Archive for October, 2008

Home Underdogs vs. Revenge

October 31, 2008

Lisa Birnbach, author of The Official Preppy Handbook once wrote that “The University of Miami is not a campus with visible school spirit, just visible tan lines.”  Frattinghard.com recently listed the school on its “schools that are fratting a little harder today” list.  Hurricanes TE and Richmond native Dedrick Epps says of the school’s football team, “we don’t quit. We’re Miami.”

 

Epps specified that he and his mates “didn’t quit” in last year’s 48-0 loss to Virginia, the school’s last-ever – and worst-ever – loss in its 70-year stay at the storied stadium.  Quitting may not have even been an issue in that contest, which featured embarrassed football alumni and at least one soon-to-be-decommitting high school recruits on the home sideline.  Head Man Randy Shannon admitted “we couldn’t get anything started.”

 

Coach Shannon has insisted all week that this is a “different year, different team” but there may be some lingering feelings.  O-lineman Jason Fox admitted that it may not “get brought up through coach Shannon, but the guys on the team remind each other of that… it was almost to a point where it was embarrassing and disrespectful last year. That’s in the back of our minds.”  QB Robert Marve says “it’s something in the back of your mind, definitely. Looking at our record last year, I ran across something that stated the score and how rough the game was for us. You want to get revenge back a little bit.”

 

For Virginia, Miami week began with some good news & some bad news following the surprising upset in Atlanta.  You want the good news first…  Despite an apparent holding penalty while blocking All-American candidate Michael Johnson on Marc “ESPN can’t pronounce my last name” Verica, RT Will Barker was named the ACC’s offensive lineman of the week for his performance against GT.  The Roanoke Times informs that Barker “spent considerable time lined up against Johnson” and performed admirably.  Barker admitted that “getting some of the off-field issues” cleared up has helped him improve on an early season where, as the RT notes, he was “collecting holding penalties and allowing blow-by sacks.”  Barker was found not guilty in his petty larceny (read: stealing beer from a bar’s cooler) on October 6.

 

Not so lucky is starting FB Rashawn Jackson, who was arrested on Tuesday for B&E/GL (breaking and entering, grand larceny).  The NJ native and former HS and college teammate of accused grand larcener Mike Brown is alleged to have stolen a video console from a dormitory in November 2007, during last year’s football season.  Jackson remains on the team, and has a November 20th court date, two days before the home tilt against Clemson.

 

Running behind the blocking of Barker, the rest of the O-line, and (sometimes) Jackson, has been the unquestioned hot offensive hand: Cedric Peerman.  The “Running Reverend” has three 100+ yard rushing games in the four straight wins, has been excellent out of the backfield, and perhaps most notably – has eked out every possible yard each time he’s touched the ball (see GT TD photo at right).  Speed and power have both been on display since returning from injuries that hampered CP earlier in the season.  GT DE Morgan Burnett called Peerman “a hard runner” and a “tough back,” while Miami LB Glenn Cook calls him “a really compact, strong runner. We’re going to have to gang-tackle and make sure everybody is running to the ball.”

 

Head man Al Groh (VPI bball coach Seth Greenberg is a fan) is a bit more sentimental about his captain: “I’m almost uncomfortable talking about him because there’s nothing I can say about Cedric that would do him justice to anybody who saw it with their own eyes.”  QB Marc Verica is a bit less eloquent, but perhaps more to the point: “He’s the heart of the team. He’s right that he’s not a flashy guy. He’s very humble. He never celebrates in the wrong way or shows anybody up. But when he hits the field, he’s a ton of fire and passion.”  And, in terms of results, “we’re a different team when he’s in the game. He makes this offense go and everything revolves around him. At the end, he put the team on his back.”

 

And the future for CP?  The CDP shares that “despite his success, Peerman said he debated attending a job fair on Tuesday at John Paul Jones Arena. If his success continues, the business world may have to wait.”

 

One the other side of the ball, there has been ample praise to go around for a pair of newcomers and a key veteran.  In the latter group is California native LB Darren Childs, who has received perhaps the most press in history for a player with 17 career tackles.  Last week we learned Childs made starters Clint Sintim (now up to #13 on Mel Kiper’s “Big Board”) & Jon Copper believe he was Antonio Appleby against UNC, and actually helped Copper on a few plays after the latter took a big hit.  He believes the 3 ½ years he’s had to wait between playing a full game was “worth the wait” and has family in Caroline County.  Childs has forearm tattoos that read “Trust No One,” but “felt [like] part of the brotherhood out there” on the field.  This week, both Childs and NT Nate Collins drew praise for playing every base defensive snap against GT.  Groh said each was “very significant in the game, and to get a win like that with those two kids, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to have to step back when the other guys come back, but now with another week to get Nick and Antonio back, that’ll make us that much stronger.”  After the game, Collins admitted he was “getting my fingers pulled back” during some trench warfare on the filed.  “But that’s part of football, under-the-pile stuff that no one else sees,” he said.

 

Also standing out was CB Vic Hall, who made his second game-sealing INT of the season.  Along with CP, he is one of – in Groh’s words – “our two captains from [U.S.] 29 South.”  Groh lectures that Hall has had those people poking at him like, ‘How come you’re not playing quarterback?’ We knew how valuable he was there, but now he’s turned two games for us with fourth-quarter interceptions.”  And, for good measure, “clearly, we’ve got a pretty decent quarterback out there right now. So, all the pieces seem to be properly in place.”

 

On special teams, there was still not a lot of special play, but certainly some improvement.  PK Chris Hinkebein’s kick-offs still leave much to be desired, but PK Yannick Reyering returned from injury (maybe?) to make all three extra points and a 25-yard FG in Atlanta.  P Jimmy Howell only trotted onto the field once – which is pretty special – and drilled a 49-yarder to bring his season average up to 38.2.  Vic Hall built on his punt return day against ECU (3-40) with two returns for 16 yards.  Still pretty ARE-esque.

 

 

Down in Coral Gables, Miami has some wind of its own the win at its sails, brining a three-game winning streak (including its first back-to-back ACC wins since 2006).  The Hurricanes’ offense has been lead at different times by both RSF Marve and true freshman Jacory Harris, and winning appears to have kept the controversy to a minimum – for now.  Harris recently accounted for five scores in a win at Duke, and has twice been honored as ACC Rookie of the Week this season.  Marve collected his own second ACC ROW award for his performance Saturday against Wake, throwing for 153 yards and running for 56 rushing more (including a long of 43).

