White: Verica To Take Another Crack at 'Canes
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/06/2009
By Jeff White
MIAMI -- Passengers on the jet that left Charlottesville on Friday morning and landed in sunny South Florida that afternoon included Jameel Sewell.
The University of Miami football team isn't likely, however, to face a Sewell-led Virginia offense for the third and final time. Instead, the Hurricanes figure to get their second look at Marc Verica.
Two of Sewell's better games as a college quarterback have come against the 'Canes -- UVa victories in 2006 and '07 -- but the fifth-year senior has a hurt shoulder, as well as a slow-to-heal ankle injury, and Verica is expected to start Saturday at Land Shark Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Asked Thursday morning about Sewell, whose health has been an issue in recent weeks, Cavaliers coach Al Groh said, "He's doing all right. He's got a few things here that he's working through. He's another of those players I think we'll have a better sense of here at the end of the day."
The news at the end of the day wasn't encouraging for Sewell. On Virginia's injury report, he was listed as questionable, which he means there's at least a 75-percent chance he won't play against 16th-ranked Miami (3-2 ACC, 6-2 overall).
Unbeknownst to those outside the program, Sewell sustained the shoulder injury last weekend against Duke. Groh said not a word about it publicly ahead of the Miami game, and unsuspecting reporters asked no questions about Verica, a junior from the Philadelphia area.
Verica has played little for UVa (2-2, 3-5) this season, completing 17 of 34 passes for 81 yards in five games, but he's not untested. In 2008, with Sewell out of school serving an academic suspension, Verica started nine games and finished with season with 2,037 yards passing.
Against Miami, he completed 27 of 41 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown at Scott Stadium. Interceptions were a problem for Verica last year -- he threw 16 -- but the Hurricanes didn't pick off any of his passes. He lost a key fumble, though, in the final minute of the fourth quarter, a turnover that kept Virginia from attempting from might have been the game-winning field goal.
The 'Canes eventually won 24-17 in overtime, but the game was more about plays that Jacory Harris made than those Verica failed to make.
At the time, Miami coach Randy Shannon was splitting his quarterback reps between freshmen Harris and Robert Marve. That Harris was the better option became apparent during the dramatic final minutes in Charlottesville.
Trailing 17-10, the Hurricanes took over at their 5-yard line with 8:01 left in the fourth quarter. On third-and-13 from the 2, Harris threw a 13-yard completion. Later, on second-and-14 from Miami's 49, he threw an 18-yard completion.
Finally, on third-and-15 from the UVa 26, Harris threw a touchdown pass with 55 seconds to play, and the extra point tied the game.
He wasn't finished. In overtime, on third-and-5, Harris threw a 9-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winner.
"To win a lot of games during the course of a season," Groh said this week, "a team needs a quarterback who can elevate them in certain games like that, and he really stepped up and did that."
Harris' tour de force ended the Cavaliers' four-game winning streak and sent them into a slide they never pulled out of. Virginia closed the 2008 season with four straight losses to finish 5-7 for the second time in three years.
Marve transferred after last season, and Harris is now the unquestioned leader of an explosive offense. He's completed 144 of 232 passes -- 62.1 percent -- for 2,104 yards and 16 TDs, with 11 interceptions, and he usually appears absolutely unflappable on the field.
"Jacory don't get frustrated," Shannon said.
Case in point: Miami's game at Wake Forest last weekend. Harris threw three TD passes to help the 'Canes rally for a 28-27 win.
They didn't take the lead until 1:08 remained. Harris' 13-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin capped an 82-yard drive and made it 27-27, and Matt Bosher added the PAT.
"We witnessed one of those with our own eyes, unfortunately, last year," Groh said. "We could kind of see a little bit of déjà vu, what Miami was doing and most particularly what Jacory Harris did. There's a lot of players that made good plays last year against us, but it was a Jacory Harris drive that did it. It was his plays, and it was certainly that last week."
The Cavaliers had a brief walk-through at Land Shark Stadium on Friday afternoon. The 'Hoos haven't played in that venue, which has had other names, including Joe Robbie Stadium, since the 1999 Micronpc.com Bowl, in which they lost 63-21 to Illinois.
Virginia never had won a football game in the Sunshine State, in fact, until 2007. That's when UVa embarrassed the 'Canes 48-0 in their last game at the Orange Bowl, which has since been torn down.
"That was a special night the way the players responded to that whole environment," Groh said. "You know, it wasn't just the last game in the Orange Bowl, but it was quite the big dog-and-pony show, and all the [former Miami greats] were being brought in to make this quite the celebration. And that particular team really took that challenge and played about as well as we could possibly play, as well as we've ever played against a really quality opponent."
Since that historic victory, however, the 'Hoos have gone 8-14. Groh said Monday that he hadn't spent much time reflecting on that game at the Orange Bowl -- "There will be plenty of time in the future to pull those books out and look at 'em," he said -- but clearly it was a magical night for him.
"You know what I remember most about it?" Groh said. "What I remember most about it was the players in the locker room after the game."
Three of those players -- Allen Billyk, Nate Lyles and Chris Long, who were seniors in 2007 -- made the trip to Miami for Saturday's game.
Cavs hope to perform salvage work in steamy Miami
By Michael Phillips
Published: November 7, 2009
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Virginia's football practices this week were conducted in sweats, not because the temperature was low in Charlottesville, but rather to try to imitate the heat the Wahoos will face today in Miami.
"It's hard to simulate, but we're trying to get as close to it as we can here," receiver Vic Hall said.
That said, it would be hard to find a player who gripes about a November trip to South Florida. The Cavs got their fun in the sun yesterday, now this afternoon it's down to business against a Miami team that dodged a bullet -- in the form of a 60-yard field goal -- last week against Wake Forest.
For the Hoos, it's an opportunity to reclaim a season that in recent weeks has started to slide away. The road won't get any easier, though, as today starts a stretch of four games against quick teams with winning records.
"We've probably entered into the speed part of our schedule -- the high-speed part," coach Al Groh said.
