Richmond coach Mike London stays true to his principles amid Virginia rumors
November 21, 2009
Mike London loves this time of year. Rivalry games. Postseason drama. Championship stakes.
Life as a college football coach doesn't get any better.
But London is learning to detest this time of year as well. Back-channel contacts. Back-stabbing colleagues. Media speculation.
Life as a principled and successful college football coach doesn't get more squeamish.
This afternoon, London guides fourth-ranked Richmond against fifth-ranked William and Mary in the South's oldest rivalry. It is the regular-season finale for both, rich in conference and playoff implications.
But as London and the Spiders prepare to defend their national title — they are a lock for the playoff field that will be revealed Sunday — another story looms:
Shortly after its season concludes Nov. 28, the University of Virginia will dismiss Al Groh after nine years as head coach. London is a logical candidate, and the Cavaliers could not hire a more stand-up gentleman to revive the program.
But how to approach the courtship? How to answer questions from reporters, recruits and superiors?
More to the point, how to inspire players and staff to pursue a championship when everyone in the room knows you may soon exit?
London, 49 and a Bethel High graduate, doesn't ride the turnip truck to work. As a Richmond detective, he confronted bad guys and loaded guns. As a dad, he donated bone marrow to his daughter — she's now healthy. As a head coach and assistant, he's navigated every imaginable game storm.
This is different.
In his second year as a head coach — the Spiders are a sterling 22-4 on his watch — London is new to the machinations that drive marquee searches at major universities, machinations that offend his senses of integrity and commitment.
To wit: Many schools retain search firms to approach potential candidates and/or their representatives, the better to cover backsides and allow all parties to deny direct contact. This third-party communication often occurs with the current coach still in place.
If there's mutual interest, head-hunters often encourage candidates to speak with schools during the season. Many have no qualms.
I believe London does.
He respects his peers. He appreciates the Richmond brass. He considers his players family.
Interviewing for a position that's not yet open? Pursuing another job while his team still is playing?
That may be how others operate in the cut-throat coaching world, but not London.
Remember the raw emotions he displayed during last year's playoffs? The fist pumps, chest bumps and other exultations, and, yes, the tears, were genuine.
As were his words this week about balancing athletics and academics.
"You take a tremendous amount of joy and pride in (players graduating)," London said, "because somewhere along the line with your cajoling or your encouragement or your, whatever it is, pat on the back, kick in the butt, then you see guys develop. It's just like a player developing athletically. ...
"I encourage the players to be whatever they want to be, but also (to) understand that the percentages (of making the NFL) are very minimal, but that the percentages of graduating here and moving on and getting a high-paying job are very high. …
"My whole coaching career has revolved around academic institutions. … You start attracting character people, people you know you can turn your back on and they'll do the right thing. Now do they always do the right thing? Not all the time. Just like a parent, you have to deal with that."
Indeed, working at schools such as Richmond, William and Mary, Virginia and Boston College has forged London's insistence on classroom excellence. Combine that with his ties to Hampton Roads, the commonwealth and U.Va., plus his NFL experience and Richmond success, and you see why he's on the Cavaliers' short list.
Have Virginia officials contacted London directly? Doubtful.
Has he reached out to them? Improbable.
Might someone connected with Virginia have approached someone affiliated with him? Quite possible, since Groh's fate was determined weeks ago and the search commenced immediately thereafter.
Not to say a deal is done. Virginia will, and should, consider other coaches — Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, Temple's Al Golden and Air Force's Troy Calhoun come to mind. London will, and should, consider other options, remaining at Richmond among them.
Fourteen high school seniors, including York's Ben Edwards, Jamestown's Andrew Cordasco and Surry County's Montel White, have committed to join the Spiders next season. Seven of London's nine assistants came to the university at his request — the other two he retained from former coach Dave Clawson's staff.
London takes seriously his obligations to those folks. But he also has ambitions for himself and his family, for which he need not apologize.
How Virginia's search and London's off-season conclude is anyone's guess. This is not: He will be true to his principles and act accordingly.
White: Death Valley Awaits 'Hoos
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/20/2009
By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Its official name is Clemson Memorial Stadium, but it's better known in college football circles as Death Valley. In that supercharged atmosphere UVa will play Saturday for the first time since 2003.
That was the Cavaliers' third season under Al Groh, and they lost 30-27 to the Tigers in overtime. The players from that UVa team are long gone, but Groh vividly remembers Death Valley, the site of his first significant win as coach at his alma mater.
On Sept. 22, 2001, wide receiver Billy McMullen caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Bryson Spinner with 1 second left as Virginia stunned Clemson 26-24.
"When you go down there, you know a couple of things," Groh said Monday. "It's going to be loud, it's going to be challenging, and it's going to be fun.
"It's a great atmosphere in which to play in ... There's a real football fever. It's not just a Saturday afternoon activity. There is a real passion and a real fever for Clemson football. So I've always enjoyed going in there."
This trip may not be as enjoyable for Groh. The talent gap between his team and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's appears enormous.
The Wahoos (2-4, 3-7) are last in the ACC's Coastal Division and have lost four games in a row. The 23rd-ranked Tigers (5-2, 7-3) have won five straight and lead the Atlantic Division.
At noon Saturday, Boston College (4-2, 7-3) hosts North Carolina (3-3, 7-3) in Chestnut Hill, Mass. A BC loss would clinch the Atlantic title -- and a spot in the the ACC championship game -- for Clemson.
Even if the Eagles win, however, the Tigers can take the Atlantic by defeating the 'Hoos. Clemson beat BC in September and so owns the tiebreaker.
"We won't have the TV going in our locker room or anything like that," Swinney said, but he realizes his players are likely to know the BC-UNC result before they take the field against UVa.
"Lord, the world we live in nowadays, if somebody sneezes in California, you hear about it in Alabama," Swinney said. "That's just the way it is ... It really doesn't matter. That's never really been a focus of ours, sitting around worrying about somebody else."
As if the Tigers don't have enough to play for Saturday, this is their final home game. Among those to be recognized on Senior Day is C.J. Spiller, who has emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate and whom Groh called "one of the more dynamic players to have played in this conference."
Spiller, whose primary position is tailback, leads the ACC in all-purpose yards (195.2 per game). He's gained 836 rushing, 543 on kickoff returns, 382 receiving and 191 on punt returns. He's returned three kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns this season.
"Once he gets one on one," said N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien, a former UVa assistant, "he's going to win 90 percent of the time."
A season ago at Scott Stadium, Spiller showed off yet another talent, throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass on an option in the first quarter. Clemson went on to win 13-3.
"God was in a real good mood when he made C.J. Spiller," Swinney said. "That's how he got to be who he is. He's just gifted. He's got everything that you could possibly want if you were going to create a football player.
"He's fast, he's explosive, he's quick. He's strong and powerful. He's tough. He has great work ethic. He has great character. He's humble. He's all these great things rolled into one."
Spiller isn't Clemson's only weapon. His fellow seniors include game-breaking wideout Jacoby Ford, a former UVa recruiting target who has 39 catches for 548 yards and four TDs.
Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker, also an all-ACC baseball player, is only a redshirt freshman, but he's passed for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns.
On the injury report UVa released Thursday night, backup quarterback Marc Verica (concussion) was ruled out for the second straight game. Fifth-year senior Jameel Sewell is expected to start, but he's nursing a shoulder injury. If Sewell had to leave the game, the next man up at quarterback probably would be redshirt freshman Riko Smalls, who has yet to play in a college game.
Given the Cavaliers' struggles with the ball this season -- Virginia ranks 106th nationally in scoring offense -- Groh's defense probably can't afford many lapses Saturday.
Still, senior cornerback Chris Cook said, "I think we're all looking forward to this challenge. We're definitely not panicking about it."
The Wahoos' shrinking hopes of becoming bowl-eligible evaporated last weekend when they lost 14-10 to Boston College at Scott Stadium. That means UVa's season will end Nov. 28 against Virginia Tech in Charlottesville.
"There's not too much to say," Cook said. "All we can do is just our play our hardest, just like we always do, and just give it all we've got. It's the last two weeks that all of us are going to be together on the same team, trying to achieve the same goals."
Underclassmen such as sophomore defensive end Matt Conrath can look forward to next season. For UVa's seniors, this is it.
"It's something that we're all aware of," Conrath said, "and we're going to go out there these last two games and really play for those guys."
Conrath said he'll have no trouble getting motivated for the final two games.
"I love to play football," he said. "We work so hard for an entire year just to play 12 games, so you really gotta go out there and enjoy the opportunities you get."
Business as usual for U.Va., Groh
By Michael Phillips
Published: November 21, 2009
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As outside observers start to write the final words on the Al Groh era at Virginia, the coach is working to keep things the same with his team.
When asked how he planned to prepare for today's game against Clemson, he borrowed some advice from golf.
"Pick out your target, block out all distractions, and take dead aim," he said. "That's how we compete from week to week.
"That's what coaches do and that's what players do, or they should."
Groh will work to ensure that there's no letdown in performance in the final weeks as the goal of reaching the postseason is gone and rumors begin to swirl about who might be the next coach at Virginia.
At 3-7, Virginia has to face two nationally ranked teams to close out the season, starting this afternoon with No. 18 Clemson. Groh used a solid defensive game plan last year to hold Clemson to 13 points, but an interception-filled outing from Marc Verica doomed the Cavs as they lost by 10.
The defensive challenges remain the same this year as the team works to contain running back C.J. Spiller.
"He is the true all-purpose threat," Groh said. "He's maybe as great as we've seen in this conference for a long time."
Spiller demonstrated his all-purpose prowess last year when he threw the game's only touchdown pass, ultimately the winning points of the game. He's been a kick returner as well, making opposing teams plan for the impact he'll have.
One of the players who will be sent after him is freshman linebacker Steve Greer, who has managed to sustain success throughout his first season at U.Va.
Greer has 80 tackles, most of those the result of meeting running backs before they can get significant yardage.
"The vast majority of Steve's tackles are at the point of attack or moving towards the line of scrimmage," Groh said.
He's also helped bolster Virginia's pass defense, which is No. 19 in the country. The Cavs have held nine of their 10 opponents below their season average in passing yardage.
That often has come at the expense of the run game, though, which has to make Spiller happy as he looks to boost his résumé in advance of awards season.
Clemson also has something on the line as it tries to lock up a spot in the ACC tournament. For Virginia, it's the team's first trip to Death Valley since the stadium was renovated.
"In their energy it's right up there at the very top of the ACC sites that we go to," Groh said. "There's a real football fever."
That fever is waning at U.Va. as the Cavs limp into the final games of the season. But the coach is vowing that the team won't be taking off early for winter break, dismissing the thought that the team only has pride to play for.
"You know, I always thought we were trying to prove something every week," Groh said. "I thought we were playing for pride every week."
Tigers' senior class pumped for last home game
By PAUL STRELOW - email@example.com
CLEMSON - The bitterness seethed from Clemson lineman Thomas Austin as he watched television that afternoon.
It was the first Saturday in December 2007, the day of the ACC championship.
Two weeks earlier, the Tigers had been on the brink of winning the Atlantic Division - only for Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan to throw a remarkable touchdown pass with 1:46 left to give the Eagles the lead. Clemson missed two chances to win or tie in the final minute, and Boston College punched its ticket to Jacksonville, Fla.
As Austin hung out withteammates the night before last week's victory against N.C. State, they struggled to come to grips with the opportunity at hand.
"To be honest, it was hard for us to chew on," Austin said.
As one player told the team before last week's game, there is no way the younger players can appreciate what many of the Tigers have endured in getting to this point: a victory against Virginia away from clinching the division crown and advancing to the Dec. 5 ACC title game against No. 7 Georgia Tech in Tampa, Fla.
It is not nearly the satisfaction bringing home Clemson's first ACC title since 1991 could render. But the elusive division crown, which the Tigers have failed to land since the ACC went to the split division format four years ago, had marked the standard by which their years were measured.
For 15 recruited scholarship seniors - nine of whom are starters - their final home game in Death Valley represents vindication and validation, the chance to "get over the hump" on their own accord.
"To truly appreciate where you are, you have to have gone through some tough losses and things like that," tight end Michael Palmer said. "So it really makes it special for the seniors to be in the position we're at right now.
"Sometimes you have to go through the valleys to get to the mountain top. And we've definitely done that."
As evidenced by the variety of answers seniors gave for which loss was the toughest during their career.
There was the loss to Boston College. There were consecutive losses to Virginia Tech and Maryland that deflated the 2006 season; the anemic early loss to Georgia Tech in 2007 that proved costly in the end; and the trio of humiliating 2008 defeats to Alabama, Maryland and Wake Forest.
All of which led to Tommy Bowden's resignation last October, leaving what coach Dabo Swinney has described as a fragile, divided team.
"The day we changed coaches - no program in America wants to go through that, especially players," senior running back C.J. Spiller said. "But we hired the right guy. Coach of the Year, right here."
While today's outcome figures to shape perception of Swinney's unconventional promotion - at least for the short term - it stands as the defining moment for numerous players' careers.
Unless, of course, the Tigers finally take the next step.
"I couldn't think of a better ending," receiver Jacoby Ford said. "If we wanted to go out with a bang, this is the way to go. You couldn't script it up any better than this."
Gameday preview: Clemson vs. Virginia
CAVALIERS AT TIGERS
WHO: Virginia (3-7, 2-4 ACC) at Clemson (7-3, 5-2)
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Memorial Stadium
RADIO: ESPN Radio 93.1 FM
LINE: Clemson by 21
THESTATE.COM/TIGERS: Live chat with Paul Strelow, 3 p.m. Thursday
Over the hill
It will be the last pre-game run down "The Hill" for 19 seniors, nine of whom are starters.
So the juices will be flowing for a number of key components to this team, including lineman Thomas Austin, tight end Michael Palmer, receiver Jacoby Ford and defensive end Ricky Sapp. But seeing how the Death Valley crowd greets running back C.J. Spiller for the final time figures to rank among the day's most memorable moments.
