Virginia Preview

The Virginia Cavaliers return five starters on each side of the ball from last year's 9-4 squad. Reigning ACC Coach of the Year Al Groh is looking to ride the momentum and continue to ascend in the national rankings. Look inside for a preview of the 2008 Virginia Cavaliers.

Coaching

Two-time ACC Coach of the Year (2002, 2007) Al Groh enters his eighth season as the Virginia Cavaliers head coach. A protégé of Bill Parcells and having coached with Bill Belichick in the NFL, Groh's reign at his alma mater has been somewhat tumultuous. In fact, many around the Charlottesville area thought Groh would be dismissed following a 5-7 2006 season. Yet as he's done throughout his career when faced with similar adversity, Groh responded with a 9-4 record for 2007, exceeding the expectations set by naysayers along the way. Groh is 77-77 as a collegiate head coach, 51-37 while at UVA.

Former Marshall University head coach Bob Pruett (1996-2004) takes over as defensive coordinator under Groh in 2008. Groh's son, Mike, doubles as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Wahoos.

Offense

The Cavalier quarterback situation is still up for grabs in a battle between sophomore Peter Lalich and fifth-year senior Scott Deke (Loyola HS). Last year's starter, Jameel Sewell, was dismissed in the spring due to academic reasons. The loss of Sewell is a major blow, as UVA relied heavily on his ability to create outside the pocket. With only two returning starters on this year's offensive line, the incumbent may have to have his head on a swivel. Lalich saw some time early last season, completing 35 of 61 passes (57%) for 321 yards, which would seemingly make him the frontrunner, but his lack of mobility and athleticism has left the door open for Deke to walk through. Groh is expected to stay quiet regarding the announcement of his starter, but it would not be a surprise to see both QB's log time against the Trojans.


Virginia OT Eugene Monroe
What the Cavs lack in stability at quarterback, they more than make up for at the running back position. Senior Cedric Peerman (113 carries, 585 yards, 5 TDs) missed the second half of last season due to injury, but replacement Mikell Simpson made up for his absence by running for 570 yards and eight touchdowns on 113 carries. Both averaged right around five yards per carry last year and are expected to split time to form a two-headed backfield monster.

2007 was a year to forget for wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. After an honorable mention All-ACC season in 2006, Ogletree tore his ACL and was forced to miss the entire 2007 season. His return should give this unit a much needed boost going into 2008, with Maurice Covington (6'4", 225 lbs) starting opposite Ogletree in the pro-style attack.

Last year's Cav passing game suffered from an overall lack of production from their receivers, which forced Groh to employ a double tight-end attack. Capitalizing on valuable experience gained last year (8 starts) will be John Phillips, a 6'6", 260 pound target. Groh and his staff are very high on Phillips, who could quickly become the best friend of whoever becomes the regular UVA quarterback. Phillips was named team captain early in fall camp.

Virginia returns two solid tackles on the offensive line, but must replace all three starting interior linemen. Outland Trophy Candidate Eugene Monroe (6'6", 320 lbs) anchors the line from his left tackle position and Will Barker starts at RT, but depth beyond these two is a major concern. If Monroe can elevate his game to the level set on the left side before him (D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Branden Albert), it could spark a fire that spreads to the rest of the group.

Defense

Virginia played very good defense for most of the 2007 season, but losing All-American Chris Long to graduation could make it tough for them to repeat such a performance. The Hoos play an aggressive pro style 3-4 defense and anytime you employ the 3-4, your defensive line better be rock solid. Unfortunately for UVA, this year's team may be lacking in that category. Only junior nose guard Nate Collins saw any real playing time last year, making the unit very inexperienced overall. However, those who follow UVA football suggest keeping an eye on DE Matt Conrath, a 6'7", 270 pound redshirt freshman who made a one-handed interception during the spring game that reminded many observers in the stands of the kind of stand-out plays Long used to make.


Virginia LB Clint Sintim
The Cavalier linebacking group is the strength of the defense. Three of four starters from last year's squad are back, including leading tackler Jon Copper (109 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 FF) and senior Antonio Appleby (60 tackles, 2 sacks) on the inside. Senior OLB and pass rushing specialist Clint Sintim led LB's in sacks last year nationally with nine and his presence will be felt all over the field. Sintim is a pre-season candidate for the Bronco Nagurski Award, given to the nation's best defensive player.

The secondary welcomes the return of two starters in CB Vic Hall and FS Byron Glaspy, but UVA coaches have been raving about the athleticism and talent of sophomore Ras-I Dowling (6'2", 200 lbs). Dowling has unlimited potential and appears to be the game breaker every team in the nation covets. Hall is undersized at 5'9", but is the most experienced DB on the roster and serves as the Cav's punt returner. Glaspy, a former walk-on, recorded 71 tackles last year and is the "rock" of the defensive secondary, providing leadership for the entire defense.

Special Teams

Expected starting placekicker Chris Hinkebein's shaky spring led the coaching staff to seek out Yannick Reyering, a German national who led UVA's soccer team in goals each of the past three seasons. It will be interesting to see if Reyering's soccer style translates to kicking on the gridiron, assuming he is given the opportunity in the season's first game.

Notes

The University of Virginia was established in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson…Scott Stadium holds 61,500 fans (63,701 at capacity) and is known as one of the most beautiful and best places in the nation to watch college football…While oddsmakers opened them a 17-point road favorite, some currently have the Trojans as high as 20 point favorites…There is a chance for scattered thunderstorms in Charlottesville for Saturday's game, with an expected high of 83 degrees…

Stay tuned to the Premium Message Board for regular updates throughout the 2008 season.


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