Between a Hard Place and a Hard Place

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.”

 

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