Over the hill, part 2
Swinney celebrated his 40th birthday Friday, but the ACC's youngest coach will have waited until today to see if he got the gift he wanted. A conference title game berth would be pretty fair validation that Swinney was not a bad hire, not to mention trigger an extra $1 million of salary for each of the final four years of his contract.
Analysts suggest Spiller's Heisman Trophy candidacy has gained steam the last month, but he will probably need to continue weekly splashes to stay in the mix. That said, about all that is left for Spiller to accomplish is an eye-catching rushing performance.
Turning the page
It has been strange for there to be no consideration of the USC rivalry game to this juncture. Win or lose, that will change promptly. Should the Tigers clinch, there will be legitimate concern for an emotional letdown in next week's preparations, and it will be interesting to see how long Swinney allows the Tigers to celebrate their accomplishment. Should Clemson fall on its face, Swinney will have his work cut out for him.
Five questions with Kavell Conner
Did Virginia recruit you?
They recruited me a little. But my high school coach told me they said I wasn't fast enough to play running back. So that's always been a little motivation, I guess. I came in here as a safety, but they always told me I had a body to gain weight. So I expected to move.
It's a personal rivalry game. Just being from there, you want to go there and play well.
You were recruited by John Lovett, who was was fired before you signed. Why stick with your pledge?
When I committed, it was never about who was recruiting me. It was about coming down here and forming a relationship with the players, and it felt like a family atmosphere. So I felt comfortable here.
If you win to reach the ACC title game, what would be the defining moment you reflected on?
The defining moment would just be clinching. After the game, just seeing the happiness all the fans could feel and all the players' faces, seeing how our hard work has paid off. But we have to go out and complete the job and finish strong.
Which game had more of an impact, the collapse at Maryland or the overtime victory at Miami?
I'd say both games impacted us in different ways. The Maryland game, we hit that low, and everybody came out of that game refocused where we wanted to go as a team. Then the Miami game just showed us how good we could really be, and that got everybody motivated.
You're regarded as the most punishing hitter on the team. What was the hardest hit you've levied?
It was actually not even a tackle. It was when Crezdon (Butler) got an interception last year against South Carolina State. I got the chance to hit a lineman pretty good, and that was a great feeling. There was quite a celebration on the sideline.
GAME WITHIN A GAME
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller vs. Virginia LB Steve Greer
About Spiller: The Heisman Trophy candidate needs 140 all-purpose yards to become the fifth player in NCAA history to reach 7,000 for his career and 103 to set the ACC record.
How he'll win: Clemson's offensive line is better than last year, and Virginia's defense is statistically worse against the rush. Moreover, the Tigers have improved in finding ways to get him the ball. Prior to this season, he had logged 18 carries just twice. He has done so five times this year and averaged 22.6 offensive touches in games he has not been pulled.
Key number: 25. Career plays of 50 yards or more, only five of which have not gone for touchdowns
About Greer: The 6-2, 220-pound freshman looks the part of Virginia's next linebacker NFL prospect. He ranks fifth in the ACC with 8 tackles per game and is a chief reason the Cavs' defense has not appeared as porous as its numbers might indicate.
How he'll win: Virginia held Spiller to 18 yards on 14 carries last season, taking away the perimeter and forcing Clemson to hammer with James Davis inside the tackles. The Cavaliers are the only ACC team that incorporates a true 3-4 scheme, which could present trouble with the combo-blocks Clemson must execute in different gaps up front.
Key number: 300. Virginia is 3-0 when holding opponents under 300 yards of total offense; the Cavs are 0-7 when they don't.
Virginia: QB Marc Verica (concussion) is doubtful.
Clemson: DE Da'Quan Bowers (sprained MCL) and OL Thomas Austin (sprained foot) are doubtful.
PREDICTION: CLEMSON 27, VIRGINIA 14
Cavaliers seek to restore pride
A struggling Virginia team faces a tall task today against the red-hot Clemson Tigers.
By Doug Doughty
From the moment that Boston College snuffed out Virginia's last bid for an upset last Saturday and assured the Cavaliers of a losing record, UVa players have been saying that they will be playing "for pride" in their final two football games.
They didn't get that from head coach Al Groh.
"I've never said that," Groh said earlier this week. "I'm just guessing, [but] perhaps players say that because they've heard it, or it's the answer to a question, 'Now that you guys aren't playing for a championship, are you playing for pride?'
"You know, I thought we were playing for pride every week.' "
Maybe they're also playing to keep from being embarrassed, which could happen today at Clemson, where the Tigers (7-3 overall, 5-2 ACC) will be 21-point favorites going into a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
Clemson has won five games in a row and could clinch a spot in the ACC championship game with a victory today. The Tigers have a one-half game lead over Boston College in the Atlantic Division race and would win a tie-breaker based on their Sept. 19 victory over the Eagles.
Virginia (3-7, 2-4) has lost four games in a row and a fifth straight loss today would equal the longest victory dry spell of Groh's UVa coaching tenure.
The Cavaliers lost five games in a row during the middle of Groh's first season in 2001.
Virginia has suffered some lopsided losses, most notably in a 52-17 setback two weeks ago in Miami, but four of the Cavaliers' losses have come in games they led during the second half.
In 2007, Virginia set an NCAA record by winning five games by one or two points during a 9-4 season. This season has been the 2007 season in reverse, down to critical spots of the ball.
The Cavaliers got the best end of a measurement in 2007 at Middle Tennessee State, where they won 23-21 with a last-minute field goal. Last Saturday, Virginia turned the ball over to Boston College following a last-minute measurement in a game the Eagles won 14-10.
"In 2007, I can remember during a lot of those games how calm the players were on the sidelines, even during what might appear to be tense, dramatic moments," Groh said.
He said he got many of the same vibes as Virginia marched down the field in the closing minutes against Boston College but agreed that teams have to learn how to win.
"I don't know exactly what that means," Groh said. "I've often wondered what that means, [but] it would be foolish to say there isn't some element of that. Learning how to win really means making plays."
This UVa team has not been known for making big plays, at least ones that benefit the Cavaliers. Clemson, on the other hand, has some of the most dynamic players in the ACC, including senior tailback and Heisman Trophy candidate C.J. Spiller.
Spiller is only the fourth-leading rusher in the ACC and has a lower per-carry rushing average than either Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams or Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer, but Spiller leads the conference in all-purpose yardage and has scored 14 touchdowns.
"When you play against a team like that, field position is a tremendous issue," Groh said. "With Clemson continuously getting the ball around the 40-yard line, that doesn't give the opposite defense many plays to stop this high-powered offense. [With N.C. State] trying not to kick to him, Clemson got the ball around the 23-yard line and, the next play, he threw a touchdown pass.
"It couldn't have turned out any worse if they'd kicked to him."
Groh has been only slightly less impressed with the Tigers' redshirt freshman quarterback, Kyle Parker. The Cavaliers were victimized last week by a Boston College quarterback, 25-year-old David Shinskie, who decided to give college football a try after reaching Double-A as a professional baseball pitcher.