 

Unlike last season’s Kirby Freeman / Kyle Wright rotation, Marve & Harris have made the most of their chances and seem to be willing to defer when the other is producing.  HC Shannon explains: “Jacory will say, ‘Robert’s going to get the first down, go for it.’ And Jacory will make a nice pass and Robert will say, ‘That was sweet.’ They’re the ones directing this football team to where we want to get.”  Seems perfect enough, but just a week ago, Harris’ father made a statement to the media that both QBs “want to be starters. Both need to be starters, whether it’s at the University of Miami or somewhere else.”

 

Epps, the TE from Richmond (Huguenot High) was once a Virginia recruiting target… but Groh’s not bitter he chose Miami.  “He was over here a few times [in high school],” Virginia coach Al Groh said yesterday. “We liked him a lot, but it never seemed to get rolling here. It seemed that he was looking for more. I don’t know what more you’d want than to go to the University of Virginia and catch 50 passes a year, but it seemed as if he was looking for more. So it’s worked out well for everybody. Our guys have caught 50 to 60 passes a year, and things are going nicely for Dedrick.”  Epps has 14 catches on the season, compared to 35 for the Cavaliers’ John Phillips.

 

Since its season-opening win over Charleston Southern (in which Javarris James had 73 yards) Miami’s rushing attack is only averaging 113 yards per game.  “Baby J” sprained his ankle in the loss to Florida and has only had nine carries over the past six games.  Graig Cooper has received the bulk of the work since, which has only translated into 19 carries for 92 yards in the past two weeks.

 

As mentioned previously in this space, Miami’s defense has been gashed several times this year, allowing 20+ points to FSU (41), Duke (31), Florida (26), UNC (28), and Texas A&M (23).  Last week, a Sam Swank-less Wake Forest was held to 10 points and lost by 6 at Dolphins Stadium as the Deacons passed on a 50-yard FG attempt and missed a 40-yarder.  Shannon says that this year’s team is “totally, much healthier” than last’s, especially on the defensive line, and has limited its opponents to 38 points in the 3rd quarter (while scoring 81).

 

D-lineman Adewale Ojomo has been a standout for the unit that now ranks 4th in total defense.  The son of a Nigerian pro soccer player, he notes that ”Nigerians by nature are very confident people,” and that confidence translated into 1½ sacks, 2½ TFL, and a forced fumble against Wake.

 

Miami’s kicker may be confident as well, but the Hurricanes special teams coach refers to him as “an idiot.”  Matt Posher may soon make the ACC media forget about Swank, as he has seven special teams tackles, has hit 12-13 FG attempts, and has six punts of 50+ yards (Jimmy Howell has one) this year.  He enjoys “hitting people,” isn’t “afraid of contact,” and brags about playing “some wide receiver on [the] scout team” as a freshman.  Shannon won’t let his head get too big, however.  After praising a 76-yard punt against Duke, he noted that “he still seems to have a shank a game.”

 

One final note, the ACC said this week that the 11/8 Wake game will either start at noon (Raycom) or 3:30 (ESPNU… again), with a decision coming Sunday.

 

And for the record, Miami has been listed 1-2 point favorite this week.  If form holds, Saturday will mark the 11th straight game against a D-1A opponent Virginia will enter as an underdog, per Doug Doughty.  Over the past two years, Groh’s charges have won eight games as an underdog.

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Surprise Party

October 30, 2008

How surprising was Virginia’s win in Atlanta over the weekend?  Despite entering Bobby Dodd Stadium riding a three-game winning streak, Vegas had the Cavaliers pegged as 14-point underdogs.  After all, the win streak was entirely accomplished in the cozy (albeit unfilled) confines of Scott Stadium, and HC Al Groh had only one road victory over a ranked opponent on his Virginia resume.  In 2001, Bryson Spinner, while splitting time at QB with Matt Schaub,  clinched 26-24 victory in Death Valley over #19 Clemson when he hit Billy McMullen in the end zone for a one-yard TD pass with one second remaining.

 

Just like the 2001 upset, the win over Georgia Tech included some crying from the opposition.  Seven years ago, Charleston’s Post and Courier led off their game article on Sunday morning’s edition by “did Virginia wide receiver Billy McMullen push off Clemson cornerback Brian Mance in the final seconds” ?  The next day, their headline was “Did he push off? Bowden won’t say” and reporter Andrew Miller opened the article with the exact same question.  Clemson (now “former”) head man Tommy Bowden “had an opinion” according to Miller, and said he was “planning to send a video tape of the final play to the head of officials” for the ACC.  Even years later, Clemson fans still referred to the “ blown call after Virginia receiver Billy McMullen threw Brian Mance off him” and “the ghost of Billy McMullen,” who “appeared to push off to gain separation” back in 2001.

 

This time around, it was a holding non-call in question that had Wramblin’ Wreck fans and participants alike whining after the loss.  In Sunday’s CDP, Jay Jenkins said RT Will Barker (of Club 216 arrest fame) “appeared to hold” stud Tech DE Michael Johnson “by bringing his arm near the defender’s neck” during a 34-yard Marc Verica to Maurice Covington TD pass  After the game Johnson felt it was “one you have to call. The rules say that should definitely be a penalty. They go on to throw a touchdown pass, and I’m looking for the flag. But there was none to be found.”  Head man Paul Johnson said it would be “interesting to watch the tape.  It looked like some people were in headlocks half the time.”  Johnson may need that tape for other purposes, however.  As he noted about his own team… “you’d like to think you could get the center-to-quarterback exchange.”

 

Among ACC opposition, the surprise surrounding Virginia’s win wasn’t limited Georgia Tech.  Roanoke Times columnist Aaron McFarling tells us that following Virginia Tech’s 30-20 loss in Tallahassee – which generated even more questions for the Hokies – LB Purnell Sturdivant offered up a “grin” with “eyebrows leaping” when told of the score up in the ATL.  They won? They beat Georgia Tech?” he asked, before predicting “It’s probably going to come down to us and UVa in the last game of the season.”

 

Even Virginia’s own players seemed shocked at the situation they now find themselves in.  Postgame, LB Clint Sintim responded with a “wow” when learning that his team was alone in first place in the ACC Coastal.  For good measure, he added “It seems like every once in a while we surprise people.”