This will be the first time the teams have met in Land Shark Stadium. The last time U.Va. invaded Miami, the Cavaliers knocked off the Hurricanes 48-0 in the final game at the Orange Bowl.
"It was quite the big dog and pony show, and all the big guns were brought in to make it quite a celebration," Groh said. "That particular team really took the challenge and played about as well as we could possibly play, as well as we've ever played against a real quality opponent."
Today's game will be played under less pomp and circumstance, though it is homecoming at Miami.
In recent weeks the Canes have shown signs of slipping after a strong start -- they lost to Clemson, then there was last week's nail-biter against the Demon Deacons, but Hall said the Cavs won't be making any assumptions.
"We can't say that just because it happened to them, it will happen to us," he said. "They're very talented, with lots of speed, so we'll have to match our speed and talent with execution."
Part of that is the fertile recruiting ground that Miami occupies. Florida and Texas are regarded as the top places in the country to scout out high-school talent, and many out-of-state colleges have a presence there.
Virginia's is minimal. Kicker Robert Randolph is the only starter from the Sunshine State. Cornerback Mike Parker and tight end Paul Freedman are also from the area.
"There's a lot of fish in that sea, and you have to know where to drop your hook," Groh said. "It's difficult to recruit there unless you do it actively."
He said that when he was hired as Virginia's coach, he wanted to put a stronger emphasis on recruiting in-state students.
Two of the Cavaliers' more prominent offensive players, Hall and quarterback Jameel Sewell, fit that criteria, and today they'll look to tame the Canes and put U.Va. back on the right track.
Three keys and a U.Va. prediction
Nov 06, 2009
Virginia at No. 16 Miami
Where: Land Shark Stadium (74,916), Miami Gardens, Fla.
On the air: TV — Raycom (Fox); radio —WRVA (1140), 11:30 a.m.
Records: Virginia 2-2 ACC, 3-5; Miami 3-2, 6-2
Players to watch: Virginia — FB Rashawn Jackson, 56 carries, 289 yards, 1 TD, QB Jameel Sewell, 1,347 yards, 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 53.3 completion percentage, PR Chase Minnifield, 20 returns, 88 yards, 0 TDs. Miami — QB Jacory Harris, 2,104 yards this season, 16 TDs, 11 INTs, 61.2 completion percentage, DL Allen Bailey, 22 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, WR Travis Benjamin 412 yards, 22 receptions, 4 TDs.
Notable: Miami leads the all-time series 4-2. ¤.¤. Two years, ago, Virginia defeated Miami 48-0 in the final game the school played at the Orange Bowl. ¤.¤. U.Va. is 0-3 all time in Land Shark Stadium (formerly Dolphins Stadium), with all three appearances coming in bowl games. ¤.¤. Last week Miami rallied with an 82-yard touchdown drive led by QB Jacory Harris, and defeated Wake Forest 28-27 when the Demon Deacons missed a 60-yard field goal. ¤.¤. QB Jameel Sewell is 12 yards from passing Marques Hagans for fifth place on the U.Va. career passing yardage list. ¤.¤. Five of the six games between these teams have been decided by 10 points or fewer. ¤.¤. U.Va. has given up just four passing touchdowns this season — the low nationally is three.
Three keys to U.Va. victory:
1) Rattle Jacory Harris: Last week the Hoos defense sacked Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis six times, then he brushed that off and led the game-winning drive. It was a super-human performance, and certainly not one every quarterback is capable of making. If Virginia can put that level of pressure on the Miami sophomore, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to keep him from making plays in crunch time.
2) Finish strong: The fourth quarter is the only frame this year where U.Va. is being outscored by opponents — a 69-41 margin. The Cavs have got to find a way to preserve leads in the game’s final 15 minutes, which is going to involve keeping the offense on the field more in the first 45 minutes. If the defense is consistently asked to play overtime, lack of depth on the unit will mean fatigue late in games.
3) Find the hot hand: Coach Al Groh has split carries between fullback Rashawn Jackson and tailback Mikell Simpson, with the bulk going to whoever he feels has the “hot hand” that day. He’s got to discover that early, and get one of the backs heavily involved in the game to help take some of the pressure off Jameel Sewell and the pass game. Virginia’s wins this season have all had a common theme — a potent rushing attack. �
Sewell's status was unexpected
Marc Verica is likely to start in place of QB Jameel Sewell, who is doubtful.
By Doug Doughty
When he spoke earlier this week about his team's inability to find an offensive identity, Virginia football coach Al Groh wasn't foreshadowing a change at quarterback.
Groh did discuss the injury issues that have dogged quarterback Jameel Sewell and their possible effect. However, it was something of a surprise Thursday night when Sewell was declared "doubtful" for the Cavaliers' noon kickoff today at Miami.
Doubtful, according to ACC guidelines, means there is a 75-percent chance that Sewell will not play.
"He's got a few things he's working through," Groh said in a teleconference prior to the release of the injury report. "Jameel's a very tough kid. He's a very physical player for a quarterback. He takes a pretty good licking, but he keeps coming back."
Sewell was plagued by an ankle injury for most of the month of October but took a hit late in Virginia's game with Duke that may have required treatment of another nature.
In any case, it looks as if Marc Verica, who started nine games during the 2008 season, will get the start for the Cavaliers (3-5 overall, 2-2 ACC) against the Hurricanes (6-2, 3-2). Redshirt freshman Riko Smalls has served as UVa's No. 3 quarterback for most of the season, but Smalls has not played in a game.
Groh said that wide receiver Vic Hall could return to quarterback in an emergency.
Hall was UVa's starting quarterback in the final game of the 2008 season and again in this year's opener, when Virginia was running the spread offense installed by new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon.
Hall suffered a hip injury that caused him to miss two games and, by the time of his return, Sewell was directing an offense that included some of the spread but was more multi-dimensional.
In an early game against TCU, Virginia ran the ball on 33 of 51 offensive plays (64.7 percent). In a 34-9 loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 17, UVa passed the ball on 32 of 44 plays (72.7 percent).