Parker, from the Jacksonville, Fla., area that has served as a cradle for ACC quarterbacks, graduated from high school in December of 2007 and enrolled at Clemson in time for the 2008 ACC baseball season. An outfielder and third baseman, he made first-team All-ACC and was named freshman All-American after batting .303, with 14 home runs and 50 RBI.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Parker has completed 54.1 percent of his passes for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"Looks like they're set at that position for quite some time," Groh said.
Game breakdown: Virginia at Clemson predictions
Virginia plays at Clemson at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Game airs on WSET.
By Doug Doughty | The Roanoke Times
OFFENSE: EDGE TIGERS
Virginia actually moved up a spot in the total-offense, from 119th to 118th among 120 Division I-A teams on the basis of its 298-yard afternoon in a 14-10 loss to Boston College. Clemson has had four consecutive games with 400 yards or more and has rushed for at least 240 yards in the last three. The Tigers boast one of the most dynamic players in the country in multi-purpose senior tailback C.J. Spiller, a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.
DEFENSE: EDGE TIGERS
Clemson is one of two ACC teams, along with North Carolina, that has held its opponents to fewer than 300 yards per game in total offense. The Tigers lead the ACC in sacks with 26 and face a Virginia team that ranks last in the ACC in sack avoidance, with 32 allowed. Clemson defensive backs DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall, the latter a freshman, are ranked first and second in the ACC in interceptions.
SPECIAL TEAMS: EDGE TIGERS
Spiller ranks No. 1 in the ACC in kickoff returns, three of which he has returned for touchdown, and the Tigers rank first in the ACC in kickoff coverage. Richard Jackson has given some stability to Clemson's placements and has a 53-yard field goal to his credit. Virginia is 94th in the country in punt returns and 114th in kickoff return. Both teams' punters have been erratic, although UVa seems to have settled on Jimmy Howell.
INTANGIBLES: EDGE TIGERS
Clemson has its sets sight on a spot in the ACC title game as Atlantic Division champion. Virginia, on the other hand, no longer can enjoy a winning season and is seeking only to avoid its fifth loss in a row. The Cavaliers have lost 11 of their past 14 games dating back to last season. At least they're not at Scott Stadium, where they haven't won a conference game in more than a year, but Death Valley won't be any more welcoming.
PREDICTION: CLEMSON 31, VIRGINIA 10
2 teams in different places
By Jay Jenkins
Published: November 21, 2009
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One team has its sights set on two trips to Florida. The other is likely to have an active offseason.
Without question, December will have a different meaning at Clemson and Virginia.
The Tigers (7-3, 4-2 ACC) have aspirations of playing in the ACC championship game in two weeks and using a win on that platform to play for major pay in the Orange Bowl.
The Cavaliers (3-6, 2-4), mired in a season-defining, five-game losing streak, are expected to spend that month discussing buyouts and potential replacements for positions on their coaching staff.
With No. 18 Clemson a 21-point favorite, the two programs headed in opposite directions collide at 3:30 p.m. (ABC) inside Clemson Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.
Oddly enough, a year ago it was Clemson that faced staff uncertainty and boasted an interim coach. Dabo Swinney replaced Tommy Bowden at midseason and secured the job for good after leading the Tigers to the Gator Bowl.
How quickly things can turn in the ACC, a league that is headed for just one BCS bid yet again.
That is merely wishful thinking for Cavalier fans, who support a team constructed of players who have openly stated that they merely have “pride” to play for over their final two games, the last of which comes at home next Saturday against Virginia Tech.
“I’ve never said that,” Virginia coach Al Groh said. “I think perhaps players say that because they’ve heard it, or it’s the answer to a question — ‘Now that you guys aren’t playing for the championship, are you playing for pride?’
“And the reason I preface my answer with that is I thought that’s what we were doing every week. I thought we were trying to prove something every week, and I thought we were playing for pride every week. I think you hear it at the end of the season because players have heard other players say it, or as I said, the question gets posed that way, so they answer it in the affirmative.”
If playing for pride has been the mantra of late, it has missed its mark — Virginia has lost 11 of its past 15 games. It has been over two decades since the program suffered a similar stretch.
“Everybody knows it hurts to lose,” Virginia tight end Joe Torchia said.
Defensive end Nate Collins added: “Losing really does get old. But we have to play for each other and try to win our last two games. That’s all we need to focus on.”
Clemson, with higher aspirations intact thanks to a five-game winning streak, can clinch the ACC’s Atlantic Division title today with a victory or a Boston College loss to North Carolina.
“We’ll take it any way we can get it — beggars can’t be choosers,” Clemson guard Thomas Austin said. “But obviously, we need to win the game.”
No offense, but Virginia needs more from attack
By Jerry Ratcliffe
Published: November 21, 2009
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If Al Groh wasn’t such a moral man, he’d probably be tempted to sell his soul for an offense.
Oh, what a difference a good offense would have made. When Virginia started the season, Wahoo Nation anticipated the excitement of a new-fangled, wide-open spread offense that would leave defenses in the dust while sending stadium scoreboards into astronomical gyrations.
Just not enough
While Groh’s defense has been pretty solid most of the way, the two areas of improvement that got every Cavalier’s blood flowing — special teams and offense — have been a disappointment. There have been flashes of improvement, but nothing consistent enough to make a difference.
Thusly, Virginia ventures into Death Valley today concerned that it could be run out of town by host Clemson’s explosive style of play.
While the Cavaliers hung in to the end against Boston College last week and had a few chances to win, and probably would have if not for Mike Parker’s brainless decision to make an illegal block in the back on Vic Hall’s dazzling punt return for a touchdown, UVa will be facing a vastly different challenge this afternoon.
The Atlantic Division title-seeking Tigers can earn a berth in the ACC championship game and a rematch against Georgia Tech with a win over the Wahoos today. It is their last home game, last conference game, before taking on nonconference rival South Carolina next week to close the regular season.
The wrong opponent
The late Frank Howard used to joke about his Tigers chewing up Virginia’s “white meat” — a phrase that continually got under every Wahoo’s skin as Clemson won the first 29 games between the teams — and a phrase that has faded away since Virginia broke that dominant streak back in 1990. Since then, the Cavaliers actually own an 8-7-1 advantage in the series.
If Virginia can’t find some offense today, though, Howard, who is buried behind Clemson Memorial Stadium, might be chuckling about that “white meat” after all.
“[The Boston College] game was a good match-up for us,” Groh said this week. “It was going to be a ‘go to the middle of the ring and fight it out’ kind of game. If it was going to be a fight, it would have been a split decision.
“[Clemson] is more of a track meet,” Groh explained. “I think our team would rather be in a boxing match than a track meet. We have to minimize the effect Clemson’s speed might have.”
Easier said than done.
The Tigers, 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the ACC, are ranked No. 18 nationally for a reason. They’re good. Not great, but good.
They have speed all over the field, with numerous offensive weapons highlighted by Heisman Trophy candidate C.J. Spiller. They have a young quarterback (Kyle Parker) who gets better every week and seems particularly effective on third-down throws.
