Before he took this job, Al Groh had not had the opportunity to breakdown a single second of UVA on film, because he was a little busy coaching the New York Jets. What he found when he got to Charlottesville was a surprisingly thin team that had a chance to be competitive if they could avoid a key injury or two and find a quarterback.
Faster than you could say "Look out Antoine!" the Cavs were in trouble. With star RB Womack out, Groh and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave have struggled to maintain a balanced attack. Opposing defenses--except Clemson-- have shut down the run and forced the Virginia passing game, without consistent play at QB, to carry the load. But despite Virginia's disappointing loss at home to Wake Forest (a team that's better than many think, by the way), the Cavs have shown signs of getting their offense together, just in time to face the Jackets.
Virginia's Offense Vs. Tech's Defense
On paper this looks like a major mismatch but there was reason for Tech coaches to be concerned when they started breaking down tape of the UVA-Wake Forest game. True freshman running back Alvin Pearman has emerged as a viable threat after gaining 108 on 19 carries last week. Also, Womack has started playing again. He played two series against Wake, but had no rushing attempts. Bryson Spinner (no. 43 in the nation pass efficiency rating of 127.9) appears to be the more consistent performer at QB, as he passed for three touchdowns last week after spelling Matt Schaub. UVA, as always, features tall pass catchers.WR Billy McMullen, 11th in the nation averaging seven catches a game, is 6-4, and two tight ends are 6-5-plus. They will obviously attack Tech's shorter secondary. But the national statistics spell out the overall advantage Tech enjoys. Virginia was 101st in the nation in rushing before last week's game. They were 47th in passing and 99th in scoring offense. They, like Tech, have had red zone problems. In Tech, they face the 14th best team against the run, the 28th rated team against the pass,and the 12th ranked team in total defense. And Tech has accumulated those stats without Daryl Smith for much of the season. Tech is 13th, by the way, in scoring defense. The Cavs also have lossed 17 turnovers. Tech has only lost 14, despite the six turnover fiasco against Maryland. UVA has an excellent staff and they can gameplan with the best of them. Tech just needs to avoid a flat performance on defense.
Virginia's Defense Vs. Tech's Offense
Virginia's defense has been a little disappointing. Their entire front four returned from last year and the new starters at linebacker were experienced and highly regarded. But as is often the case with coaching changes, a year of adjustment is necessary. The Cav defense did look solid against Clemson, but Woody Dantzler spent much of that game scrambling east and west, a mistake he did not make against Tech. Anyway, the Cavs have only the 105th ranked rushing defense in the country, surrendering 213 yards a game. Wake Forest was able to run for 248 yards against them. The Wahoos are no. 62 against the pass, leaving them no. 92 in total defense nationally, eigth in the ACC. If the Jackets fail to get 425 yards Saturday they will represent a "below-average" opponent. But the Cavs are a slightly better no. 72 in scoring defense, giving up an average of over 27 points per game. The Cavs have forced 17 turnovers, though.
Luke Manget scared evryone when he pulled his first attempt last Thursday. He hit his next two. Hopefully, his slump is behind him. Tech's return teams have been huge the past two games. If they can play as well on the road, Tech will win big, despite all the history.
Everyone knows Al Groh is a top coach and has put together a great staff. And they are recruiting like crazy out there to get their talent level back up to place it has been most of the past 15 years. The one thing that scares me is that Tech will be flat and the Virginia coaches will have a great game plan, and, well, the nightmare consumes us all. But on paper, it's really hard to imagine it happening. Tech's just starting to play on all cylinders. They finally have the momentum that eluded them in the early part of the season.This should be as rout.