 

By Monday, the surprise had reached Bristol.  Two days after the game, head coach Al Groh’s picture was featured on ESPN’s college football front page (alongside that of fallen Louisiana State DB Chad Jones – see below) beneath the headline “Reversal of Fortunes.”  The ensuring article by former AJC & Washington Post reporter Mark Schlabach lists Virginia as the most improved team in the nation since the start of the season.  Schlabach calls last weekend’s home OT win over a ranked UNC team the “turning point,” and the GT win “the real surprise.”

 

Virginia Gets “Best Receiver In The State”

October 28, 2008

Virginia head coach Al Groh got some more good news Monday, when Oscar Smith (Chesapeake, VA) WR Tim Smith (not that Timmy Smith, pictured at left) orally committed to play for the Cavaliers.  Smith is listed at 6-0 185 and has been clocked at 4.4 in the 40 with a 40-inch vertical leap, according to the Roanoke Times.  Smith also had offers from Louisville, WVU, BC, and 10+ other schools, and becomes commitment #21 for the class of 2009.  13 of the 21 have now come from in-state, and Smith is the fourth from Hampton Roads.

 

Depending on whether you believe the Roanoke Times or the Virginian-Pilot & Richmond Times-Dispatch, Smith has either 988 or 986 receiving yards in nine games this season.  All sources agree he has 41 catches and 15 receiving TDs to date, along with three scores on kick returns.  Smith caught TD passes of 53 & 73 yards two weeks ago in a 40-6 win over Nansemond River, and scored twice more in last weekend’s 49-0 victory over Deep Creek.

 

Oscar Smith head coach Richard Morgan (not that Richard Morgan, pictured at right) calls Smith the “best receiver in the state of Virginia,” and wonders “what his stats would be if he played four quarters,” noting that most wins this year have been blowouts.  Morgan goes on to call Smith “as good as anyone I’ve ever had,” which includes last year’s senior WRs Todd Harrelson (redshirting at UNC) and Kerry Boykins (redshirting at Maryland).  Smith, he says, is “faster, has a better vertical and is more explosive.”  He’s “shattering all the records of all the guys we had before him.” 

 

Smith’s current teammates for the 9-0 and nationally-ranked (#13 USA Today, #8 ESPN) Tigers include LB Jerod Askew – a Tennessee commit – and fellow Virginia commit Perry Jones.  Jones, who plays both LB and RB, has 4.3 speed but at 5-7 178 projects as a safety for Virginia.  Smith told the Pilot that he plans to play “right away” and room with Jones at Virginia.  Morgan told the RTD that Jones’ earlier commitment “helps with [Smith’s] comfort level.”  Back in May, he noted “Tim and Perry are very good friends, so that certainly won’t hurt Virginia.”  Perry, per Morgan, “could have gotten 150 offers and he still would have gone to Virginia.”

 

In May, Morgan also mentioned a planned preseason meeting with Virginia “coaches to talk about their situation at quarterback and what they have planned for the passing game.  As you can tell from schools like Louisville, South Carolina and West Virginia, [Smith] wants to go somewhere where they emphasize the passing.”  Virginia’s recent success and offensive scheme must have been a big hit for Smith.  Morgan said this week that Smith is “used to winning, so he wants to go some place he’s going to play and he’s going to help a team win.  [Virginia is] winning, and they’re throwing.”

 

Morgan also believes another factor led to Smith & Jones becoming the first two Oscar Smith players to commit to Virginia during his seven-year tenure: “To be quite honest, Virginia can’t go out and offer just anybody, and these kids did a good job of getting their grades in the 3.0 range that UVa is looking for.”

ACC’s Coastal Plain

October 27, 2008

All six teams in the “Coastal” half of the nationally-mocked ACC have one or two conference losses, and all have at least a reasonable shot playing in Raymond James Stadium on 12/6.  Given Clemson (3) and NCSU (4) already have more losses, all also appear to have a good shot at securing one of the ACC’s nine bowl tie-ins as well:

 

Team

11/1

11/8

11/15

11/22

11/29

Virginia

3-1

Miami

@ Wake

Bye

Clemson

@ VPI

GT

3-2

#16 FSU

@ #21 UNC

Bye

Miami (Thu)

OOC (UGA)

#21 UNC

2-2

Bye

GT

@ #25 UMD

NCSU

@ Duke

VPI

2-2

Bye

#25 UMD (Thu)

@ Miami (Thu)

Duke

Virginia

Miami

2-2

@Virginia

Bye

VPI (Thu)

@ GT (Thu)

@ NCSU

Duke

1-2

@ Wake

NCSU

@ Clemson

@ VPI

#21 UNC

Records and rankings (AP) as of 10/26

 

Several of Virginia’s remaining games – if not all four – look much more winnable than they did just a few weeks ago.  The Cavaliers embarrassed Miami 48-0 in the last game at the Orange Bowl in 2007, and the Canes come in with a 5-3 record identical to Virginia’s.  Unlike last year’s 5-3 Miami start – which yielded to a four-game losing streak to close the season – Randy Shannon’s group has won two conference games in a row, and lost nail-biters to UNC and FSU (both at home) by a combined six points.  Miami has allowed 31 points per game in the ACC compared to just 22 per contest through their first five conference games last season.  These Canes rank 11th in the 12-team ACC in scoring defense and 9th in total offense (99th nationally).

 

A month ago, Wake Forest was ranked 16th nationally after holding the ACC’s current leader in total & scoring offense (FSU) to three points in Tallahassee.  Wake also have wins over Clemson, Mississippi, and Baylor on its resume, but has looked pedestrian in losses to Navy, Maryland, and Miami.  In its four conference games, the Demon Deacons have averaged just 8.5 points per game and have not scored over 17 in their last five, after opening the season with 41 at Baylor and 30 against Ole Miss.  How they perform this weekend at home against Duke may be a better indication of the team Virginia will face in Winston-Salem on 11/8.  The Cavaliers will enter BB&T Field having beaten Wake three straight times, including a one-point victory last year in Charlottesville, and three-point win at home in 2003, and a four-point triumph on the road in 2002.

