things off as "the price of doing business."
These men coach football and basketball. They aren't finding cures for cancer or solving world hunger.
Their paychecks are out of line with their contributions.
College presidents are right to be concerned. They are wrong to feel powerless to solve the problem.
Here's a simple solution. The next time a major college job opens, the president must tell the athletic director the new coach's salary will be lucrative, but reasonable, in the $500,000-to-$700,000 range.
Oh, the horror. How could those schools find an adequate coach for so little?
There are hundreds of excellent coaches, assistants included, who would be thrilled to coach in the ACC, SEC, Big Ten or Big 12 for much less money than what coaches in those conferences currently earn.
The only way to reduce coaching costs is for one school to have the courage to hold its ground when hiring its next coach.
College presidents, athletic directors and fans worry about losing their "low paid" coach to a school with deeper pockets. That always will happen.
But a reverse domino effect also will take place. If one major college holds the line on coaching salaries, another will follow and then another.
This is a far better step toward cost-containment than cutting scholarships, support staff or eliminating swimming or wrestling programs.
This isn't nonsense. It's common sense. It will work.
Someone has to lead. But college presidents have shown they are better at hand-wringing than having the courage to go first.
Helping college presidents overcome that should be the next goal of the Knight Commission.
No. 10 UVa And No. 6 Maryland Play to Scoreless Tie
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 10/31/2009
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – No. 10 Virginia and No. 6 Maryland played to a 0-0 tie Saturday night at Ludwig Field in College Park, Md. With the tie, UVa’s record went to 10-3-2, 3-3-1 in the ACC, while Maryland’s record went to 10-4-2, 4-2-2 ACC.
Wet playing conditions and steady defensive play kept both offenses quiet with only a total of seven shots taken in the first half. Virginia came dangerously close to breaking the scoreless tie in the 25th minute when Neil Barlow had a one-on-one opportunity just inside the box but Terp goalkeeper Zac MacMath won the race to the ball to keep the Cavaliers off the board.
The Terps stepped up their offense in the second stanza, outshooting Virginia, 8-4, in the period including a pair of solid chances in the final five minutes of the game. Kaoru Forbess took a long-range shot from 25 yards out that sailed just wide of the near post in the 86th minute and Taylor Kemp moved up and had a solid strike go wide left two minutes later as the game rolled into overtime knotted at 0-0.
Maryland rattled off five shots in the first overtime period while holding the Cavaliers to only one. Drew Yates intercepted a failed clear from Virginia keeper Diego Restrepo in the 92nd minute and Forbess had a strike go errant two minutes later. Restrepo came up with a pair of big saves with 4:30 remaining in the first extra period as the Cavs keeper saved a blast from Kemp and the rebound attempt by Townsend.
Virginia finished with 11 shots, while Maryland had 18. It was the eighth shutout of the year for Virginia. Restrepo finished with seven saves.
Virginia is back in action on Tuesday, Nov. 3, vs. American at Klöckner Stadium. Kick-off is 7 p.m.
Virginia Comes Back to Beat Duke on Senior Day
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 10/31/2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The third-ranked Virginia field hockey team concluded the regular season with a come-from-behind, 2-1 victory over No. 14 Duke Saturday at the University Hall Turf Field. Sophomores Paige Selesnki and Michelle Vittese each scored and contributed an assist in the win.
Virginia seniors Lauren Elstein and Traci Ragukas were honored following the game for their contributions to the program.
With the win, the Cavaliers conclude the regular season with a 16-2 mark and a 3-2 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The team's only losses were to No. 1 Maryland and No. 2 North Carolina in overtime.
For the game, the Cavaliers outshot Duke 15-8 and also had a 7-5 advantage on penalty corners. Selenski and junior Inga Stöckel each had four shots to lead Virginia.
Duke (9-9, 0-5 ACC) was first to strike, scoring in 21st minute on a penalty corner. Lauren Miller recorded the goal, beating UVa keeper Kim Kastuk. The Blue Devils led 1-0 at halftime.
Five minutes into the second half, Selenski tied the game, tipping in a pass from Vittese from the right side. The Cavaliers struck again four minutes later, this time Vittese scoring on a two-on-one opportunity, receiving the pass from Selenski.
Selenski leads Virginia with 22 goals on the year, while Vittese scored her sixth of the season.
Kastuk finished with three saves, while Samantha Nelso had eight stops for the Blue Devils.
The pairings for the 2009 ACC Field Hockey Championship will be announced later this evening by the conference office. Virginia will play host to the event next Thursday (Nov. 5) through Sunday (Nov. 8) at the University Hall Turf Field.
Heineking Remains Undefeated, Wins ACC Championship
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 10/31/2009
CARY, N.C. - Behind a first-place finish by junior All-American Emil Heineking, the Virginia men's cross country team finished runner-up to NC State, while the women finished third, at the 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference Cross Country Championships on a misty Saturday morning at the WakeMed Soccer Park.
Heineking, who had a comfortable lead the majority race, fought off a late effort by a Florida State runner and teammate Ryan Collins, before reestablished his lead in the final stretch to remain undefeated this season, completing the course in 23:15.49. Heineking's finish brought Virginia its second-consecutive individual conference championship, while Collins finished runner-up in 23:17.74. Junior Trey Miller claimed 15th in 23:58.23, freshman Sintayehu Taye finished 25th in 24:19.46 and junior Graham Tribble rounded out the scoring with a 28th-place finish and a time of 24:31.67.
On the women's side, junior Catherine White earned All-ACC honors with a runner-up finish in 19:55.9. Sophomore Morgane Gay battled to follow White, but Florida State's Pilar McShine edged Gay by .2 seconds, with Gay finishing fourth in 20:06.6, earning All-ACC honors. Senior Lauretta Dezubay and junior Stephanie Garcia crossed close together, with Dezubay taking 17th in 20:49.6 and Garcia claiming 18th in 20:53.4. Sophomore Laurel MacMillan rounded out the scoring Cavaliers with a 47th-place finish in 21:58.5.
NC State won the men's title with 56 points, while Virginia finished second with 71. Florida State took third with 72 points.
On the women's side, Susan Kuijken defended her individual title for Florida State, leading the Seminoles to the team championship with 37 points. Duke finished runner-up with 71 points and Virginia rounded out the top-three with 84 points.
The Cavaliers will return to action on Friday, hosting the Cavalier Invitational at Panorama Farms. Races are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.