While there's something to be said for predictability, Groh would prefer to have an identity.
"If you can have one, it's a very beneficial thing," he said. "Most teams work to have that. Georgia Tech has an identity, singular as it. Duke has got an identity, singular as that is."
Georgia Tech is second in Division I-A in rushing and Duke is fifth in passing.
"When we had Matt Schaub in our offense and Heath Miller in our offense, it was pretty clear what our identity was," said Groh of a prominent quarterback-tight end duo earlier this decade. "OK? We were passing the ball."
Later, Groh had offensive lines that included the likes of future NFL offensive linemen D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Elton Brown, Brad Butler, Branden Albert and Eugene Monroe.
"It was pretty clear, our identity [then] was power running," Groh said. "Identities are built around a number of things, starting philosophically with what coaches would most like it to be, but mostly those identities are built around what a player can do."
It was felt that the spread would fit the talents of quarterbacks Hall and Sewell because of the running threat that they presented, but UVa's offensive line simply could not provide the openings they would need.
Even when the line splits were narrowed, the blocking wasn't great and a young receiving corps hasn't always helped UVa's veteran passers.
"What's the [New York] Yankees' identity?" Groh asked, referring to his favorite baseball team as a youth. "They're not playing hit and run; they're trying to hit the long ball. If you have 3-point shooters, then you probably run and shoot threes. If you don't then your identity is to work the ball around.
"What players can do best has a great deal to do with the establishment of an identity. To try to force an identity on an offense or defense without the skills matching it would be foolhardy."
Ah, skills. Maybe that's the root of the Cavaliers' problems.
Maybe time to reassess VT, UVa recruiting in Florida
Florida kids instrumental in Duke turnaround
By Doug Doughty
When Virginia and Virginia Tech scaled back their recruiting of Florida earlier this decade, it made a lot of sense to me.
The Hokies felt as if they were spending too much time babysitting. The final straw may have been their recruitment of Sanford, Fla., defensive lineman Budd Thacker, the son of ex-Hokies linebacker Doug Thacker from Roanoke.
If a player commits to an out-of-state school and then one of the state’s big three programs (Florida, Florida State and Miami) gets involved, it’s going to be difficult for the out-of-state school to keep him.
As soon as Thacker selected Tech, it was almost a signal for Florida State to get involved and that’s where he ended up.
In recent years, Tech’s recruiting philosophy has been geared more toward those prospects who live within a six hours’ drive of Blacksburg, players whose parents can see them play without great difficulty.
In Virginia’s case, the Cavaliers simply weren’t getting the kind of quality prospects that they were attracting elsewhere (mostly New Jersey in coach Al Groh’s early years). But, with Groh almost certain to lose his job at the end of the season, is it time to revisit that strategy?
My buddy, Gene McBurney, is an Ole Miss fan and alumnus who pays attention to Virginia football because his daughter is a UVa student. He thinks that former Ole Miss and Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville would be a good choice as Groh’s successor. McBurney says that whoever Virginia picks, the coach needs to be somebody who can recruit Florida.
I’m not sure that Tuberville would be the best choice and, at first, I didn’t agree with McBurney on the subject of Florida recruiting. But then Duke came to Scott Stadium last Saturday with five offensive starters from Florida and whipped the Cavaliers 28-17.
Two of those starters, wide receivers Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon, each had seven receptions and more than 100 receiving yards. Varner and Vernon are graduates of Gulliver Prep in Coral Gables, Fla.
Know what? The coach at Gulliver Prep is Earl Sims -- the former Virginia linebacker Earl Sims -- who played on Groh’s first UVa team in 2001 and is best known for stripping a ball from a University of Richmond receiver and preserving Groh’s first Cavalier victory, 17-16.
Of course, Miami-bred senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is Duke’s leader and star. Another Floridian, Riley Skinner from Jacksonville, led Wake Forest to the 2006 championship and has more wins as a starter than any quarterback in Deacons’ history.
“I recruited the Broward-Dade-West Palm Beach for about 14 years,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who has other coaches with ties to the central Florida and Panhandle areas. “We like to go down there and you find those right kids that are just fiercely competitive.
“Everyone knows the numbers of players that come out of the state of Florida, but I’ve always been kind of choosy about who I like down there and, when we find one we like, we go after him hard.
“There’s always going to be a good pool and that’s why we’re going to continue to go there. The best way I can say it as an old Alabama boy is, ‘When you’re fishing out of a good pond, don’t go try and find another one if you’re catching fish.’ “
Virginia Tech currently has two players from Florida on its roster, freshman defensive back and kick returner Jayron Hosley and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Dwight Tucker. They have taken a commitment from one of Hosley’s teammates from Delray Beach, Fla., quarterback Mark Leal.
Virginia’s lone Floridians are place-kicker Robert Randolph, who is a walk-on, and reserve defensive back Mike Parker and freshman tight end Paul Freedman. The Cavaliers have taken a commitment from Miami-based defensive back and wide receiver Pablo Alvarez.
“There’s a lot of good football played in Florida and certain areas have some very strong academic circumstances,” Groh said. “When we came here, there were a lot of players from Florida on the roster and there wasn’t one of them you would have recruited if they were in town.
“None of them were of the quality that should be playing in this conference. So, kind of with that as a starter, that directed us away from [Florida recruiting] a little bit. We wanted to give substantial effort to in-state players, but we did continue to make some effort in that area.
“As time went on, we have started to look for the same type of player wherever that might be, whether it’s [defensive end] Matt Conrath out of Chicago or Paul Freedman out of Florida or Jake Snyder out of Richmond.”
A lot of the strategy depends on a staff’s background and whether assistants (or the head coach, like Cutcliffe) has recruited in Florida.
“Obviously, it’s hard to say you’re going to recruit the state of Florida unless you put five or six people in there actively and we think that would take us too far us away from our base,” Groh said.
“But, if you have some people who know where to go and have a specific background, that helps. There are a lot of fish in that sea and you’ve got to know where to drop your hook.”