 

The Cavaliers have not played Clemson since 2004, when they won 30-10 in Charlottesville, but have won three of the past four matchups including two straight at home.  The wheels have seemingly come off the bus in Death Valley, with multiple coach firings, key injuries at QB and TB, and finger-pointing aplenty.  The Tigers are 1-3 in conference and boast wins over NCSU and The Citadel, both teams which have lost four games in a row.  Clemson has only lost three in a row – perhaps only because they were idle last week – but interim head man Dabo Swinney has instituted a “Tiger Walk” (in suits) before home games, removed cell phones from locker rooms & sidelines, and “invited and let the student body participate in practice.”  The Tigers face BC & FSU on the road, followed by a home contest against Duke before travelling to Charlottesville.  Virginia, meanwhile, will enter the game after a week off.

 

Lane Stadium has been a house of horrors for Virginia of late, with double-digit losses in each of the past four trips, and a combined point total of 19 over the last three visits to Blacksburg.  The Cavaliers held Tech to less than 25 points in all three of those games, but have given up 33 and 52 to the Hokies in the last two meetings in Charlottesville.  The Hokies are allowing 21 points per game in 2008 – up from 14 a year ago after ten weeks – but offensive statistics would indicate that this year’s game may not feature a ton of scoring.  Not to be out done in the national total offense rankings, VPI ranks 113th out of 119 teams, below fellow ACC Coastal scoreboard-lighters Virginia (97), Duke (98), Miami (99), and Wake Forest (100).  Before you ask the question, Georgia Tech is 72nd.  Like Wake, Virginia Tech will host Duke the week before hosting Virginia, and the Cavalier fans will be eager to see how healthy Tech’s banged-up quarterbacks are by that point in the season. 

 

Georgia Tech is the only Coastal team that has played five conference games, but faces back-to-back contests against ranked opponents as well what looks to be an improving Miami team.  Like GT, Virginia Tech has only one road contest remaining, and consecutive ESPN Thursday night games against Maryland (home) and Miami may decide the Hokies fate.  Duke is the only Coastal team with five games remaining, and must travel for three of them, including to both Clemson and Blacksburg.  UNC plays two of its final four on the road, but should be favored in each, unless Maryland knocks off Virginia Tech on 11/6.  Miami may have the toughest road to Tampa, with three outstanding road contests, and two Thursday games in a row.

 

In case you’re wondering, the ACC divisional tiebreakers are head-to-head competition, followed by in-division records.  Virginia Tech is currently the only Coastal team without a Coastal loss, and the two Virginia schools are the only with two Coastal victories.  Virginia will play three of its five Coastal games on the road, but is one of four Coastal members (UNC, Miami, Duke) who will play two of its three contests against Atlantic foes at home.  Comparing the Atlantic draws, Virginia does not play FSU or BC – who have both beaten Coastal squads already.  Virginia also misses our on NCSU, the conference’s only 0-4 team:

 

Team

Coastal Only

Atlantic #1

Atlantic #2

Atlantic #3

Virginia

2-1

UMD

@Wake

Clemson

GT

1-2

@ BC

@ Clemson

#16 FSU

#21 UNC

1-2

BC

@ #25 UMD

NCSU

VPI

2-0

@ BC

@ #16 FSU

#25 UMD (Thu)

Miami

1-1

#16 FSU

Wake

@ NCSU

Duke

1-2

Wake

NCSU

@ Clemson

Wins in green, losses in red; rankings (AP) as of 10/26

 

Blood Thicker Than Tears?

October 18, 2008

Former Samford/Auburn head man and current motivational speaker/FSU ‘observer’/wannabe WVU coach/rivals.com college football analyst Terry Bowden learned this week that the non-coaching Bowden fraternity gained a third member in older brother Tommy.

 

In his most recent column, Terry B says “Tommy knew expectations weren’t met” at Clemson, after opening 2008 at 3-3 after perhaps the most preseason expectations of his career.  The now finalized Clemson entry on his resume includes no ACC titles, but the now beefed-up bank account with his name on the ledger includes a few more zeros.


Terry went on to say (after referring to his own coaching accomplishments) that he and his brother are close and while it is very difficult for him to write, Tommy really did “deserve what happened to him Monday.“  Clemson, after all still has “as much talent as anyone in the conference” and had not met the clear expectation off winning a at least winning a conference title.  Clemson, Terry reckons, “deserve[s] the right to try to find a coach they believe can get them there.”  Tommy, “of all people, knew what to expect when he got into this business. [He and his brothers] grew up in it.”

 

Little Bro Terry wrote that Tommy “agreed to resign,” while many other media outlets simply called it a firing.  The AJC went that route, and also noted the similarities between Tommy’s departure – “college football’s earliest coaching exit since 2003” – and Terry’s last decade:

 

  • “Both took their leave six games into the season.
  • The departures came almost exactly 10 years apart — Tommy on Oct. 13 and Terry on Oct. 23, 1998.
  • They left programs nicknamed Tigers, with orange as their color.
  • Both schools appointed former Alabama assistants as interim coach — Bill Oliver taking over for Terry, Dabo Swinney for Tommy.”

 

For his part, Pappa Bobby cut to the chase: ”That’s the way this profession works. There ain’t but one answer, and that’s winning.”

 

The family may not be shedding tears over Tommy’s firing/resignation/golden parachute, but tailback James (not “Lightning”) Davis was crying according to ESPN.  And he’s not alone.  At least one fan produced similar waterworks:

 

 

Somewhat reminiscent of Tommy’s own liquid breakdown:

 

 

And for the other 99% of Death Valley Nation…  there’s always the next hot prospect in waiting – reasdy to be tempted by millions of dollars and hundreds of rubs of Howard’s Rock, and the waiting arms of a DB:

 

 

Family Business or Nepotism on High?

October 10, 2008

Virginia’s offensive performance against Maryland Saturday night might not have erased the collective showing in the previous four outings, but in at least one way it more than equaled it.  Virginia scored four TDs, more than the three totaled over the first four games.

 

One performance does not a season – or career, for that mater – make.  OC Mike Groh did his best and now steers the ship of the #111 total offense in the nation, ahead of UCF, undefeated Vanderbilt, Army, NCSU, Temple, Wyoming, and FIU.  It’s doubtful that he won over many supporters, especially given this year’s performance comes off the heals of two consecutive seasons with total, score, rushing, and passing offense rankings all outside the top 80 nationally.  Thanks to David Teel for pointing this out in last week’s blog entry entitled “wrong man for the job.”

 

Beyond the results which seemingly speak for themselves at this point (even with a big performance under pressure against Maryland), there’s the last name issue.  Hiring family members is always dicey and almost begs for added criticism when times are rough.  When the relative is perhaps underqualified and has never worked for a non-Groh, it’s hard for any not to criticize.