If there’s any chink in the armor, it could be the Tigers’ kicking game (five missed extra points and two missed chip-shot field goals in the past two games) and a defense prone to drawing penalties at the worst moments.
Still, Clemson has been unstoppable during its current five-game winning streak. During that span, the Tigers have averaged 42 points per game and dominated field position mostly due to Spiller’s kickoff return ability. Even when teams don’t kick to him, the Tigers end up with excellent field position.
Either way, it puts defenses in a bind. That’s not exactly what Virginia’s defense needs. Its’ own offense does that plenty because of so many three-and-outs that keeps the Cavalier defenders on the field way too long and often in sticky predicaments.
I don’t care how good a defense is, it can’t hold up under that kind of constant pressure, particularly against an offense with the type of firepower that Clemson boasts.
Consider that UVa’s offense will enter today’s game having gone seven consecutive quarters without scoring an offensive touchdown.
Yep, the last Cavalier offensive player to hit paydirt was tailback Rashawn Jackson. That score came with 2:54 remaining in the first quarter at Miami on Nov. 7.
Since then, UVa’s only two touchdowns came on a Billy Schautz return of a blocked Miami punt and cornerback Chris Cook’s 58-yard interception return against BC. And, oh yeah, Hall’s electric punt return for a TD last week that would have won the game had it not been for Parker’s mistake.
Should Virginia repeat a similar performance of no offense, it could get ugly. Very ugly. 50 points ugly.
On paper, there’s no reason to expect this to be a good game. Clemson has everything to play for. Virginia has little. The Cavaliers, 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the ACC, are going nowhere.
While the season has been a huge disappointment, this band of Wahoos could exit feeling good about itself though, if they can muster enough pride to stun the Tigers on the road and finish it up next week by sticking it to their biggest rival, Virginia Tech, in a post-Turkey Day finale at Scott Stadium.
Otherwise, it’s going to be tough to look in the mirror come December and thereafter.
In all likeliehood, Virginia will buy out the remaining two years of Groh’s contract because according to our spies, the money has been raised to do so. Our spies also contend that UVa officials have already been back-channeling in seeking out potential head coaching candidates.
Oh, if the Cavaliers only had an offense, what a different picture it would be. If one doesn’t show up today, then today will be a disaster, another disaster over a long, long season.
Tucker says he’ll be back after Cancun Challenge
November 19, 2009
Story by Chris Graham | Augusta Free Press
UVa. senior forward Jamil Tucker told ACCVirginia.com contributor Scott German tonight that he plans to be back with the Virginia basketball team after its trip to Cancun for the final two games of the Cancun Challenge.
Tucker was in street clothes for the Cavs’ 79-46 win over Rider Thursday night. The 6-9 sharpshooter was also in attendance for the team’s season-opening 85-72 win over Longwood last week and signed autographs for fans courtside as teammates took part in a formal autograph-signing session on the court following the game.
Tucker took a leave of absence from the team on Nov. 11 to deal with undisclosed personal matters.
Tucker played in all 28 games and started four for Virginia last season. He averaged 7.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 18.5 minutes played a game during the 2008-09 season. He shot 44.2 percent (73-165) from the field, including 40.3 percent (31-77) from three-point range, and 68.2 percent (30-44) from the free-throw line.
Virginia plays Stanford in Cancun on Tuesday night and then will play either Kentucky or Cleveland State on Wednesday night.
The ‘Hoos return to action following a break for Thanksgiving on Nov. 30 with a home game with Penn State as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.
Cavs welcome Golden Eagles
By Whitey Reid
Published: November 21, 2009
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After dominating Rider on Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena, several Virginia players said that Rider’s previous win over 18th-ranked Mississippi State had gotten their attention — made them perk up a little for an otherwise nondescript out-of-conference game.
The same could hold true when Virginia (2-1) hosts Oral Roberts (2-1) this afternoon.
The Golden Eagles, who went 16-15 out of the Summit League last season (formerly the Mid-Continent Conference), are coming off an upset win at Stanford on Wednesday. Virginia players seem to realize the task at hand.
“We brought it the whole game on the defensive end and on the offensive end [against Rider],” said Virginia sophomore Sylven Landesberg. “I think that’s something we have to continue to do.
“We just have to continue the intensity and continue working hard.”
Thursday’s performance had to make Virginia coach Tony Bennett feel a little better as his team prepares for a tougher stretch that will include games against Stanford, and possibly Kentucky, in Mexico at the Cancun Challenge.
Against the Broncs, Virginia shot the ball much better (52 percent) than it had in the loss to South Florida on Monday. In addition, UVa was stingier on the defensive end. The Cavaliers held Rider to just 33 percent shooting.
A more traditional lineup seemed to pay dividends all the way around. Bennett started Jerome Meyinsse at center and brought guard Jeff Jones off the bench.
“I like having a guy who can come off in that capacity and be a threat and score ... of the four perimeters we had been starting, I thought Jeff would be a good one to be a spark.
“I don’t know if I would call him Vinnie Johnson, ‘the Microwave,’ yet,” said Bennett, referring to the former Detroit Pistons sixth man, “but he’s a guy who can come off and stretch the defense and get a feel for what’s going on and watch it. I thought he did a nice job.”
On the flip side, Bennett was pleased with what Meyinsse brought to the table, especially on the defensive end.
“He was steady. [Rider does] a good job of pump-faking — that’s their big thing. He just played strong position defense,” Bennett said.
“You know, he’s not the quickest, but he was steady and smart with his angles ... he’s hard to move. It was good to see that because he gave us a nice lift. He’s been getting better and better with more repetition.”
Bennett’s defense should get an additional boost this afternoon with the return of center Assane Sene. The 7-footer, who was suspended for the team’s first three games for “conduct detrimental to the team,” will be a welcome addition. Last season, Sene ranked fifth in the ACC in blocked shots.
“Boy, that’s just another inside presence as far as defensively — another live body that’s active and hopefully can be physical and get on the glass at both ends of the floor,” Bennett said.
“We’ve been short-handed, and that’s good that he’s going to be back.”
Today marks the first-ever meeting between Virginia and Oral Roberts. ... Oral Roberts lost by 20 points in its season opener at Wake Forest. ... The game is a match-up of two second-generation head coaches in Tony Bennett and Scott Sutton, whose fathers (Dick Bennett and Eddie Sutton) combined for more than 1,300 collegiate coaching wins. ... Junior walk-on forward Will Sherrill could continue to receive minutes, even with the return of Sene. Bennett was pleased with what he saw out of Sherrill against Rider. “You need guys who are like that,” referring to Sherrill’s lunch-pail style. “They are kind of the worker bees as we say.” ... UVa will fly out on Sunday for the Mexico portion of the Cancun Challenge.
Virginia Returns To Action On Saturday Against Oral Roberts
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/20/2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE—After a 79-46 victory over Rider on Thursday night (Nov. 19) at John Paul Jones Arena, the Virginia men’s basketball team faces a quick turnaround to prepare for a home game Saturday afternoon (Nov. 21) against Oral Roberts. Saturday’s game is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and like the Rider game is part of the Cancun Challenge.