Hall's move is well received
By Norm Wood | 247-4642
November 7, 2009
It's not as if the idea of catching passes at Virginia hadn't already crossed Vic Hall's mind. By the time coach Al Groh decided in late September to send the ever-on-the-move Hall to wide receiver, Hall was prepared — just like he has been for every other change in his Cavaliers career.
When Groh talks to Hall about position changes these days, Hall's pulse doesn't jump anymore and his mind doesn't race aimlessly. As one of the nation's most versatile players, he's used to it. This season, he already has played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, cornerback, safety, kick returner, punt returner and holder. Though he said he'd never played receiver in his football career before this season, he was more than willing to give it a shot.
"I always felt that I could catch," said Hall, who will lead U.Va. today at No. 17 Miami (6-2 overall, 3-2 ACC) in the Cavaliers' first trip to south Florida since their 48-0 win against the Hurricanes in 2007 in the last game played at the Orange Bowl.
"I've made significant strides. I've been getting better, as far as receiving (is concerned), but I've still got a lot of improvement I can make."
He's making the most of his latest position switch. Since going to receiver heading into U.Va.'s 16-3 win against North Carolina, Hall has been U.Va.'s leading receiver, with 18 catches for 205 yards and a touchdown. That's four more catches than running back Mikell Simpson, U.Va.'s next most productive pass-catcher over that span, and double the catches of any other Cavaliers receiver during those five games.
Hall's experience at receiver was brought about at least partially because of a conversation he had with Groh before the UNC game. Hall opened the season as the starting quarterback. After sitting out most of the Texas Christian game and all of the Southern Mississippi contest with a hip injury, Hall came to Groh and endorsed friend and roommate Jameel Sewell for the starting quarterback job.
"Unfortunately, I wasn't able to play in two games," said Hall, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior. "Just sitting back and watching Jameel getting more comfortable with the offense and his rhythm, I didn't feel like there was a need to keep rotating or keep switching. I felt like he was the guy, so I just felt like he should be the quarterback."
Groh took Hall's advice into consideration as he evaluated the quarterback position and where the offense was headed. Sewell, who is doubtful for today's game with a shoulder injury, was inserted as the starter and U.Va. (3-5, 2-2) switched from a no-huddle spread offense back to the pro-style approach Groh used in his first eight seasons in Charlottesville. Groh has seen Hall attack the receiver position in a similar style to how he approached playing all the other positions.
"He's such a diligent worker and he's got such a football aptitude," said Groh, who is in his ninth season as U.Va.'s coach. "He always knew the patterns from his quarterback work … but now his precision and the depth of the route, the footwork and the cuts improve on an ongoing basis."
In keeping with the general theme of Hall's season, receiver won't be the only position you'll see him play today. He'll also hold for kicker Robert Randolph. Hall will play defensive back when U.Va. employs a nickel package. He's also listed as the No. 2 punt returner and No. 3 quarterback. Yet catching passes is his primary focus now, especially considering he's getting to do it with Sewell.
"It's been very special," said Hall, who will have Marc Verica throwing to him today if Sewell is unavailable. "It's ironic we both came in as quarterbacks and now I'm playing receiver and catching passes from him. It's very exciting and a lot of fun. I wouldn't rather catch a pass from him than anybody else. I'm not saying I don't enjoy catching them from Marc or Riko (Smalls), but I've been (friends) with (Sewell) for going on over five seasons."
Cavs feel at home on the road
November 7, 2009 12:36 am
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
--Throughout a dismal season, poor home attendance has stood out as Virginia's biggest issue.
The Cavaliers are averaging 7,200 fewer fans than last season. The crowds have been increasingly smaller as the year has gone on, with each game breaking the mark for the lowest attendance since Scott Stadium expanded in 2000. Virginia's play at home hasn't helped because it's 1-4 there.
But the Cavaliers have found some solace on the road.
They're 2-1 away from Scott Stadium with the lone loss coming in a hard-fought 37-34 setback to Southern Mississippi.
Virginia (3-5, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) takes to the road again today when it visits Coastal Division rival Miami (6-2, 3-2).
Virginia players said it makes no difference whether they play at home or away, but the road has been much friendlier so far.
"Our house is between the white lines," junior defensive lineman John-Kevin Dolce said. "Whether it's home or away, we don't necessarily play for our fans. They don't sweat with us, they don't bleed with us and they don't cry with us."
Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage doesn't totally agree. He told the Associated Press this week that head coach Al Groh's job status will be evaluated at the end of the season.
He said the lack of fan support is an issue that will factor into the decision to retain or dismiss the ninth-year coach.
"Our goal is to have our fans support the team, realizing that the players continue to respond to their coaches," Littlepage wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press. "The players are working hard every day to represent the University of Virginia. Fans have various options for how they spend their Saturday afternoons; we'd like for our fans to be in the stadium, supporting our program."
The Cavaliers' next home game is Nov. 14 against Boston College. For now, they have to focus on Miami and face the possibility that senior quarterback Jameel Sewell will not play.
Sewell is listed as doubtful with a shoulder injury. Sewell suffered an ankle injury last month against Maryland.
If he can't play, junior Marc Verica, who was 5 of 16 for 21 yards in a loss to Duke last week, will start.
"He's a very physical player for a quarterback," Groh said of Sewell. "He takes a pretty good licking but keeps coming back."
Miami sophomore Jacory Harris came off the bench last year to throw for 160 yards and two touchdowns as he rallied the Hurricanes to a 24-17 overtime win Charlottesville.
This season, Harris isn't sharing the quarterback job with Robert Marve, who has transferred. He leads the ACC in passing efficiency and he's third in passing yards per game (267.8).
But Miami coach Randy Shannon is concerned about the Cavaliers' defense in the red zone. Virginia is tied for second in the ACC for fewest touchdowns allowed inside its 20-yard line (11).
"The biggest thing that we noticed is that in the red zone they give up a lot of field goals and don't allow a lot of touchdowns," Shannon said. "That shows a true test of guys on defense playing hard."
