Virginia Preview: QB 1 or 2 - It Doesn't Matter

<img src=http://graphics.fansonly.com/schools/va/graphics/va-hdr-logo.gif width=43 height=24 align=left>If you had to pick just one word to describe Coach Al Groh's 2002 Virginia Cavalier football squad, "overachievers" might just be the perfect one ...

Following a disappointing 2001 season in which the Cavaliers only recorded 3 victories, many writers picked the team to finish as far back as eighth in the ACC. The 2003 season began inauspiciously for the Cavaliers as they recorded a close loss to Colorado State and a blow out loss to Florida State before seeing their fortunes turn against #22 South Carolina which turned the ball over to the Cavaliers seven times in a 34-21 UVA victory at Charlottesville.

The Cavaliers went on to win seven of their next ten games before thoroughly trouncing coach Rich Rodriguez's Mountaineers of West Virginia in the inaugural Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte.

Suddenly, in the 2003 pre-season, once maligned Virginia is a media darling picked by some to win the ACC in 2003 and ranked as high as #8 in ESPN's pre-season Top 25football poll.

Will all of the hype translate into on field success for the Cavaliers in 2003? One thing is for certain. Coach Groh and his staff have a confident young team that clearly believes in itself following its 2003 success. The Cavaliers return 19 starters and 45 lettermen from the 2002 squad. When you look at the depth chart, the presence of a number of underclassmen jumps out at you.

UVA Coaching

There is a common thread that runs among the members of Coach Groh's staff at UVA. With the exception of Kevin Ross, the son of former college and NFL head coach Bobby Ross, every member of the Cavalier staff has NFL fingerprints on his resume either as a player, coach or league intern. Groh sells his program to high profile recruits as an apprenticeship under an experienced NFL staff that can assist in developing careers at the next level. Obviously, Groh's salesmanship is working as he has signed two very high profile recruiting classes during his tenure at UVA.

Groh's 2002 offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave left to take the same position with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the off-season. Offensive line coach Ron Prince was promoted to replace Musgrave.

Another mark of the quality of coaching is UVA's propensity to do what it takes to win football games. From a statistical perspective, the Cavaliers don't look like a quality team. In 2002, the Cavaliers were last in the ACC and 80th among the 115 Division 1 schools in total offense as well as eighth in the ACC and 100th among the 115 Division 1 Schools in terms of total defense. What makes the difference for this team is its ability to create turnovers and take advantage of those turnovers by converting them to points on the scoreboard. The Cavaliers recovered 22 of their opponents' 35 fumbles and intercepted 44 opponents' passes in the 2002 season. In comparison, Cavalier opponents only recovered 14 of 30 fumbles and only intercepted seven of starting quarterbacks Matt Schaub's passes. In the 2002 USC game alone, three turnovers resulted in UVA touchdowns while two others ended USC drives deep in UVA territory.

When it counted, the Cavaliers delivered. Four of their 2002 victories coming about as the result of fourth quarter scoring drives.

UVA Offense vs. USC Defense

Preseason Notes:

The heart and soul of the UVA defense is clearly quarterback Matt Schaub (6'5" 240 SR). In 2002, Schaub completed an amazing 68.9% of his passes for 2,976 yards and 28 touchdowns. While Schaub's favorite 2002 target, WR Billy McMullen has moved on to the NFL, seven of the nine receivers who caught 10 or more balls last year will return in 2003.

In 2002, freshman running back Wali Lundy contributed 826 rushing yards, 435 receiving yards and one 38-yard pass for a touchdown. Lundy's 11 touchdowns were second only to Schaub on the team.

The success of both Schaub and Lundy can be attributed an offensive line that clearly overachieved in 2003. There were a number of injuries to offensive line personnel in 2002. Yet each week, someone stepped into the injured players place. The Cavaliers return a number of successful, but young members of that squad in 2003.

Groh recruits versatile athletes who can play many positions. Tight end Heath Miller (6'5" 254 SO), originally recruited as a quarterback, is no exception to that rule as he has proven himself to be both a productive blocking and receiving tight end as evidenced by his nine receiving touchdowns in 2003. In addition to his nine receiving touchdowns, Miller threw for one touchdown (against USC) in 2002.