 

In 2000, Mike served one season as Offensive Assistant/QC coach – the entry-level coaching gig in the NFL – for his old mean in East Rutherford.  From 2001-2004, the younger Groh coached wide receivers and/or quarterbacks at Virginia under AG (via Bill Musgrave & Ron Prince).  In 2005, he added Recruiting Coordinator to his QB Coach title.  At the end of the 2005 season when Prince accepted the head post in Manhattan (Kansas), Mike & then-receivers coach John Garrett called plays and directed the offense in a Music City Bowl win over Minnesota that saw 34 points and 268 yards put on the board.  By March, Dad Al had found his man in then-34-year-old Son Mike, who said at the time “I think, certainly, that I’ve stepped out of the background and into the foreground.”  Hopefully he did mean that in terms of public speaking or media relations.

 

Upon accepting the coordinator-ship, Mike admitted that he was certain to face “more scrutiny,” and Al said the hire would help “stay the course before eventually turning it over to someone else,” “rather than disrupt the progress we’ve made.”  The only other logical internal candidate would have been Garrett, who was promoted to everyone’s favorite title “Assistant Head Coach-Offense” (see Saunders, Al & Callahan, Bill) before joining his brother in Dallas a year later.  Garrett, by the way, had been a position coach in the NFL with two teams for nearly a decade.  Mike’s two predecessors had considerably more experience, both in total and in variety.  Before becoming a position (OL) coach at Virginia, Prince had served in a similar capacity at four other schools and was Virginia’s line coach for several seasons before the promotion to OC.  Musgrave had worked for three NFL teams, including two where we served as the OC at that level.

 

While Mike may have been the most inexperienced son promoted to a coordinator role by his father, he certainly hasn’t been the first to work for his dad.  Jay Paterno currently serves as QB coach for his old man, having been on PSU staff for 14 seasons after serving as a grad assistant at Virginia and a position coach at JMU & UConn.  Steve Spurrier, Jr. coaches receivers in Columbia for the former Heisman-winning OBC.  The young ball coach apprenticed briefly under Mike Stoops at Arizona and Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.  Naturally, he also spent two seasons with the Redskins as WR coach and got his start in Gainesville.

 

Perhaps mostly infamous was Jeff Bowden, who succeeded Mark Richt as FSU’s OC in 2001 after coaching for nearly two decades.  While most of his career was spent working under one Bowden or another, he at least have a brief stint at Southern Miss.  Bowden suffered harsh criticism as his Dad Bobby’s program fell from grace and eventually resigned after a 30-0 home shutout at the hands of Wake Forest.  The ‘resignation’ – negotiated behind Bobby’s back and against his wishes – included a $537,500 buyoff from the Seminole Club, paying him more than ¾ his salary annually until 2012.

 

This week’s coaching opponent is no stranger to nepotism himself.  ECU’s Skip Holtz indicated “it’s great from a family standpoint to have the opportunity to work together,” but certainly it’s not all peaches & cream.  Skip Holtz told reporters on a conference call yesterday.  Holtz left the head post at UConn after five seasons to work as OC under dad Lou at South Carolina, with at least an understanding that he would be the programs’ successor when the old man retired.  USC’s AD at the time commented that “no formal or informal guarantees” were in place, but that “it’s always helpful to have potential succession in a staff.”

 

Skip had previously worked under the elder Bowden at FSU and his dad at Notre Dame, including two years as his OC there.  However, it didn’t take long for things to sour while in the same role in Columbia.  After two bowl wins and seasons ending with top-25 rankings, 2002 & 2003 brought 5-7 records and a demotion to QB coach as part of a staff change that saw four members fired, including the other (defensive) coordinator.  Can anyone imagine that happening at Virginia? 

 

A year later, Lou had retired and Skip was out of a job briefly, landing on his feat with the head job in Greenville.  This week, Skip commented on the “challenge” presented in working for his dad.  He also sympathized with Mike Groh, saying that “every time we did something well it was [because of] Coach Holtz and his experience. And every time we did something poor, it was that stupid son of his calling the plays.”

 

Most Virginia fans haven’t stooped to the Gamecock level by calling Mike Groh “stupid.”  Inexperienced and sheltered within the staff of a defensive-minded taskmaster, perhaps.  But certainly not stupid.  After all, he does have a degree in Rhetoric and Communication Studies Haven’t you heard how smart he is in interviews?

 

 

A Pirate Looks at -6

October 10, 2008

The negativity brewing around Charlottesville prior to last Saturday’s contest against Maryland was well-documented… and real.  The fact that Al Groh’s team responded with a win as a 14-point underdog was surprising enough, but the thorough & decisive fashion in which was accomplished was all the more stunning.  There was no chance for the boo-birds, the sign-wielders, or the blue-wearing-protestors hate on Groh & his inventory, as they took command early and dominated throughout.

 

The home team brought out the big guns in Chris Long, Somdev Devarrman, and John Crotty – in hopes of winning over the restless masses, but it would not be necessary.  The anti-orange protest fell by the wayside after the sign ban was lifted, with only “a smattering of blue in the student section, and more than a few students [wearing] ties. Overall, however, orange dominated, as usual.”  The Roanoke Times reported “there were fewer than a half-dozen signs. One of the best said, ‘I’m [Thomas] Jefferson and I approve this message.’”  Not all that damning in the least…

 

Perhaps the only tangible negative generated by the fanbase was the attendance.  At less than 51,000, the announced total was more than 10k below capacity and nearly 15k below the record tallied in the opener against Southern Cal.  Even the reduced quantity was soon alleviated by collective energy the Richmond Times-Dispatch called “louder and rowdier than [that of] those at many U.Va. games that have been announced as sellouts.”

 

Since kickoff, even www.dontfirealgroh.com has been pretty quiet.  As LB Clint Sintim put it, “I think we gave the fans no choice but to cheer…  I don’t think there were too many opportunities where they could say, ‘Boo’ or ‘You [stink],’ or whatever.”  Groh, never one to be bitter wants to “”leave the doors to the bandwagon closed for about six or seven weeks (at the start of each season). Nobody can get on. Nobody can get off.”  Does that mean a cap at 50k through the turnstiles?

 

Regarding Maryland, the headlines said it all… Shell-shock, On this night, Cavs put it all together, Verica salts Terrapins’ wounds, Cavs Hand Terps a 2nd Tumble, Vanquished in Va., Cavilers Can Do, and Simply Stunning by one David Teel.

