A Pirate Looks at -6

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.



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