The interior line is anchored by LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson (6'5"265 S), LG Brian Barthalames (6'7"286 SO), Center Kevin Bailey (6'6" 293 SR), RG Elton Brown (6'6" 333 JR), and RT Brad Butler (6'8" 274 So). Of this group, only Butler has not logged significant playing time during his career at UVA.

While many choose to focus on returning Sophomore Ferguson as the star of this line, Elton Brown has proven himself to be a simply devastating run blocker when he is healthy. Last season, Brown saw limited playing time due to a nagging foot injury. A healthy Brown could very well lead Lundy to a thousand yard rushing season.

On a man-to-man basis, South Carolina's defensive front matches up fairly well with UVA's front four. In order to be successful, the Gamecock line is going to have to pressure Schaub all night long. In the 2002 game, Schaub threw for 170 yards and three touchdowns against the Gamecocks. To those in attendance, it appeared that Schaub received virtually no pressure all night as a result of the shortcomings of the three-man front employed by the Gamecocks in 2002.

The match up of Carolina's rush ends. Thompson and Gause, against Butler and Ferguson gives a slight weight and speed advantage to the Gamecocks. The overachieving Preston Thorne matches up nicely against Barthalames while JUCO transfer Darrell Shropshire may provide a challenge to Brown.

The Cavaliers offer three primary offensive weapons in Schaub, Lundy and Miller. In 2002, the three accounted for nearly 65% of UVA's 53 touchdowns individually or in some combination.

Schaub's strength as a passing quarterback is in short and intermediate passing situations. In 2003, his longest pass of the season was only 59 yards. Lundy is a multi-purpose threat as both a runner and a receiver. South Carolina fans may still well be frustrated with the show that Miller put on against the Gamecocks in 2002 in which he both caught and threw a touchdown pass.

Schaub likes to throw to both the tight end and the tailback out of the backfield. Therefore, it will be critical for the Gamecock linebackers to stay in a position to avoid big gains on short yardage downs. The duty for managing the left side of the defensive line will likely fall to Lance Laury or newcomer Marcus Lawrence, as they are the two most athletic of the Gamecock linebackers.

Lundy is a player who riding high after an outstanding season including a 127 yard effort in the Continental Tire Bowl. Lundy has the speed to be effective as a slot back and the lateral movement to be effective as a tailback. His ten touchdowns in 2002 speak well for his abilities. Lundy's speed presents a problem for the Gamecock defense that will employ the speed rush of two fine defensive ends In Thompson and Gause. However, Chris Cosh is one of the best adjustors of defense in the college game. Don't be surprised to see linebacker stunts in an effort to contain Lundy inside where he can do the least damage.

The Cavaliers will clearly miss the leadership and sure hands of Billy McMullen who caught 69 balls for 894 yards and three touchdowns in 2002. Lundy was the second leading receiver with 58 catches for 435 yards and four touchdowns in 2002 and Tight end Heath Miller had 33 catches for 327 yards and nine touchdowns. The task of replacing the irreplaceable McMullen will fall to senior Mike McGrew (6'2" 200 Sr) who averaged 15.9 yards per catch as a junior and Ryan Sawyer (6'2" 209 Sr.) who averaged 17.7 yards a catch as a junior. McGrew caught the large majority of balls in spring practice. Sophomore quarterback Marques Hagans was moved to receiver in the spring and could see considerable time as both a wideout and in the slot.

The Gamecocks match up nicely in terms of both size and speed with the Cavalier wideouts. Both Dunta Robinson and DeAndre Eiland have the size, talent and speed to cover McGrew and Sawyer. The Gamecocks should be more concerned defending passing routes to the slot back and wide receiver. The Cavaliers were very effective throwing to both of those positions last year in Charlottesville.

In four games last year where the Cavaliers scored less than 20 points, the opponent was effective in containing either the running or the passing component of the Cavalier offense. There was no game in which both components of the Cavalier offense were shut down completely. The best hope for the Gamecocks to contain the Cavalier offense is to put pressure on and sack Schaub. When given lots of time to set up in the pocket, Schaub is at his best and will exploit the Carolina linebackers and secondary with his precision passing skills.

Last season, the Gamecocks failed to sack Schaub once in the 34-21 loss at Charlottesville. Against Maryland, a game in which the Cavaliers scored 48 points, Schaub wasn't sacked. And, against Wake Forest, a game in which the Cavaliers scored 38 points, Schaub was only sacked once.