Due to the simultaneous scheduling of the Virginia men’s basketball game against Oral Roberts and the UVa football game at Clemson on Saturday, radio coverage will be split for these games. The men’s basketball game against Oral Roberts will air only on AM 1070 WINA in Charlottesville. The pre-game show will begin at 1:30 p.m. with tip-off at 2 p.m. Jay James will handle play-by-play duties alongside analyst Cory Alexander for this game. Statewide coverage of the football game at Clemson will be available on the Virginia Sports Network.
Virginia and Oral Roberts both enter Saturday afternoon’s game with 2-1 records and both are coming off impressive victories. In their 33-point victory over Rider, the Cavaliers shot 51.8 percent (29-56) from the field, held the Broncs to 33.3 percent (17-51) shooting from the field and had a 42-27 edge in rebounding. Oral Roberts is coming off an 83-81 win at Stanford on Wednesday (Nov. 18).
Reserved seat tickets are available for the Virginia-Oral Roberts game.
Junior forward Mike Scott led Virginia with 17 points, nine rebounds and three assists in the victory over Rider. Scott was joined in double figure scoring by sophomore guard Sammy Zeglinski with 12 points, junior guard Jeff Jones with 11 and sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg with 10 points.
Junior forward Will Sherrill provided a lift off the bench for the Cavaliers. Sherrill scored two points and had a career-high six rebounds in a career-high 16 minutes of playing time.
The Cavaliers led Rider by 14 points at halftime (36-22) and opened the second half on a 14-3 run to expand the lead to 50-25 with 15:06 left to play. The Broncs got no closer than 20 points the rest of the game.
The 46 points Rider scored against the Cavaliers are the fewest a Virginia opponent has scored in John Paul Jones Arena.
Landesberg leads the Cavaliers in scoring with an average of 15.7 points a game, while Scott is averaging 12.7 points a game and Zeglinski, Jones and junior guard Mustapha Farrakhan are all averaging 9.3 points a game. Scott is the team’s leading rebounder with an average of 9.0 rebounds a game.
Oral Roberts opened the season with a 76-56 loss at Wake Forest, but has won its last two games. The Golden Eagles beat Northwestern Oklahoma 86-50 at home before their victory at Stanford. Oral Roberts is a member of The Summit League.
The Golden Eagles have four players averaging in double figures in scoring. Sophomore forward Dominique Morrison is averaging 14.7 points a game to lead the team. Other double figure scorers include senior center Kevin Ford (12.7 ppg.), junior forward Michael Craion (12.0 ppg.), and freshman guard Warren Niles (11.3 ppg.). Ford leads the team in rebounding with an average of 8.7 rebounds a game.
Scott Sutton is in his 11th season as the head coach at Oral Roberts. His teams have compiled an overall record of 186-127 and he was The Summit League Coach of the Year in 2009. He is the son of long-time collegiate head coach Eddie Sutton.
Saturday’s game is the first meeting between Oral Roberts and Virginia.
After the Oral Roberts game, the Cavaliers travel to Mexico for the Cancun Challenge. Virginia plays Stanford on Tuesday, Nov. 24, and either Cleveland State or Kentucky on Wednesday, Nov. 25.
White: Heartbreaking Loss Ends 'Hoos' Season
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/20/2009
By Jeff White
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- They posed with a trophy on the Kentner Stadium turf, Michele Madison and her captains, Lauren Elstein and Traci Ragukas, and did their best to wear cheerful expressions.
But it was not the prize they'd hoped to collect at the NCAA field hockey tournament's final four. It was a semifinalist's trophy.
Second-seeded UVa fell 3-2 to third-seeded North Carolina in the second semifinal Friday on the campus of Wake Forest. And so a season in which the Cavaliers won a school-record 20 games ended with tears of disappointment and frustration.
"This team played their heart out today," said Madison, Virginia's fourth-year coach. "I'm very proud of their efforts. I'm proud of the entire season. It's just unfortunate that it had to end today."
Almost to the end, Madison believed her team would force overtime, if not win in regulation.
"The first time I felt like, 'Oh, no,' was when they started stalling, and that was with 32 seconds left," she said.
UNC (19-2) advances to meet top-seeded Maryland (23-0), the defending NCAA champion, in Sunday's title game. The Terrapins beat fourth-seeded Princeton 7-5 in the first semifinal Friday.
Of the Wahoos' four losses this season, two were to Maryland and two to Carolina.
After the first of the two 35-minute halves Friday, the Tar Heels led 1-0. About three minutes into the second half, the 'Hoos appeared to pull even on a shot by sophomore Inga Stöckel. The lead umpire signaled a goal, but the trailing umpire saw it differently, ruling that the ball had been higher than 18 inches off the turf when it crossed the goal line.
On that controversial call, the goal was disallowed, much to the displeasure of the Cavaliers.
They battled on, though, and Ragukas' unassisted goal in the 48th minute made it 1-1. UNC capitalized on defensive breakdowns to score in the 51st and 54th minutes, but UVa answered again.
In the 60th minute, sophomore Paige Selenski's 27th goal of the season -- she tipped in a shot by Stöckel on a penalty corner -- pulled Virginia to 3-2. And Madison knew what was coming next: the tying goal.
"I could smell it," she said.
Alas, it never came, but the Cavaliers had their opportunities. In a five-minute span that started with 8:12 remaining, they had four penalty corners.
"That's what a championship game is about," Madison said. "You have to be able to put it in when you have a chance."
Before each of those final four corners, sophomore back Floor Vogels said, she walked over to goalkeeper Kim Kastuk.
"I was like, 'We got this. We're going to win this game,'" Vogels said. "I was wrong."
This was UVa's first appearance in the final four since 1998. It's not likely to take another 11 years for the 'Hoos to get back. They lose only two seniors: Elstein and Ragukas.
"In the growth of the program, the final four was definitely the next step," Madison said. "They achieved it. We felt good about it, and the rest was going to be the cherry on the top."
As much as Madison, who guided Michigan State to the NCAA semifinals in 2002 and '04, tried to prepare the Cavaliers for playing on this stage, some things probably must be experienced.
"They're young, and so they made some mistakes," she said. "Some of the kids did things they've never done. And that's just pressure, and that's experience. They want to do it perfect, so they try to take an extra step with it to make it perfect, and that's not what you need. You have to see it, do it, see it, do it."
The team will be better for the experience, said junior midfielder Haley Carpenter.
"I think it's a huge opportunity, and it just shows us what we need to do next year," she said.
Cavaliers fall in semifinals
By Jay Spivey
Published: November 21, 2009
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Virginia’s field-hockey team came just short of reaching its goal of playing in Sunday’s NCAA championship.
Danielle Forword, Taryn Gjurich and Elizabeth Drazdowski scored goals for No. 3 North Carolina as it edged No. 2 Virginia 3-2 in Friday’s second semifinal at Kentner Stadium on the campus of Wake Forest.
Maryland beat Princeton 7-5 in the first semifinal and will play North Carolina at noon on Sunday for the national championship.
