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Game 1: Georgia Preview
Game 2: Furman Preview
Game 3: Middle Tennessee State
Game 4: Georgia Tech Preview
Game 5: Maryland Preview
Virginia at Clemson
October 11th, 2003
After being whipped the week before at the hands of Maryland, the road gets no easier on October 11 as Virginia comes to Death Valley. The October crush continues as the Tigers play three pre-season Top 15 teams in three weeks. The midway point of that stretch is a home date with a Virginia team that has upset Clemson in each of the past two years.
Virginia is coming off a 9-5 season in 2002 that included a Continental Tire Bowl blowout of West Virginia 48-22. The Cavaliers finished 6-2 in the ACC in 2002, which was good enough for a share of 2nd place. Virginia lost games in 2002 in Week 1 to Colorado State (35-29), Week 2 against Florida State (40-19), Week 9 against Georgia Tech (23-15), Week 10 to Penn State (35-14), and Week 13 to Virginia Tech (21-9).
Virginia defeated Clemson last year 22-17 in Charlottesville in a game that was the beginning of the end of the Willie Simmons era at Clemson. As frustrating as the loss was to the Cavaliers, Charlie Whitehurst made his debut by leading the Tigers to a touchdown drive late in the game against the first string Virginia defense.
Virginia lost the services of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrove, who took the same job for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although Ron Prince was promoted from within the staff to offensive coordinator, the rumors out of Charlottesville are that Al Groh will have more of a hand in calling the plays…something that is going on with many of the head coaches in the league.
This will be the 6th overall game and the 4th ACC contest for Virginia in the 2003 season. The Cavs open the season hosting Duke. Virginia then hits the road in back to back games against South Carolina and Western Michigan. Week 4 has the Cavaliers hosting Wake Forest, and the Cavaliers travel to North Carolina the week before the Clemson game.
Key Returning Players For The Cavaliers
Virginia is young and good. The Cavaliers played an unprecedented 14 true freshman from their Top 10 recruiting class last year. In addition, 3 red shirt freshmen had significant playing time. In other words, there are a lot of young players that got their feet wet last year that are going to mature and improve in 2003.
|ACC Player of the Year QB Matt Schaub returns to lead the nationally ranked Virginia Cavaliers in 2003.|
On defense, Virginia returns 6 starters. That is a deceiving statistic, however, considering several outstanding players such as linebacker Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham will step in as starters in 2003. The defensive line returns intact, with sophomore end Brennan Schmidt, junior nose tackle Andrew Hoffman, and junior end Chris Canty all returning. Raymond Mann and Darryl Blackstock return as staring linebackers for a Cavalier team that is loaded at linebacker in the 3-4 scheme that they employ. The only returning starter in the secondary is senior cornerback Almondo Curry. Again, this is a little deceiving in that Willie Davis started 4 games as a true freshman last year, giving the Cavaliers experience even though they don't have many returning "starters".
The kicking game returns both starters in place kicker Connor Hughes and punter Tom Hagan.
The Cavaliers are strong in almost all facets of the game. Everything starts with the backfield that features a former ACC Player of the Year in Matt Schaub and possible future ACC Player of the Year in running back Wali Lundy. As long as those two remain behind center, the Cavaliers are serious contenders for the ACC Championship in 2003.
The offensive line also appears to be a major strength for the Cavaliers. All three returning starters are All-ACC type lineman, and the two other linemen are giants with a ton of potential. Brian Barthelmes (6-7, 286) and Brad Butler (6-8, 274) are both young and continue to grow. Expect their relatively light frame to be much bigger when the season starts in late August.
The front three on the defensive line are all outstanding players with athleticism and plenty of snaps under their belt. In a 3-4 system, it is imperative to have lineman that can keep the offensive line from engaging with the linebackers to allow them to make plays. This defensive line can do just that.
The linebackers, despite only having 2 returning starters, may be as good as any in the league. The Cavs will have one of the best linebacker corps in the nation if Brooks and Parham live up to ½ of their potential and hype.
The Cavaliers #1 priority in the spring and the summer practices have been and will be finding a replacement for wide receiver Billy McMullen. The Cavaliers don't typically have more than one outstanding wide receiver. Their system under Groh has flourished by forcing teams to focus on McMullen and then throw the ball around to everybody else on non-procession downs. Lundy is great catching the ball out of the backfield, but the Cavaliers lack a go to wide receiver on the roster. Michael McGrew will be the most logical replacement for McMullen, but it remains to be seen if he will step up in that role.
The Cavaliers are untested, but talented in the secondary. It is difficult for me to call this an official weakness, but some experience is needed if stability is to be achieved in the defensive backfield. This secondary, however, should be in fine shape by the Clemson game.
The kicking game was not great last year…not until true freshman Connor Hughes too over and went 5 for 6 on field goal attempts. Avoiding a sophomore slump is the only fear in the kicking game for the Hughes and the Cavaliers.
Folks, the Cavaliers are talented and well coached. Scary as it is, they are still young.
Furthermore, Virginia has had the Tigers' number the past 2 years. Both times, Clemson was a slight favorite. Both times, the Cavaliers won the game. Al Groh has out coached Tommy Bowden in both of his years in the league, and Bowden has to prove he can develop a game plan that matches up with the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers are relatively young, and it is hard to know just how they will handle the atmosphere in Clemson. With the exception of Colorado State, all of Virginia's losses last year were on the road. That is to be expected of such a young team, and we will just have to wait and see if this team has matured.
Virginia finished 2nd in the ACC last year with a little bit of smoke and mirrors. The Cavs were 80th in the nation in total offense and 100th in total defense. That is a testament to playing so many young players. It is also a testament to how well Groh did in game planning. However, if the Cavaliers cannot improve on those statistics in 2003 they will be hard pressed to win 6 games in the conference.
Virginia will be favored in the 4-7 point range against the Tigers.
Virginia downs the Tigers for 3rd straight Year, 27-21. Clemson will fall to 4-2 on the season at the hands of Virginia in Clemson. The Cavaliers are a young and powerful team that has the potential to win the ACC Championship this year. Al Groh has proven that he has what it takes to develop game plans to defeat Clemson teams that are better on paper than the Cavaliers. Now that he has the better teams, it is logical to think he can continue his mastery of Clemson. I expect a close game, however, and the Tigers will be only a couple of breaks away from getting a win in this game. In fact, I almost picked the Tigers to win this game. Almost….
Clemson falls to 4-2 and remains unranked. And, another better team than Clemson waits in Raleigh for a chance at the Tigers….
Scott Rhymer can be reached at email@example.com. Scott and CUTigers.com publisher Roy Philpott are the co-hosts of the CUTigers.com Pregame Show on WCCP 104.9 FM, which airs 2 hours prior to the Tiger Tailgate Show on Clemson Gamedays.