The Hurricanes' overall team speed concerns Groh.
"All across 22 positions, most obviously is wide receivers and guys who can get vertically up the field," Groh said. "It shows in kick coverage, it shows in pass-rushers off the edge, it certainly shows in defensive backs closing on the ball."
Sewell (shoulder) is the only doubtful player for Virginia. Sophomore defensive end Matt Conrath (ankle) and senior reserve linebacker Aaron Clark (knee) are questionable.
Defensive end Nate Collins (hip), linebacker Steve Greer (shoulder), fullback Rashawn Jackson (arm), defensive end Zane Parr (knee) and safety Brandon Woods (shoulder) are probable.
Miami Hurricanes face Virginia, hope to avoid another
BY SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN
University of Miami coach Randy Shannon remarked how proud he was of his Hurricanes beating Wake Forest on their final drive last Saturday -- despite his defense giving up 555 yards.
``Look at how we came back late against Wake,'' said Shannon, noting that his team held the Demon Deacons to seven points in the second half. ``Yeah, we're getting better. I never cared about statistics. Even when I was a coordinator, I never cared. The only thing that matters is wins and losses.''
Here is a statistical trend about which Shannon doesn't need to be reminded: UM lost its last three games in 2008 and its last four games in 2007.
Atlantic Coast Conference foe Virginia (3-5, 2-2 ACC) comes to Land Shark Stadium on homecoming Saturday to begin UM's final four-game stretch of the regular season, and the No. 16 Hurricanes (6-2, 3-2) are intent on preventing another late-season collapse.
The way to do that? Play fast and hard from beginning to end, several Hurricanes said this week. They acknowledged that it was easier and more motivating to go through the first stretch of the season than this past stretch.
Miami started its season at Florida State and then played Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma -- losing only in Blacksburg, Va. The Canes continued with Florida A&M, UCF, Clemson and Wake Forest -- barely getting by at Wake Forest and losing at home to Clemson in overtime.
UM was favored in its past four games, and is again Saturday by 13 ½ points.
``The offense and defense feed off each other,'' UM receiver Leonard Hankerson said. ``So we both talked about how we have to come out and work harder. I guess when you're expected to win games and know you can beat a team, you start out flat because nobody is hyped up. We talked about that, how we have to come out and score on the first drive -- every drive.''
Canes quarterback Jacory Harris echoed Hankerson.
``We're not playing up to our standards,'' Harris said. ``It's like we're just doing enough to get by [in games], when in practice we're giving 110 percent. Game time we slow the pace down sometimes. . . . I don't know how the fans see our season going, and I don't know how they feel about it. We just wish that we were 8-0.''
Strong-side linebacker Colin McCarthy said he also wishes the Canes would go into every game with the same amount of enthusiasm.
``I mean, lately, first drives against teams, they've started out strong with field goals or touchdowns,'' said McCarthy, who leads UM with 60 tackles. ``We've got to be more excited, I guess, in the beginning of games to try to stop them. We've got to find ways to get up for games that may not seem as [high-profile].''
Be assured that the Cavaliers, coached by veteran Al Groh, will be motivated.
After the Cavs trounced the Canes 48-0 in the last game at the Orange Bowl two seasons ago, they lost to UM in overtime in their homecoming game last season.
Harris led the Canes on a 95-yard drive in regulation that tied the score at 17-17 when LaRon Byrd caught a 26-yard touchdown pass with 55 seconds left. In overtime, Harris lofted a 9-yard touchdown pass to former high school teammate Aldarius Johnson.
``When a team has been through it they understand how to focus from play to play rather than on the overall circumstances of the moment,'' said Groh, who graduated from Virginia and began coaching there in 2001.
Groh was an assistant coach in the NFL from 1987 to '99, and was the New York Jets' head coach in 2000.
``There were a lot of players who made good plays last year against us, but it was a Jacory drive that did it,'' Groh said. ``. . . They have a way of playing built to [use] the advantage of the vertical speed they have, which is very significant and perhaps the best in the conference. And they have a quarterback who has plenty of arm who can get the ball there.''
Groh is having his own challenges this season. The Associated Press reported this week that his ``future as the school's football coach,'' according to Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, will be decided at the end of the season.
The AP reported that Littlepage said in an e-mail that Groh will be evaluated on his ``full body of work'' and that the university's goal is to have fan support at games.
Virginia averaged 46,605 fans at its first five home games, down more than 7,000 from last season, when the Cavaliers finished 5-7.
Gameday Preview: UM-Virginia
It's time to preview Saturday's noon kickoff when 17th-ranked Canes (6-2) take on Virginia (3-5) at Land Shark Stadium.
REWIND: The last time the Cavaliers were in Miami they closed out the Orange Bowl with an embarrassing 48-0 blowout of the Canes. UM got a little revenge last year, rallying in overtime at Virginia behind Jacory Harris for a 24-17 victory. Miami leads the all-time series 4-2. Only one of the six games has been decided by more than 10 points.
> UM wins because... It establishes a running game, protects Jacory Harris (and Harris protects the ball), and the Canes battered defense doesn't let a bad Virginia offense play better than it is. Make no mistake about this game, the Hurricanes should win. Except for a pretty good pass defense, this is a Virginia team that ranks 105th in rushing, 100th in passing, 116th in total offense, 100th in scoring, 115th in sacks allowed, 99th in punt returns and 114th in kickoff returns. The Cavaliers have losses to William and Mary and Duke. Defensively, UM players said the key this week will be stopping what Virginia likes to do out of two tight end, two receivers sets when quarterback Jameel Sewell rolls out of the pocket and throws short to intermediate passes. We know how Miami has done covering the tight end of late. So, this will be a big game for Miami's safeties and defensive ends.
> Virginia wins because... Miami's offense gets flustered against the Cavaliers pass defense and Harris starts forcing passes and throwing interceptions. Meanwhile, Virginia takes advantage of a banged up Miami defense and runs its ball-control, smash mouth offense to perfection.