 

Teel also pointed out what a lot of Virginia fans have thought for a while about CB Ras-I Dowling: “Book it: Dowling’s a future pro. He suffocated Maryland’s best player, Darrius Heyward-Bey, who did not catch a pass, and late in the third quarter he separated Danny Oquendo from his senses with a hit that brought the crowd to its feet.”  Dowling has had roughly 2/3 to 3/4 of all of the team’s defensive highlights this year, and had probably stood out most when he’s been off the field because of injury. 

 

On a similar note, media gadfly Jeff White shares that OT Eugene Monroe and Sintim and #1 and #20 on Mel Kiper’s 2009 NFL draft board (no QBs in the top 25).  Sintim has excelled in the 3-4, and has a shot to lead the nation in sacks by a linebacker in back-to-back seasons.  Groh also believes that there are “certain 4-3’s in which his overall skills would [fit well].”  

 

The respect appears to be mutual, as Sintim is after four years Sintim is now turning into (or at least talking like) Groh.  When describing true freshman LB Cameron Johnson (6-4, 252) – who made a least a few big plays last weekend – Clintim had this to say: “He’s a very good athlete, a very natural and smooth athletic kid.  He’s very big, as we all know, and he’s very smooth for somebody his size.  He has the ability to come out and play as a true freshman and make an impact . . . He’s a young player – he’s still learning the system – but he’s obviously developing from week to week.”  Just a few weeks earlier (after UConn), Groh said: ““He did a nice job with things.  That’s why we did it. It’s got to start some place. He’s one of the players we have on the list to try to give a lot of turns to in the next couple of weeks.”  Is Al in the market for a third son?

 

On the ‘inventory’ front… The Daily Progress reports that OG Zach Stair “was moving slowly on the sidelines,” TE Joe Torchia’s left arm “was in sling,” and TB/FB Keith Payne “had a cast on his left hand and added a sling before kick-off.”  Now that’s investigative reporting and/or good use of binoculars, at least in my opinion.  On Groh’s Monday night call-in show, he indicated Payne has a broken hand and won’t be available “for a while.”  When asked if any thought has been given to moving the former fan favorite to linebacker, AG indicated that Payne “wouldn’t have heart in [a move].”  In this week’s depth chart, Stair, Payne, and Torchia are off the board, Cedric Peerman is the solo starter at TB, and Massaponax’s Anthony Mihota returns to the backup center spot.  On defense there are no changes, and on special teams the only change is Chase Minnifield replaces Kevin Ogletree as the #2 punt returner.

 

On offense, beyond the big game from TB Cedric Peerman and continued excellence from Ogletree, the press can’t get enough of the 17-year-old-Canadian-starting-at-guard.  Some of the articles this week want to give him most of (if not all) the credit for nearly doubling the YPC from roughly 2.5 through the first four games to 4.9 against Maryland… see “Road trip pays off for young Cavalier;” Canada gives U.Va. big hope,” and “Pasztor’s long, strange trip.”  Groh, as he likes to do, put it in baseball terms, calling the game “a nice first at-bat for Austin Pasztor [6-7, 301],” but also brought everyone back to reality by using the following adverbs: “”nicely, not fantastically… the most impressive thing about him is that he had no mental errors.”  QB Mac Verica now knows that “we can make big plays, we can get first downs, we can put up points and it takes a tremendous amount of pressure off the defense. We are going to try to build off that.”  Despite previously saying that “our inventory is a little bit lower than what we expected at this time,” Groh now thinks “we certainly do have more candidates for playing time than we had at any point last year.”

 

Best comment of the weekend had to be from OT Will Barker, who said postgame that “I don’t think I have felt that good since we beat Maryland last year.”  Maybe the runner-up feeling came two days later when he was acquitted on larceny charges stemming from stealing beer from after-hours Charlottesville nightclub Club 216 in late July.  Certainly a win generates good feelings, but perhaps some of Barker’s enthusiasm came from playing at home as well, where Virginia has won six “straight night games at Scott Stadium, by an average margin of 20.2 points,” dating back to 2004.

 

On the other side, Sintim is the headliner with another big-sack (5 to-date) and high-profile-personal-foul season building, as well as a bit of realism to bring to the post-Maryland praise-fest: “That game is over and done with. It wasn’t the Super Bowl, but it was a great win for our program. Now, we have to bounce back and try to beat a very good ECU team.”  Dowling (6-2, 200) – an “”unbelievable athlete” per the ACC’s #2 reception man Ogletree – has been turning heads as well, with three picks this season after two last year.  KO even said “sometimes he’s better than that receiver going to get the ball, and you almost know he’s going to come down with it.”  In somewhat interesting news, captain and leading tackler LB Jon Copper played only 28 plays last week.

 

Among the coaches, the RTD reports that after having three assistants on the sidelines during the first four games, DL coach Levern Belin joined “Bobby Diaco (special teams/linebackers), Dave Borbely (offensive line) and Anthony Poindexter (running backs/assistant special teams)” on the field against Maryland.

 

On to the opposition… while many in & around Charlottesville are wondering “Which Cavs will show up?” ECU fans may be wondering the same thing.  After beating VPI, WVU, and Tulane en route to a top-15 ranking, the Pirates have since fallen to 3-2 after losses to NCSU in Raleigh and Houston at home in Greenville by a combined score of 71-48.  Head man Skip Holtz has given his team a C-grade overall and on both offense & defense through the first five.  The O is 9th in C-USA in total offense (345.8 ypg) despite a 68% completion percentage from QB Patrick Pinkney.  The D has allowed 298 yards per game over the past three, but ranks first in the conference in points allowed (24.0), and is 2nd in total defense (362.2 ypg), roughly equal against the pass and the run.  ECU has allowed 21 plays of 20+ yards, and has been saved somewhat by a great kicking game.  Holtz says last week’s “open date was very needed,” giving “everybody the opportunity to kind of recharge their batteries.”