In comparison, against Virginia Tech, a game in which the Cavaliers only scored 9 points, Schaub was sacked three times. Against Penn State, in a 14-point effort, Schaub was sacked four times. And, in a 14-point effort against NC State, Schaub was sacked three times.

Pregame Notes:

Schaub suffered a shoulder injury of unknown severity in the 13th play of UVA's opening 27-0 victory over what is supposed to be a much improved Duke team on Saturday. To date, UVA coach Al Groh hasn't given out much information as to the severity of the injury or how long Schaub may be sidelined. Groh told the AP that the team doesn't quote on injuries.

Despite the fact that Redshirt sophomore Anthony Martinez stepped up admirably in back up duty completing 6 of 15 passes for 76 yards and one touchdown(his first four passes were incomplete), the Gamecock Staff has no choice except to prepare as if Schaub is playing. In the first 13 plays of the game, Schaub was 5 of 6 passing for 87 yards.

The rumors of Lundy's torn hamstring in the preseason proved to be exactly that as he rushed 21 times for 88 yards and one touchdown on Saturday. Alvin Pearman added 68 yards on 13 carries against Duke. Duke Coach Carl Dukes noted that the experienced Cavalier line was dominating in run blocking situations on Saturday. The Cavs averaged 5 yards per carry on Saturday

Sophomore Heath Miller continues to be the most effective receiver on the squad after the season ending injury to senior Mike McGrew who broke his leg in the preseason. Miller caught 5 passes for 52 yards including a nine yarder for a touchdown from Martinez against Duke.Miller has caught 9 touchdown passes in the 15 games he has played at UVA.

Converted QB Marques Hagans brought a unique wrinkle to the Cavs offense at WR catching one pass for 27 yards and throwing one pass for nine yards in the Duke game.

Carolina Offense vs. Virginia Defense

Preseason Notes:

Prior to last year's game in Charlottesville, injuries had already begun to decimate the Gamecocks on the offensive side of the football. During the course of the 2002 pre-season, the Gamecock team lost both its second and third string quarterbacks to injuries. The first string quarterback, Corey Jenkins, was then forced to play one of the more grueling schedules in college football with a bad case of turf toe and a badly sprained ankle.

The 2003 Gamecocks look much like the 2002 Cavaliers. There is a great deal of talent on the offensive side of the ball. However, there is not a great deal of experience.

USC lost four starting offensive linemen from a very good 2002 squad. The good news is that Sophomore Jabari Levey (6'7" 340), who gained incredible in back up experience in 2002, is penciled in as a starter at LG. Levey may be the second best lineman on this team as a true sophomore. In the spring, Nasha'an Goddard (6'6"305) was very effective at the RT position where he will start in the fall after being moved there from Center. Senior Travelle Wharton (6'4" 315) returns at LT after flirting with ideas of declaring for the NFL draft this past winter. Former backup Jon Alston (6'5"302) and Jeff Barnes (6'4" 286) round out the interior line at RG and Center respectively. Holtz continues to build quality size and depth in this unit where the backups will include Josh Malloy (6'5" 335 SO), Stephen Sene (6'6" 320 RFR), Woodley Telfort (6'8" 330 JUCO) and Jon Hall (6'5" 296 RFR).

The Cavaliers three-man front will have a hard time stopping the bigger and stronger Gamecock Offensive line. The leader of that unit is clearly DE Chris Canty (6'7"280 JR) who was named 2nd team ACC in 2002 despite only starting eight games due to injury. On the opposite end, Brennan Schmidt (6'3" 269 S0) recorded 57 tackles including four for loss as a true freshman in 2003. Canty is backed up by monster DE Kwakou Robinson (6'4"327 SO), a former USC recruit from Brooklyn, New York, who had six starts as a true freshman. Andrew Hoffman (6'5" 285 JR) returns as the starting NG where he started 14 games in 2002.

The Cavaliers are presently looking for replacements for ILB Angelo Crowell whose 155 tackles led the team last year and OLB Merrill Robinson whose 122 tacklers were second only to Crowell. The good news for the Cavaliers is that Ahmad Brooks (6'3" 238 FR), USA Today's Defensive High School player of the year in 2002, is enrolled after having to spend a year at Hargrave Military working on his grades. Additionally, the Cavalier defense will also have the services of Kai Parham, a former Parade All American who redshirted in 2002 due to injuries. Returning OLB Darryl Blackstock (6'4"230) only led the ACC in sacks as a freshman with 10 in 2002. Returning ILB Rich Bedesem (6'2" 232 JR) played well starting six games in 2002. However, Bedesem may be challenged by true freshman Jermains Dias (6'3" 223) who was one of the most highly regarded members of the Cavaliers 2003 signing day class.