> My pick: UM 33, Virginia 17. This is just not a game I see the Canes losing. Virginia doesn't have the play makers it once had to really turn the tables on UM.
> Offense: Damien Berry. Virginia's run defense has given up an average of 151 yards per game this season. Javarris James is back this week. But I still think Berry picks up the tough yards and scores the touchdowns in the red zone.
> Defense: Randy Phillips. A huge key to this game will be UM's ability to stop Virginia's tight ends in the open field. They are monster sized. Rick Torchia is 6-6, 250 pounds and Colter Phillips is 6-6, 245 pounds.
> Special teams: Matt Bosher. Virginia is very good at forcing teams to settle for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns in the red zone (15 of the 27 trips into Virginia's red zone have ended with field goals). Bosher has been at the top of his game at late and I fully expect him to have another great day.
Cavs at a November crossroads
By Jay Jenkins
Published: November 7, 2009
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It is a catchy, yet commonly heard phrase in college football: A November to remember.
One way or another, that will be the case for Virginia.
Whether it leads to moving boxes or moving bowl tickets, that potentially tumultuous path starts today against No. 16 Miami (6-2, 3-2 ACC) at noon at Land Shark Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
While Virginia coach Al Groh is 12-17 in the regular season’s final month, it was just two years ago against the Hurricanes that the Cavaliers stunned the nation.
As the historic Orange Bowl was memorialized and graced for the final time, Virginia thumped Miami 48-0, propelling the team to the Gator Bowl.
It was the second November win for Groh that season, marking the lone time in his tenure at Virginia that the program finished above .500 in the month.
Groh said he had not reflected on the game recently, but “big smiles and warm memories” would have followed if he took the time to do so.
“It wasn’t just the last game in the Orange Bowl, but it was quite the big dog and pony show, and all the big guns were brought in to make this quite a celebration,” Groh recounted. “And that particular [Virginia] team really took that challenge and played as well as we could probably play, as well as we’ve ever played against a real quality opponent.”
Miami, despite boasting just six starters from that ’07 team today, also remembers how painful the experience was.
The loss “still lingers,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said.
The Hurricanes exacted revenge for the loss last year, mounting a late rally to beat Virginia 24-17 in overtime.
It was the first time the Cavaliers got an in-person look at Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, who led the comeback under center.
It was one that would rather be forgotten.
“There were a lot of players who made good plays last year against us, but it was the Jacory Harris drive that did it. It was his plays,” Groh said. “He made the kind of plays that the quarterbacks who elevate their teams to win a lot of games make.”
On the flip side, Virginia is expected to be without its starting quarterback today.
Jameel Sewell, a senior, was hit hard numerous times in last week’s loss to Duke — a recurring theme this season — and was listed as doubtful.
Sewell’s absence would place the onus on Marc Verica, a junior who has appeared in five games but has just 31 yards passing since the season opener.
Verica, who passed for 240 yards in the loss to Miami last year, could see his first start of the season coming in timely fashion — Miami has allowed 955 yards of total offense and 55 first downs over the past two weeks.
“We have got to play better and we know it,” Miami defensive end Allen Bailey said. “We know what we have done wrong and now we have to fix it.”
On pecan trees and football coaches
By Jerry Ratcliffe
Published: November 7, 2009
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.
I still consider a chance meeting in 1977 as part of my football education as a sportswriter.
As a cub reporter, I had gotten to know then-Virginia Tech head coach Jimmy Sharpe, who had taken over that program after serving as an assistant coach to Bear Bryant at Alabama for years. After leading Tech to an 8-3 record in his second year at the helm, Sharpe couldn’t sustain the success and was summarily fired and succeeded by North Carolina’s Bill Dooley.
The day Dooley was hired, I bumped into Sharpe at a gas station and he left me with these words that I will never forget, and pretty much sums up the life of a football coach:
“You know what they say in the South when you get hired as a head football coach,” Sharpe smiled. “Don’t go planting any pecan trees.”
Frankly, I had no idea what he was talking about, so I asked some elders what Sharpe meant.
They told me that it takes 10 years for a pecan tree to become fully productive. Enough said. Coaches shouldn’t even plan on sticking around long enough to see the trees reach their maturity.
Coaches lucky enough to hang around a school or a franchise that long are probably smart enough not to take the risk of planting.
Fast forward to this afternoon at Land Shark Stadium, located in what they call Miami Gardens.
Really, the location, the stadium name, even the opponent doesn’t really make that much difference.
Too much to overcome?
Virginia coach Al Groh has been in this position before, an embattled head coach under fire. Even though his Cavaliers are 3-5 overall and 2-2 in the ACC’s Coastal Division, and mathematically and theoretically alive for postseason play, all signs point to the end of the Groh era at UVa a few weeks down the road.
Some insiders believe that even if Groh were to win out, finish 7-5, beat the Hokies, go to a bowl game and win it, too, that it wouldn’t be enough to save his job.
With camps divided across Wahoo Nation, dwindling numbers at the turnstiles, dwindling confidence from one side of the aisle, potentially a third losing season in the last four years, it may be too much for Groh to overcome.
Do I think Groh is a good football coach? Yes, I do. Even some of his biggest detractors that I have spoken with, some of them of the movers and shakers category, admit that Groh can coach. Do I believe that he’s made some mistakes along the way? Certainly.
Do I think everything that is wrong with Virginia football is Groh’s fault? No way. That’s another story, or more.
What is interesting is the dynamics of what is taking place as the final four games of the season begin to unravel.
As they also say in the South, the body isn’t even cold yet and the rumors are already swirling about who Groh’s replacement might be. There was even the ridiculous rumor that Jon Gruden was spotted in town this week.
C’mon people. Give us a break.
Dare we be so cold-blooded? Should Virginia make a coaching change, we’re talking about people’s lives here. We’re talking about at least 10 families being impacted by such drama.
Ask any athletic director and he’ll tell you the most difficult thing he might ever have to do is fire a football coach because so many people are involved.