Virginia coach Michele Madison said her players were anxious before the game. UVa made only its third appearance in the semifinals, with the last coming in 1998. Madison is also the first NCAA Division I coach to take three teams (Temple, Michigan State, Virginia) to the NCAA semifinals.
“That’s just a young team and they just wanted to get on that field and play,” Madison said. “Nerves are a good thing. They let you know you’re still alive, and they will make you work hard.”
The Tar Heels (19-2) won the rubber game with the Cavaliers (20-4). The Tar Heels won the regular-season game 2-1 in overtime, but the Cavaliers won the ACC tournament semifinal game 1-0 just two weeks ago.
North Carolina took a 1-0 lead at halftime after Forword converted a penalty corner off an assist from Katelyn Falgowski at 22:59. Virginia tied it at 47:03 after Traci Ragukas slid a shot past goalkeeper Jackie Kintzer.
Virginia had a goal by Inga Stockel at 37:48 disallowed after the referees ruled that the shot crossed the line over the 18-inch height allowed, according to Madison.
“The umpires ruled that it was too high,” Madison said. “That was it.”
North Carolina took a 3-1 lead after goals by Gjurich (50:44) and Drazdowski (53:24).
However, Virginia roared right back and Paige Selenski scored her 27th goal off an assist from Stockel at 59:23 on a penalty corner.
The Cavaliers pushed forward and won four penalty corners between the eight-minute mark and the three-minute mark.
“I think it was a tale of two halves,” UNC coach Karen Shelton said. “I think we dominated the first half, but I think they certainly put a lot of pressure on us in the second half.”
Madison said the Cavaliers just didn’t capitalize on penalty-corner opportunities. The Cavaliers had eight penalty corners, and the Tar Heels had seven.
“We had corners. We were able to put one in,” Madison said. “We ran the option on another one to Paige [Selenski], but the goalkeeper played well and you just have to put it in when you get the chance.”
The Tar Heels held an 8-3 shot advantage in the first half, but the Cavaliers came back to finish down 12-11.
Virginia sophomore Floor Vogels said she thought the Cavaliers would come back and win.
“I just knew we had it,” she said. “Every time I walked back to our goalie, I told her that we had this and that we were going to win this game. I was wrong. But, I thought we had our chances and we just didn’t score and they did. That’s just the way it is.”
UCLA knocks Virginia out of NCAA tournament
By Lee Barnathan
Published: November 21, 2009
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LOS ANGELES - If it’s an odd-numbered year, it must mean the Virginia women’s soccer team finds itself at UCLA in the postseason.
It also means a defeat.
For the third time in six years, the Cavaliers came out to the familiar confines of Drake Stadium and lost, this time 3-0 on Friday night in an NCAA third-round match.
“It’s tough,” Cavaliers goalie Chantel Jones said. “Flying to the West Coast takes a lot out of us.”
The Cavaliers (10-6-6) lost 5-0 in the 2005 quarterfinal and 2-1 in overtime in a 2007 third-round match. Virginia also would have been here last year had it not lost to Duke.
On Friday, the Cavaliers fell behind just 3 minutes, 21 seconds into the match, as UCLA senior defender Dea Cook headed in a Lauren Barnes corner kick from about 10 yards out for just her second goal of the season.
“We were a little shocked,” Jones said. “We came out flat and couldn’t connect passes.”
Late in the first half, the Bruins (20-2-1) scored again as sophomore Sydney Leroux, who missed last year’s postseason because she was busy helping the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team win a championship, scored with a perfect one-time shot from the top of the box that just found the left corner.
“You can’t consistently go down two goals to teams like this and expect to win,” Virginia coach Steve Swanson said.
Recall that Virginia trailed 2-0 at Penn State last week before running off seven goals, six coming in a 20-minute span.
This wasn’t Happy Valley. Although the Cavaliers did a better job of controlling the midfield and attacking in the second half - Swanson said they changed their formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2—they only managed three of their seven shots in the second half as UCLA packed in its defense.
“UCLA has a high-pressure defense,” Jones said. “Penn State sat back and let us play around. … They [UCLA] came out hard, and we didn’t move the ball fast enough.”
Senior midfielder Jess Rostedt broke away with three minutes to play and had only UCLA keeper Chante’ Sandiford to beat, but she slipped on the grass as she tried to go around Sandiford.
The Bruins responded with Leroux knocking in a failed clearance off a corner kick with 1:19 to play for her school-record eighth goal and 16th point of the postseason. She also tied a school record with 23 goals this season.
“It would’ve been nice to get one [goal] and see what would’ve happened,” Swanson said.
UCLA almost went up 3-0 midway through the second half, but Jones stopped Lauren Cheney point-blank with about 25 minutes to play for one of her six saves. Cheney nonetheless assisted on Leroux’s first goal and tied the school record with her 169th career point. She has 69 goals and 31 assists.
UCLA won its eighth consecutive match, earned its 12th shutout this year and will host Portland, which handled Virginia Tech, 4-1, today in a quarterfinal. This also is the fifth consecutive season in which the Bruins won at least 20.
No. 2 Virginia Opens NCAA Tournament Play Sunday vs. Bucknell
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/20/2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE - The No. 2 overall seed and second-ranked Virginia men’s soccer team hosts Bucknell in the second round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament on Sunday. Kick-off from Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., is 1 p.m., and live statistics will be available at VirginiaSports.com.
Virginia is making its 29th-straight appearance at the NCAA Tournament, dating back to 1981. That streak is the longest-active in the nation.
Virginia (14-3-3) won the 2009 ACC Championship with an amazing run through the tournament that included shutouts of three ranked opponents (#5 Maryland, #3 Wake Forest and #20 NC State). It was the fourth conference tournament crown for UVa head coach George Gelnovatch, and the Cavaliers’ 10th overall title.
The Cavaliers are unbeaten in their last 11 games, have shut out eight-straight opponents and have not allowed a goal in 837 minutes and 34 seconds of soccer. Already the single-season record holder for shutouts in a season with 12, Diego Restrepo is approaching the scoreless minutes school record as well: 891 minutes and 25 seconds set by Tony Meola in 1988.
Defensively, the Cavaliers lead the nation with a goals-against average of 0.33. Restrepo ranks second in the nation with a goals-against average of 0.336.
Offensively, freshman Will Bates leads the team with eight goals and an assist, followed by Tony Tchani with six goals.
The Cavaliers are out-scoring their opponents, 26-7, in 2009.
UVa holds a 47-25-4 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament, and has won five NCAA Championships (1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994).
Virginia’s last appearance in the NCAA College Cup was in 2006 in St. Louis, Mo. The Cavaliers dropped a 4-0 contest to UCLA in the national semifinal.
Last season, Virginia earned a first-round bye and hosted Connecticut in the second round. The Huskies prevailed, 2-0.
The Bison (17-5-0) were the Patriot League Champions and are making their fifth all-time appearance at the NCAA Championships.
Bucknell defeated Princeton, 1-0, on Thursday (Nov. 19) to advance to the second round.
