November 8, 2006
CHARLOTTESVILLE - The opening of the John Paul Jones Arena and a visit this week from top-10 Arizona come at a good time for Virginia's athletic program, whose football team will be idle for the first time this season.
Not only did the Cavaliers' football team embarrass itself at Florida State, where the Seminoles didn't have to do much to win 33-0, but UVa failed to win a fall championship in any of its once-proud non-revenue sports.
Progress for the football team hasn't been measured solely in terms of wins and losses, but the trip to Tallahassee clearly was a step backward. For three weeks in a row, even when it blew a 20-0 halftime lead and lost to Maryland 28-26, the Cavaliers could see where they were getting better.
That wasn't the case at Doak Campbell Stadium, where Virginia's performance had all of the elements of past stinkeroos, starting with an interception and a 35-yard return for a touchdown by FSU's Tony Carter on the game's third play.
It was the record fifth interception return for a score by a UVa opponent and the second off redshirt freshman quarterback Jameel Sewell, who had his worst outing since taking over the starting job in week three.
Sewell finished 17-of-32 for 125 yards, with two interceptions, but his cardinal sin was being sacked six times by an FSU defense that came into the game ranked 10th in the ACC in sacks, with 14 in its first eight games.
One of Sewell's qualities that moved him ahead of veterans Christian Olsen and Kevin McCabe was mobility, but he now has been sacked 24 times. On the ball Carter intercepted, Sewell let go too early, and he spent the rest of the day holding on too long.
Clearly, the Cavaliers aren't going to make a change at this point, and Sewell had done some good things in preceding weeks, but Olsen and McCabe never got the rope that Sewell has gotten from the coaching staff.
In fact, since giving up an interception that Western Michigan returned for a touchdown (on a tipped ball, no less), McCabe hasn't gotten on the field in seven games. All he had done to that point was throw a game-winning touchdown pass one week earlier.
Virginia went to FSU on a two-game winning streak, but that was mostly the defense's doing. The offense, coordinated by Mike Groh, son of the head coach, has scored four touchdowns in the last 14 quarters.
The Virginia-FSU matchup pitted two teams whose offensive coordinators are the son of the head coach. "Fire Jeff Bowden" buttons were available outside Doak Campbell, but there hasn't been much grumbling about Mike Groh.
Maybe that's because fans are content to grumble about his old man, whose return for 2007 is safe, although losses to Miami at home and Virginia Tech on the road would leave the Cavaliers at 4-8, their first losing season since Groh's first year in 2001 and their fewest wins overall since 1986.
Groh's contract runs through 2010, and it contains a rollover clause that was not exercised after the 2005 season. That was a result of the confusion over the contract he signed before the 2005 season, when it was announced that he had been given five more years when it was actually six.
When he did not exercise the rollover clause, athletic director Craig Littlepage conceded that it was always his intention to give Groh five years in front of him, but it will be interesting to see what happens this December. For Littlepage to roll over the contract after this season would make him unpopular with a lot of people.
Until the Florida State trip, there was hope for 2007, with Groh telling the media after a 14-7 victory over N.C. State that "we're playing the 2006 season with the 2007 team." That was a reference to the shortage of seniors getting meaningful playing time.
Groh also has been redshirting 15 of the 16 members of his ill-fated 2006 recruiting class. That was the class that lost eight signees to academics and four committed players to de-commits.
Groh's stock line is, "when they're ready, we're ready," but his reluctance to redshirt in his early years might be one of the reasons the Cavaliers are in their current mess. For all of the misfortune surrounding the 2006 class, it does have some talented prospects who should be able to help the Cavs as redshirt freshmen in 2007.
But, as the 2006 season has proven for a lot of teams, there's a fine line in the ACC right now, and there are no guarantees that Virginia will have a winning season next year. The Cavaliers haven't had back-to-back losing seasons since 1981-82, which is not something Groh would want on his résumé.
Defensively, the Cavaliers aren't bad now and could be really good next year, provided that junior end Chris Long doesn't turn pro, which would appear unlikely. After shutting out four consecutive ACC opponents in the first half, UVa limited Florida State to 93 yards over the first 30 minutes.
HOOPS: SOME EARLY RED FLAGS
The Virginia basketball team might have known it would get a good test from Division II Augusta State, which had lost by nine to George Washington earlier in the week, so a 15-point margin was respectable in the Cavaliers' final preseason tuneup.
One red flag was the absence of three scholarship players, junior post man Tunji Soroye and freshmen Will Harris and Solomon Tat. Tat had a groin injury that coach Dave Leitao described as "day-to-day," but Harris underwent ankle surgery Oct. 27 and is expected to be sidelined for three or four weeks.
Soroye has a sports hernia that could keep him out of action for an undetermined time, which probably makes the Cavaliers happy that they took Ryan Pettinella, a one-time Penn post man who started against Augusta State.
When the Cavaliers took Pettinella, who had modest numbers at Penn and whose free throw shooting has been a liability, it was viewed as a hedge against the foul problems that dogged frontcourt players Jason Cain, Lauris Mikalauskas and Soroye last year.
The Cavaliers later added another post man, unheralded Jerome Meyinsse from Baton Rouge, La., who has been viewed as a redshirt candidate by some. Meyinsse played nine minutes against Augusta State without risking a redshirt year, but presumably a decision on his 2006-07 participation will be made soon.
The Cavaliers had 24 turnovers against Augusta State, including eight by sophomore wing Mamadi Diane, but this is not a team (with veteran guards Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds) that should be plagued by poor ball-handling.