For any of you snickering right now, I wish you had been outside the Virginia dressing room last Saturday night after the loss to Duke and saw the tears in Anne Groh’s eyes. She’s a great lady who was overwhelmed with the loss.
She may get angry with me for revealing this, but she even corrected her own parents once after a loss several years ago when she and Al were devastated by the defeat, and one of her parents remarked, “Well, it’s just a game.”
Anne Groh didn’t hesitate to respond, “No, it’s not just a game. It’s our lives.”
No one wants to win these games more than Al Groh and his coaching staff. They spend countless hours in preparation for each game. They pour their souls into every Saturday, and as Groh said after the Duke loss, every loss haunts them.
These guys are trying their hardest to win. If they mess it up, it’s on them, and they know that better than anyone else. Just about any coach who has been around long enough has been fired at least once or on a staff that was fired. They go into the profession with that as a given.
If Groh can’t find a way to beat Miami today — or even if he does and still loses his job — he will walk away knowing that he gave it his best shot against some very challenging circumstances.
Do you know how many Virginia football coaches have left the school with winning records in more than 120 years? I know, it’s an unfair question, and the only reason I know is that I wrote the book on the history of UVa football.
The answer is 28.
Twenty-five of them came before World War II, and 22 of those 25 came before World War I when Virginia was the football power of the South.
That’s three coaches in the last 57 years who have compiled career winning records at Virginia. Groh is one of those.
Regardless of how the next four regular season games come out, Cavalier fans should keep one thing in mind.
If Groh is released by Craig Littlepage and John Casteen later this month, then let the man leave with his dignity. He’s one of yours, you know. He wore the orange and blue, left the NFL to come back and attempted to carry on George Welsh’s success. He even sent a son here to play and help beat Florida State.
Don’t make the same mistake of 1999 and 2000 when Virginia fans treated Welsh shamefully. The Hall of Famer still hasn’t forgotten how a segment of Cavalier fans turned their back on him after he had taken the program to unprecedented heights.
Oh, how soon they forget.
UVa advances to ACC final
By Ben Gomez
Published: November 7, 2009
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No. 3 Virginia won its second game in as many days, defeating No. 2 North Carolina 1-0 last night in the second matchup of the ACC field hockey semifinals. The win against the Tar Heels was the Cavaliers’ first since 2006 in their first year under head coach Michele Madison.
The Cavaliers move on to Sunday’s ACC championship game, where they will take on No. 1 Maryland. This will be the first time Virginia has made it to the ACC championship since 2000, when the Cavaliers lost to Maryland 3-0.
“It is exciting to beat a high quality team like UNC and to make the finals of the ACC tournament in front of the home crowd,” said Virginia goalkeeper Kim Kastuk. “It is a big confidence booster for us going into NCAAs — it could not have come at a better time.”
The Cavaliers had played North Carolina earlier in the year, losing 2-1 in overtime when the Tar Heels converted on a penalty corner in the 83rd minute. Friday’s game was just as dramatic, coming down to the last play of the game. The Tar Heels, down 1-0, earned a corner with no time left on the clock.
“We circled up before and I told the team we are about to go to the finals,” Kastuk said. “One last play, go hard as you can and we are in the finals.”
Kastuk delivered on her promise and was able to stop the Tar Heels’ final shot and secure Virginia a spot in the championship game. She finished with nine saves in the game and was key for the UVa defense all night.
The Cavaliers’ familiarity with North Carolina helped them prepare knowing the Tar Heels’ tendencies. From the beginning, Virginia looked to slow the tempo down and play ball-control hockey.
The Tar Heels had other plans in mind as they were able to sporadically break through the Virginia defense. UNC attacked early, earning corners while UVa was struggling to get the ball into the circle for most of the first half. Kastuk was challenged early and often as the Tar Heels earned five corners throughout the first half, but made several athletic saves on Tar Heel corners to prevent UNC from scoring.
Virginia finally earned a corner with seven minutes remaining in the first half. Inga Stockel’s shot was stopped by UNC goalie Jackie Kintzer, but freshman Charlotte van den Broek was on the left post to put away the rebound and give the Cavaliers the lead on her first career goal.
In the second half, the Tar Heels began to assert themselves on offense more. The Heels had several opportunities to tie the game, outshooting the Cavaliers 14-6 and holding an 8-3 advantage on penalty corners for the game, but the UVa defense held strong even as the Tar Heels pulled Kintzer for an extra attacker.
“To be in the championship of a conference like this is a great accomplishment for the team,” Madison said. “They believed they could beat them and they did it.”
The Cavaliers will now take on Maryland, which beat No. 9 Wake Forest 3-2 in Friday’s first semifinal behind goals from Nicole Muracco, Emma Thomas and Ameliet Rischen. The Terrapins beat the Cavaliers 3-1 in the teams’ only meeting this season.
Virginia Advances to Championship Game; Downs UNC 1-0
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/06/2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The third-ranked Virginia field hockey team advanced to the title game of the 2009 ACC Championship with a 1-0 win over second-ranked North Carolina Friday at UVa's Turf Field. Freshman Charlotte van den Broek recorded her first career goal in the victory.
The Cavaliers (18-2) advance to the championship game of the conference tournament for the first time since 2000, facing top-ranked Maryland at noon Sunday in a game that will be broadcast on RSN. Virginia has never won the tournament crown.
"Anytime you host a tournament you want to be in the final," Virginia head coach Michele Madison said. "To be in the championship game in a conference like this is a great accomplishment for our team. They really held strong and stuck to the game plan. They believed they could beat UNC and they did it."
The UVa defense was solid, recording its 11th shutout behind junior goalie Kim Kastuk, who recorded nine saves in the contest.
"Kim promised me a shutout," Madison said.
North Carolina (16-2) outshot Virginia 14-6, including 4-1 in the second stanza. The Tar Heels also posted eight penalty corners to three for the Orange and Blue.
Van den Broek's score came at 27:37 on a UVa penalty corner. The Nijmegen, Netherlands native injected the ball into Traci Ragukas, who set up the ball for sophomore Inga Stockel. Stockel's shot was saved by UNC goalkeeper Jackie Kintzer, but van den Broek rebounded the ball and put it in the cage for the 1-0 lead.