The Cavaliers will have to use the athleticism of its talented and deep linebacking corps to supplement the size and depth disadvantages on its three-man front. It is going to be important for Levey and Alston to contain the linebacker blitzes of Blackstock and Brooks. If the Gamecocks can be successful in giving Pinkins the time to throw, there are receiver/corner matchups down the field that clearly favor the Gamecocks. The loss of Gamecock fullback Daccus Turman to disciplinary suspension leaves the Gamecock offense lacking in quality blocking protection in its own backfield.

The Gamecocks will have to establish an ability to pass before the Cavalier defense will give them any respect in that regard. If the Gamecocks fail to establish the pass, the Cavliers defense will be content in clogging the running lanes all night. Look for the athletic Andy Boyd to get a shot at catching some balls from his tight end position after a very impressive spring as a means of keeping the Cavalier defense honest.

As mentioned earlier, there are some very attractive matchups downfield for the Gamecocks. Super WR returnee Troy Williamson (6'2" 200 SO) matches up nicely against both CB Almondo Curry (5'8" 175 SR) who started only four games in 2002 and Jamaine Winborne (5'10" 202 SR). Last season, the Cavaliers regularly committed interference in long pass situations where their smaller corners were clearly beaten. They're a smart team that realizes that a 15-yard penalty is far better for them than a 40-yard completion.

In the spring, Groh and defensive coordinator Al Golden began to transfer some greater size and speed to the UVA defensive backfield. Don't be surprised to see former WR Art Thomas (6'2" 205 SR) and former S Stefan Orange (6'2" 184 RFR) put in some time at corner in 2003. Each got a tryout at that position in the spring.

In order for USC to be successful against this UVA unit, it will be important for Pinkins to establish the Gamecocks' ability to pass early. The Gamecock wideouts will have to aggressively challenge for long balls against the UVA secondary even if they are interfered with. By establishing an ability to pass, the Gamecocks will limit the amount of "cheating" that the talented UVA linebackers will be able to do against the run. Once the UVA linebackers are respecting the pass, the Gamecocks will then be able to take advantage of its size, depth and personnel advantages on the lines.

Finally, the Gamecocks cannot beat themselves as they did last year in Charlottesville where 6 Gamecock Turnovers led to three Cavalier touchdown scores. Additionally, the Gamecocks turned the ball over twice while driving deep in UVA territory. The mental aspect of this game will be as important as the physical aspect of this game for the young Gamecock squad.

Pregame Notes

Against Duke, Virginia posted its first defensive shutout since September 28,1998, a 24-0 a shutout against Duke.

The Cavaliers sacked Duke quarterbacks three times for a total of 12 yards loss in the game.

Sophomore linebacker Jermaine Hardy led the Cavs with 9 tackles including 7 solos MLB Darryl Blackstock picked up where he left off in 2002 with a six solo tackle effort including two for loss. DT Chris Canty (7T- 1TFL) and linebacker Raymond Mann (7-T-2TFL) each contributed to Virginia's effort substantially.

The Bottom Line

Preseason Notes

This is a winnable game for the Gamecocks. In fact, the 2003 Gamecocks look very much like the 2002 Cavaliers did just a year ago. It will serve as a good measuring stick as to where the program is in 2003. Here are the keys to winning the Game for the Gamecocks:

1) The Gamecock Offensive Line must dominate the three man UVA front with authority.
2) Carolina must establish its ability to pass early.
3) Carolina must pressure Schaub and contain Lundy.
4) Carolina must win the mental part of the football game by keeping the football and taking advantage of the opportunities given to it by UVA

Pregame Notes

Punter Tom Hagan was instrumental in the Cavalier defensive plan on Saturday as five of his seven punts were downed in side the 20 yard line.

As the Duke game progressed, quarterback Martinez shook off the first game jitters and was able to put together a solid effort. The Gamecock defense can ill afford to give any Virginia quarterback time to sit in the pocket as both are proficient passers.

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Gamecocks 27
Cavaliers 23
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