Conor O’Brien leads the team with 11 goals and nine assists, followed by Brendan Burgdorf with nine goals and two assists. O’Brien assisted Burgdorf’s game-winning goal in the first round vs. Princeton.
Goalkeeper Tommy Caso has started 20 games and allowed 16 goals for a 0.81 goals-against average.
The teams have met just once, Nov. 15, 2006. That contest was a second round NCAA Tournament game and Virginia prevailed, 4-0.
The winner would advance to the third round to face the winner of NC State vs. Portland.
'Big-time' goals in Houston all wrapped around Schaub's arm
By Megan Manfull Ortiz, Special to USA TODAY
HOUSTON — Andre Johnson leaned back in his locker and laughed.
The memory of the Houston Texans' inability to stay on the field in past seasons
made the All-Pro receiver chuckle.
Johnson, who has been with the Texans since 2003, didn't find anything funny about his offense's futility. This season is different, thanks in large part to somewhat anonymous Matt Schaub, who can be found surrounded by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger near the top of most of the NFL's quarterback statistics.
Eight years into the franchise's existence, Schaub has made the Texans playoff contenders for the first time.
"I understand my role in our offense and what we're trying to get done," he said. "I understand what we have offensively and the skills and what each player brings to the table so that we can play to those strengths. I just feel like I'm much more comfortable this year with what we're doing."
Two-and-a-half years after Schaub took the reins from David Carr, the Texans rank sixth offensively and are 5-4 for the first time. And Schaub, who has missed five games with injuries each of the last two seasons, appears to be healthy. Now, one of his biggest challenges may be overcoming the loss of key teammates to injuries — including tight end Owen Daniels.
"I remember when (Schaub) first got here we (on defense) were so used to, 'OK, hurry up and get a drink of water because we're going to have to go back out in the next three plays,' " cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "Now, we sit on the bench so long we end up getting up and going to watch the game. And that has a lot to do with Schaub. He's playing great and we love him."
The pressure is on Schaub and coach Gary Kubiak to win this season. Owner Bob McNair has stated he wants the Texans to be an "elite" team.
The Texans, whose best finish was .500, aren't anointing themselves Super Bowl contenders. Nonetheless, they heap praise on their quarterback.
"I've seen the worst of the worse," Johnson said without exaggeration after playing for a team that ranked among the NFL's five worst offensive teams in 2002, '03, '05 and '06.
Schaub, 28, quietly has situated himself among the NFL's elite. He ranks third in passing yards (2,653) behind Manning and Brady. He ranks fourth in first downs (122), trailing Manning, Brady and Warner. Only Manning, Brees, Favre and Roethlisberger have better completion percentages than Schaub (67.5). He's thrown 17 touchdowns vs. nine interceptions.
"He's been putting up big numbers for awhile, but now he's staying in the game," says right tackle Eric Winston, in his fourth season with Houston. "He's putting consecutive games together and he's winning them, and I think he's finally getting the credit that goes with all of that."
Schaub wants the one thing all of those elite quarterbacks have already had — playoff glory. The Texans have finished as high as third in the AFC South only twice (2004, '08), always struggling most against division foes. They are 1-2 vs. division opponents this season with narrow losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts.
"When it ends, we want to be in the playoffs," Schaub said. "We want to have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. That's all out there in front of us if we just go out there and play well for seven weeks. That's our goal."
Schaub's battle with injuries
A third-round draft pick out of Virginia in 2004, Schaub spent three years with the Atlanta Falcons as a backup to Michael Vick. He was traded to Houston in March 2007 and has had a bye week to prepare for his 32nd start as a Texan on Monday vs. the Tennessee Titans.
Schaub has battled injuries since coming to Houston. Last December, he returned from a four-game absence because of a sprained knee and threw for 414 yards in 3-degree temperatures as the Texans upset the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Since then, Schaub has made 13 consecutive starts and is third in the NFL with an average 294.8 passing yards.
He is playing well despite losing two starting guards (Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel) to injuries. The offense also has had to make substantial changes in recent weeks because of the season-ending knee injury Nov. 1 to Pro Bowl tight end Daniels, the team's second-leading receiver with 519 yards and five touchdowns.
In the two games since Daniels' injury, Schaub has tried to spread the ball among running backs Steve Slaton and Ryan Moats and wide receivers Kevin Walter and Johnson (who ranks third among NFL receivers with 800 yards). Moats broke out for 126 yards vs. the Buffalo Bills, but had just 38 in the loss to Indianapolis.
Despite the obstacles, Schaub is playing better than he ever has heading into the franchise's second appearance on Monday Night Football.
"I'll be honest, I coach him as hard as anybody I've ever coached," said Kubiak, who also coached Hall of Famers Steve Young with the San Francisco 49ers and John Elway with the Denver Broncos. "I have big-time expectations for him and what he can do for this franchise. I've been very impressed with how he puts up with me and my expectations of his play.
"We brought him in here to take over, but he didn't just walk over and take over a championship team. He had a big, big challenge on his hands and he's been up for the growth process."
Kubiak says it's not unusual for him to find Schaub at Reliant Stadium at 5 a.m., and the quarterback is more than a casual observer during game planning. He challenges Kubiak during the week and at times in games.
"He's a guy who is going to battle you for all the right reasons because between the two of you, you're trying to win," Kubiak said. "It's just as important to him as it is to you, and that's a good thing to know as a coach."
Heart of the team
Schaub's teammates were sold on his work ethic and drive long ago. The day he was traded from Atlanta, Schaub asked for the team's phone list. He called each teammate to tell them how much he was looking forward to the season.
He and his wife, Laurie, often host the players at their home. Schaub also takes different teammates out for dinner at various times of the year and tries to coordinate Halloween and Christmas get-togethers.
On the flight home from road games, Schaub sits across the aisle from Johnson to rehash every play and discuss what each was thinking.
Johnson was surprised by it all at first — the phone calls, the invites, the postgame chats.
"The relationship I have with him is totally different than the relationship I had with David (Carr) and the other guys we've had," said Johnson. "I think it's helped a lot and it's carried over onto the field. When David was here, I never talked to David outside of the locker room. But Matt, he has you over to his house.
"In OTAs, he's like, 'I'm throwing burgers on the grill. You guys come over and jump in the pool.' Just little things like that tell you a lot about a guy. We knew we had the right guy from that first phone call."
Schaub's parents still travel to all his games, as they did when he was in East High School in West Chester, Pa., and at Virginia.
That traveling fan club will add a new member this offseason. Laurie is expecting the couple's first child in March.
Schaub admits he's more nervous about becoming a father than he is about taking on the streaking Titans and Houston native Vince Young.
"I don't think I quite understand all that it entails, the responsibility you have when you have a child who depends on you for everything," Schaub said.
Before his daughter is born, Schaub would like to help the Texans make history.
"I think if he stays healthy, he's going to have a career where he's going to put up some big numbers in this league," Kubiak said.
"It has a lot to do with the organization and this football team growing. You get better as a quarterback when your team can win in a lot of ways, not just your way. So, the growth of this organization will have a lot to do with his continued maturity and his ability to reach new levels."