"We had to be patient," Madison said. "We made some adjustments on corners for various reasons. Charlotte was able to put it away."
The Tar Heels pulled Kintzer in the 59th minute out of a timeout. With an extra man, North Carolina kept up the offensive pressure and had three penalty corners in the second half, including one that was awarded after time had expired.
The ball was injected with UNC's Melanie Brill taking the shot, but the ball was saved by Kastuk as the game came to a close.
Maryland, unbeaten on the season at 19-0, held off fourth-seeded Wake Forest 3-2 in the first semifinal game Friday to advance to the championship game. The Terps claimed the ACC crown a year ago before going on to win the NCAA title.
Shabaz Upsets No. 1 Player at ITA National Indoors
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/06/2009
NEW HAVEN, Conn -- Two members of the Virginia men's tennis team continued play Friday at the ITA National Indoor Individual Championships on the campus of Yale University. Junior Michael Shabaz (Fairfax, Va.) rolled into the semifinals in singles with a pair of wins, including over the No. 1 ranked player nationally.
Shabaz, ranked No. 14 nationally, opened play Friday with a 6-4, 7-6 win over No. 24 Dennis Nevolo of Illinois. He followed that win later in the day with a 6-4, 7-6 win over Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State, the No. 1 player in the ITA preseason rankings. He becomes the first Cavalier to defeat a No. 1 ranked singles player since Somdev Devvarman defeated No. 1 John Isner of Georgia in the 2007 NCAA Singles Final. In the semifinals, Shabaz will play No. 5 Guillermo Gomez of Georgia Tech.
Freshman Jarmere Jenkins (College Park, Ga.) fell in the second round to Steve Johnson of USC, 7-5, 6-4. Johnson advanced later in the day to the other semifinal, where he will play John-Patrick Smith of Tennessee.
The tournament runs through Sunday at Yale.
In other Cavalier tennis action, junior Sanam Singh (Chandigarh, India) had his tremendous run at the Virginia National Bank Challenger at the Boar's Head Sports Club come to an end in the quarterfinals. Singh suffered a 7-5, 6-7, 7-6 loss in to No. 2 seed Kevin Kim, the No. 105 ranked player in the world. Former Cavalier Devvarman advanced to the semifinals at the tournament and will play Ryan Sweeting on Saturday.
Tar Heels Defeat Cavaliers in Four Sets
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/06/2009
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The Virginia volleyball team dropped a four-set match to North Carolina Friday evening at the Dean E. Smith Center by scores of 17-25, 14-25, 25-19 and 16-25.
Sophomore Simone Asque led the way with 12 kills and 12 digs for her fifth double-double this season. Senior Tara Hester collected a season-best 21 digs, while senior Brittani Rendina led the backline with 24.
Freshman Jess O'Shoney hit .300 for the match, contributing eight kills and blocking four attacks. Classmate Rachel Gray dished out 30 assists and had six kills.
For North Carolina (13-12, 9-5 ACC), three Tar Heels reached double-figure kills, led by Ingrid Hanson-Tuntland, who knocked down 17. Kaylie Gibson led the defense with a match-high 30 digs and Cora Harms dished out 49 assists to go with 22 digs and four blocks.
Carolina used a 13-7 run midway through the first frame to break open an even 8-8 score and take a 21-15 lead, forcing the Cavaliers to call a timeout. Virginia was unable to recover from the deficit though, as the Tar Heels went on to score four of the final six points for a 25-17 win.
UNC jumped out to a seven-point advantage in the second set, at 11-4, and kept the pressure on before scoring the final four points of the stanza to take a commanding 25-14 victory.
The third set looked to be the same before the Cavaliers rallied for three-straight points to knot the score at seven all. Virginia continued to battle, but fell behind 14-17 before a kill from sophomore Tess Udall sparked a 3-0 run that knotted the score at 17 all. Another kill from Udall put the Cavaliers up 18-17 and Virginia never looked back, with Asque landing three kills in the final six points to earn a 25-19 win.
Another run in favor of Carolina put the Tar Heels up 6-1 at the beginning of the fourth set. Virginia worked to cut into UNC's advantage, and came within one at 6-7, but Carolina kept the Cavaliers from taking the lead. Virginia continued to fight, but back-to-back kills from Suzanne Haydel broke open the one-point set and sent the Tar Heels on a 3-0 run that eventually resulted in a 13-5 streak for a 25-16 win.
Virginia (10-15, 5-9 ACC) will look to rebound on Sunday as it faces NC State in Reynolds Gymnasium at 1 p.m.
Hovland and Keveren Lead Virginia at Cavalier Open
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/06/2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Senior Jen Hovland and sophomore Sean Keveren led the Virginia cross country teams at the annual Cavalier Open at Panorama Farms on Friday evening finishing second and third, respectively.
Keveren, running with the lead pack the entire race, led all Cavaliers across the line in the men's competition. Trailing two unattached runners, Keveren finished third in 25:10.26. Bobby Peavey claimed the title in 24:51.75.
Senior Kevin Tschirhart finished fourth for Virginia in 25:15.94, while sophomore Andrew Mearns took sixth with a time of 25:21.26. Senior Alex Bowman completed the course in 26:02.59 for a 12th-place finish.
In the women's race, Jessica Propst, running unattached, took the title in 18:18.24. Hovland finished runner-up in 18:41.68, while senior Megan Durkee finished sixth in 18:56.89 and freshman Rosemary Barber took seventh in 18:57.90.
Senior Susan Brooks finished ninth for the Cavaliers, completing the course in 19:05.22 and senior Erin Klein was 11th with a time of 19:08.21.
Virginia will return to action next weekend, heading to Louisville, Ky., for the 2009 NCAA Southeast Regional Championship. The women won the title a year ago, while the men finished runner-up. Races will begin on Saturday at 10 a.m. with the top-two teams automatically advancing to the NCAA Championships.