As predicted, Groh played 10 true freshman in the team's 35-29 defeat to Colorado State Thursday night in the Jim Thorpe Classic. Colorado State place-kicker Jeff Babcock made two of his five field goals in the final 4:07 as the Rams broke a tie game and held on for the win at Scott Stadium.
The outcome wasn't sealed until Rams cornerback David Vickers recovered a fumble by UVa quarterback Marques Hagans with 10 seconds remaining. The distance between the ball and the goal line was approximately three inches.
However, three inches seemed like three miles after the Cavs dropped their fourth loss in as many preseason games.
Hagans' fumble represented the fifth turnover of the game for the Cavaliers, four of them fumbles. Virginia (0-1) will have to regroup in a hurry, as it travels to Florida State next Saturday. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m. and the Seminoles lead the series 9-1.
FSU won last year's meeting 43-7 in Charlottesville, Va., on Oct. 20, breaking open a close game – the ‘Noles led 10-7 at the half – with a 33-point outburst in the final 30 minutes. It was after the game that coach Bobby Bowden said he planned to take a long look at his quarterback position, as reserve Adrain McPherson threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes. Starter Chris Rix was 11 of 21 for 205 yards, one touchdown and two intercepitons.
Of course, Rix retained his starter's role and tossed a career-high five touchdowns the following week in FSU's 52-31 win over Maryland.
The Cavs, meanwhile, will have their own questions as they prepare for FSU.
I'm not a silver-lining coach," Groh said following the loss Thursday. "I expected that we would win the game. I thought we'd play well, better than what we would. To be that close and not win the game, I'd say we're all very disappointed They had a nice start, but I tend to look more at what the team does right now than finding too many individual kudos."
The Cavs, however, did find many individual kudos from their younger players.
Ture freshmen Wali Lundy rushed for 94 yards on 20 carries and Michael Johnson added 37 on five attempts plus a 38-yard punt return. But it was a redshirt freshman who nearly lifted the Cavaliers to a comeback victory. Hagans, who followed Ronald Curry at Hampton High, split time with starter Matt Schaub and completed 10-of-13 passes for 120 yards. He also rushed 11 times for 45 yards.
The Cavaliers rushed for 221 yards, more than in any game last season. But defensively, some of the same old problems that haunted Virginia last year were evident. CSU tailback Cecil Sapp gained 178 yards, 72 coming on a second-quarter touchdown run in which he was all but stopped at the line of scrimmage. Bradlee Van Pelt, son of former New York Giants linebacker Brad Van Pelt , was 17-of-27 for 229 and rushed for 27 more.
Groh and the Cavs are looking to rebound from their first losing season in 15 years. Six of their 12 games were decided by six points or less. Groh will rely heavily on underclassmen this year, including a freshman class that was rated among the nation's 10 best. During last Tuesday's practice, Groh reviewed the basics for his young team, going into detail about exactly what players should pack in their game bag. He jokingly provided diapers to some of the fresh faces.
The Cavs return 13 starters – 7 offense, 6 defense – and 31 lettermen.