ACC Preview: Virginia

Head coach Al Groh enters his seventh season at Virginia with 19 returning starters and needs to go bowling this postseason or else risk facing the hot seat.

2007 ACC Media Preseason Poll – 4th in the Coastal Division

Inside Carolina's Vote – 4th in the Coastal Division

2006 record (5-7, 4-4 ACC)

Groh knew heading into the '06 season that his Cavaliers were in for an uphill challenge. After all, UVa was returning only six starters, with youth and inexperience throughout the two-deep. Those difficulties were displayed early, with a home loss to Western Michigan (17-10) and a narrow 13-12 victory against Wyoming in OT, with the Cavs needing a Mustangs' missed extra point to escape in Charlottesville. Groh and his staff are hoping that those growing pains will translate into wins this fall, as the squad returns 19 starters and a solid defensive unit. It is imperative that the Cavs produce this season, as Groh has drawn recent criticism over his coaching ability (7-9 in the ACC since '05, 3 straight losses to VT) and his in-state recruiting prowess (only six top-20 VA prospects signed in '05 & '06). The former New York Jets head coach has been strong at home during his career at UVa, posting a 29-9 record. That trend should pay dividends in '07, with several important conference games in Scott Stadium.

Offense: Mike Groh enters his second season as OC, and needs dramatic improvement from his squad if the Cavaliers are to return to the postseason. The '06 offense scored only 15.1 ppg (110th nationally) and averaged only 257.2 ypg in total offense (113th nationally). RS Sophomore QB Jameel Sewell [pictured, right] (57.9% comp, 1,342 yds, 5 tds, 6 ints) replaced veterans Chris Olsen and Kevin McCabe after three games and struggled early, but gradually improved throughout the season. UVa fans are hoping Sewell's wrist injury is fully healed before the first game on Sept 1. Senior tight ends Tom Santi (29 rec, 253 yds, 1 td) and Jonathan Stupar (15 rec, 112 yds) will give Sewell some big targets, but this offense needs playmakers at WR and RB to emerge. The offensive line returns all five starters, including senior C Jordy Lipsey and junior T Eugene Monroe.

Defense: DC Mike London's second edition of the Cavs' defense should be able to build on last year's impressive showing with 10 returning starters. The '06 group ranked top-25 nationally in both scoring defense (17.8 ppg) and total defense (289.5 ypg). Seniors DE Chris Long (57 tkl, 8 tfl, 4 sacks) and NT Allen Billyk (23 tkl, 1 sack) hold down the line in UVa's 3-4 scheme, and juniors Jon Copper (81 tkl, 5 tfl, 4 sacks) and Antonio Appleby (68 tkl, 2 tfl) anchor the LB corps. Juniors CB Chris Cook (58 tkl, 5 pbu) and FS Bryon Glaspy (56 tkl, 3 pbu) will help solidify the secondary of a unit that could challenge Virginia Tech for the top defense in the conference.

Special Teams: This should be a solid unit for Groh in '07, with almost the entire squad back from last season. Senior Chris Gould will resume the placekicking duties (11-19 in '06, long of 48 yds), and senior Ryan Wiegand (42.4 avg.) will fully man the punting responsibilities after sharing the job with Gould last fall. Juniors Mike Brown (9.6 ypr on punts) and Cedric Peerman (27.3 ypr on kickoffs) are both back in the return game. UVa's punt return defense was solid in '06, allowing only 6.4 ypr (21st nationally), but the kickoff return coverage (22.6 ypr) needs to improve, ranking 102nd nationally.

Schedule: UVa's slate is not intimidating at first glance, but when you look closer, you will find that most of the Cavs' swing games are on the road – Wyoming, UNC, Maryland & NCSU. Winning two or three of those games is imperative for a successful season. Virginia will most likely win home contests against Duke and UConn and an away game versus Middle Tenn. St., but face tough tests against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh in Scott Stadium..

Top Newcomer: LB J'Courtney Williams. The Christchurch, Va. native will be able to earn quality snaps in UVa's 3-4 scheme without being forced into playing time by necessity. The Cavs' defense has been well-represented in recent years at the LB spot, and Williams should continue that lineage.

Key Game: At North Carolina on Sept. 15. UVa has not fared well on the road under Groh, posting only a 10-23 record. The Cavs lost 7-5 to the Tar Heels in '05, and will be favored heading into Chapel Hill this fall. A victory here would give Virginia a 2-0 start in the ACC, and would put them in good position to return to a bowl game.

Groh on the ‘06 rebuilding campaign: "One of the important things for any program is to get good performance from your young players. Young players should play, need to play for teams to give you maximum performance. What we had last year was a circumstance of a lot of young players playing at the same time. If you take any one of them, was it a worthwhile year to play? Yeah, it was for a number of them. To do it simultaneously standing side-by-side made it difficult for them to play with cohesion and coordination."

Santi on the key to this season: "We just have to come out and execute. The schemes will be in place, and the fire will be there, but we've just got to come out and play well."

Word from the Beat: "At one point last year, Virginia coach Al Groh said his program was playing the 2006 season with the 2007 team. Cavalier fans remain hopeful the sequel provides an enhanced ending. The talent should be in place – the entire offensive line returns and key components of an underrated defense are back. The challenges for Groh and company include finding a pass-catching playmaker and keeping quarterback Jameel Sewell and his surgically-repaired wrist on the field. With a ton of swing games upcoming, Virginia should have a feel for how its season will unfold after a road date at North Carolina in the third week of the season." -- Jay Jenkins, The Daily Progress

2007 Schedule

S. 1 at Wyoming

S. 8 Duke

S. 15 at UNC

S. 22 Georgia Tech

S. 29 Pittsburgh

O. 6 at Middle Tenn. St.

O. 13 Connecticut

O. 20 at Maryland

O. 27 at NCSU

N. 3 Wake Forest

N. 10 at Miami

N. 17 bye

N. 24 Virginia Tech

Antonio Appleby

Tom Santi

Bryon Glaspy

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