 

The 6-point favorites are minus perennial starting WR Jamar Bryant, who has been suspended indefinitely for “an undisclosed violation of team policy,” and not living up to what Holtz called the “expectation of conduct associated with being a member of the Pirate football program.”  The do have – as friend-to-any-coach Jerry Ratcliffe points out – a “famous surname” at coach.  The younger Holtz has “gotten a lot of mileage out of” Papa Lou’s association with ESPN, but makes sure that during calls to the old man that “he’s not taping me so that I don’t make a surprise appearance on Thursday night’s ‘Dial Dr. Lou.’”  Louis Leo Holtz, Jr., a former reserve Notre Dame WR, believes that the “difference between Duke and Maryland is that I see a quarterback [Marc Verica] that is kind of evolving on film. The quarterback played the first two games on the road and was thrown into an unfortunate situation in the Connecticut game as late as all that happened. But he’s developed and gotten better and better.”  He views Virginia’s defense as “big and physical, very athletic,” and having a “great third down package.”

 

Keep in mind this comes from the offspring of a coach who once said prior to facing WVU for the National Title in 1989 that ”I don’t know if we’re good enough to beat West Virginia.  I’m not bad-mouthing. I don’t need to bad-mouth… ‘What happens if they take the opening kickoff and drive down and score, and we run three plays and punt?’ ‘And they drive down and score and we run three plays and punt and they drive down and score?’

 

Lou’s Notre Dame team had trailed for just 30 minutes during their 11-0 start, and went on to beat the Mountaineers by 13 after leading 23-6 at halftime and 34-13 in the fourth quarter.

R. Friedgen: Then & Now

October 3, 2008

1983

2008

Let There Be Signs

October 3, 2008

In breaking news, Virginia has lifted the sign ban at Scott Stadium.  Per the ESPN via former Terp beat reporter Heather Dinich, the statement from AD Craig Littlepage includes the following: “I am repealing immediately the policy prohibiting signs, banners and flags in all athletics venues. I encourage all of our fans to be in attendance at Saturday night’s football game with Maryland.”

Between a Hard Place and a Hard Place

October 3, 2008

A wise blogger began a post last week by noting that the stats after Virginia’s first three games were “staggering.”  Well, after a historic loss at Duke, the stats are even worse.  In fact, they are superlative… worst.

 

Turnover margin is 113th (out of 119 D-1 teams) and scoring defense is 98th.  But… (wait for it)… former New York Jets offensive assistant/quality control coach Mike Groh’s unit is dead-last in scoring offense at 9.0 points per game.  And that includes an pick-6 INT return by cornerback Vic Hall, and a garbage-time TD at UConn.  As Daily Press columnist David Teel points out, recent history isn’t much better:  “Last season’s rankings: 81st scoring, 101st total, 79th rushing and 90th passing. The 2006 numbers: 110th scoring, 113th total, 100th rushing and 102nd passing.”

 

LA Times USC reported Steve (not the WB comedian from WV) Harvey ranks Virginia as the worst team in the nation this week in his “The Bottom Ten,” behind both 1-4 Syracuse and 0-4 Washington.  An extreme view, or maybe a common view appearing more and more outside the Commonwealth as the season goes on?

 

OFFENSE

Post-Duke, the head coach himself had a hard time identifying positives.  One may be linebacker-turned-fullback Rashawn Jackson, who received carries in Virginia’s version of the one-back spread in Durham ahead of proven tailbacks Cedric Peerman (nagging injuries) & Mikell Simpson (no blocking back?).  Jackson got the start in last year’s Gator Bowl after Simpson was hit with an academic setback, and Groh admits that “he wants “to get him the ball more because he does good things with the ball.”  RJ had eight carries for 43 yards against Duke and 14 for 52 in the Gator Bowl, his last significant game, at least in terms of production.  Can he help in short-yardage situations, where Virginia has struggled (see the key 4th-and-1 from the Duke 19 last week)?  He probably can’t hurt.

 

Peerman is “getting multiple treatments a day,” according to Groh, and “when he’s ready to be Cedric, he’s going to start the game.”  WR Maurice Covington is also “hobbled” and has only six catches to his credit this year.  Groh indicates that CP and 80 are “two kids that have been in it right from the start and have their heart with the team and in their last season they really want to do something and do something for the team.  Maurice is playing at probably less than what he expected to be able to play at this point in the season. Cedric isn’t playing right now. “It’s hard on those kids and it tugs at your heart a little bit to see it.”  A shift from the ‘next-man-up’ mentality or simply an excuse?  As mentioned above, there is talent in the backfield, and Covington was only able to provide 21 catches last year when there was no Kevin Ogletree to serve as main outside target.

 

Simpson, who netted 170 yards on the ground in Jacksonville on January 1, is averaging 2.2 yards per carry this year, including six straight attempts at Duke netting negative yardage or no gain.  According to Groh, ineffective pass protection was the main reason 2005 Virginia AAA POY Keith Payne was on the sidelines during the first three games (5 carries at Duke for 36 yards).

 

DEFENSE

If the offense is horrible, the other side of the ball may be equally bad.  In three D-1 games, opponents are averaging 42+ points per game.  After halftime may be where the deficit has grown the most.  Since the 2005 Music City Bowl win, Virginia’s has outscored “152-42 in the third quarter of games. This season, UVa has allowed 42 points in the third quarter and netted just one field goal.”

 

Among defensive personnel, Culpeper grad Terence Fells-Danzer is now on the two-deep and has “a long future in front of him,” per Groh.  True freshman CB Rodney McLeod saw his redshirt go up in smoke against Duke.  He was in on 22 plays in the fourth game of the year, “mostly in nickel and dime pass-coverage situations” netting one TFL, according to the Roanoke Times.  Fellow frosh OLB Cam Johnson, listed at 220 pounds, has played in the past two games at closer to 253-254, according to the man in charge.  The Washington Post indicates that DE Matt Conrath (back), Vic Hall (ankle), and Corey Mosley (shoulder) are all probable for Saturday.

 

In a case of interesting timing, the same Washington Post has a feature on Monday (two days after the Duke loss) on John Copper, entitled “What It’s Like to Be a Married College Football Player.”

 

MARYLAND

In yet another example of The Daily Progress’ Jerry Ratcliffe’s homer-ness, he refers to the Virginia-Maryland rivalry as “one of ACC’s best.”  In reality, this may not be an overstatement at all, but rather like saying Daryl Hammond is one of SNL’s best current cast members.  Ratcliffe cites “down-to-the-wire endings the past two seasons” and goes on to sing the praises of Maryland QB Chris Turner – who “hasn’t been spectacular but he has avoided the glaring errors that drove Friedgen bananas last season” – and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey.

