Al Groh, like Carolina head coach John Bunting, returned to his alma mater in off-season. Groh replaced George Welsh who brought the Cavalier program to respectability. When Welsh arrived at Virginia in 1982, the Cavaliers had a 33-121-11 record in the ACC and had never been to a bowl. Under Welch, the Cavs were 85-51-3 and went to 12 bowl games. Groh, who stepped down as the head coach of the New York Jets to "come home," has gotten the Cavaliers off to a 3-2 start that makes this team a bit of an enigma.
On September 1, 2001, following a loss to Wisconsin in which the Cavs lost star running back Antoine Womack, the Richmond Spiders missed an extra point attempt of tying up Virginia in Charlottesville and sending the game into overtime. The next week, a suspect group of Cavs went to Death Valley, and came away with a 26-24 win over the Clemson Tigers on a (literally) last second touchdown pass from Bryson Spinner to Billy McMullen.
The Cavaliers then took care of the Duke Blue Devils, 31-10, but were blown out by Ralph Freidgen's resurgent Maryland Terrapins last Saturday, as the Terrapins scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to break open a 24-21 contest. This Cavalier unit is unpredictable, and will be a dangerous opponent for the Tar Heels on Saturday.
The Virginia offense also has a two-headed monster at quarterback. Bryson Spinner, an athletic quarterback with the ability to scramble, is completing 58% of his attempts and has tossed 7 touchdown passes this season. Last week, however, Spinner found the going tough against Maryland, and Matt Schaub, more of a drop-back passer, came in to complete 20 of 33 attempts for 237 yards, throwing two touchdown passes and running for another. Which quarterback will play and how much is something Al Groh isn't talking about.
Whoever lines up behind center, you can bet they will aiming the ball to junior wide receiver, Billy McMullen. McMullen, 6-4, 205, is a tall, physical receiver who leads the ACC in receiving yards per game (93.2), receptions per game (7.2), and is tied for fifth in points scored (48). The next best receiver on the Cavalier roster is Tavon Mason, who is averaging 2.8 catches a game. A key for the UNC defense will be to limit the effectiveness of McMullen, as the UVA corps of receivers is not, overall, deep or extraordinarily talented.
The once-formidable Cavalier rushing attack took a huge hit when star running back Antoine Womack was injured in the first game of the season against Wisconsin. Under Welsh, Virginia was usually at or near the top of the ACC in yards gained per game on the ground, but this version averages a very average 123 yards per game. Last season, for example, they averaged 163.7 yards per game on the ground. Womack lead the ACC in rushing last season, with a 93.4 yards per game average, and earned 4.9 yards per carry.
In Womacks' absence, the Cavaliers have turned to junior Arlen Harris, who has performed capably, but who has not been able to duplicate Womack's numbers. Last week, East Carolina was able to roll up 199 yards rushing against the Tar Heels, the most of any team faced by Carolina this season, topping Maryland's 161 yards rushing. Look for the Cavaliers to work to establish the running game early totry and take the sting out of the Tar Heel's defensive pressure on their young quarterbacks. Kevin Bailey, a red-shirt sophomore, has the task of blocking UNC's All-American defensive end, Julius Peppers.
On balance, the Cavalier offense is averaging 366.2 yards per game in total offense, and is scoring at an average clip of 22.4 yards per game, similar to their 2000 numbers. While the Cavs approach to offense has changed, the results have not. The emphasis is more in the passing game, where the Cavs average about 50 more yards per game than they averaged last season. The Tar Heels should benefit from this change in focus, since Carolina currently leads the ACC in pass efficiency defense, and are fourth in the league in rushing defense.
Comparatively speaking, the Cavalier defense has improved slightly from a statistical perspective over the 2000 season. The Cavalier defense gave up a whopping 422 yards per game last season, and were equally vulnerable to the run and the pass. They ranked fifth against the both the run (184 ypg) and the pass (237 ypg) in the ACC last season. A look at their numbers this season show that so far the Cavaliers have declined slightly against the run (194 ypg), and have improved slightly against the pass (199.8 ypg), but still exhibit the ability to get burned in either area of defense. Maryland shredded the Cavalier defense for 243 yards rushing, while both Clemson and Maryland burned the Cav secondary for nearly 250 yards through the air.
On the defensive line, the entire front four from 2000 returns. Monsanto Pope (6-4, 282, DT), George Stanley (6-2, 290, DT), Ljubomir Stamienich (6-3, 262, DE), and Darryl Sanders (6-3, 268, DE) are all seniors with experience on the line. Al Groh has switched to a 3-4 defense, with Stanley has now moved to a reserve role. The three-man front does not get much pressure or penetration as evidenced by the fact that this group has produced few sacks -- only 4 total quarterback sacks have come from this group. Against Maryland, the Cavs failed to sack Shaun Hill at all.
The Cavs start four linebackers, Earl Sims (6-1, 230, ILB), Angelo Crowell (6-1, 234,ILB), (Ray Mann (6-1, 232, ROLB), and John Duckett (6-1, 226, ROLB). Cavs depend on linebacker Angelo Crowell to bring heat on the quarterback, and Crowell has responded with a team-high four sacks. Crowell, a Winston-Salem product, is having a great season, averaging 13 tackles a game, and also had four tackles for loss on the year. Duckett had 17 tackles against Maryland, and is second on the team with 53.
The Cavalier secondary has excellent safeties in strong safety Jerton Evans (5-11, 200) and Sherrard Newby (6-1, 210). Evans is second on the team in sacks with three, and the safety blitz is definitely part of the UVA defensive package. Jamaine Winbourne (5-10, 206) and Rashad Roberson (5-11, 190), both in their first season as starters. The corners seem vulnerable to the deep ball. Wisconsin put the game out of reach on a 78-yard scoring strike for a touchdown and Maryland struck on a 53-yarder.
Senior David Greene handles all the place-kicking duties for the Cavaliers. Greene has hit on 5 of 8 field goal attempts and on all 13 extra point attempts. He kicks off as well, reaching the end zone on about 62% of his kickoffs. Senior Mike Abrams is an excellent punter, averaging 42.5 yards per punt.
True freshman Alvin Pearman is the leading return man for the Cavs, averaging 9 yards a return on punts, and 20.6 yards per kickoff return. He had a 61-yard return against Wisconsin.
This Virginia team is still much of an enigma after five games. Overall, Virginia does appear to wear down over the course of a game, having been out-scored 47-27 in the final stanza this season. North Carolina has held their own in the fourth, outscoring opponents 51-43 thus far this season. They looked particularly vulnerable in the fourth quarter last week against M