 

Terps beat reporter Eric Prisbell – who has replaced Ralph Friedgen with Groh on his personal ‘hot seat’ via Comcast’s Washington Post Live – devoted nearly 1,000 words in this week’s Washington Post to DHB.  Yes, he has two 75+ yard plays this season, but he did not have a catch at Clemson (two drops) and only has 12 for the season.  Heyward-Bey reportedly apologized to his teammates for his performance in ‘Death’ Valley and later called it his “worst game of the season.”  OC James Franklin says he probably “should touch the ball” more than the 18 times he has in 2008, and that includes being “creative enough to have all different ways to get his hands on the ball.”  Perhaps it may also mean facing Virginia’s defense?

 

Meanwhile, running back Da’Rel Scott uses anger toward his “absent and troubled father” to motivate him, and is the ACC’s leading rusher.  The Baltimore Sun’s Terp blog shares Fridge’s best Lou Holtz: Virginia has won 19 out of 21 ACC home openers and “got great size and are very athletic. Their offensive line is very strong.”  Interesting, given the above-mentioned offensive statistics.  According to Ralph – and only Ralph – “the score last week was really indicative of the game.”  Further, the Virginia game is a “trap” for the Terps, according the big large giant humongous man.

 

BIGGER FISH (TO FRY)

In too-little-too-late news, Doug Doughty reports that ACC supervisor of officials Doug Rhoads revealed that the officiating crew in Durham failed to notice Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis “was down before attempting a pass that was ruled incomplete with 13 seconds left in the first half.  If the call had been made correctly, the Blue Devils would have been unable to stop the clock because they were out of timeouts and UVa outside linebacker Clint Sintim would have been awarded a sack. Despite missing 21 plays due to cramps, Sintim had three sacks and seven quarterback hurries.  Chris Slade holds the UVa record with five sacks in three different games between 1990-1992.”

 

In ‘Fire Groh’ news (or, if you prefer, ‘Don’t Fire Groh’), RTD career-Redskins beat writer and sometimes-columnist Paul Woody opines that “it’s time for Groh to go.”  A coaching change is “necessary” as “what is happening in Charlottesville is unacceptable” and the program “should not” be where it is. While the 2008 schedule is ranked as the 19th hardest in the nation, “a true major-college program… should be able to meet that challenge.”  Groh must go because of “everything,” including on-field performance (“embarrassed by Duke, which had lost 25 straight ACC games”), player attrition (“that’s why you have an academic support staff”), and public relations (“few outside the program have embraced him”).  Woody points out that Groh’s highlights include five (mostly mediocre) bowls, two ACC COY awards, and getting “the marching band back in the picture.”  Groh, he argues “has worked hard and is devoted to his school” and thus should “have the chance to finish this season and retire.  If he doesn’t see it that way, the administrators at Virginia should write the required buyout check for the final years of Groh’s contract.  Sometimes, things must change. That time has come at Virginia.”

 

The Free Lance-Star’s sports editor (and Virginia alumnus & noted Terp fan) Steve DeShazo points our Virginia “can’t drop much further” after being “outscored 128-20 in three games by Division I-A (don’t call them Bowl Subdivision) opponents; and they won’t be favored in another game this season…  Mike Groh, the coach’s son, has shown little acumen or imagination as offensive coordinator. Toss in Virginia Tech’s established dominance in in-state recruiting, and things don’t look good.”  DeShazo touts Wake head man Jim Grobe (and 1975 Virginia grad) as the “ideal candidate” but relents that he would “be foolish to leave an established program at Winston-Salem for a rebuilding project at his alma mater.”

 

David Teel calls Groh the “wrong man for the job” – and takes specific aim at the OC.  Papa Groh is a man whose “coaching obituary is penned — sooner rather than later? — his worst blunder arguably will have been promoting his son to offensive coordinator.”  Son Mike “simply wasn’t ready, “and is a sheltered neophyte who hasn’t worked a day away from his father.”  Previous coordinators Ron Prince “worked at four other schools and had served NFL Minority Fellowships with four teams,” Al Golden “worked at Boston College under Tom O’Brien, as had Mike London.”  Teel ties the drop in offensive production to the decision to tab Mike with the OC job, after searching “across the dinner table rather than around the country.”

 

Fan reaction hasn’t been much better.  The RTD credits a caller to Groh’s Monday radio show with the following nugget: “Coach, it’s unfortunate the way things have gone, but I just want to thank you for returning U.Va. football to the Dick Bestwick era officially. You’ve taken a well-respected program that George Welsh took 19 years to build and you’ve managed to completely tear it down.”  As has been well-documented, AG’s contracts runs through 2011, but in the grand scheme of things, the $3-4 buyout may be swallow-able if change is the best available option.

 

For his part, Groh has been doing his best to deflect any negative ‘circumstances’ thrown his way: “I’m speaking for all the coaches, myself included.  Every week there’s a tremendous amount put into this … every week between 90 and 100 hours just to have the sense of satisfaction that comes from the accomplishment of the team playing well. For anybody involved who puts in that amount of time, and if you don’t get any reward for it, that’s a difficult end of the week. That’s a difficult end of the week even if you won the previous eight games.”  Not to mention, “I try to respect the game . . . and coach the team the way we think it needs to be coached and do for the players, whatever that might mean — encourage, admonish, direct, care for — the things that go with the title of being head coach in college football.”  Sounds a bit like a the lame-duck #43 GH Bush, eh?

 

His players appear to have is back… QB Marc Verica: “This program’s done a lot of great things under Coach Groh here. And for things just to be down at this point, to turn your back or to get down on someone, that’s not the right way to handle it. It’s easy to assess blame and it’s easy to point fingers.”  In fairness, isn’t it also easy to be supportive when you’ve leap-fogged two ex-teammates en route to the starting sport?  Ogletree: “If there’s stuff circling around, we don’t live in holes. I’m pretty sure some kids hear about it. But like I said, our job is to play for our coaches and come every day trying to get better. We’re a family, and we’re going to stick together until we can’t anymore.”  Does that mean there’s a breaking point?

 

And what of the players not donning pads in the 434?  As Groh made excuses for the reason why highlighted why seniors and freshmen are dominating his team:

 

“Two guys are not on the team because of personal health issues that we expected to have a significant role on the team.”

“We have some guys not on the team because of academic issues who we expected to be on the team.”

“We have a couple of guys not on the team because of medical injury situations.”

“A combination of those things have made some of these young players take on roles that those [absentee] players had been expected to take on.”