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Schaub-led Offense Strong Everywhere

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

October 6, 2003 CHARLOTTESVILLE — Al Groh wasn't exaggerating when he said the road only gets tougher for a Virginia football team that raised its record to 4-1 (3-0 ACC) with a 38-13 victory at North Carolina. Virginia already has road victories over Western Michigan and UNC, but the Cavaliers still need to go to Clemson (this week), N.C. State and Maryland. Throw in home games with Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and it's easy to see how UVa could play well and not match last year's nine-win finish. Nevertheless, the Cavaliers seemingly have weathered the early season and potentially devastating loss of fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Schaub, who had not been on the field for 28 days when he made an unannounced start Sept. 27 against Wake Forest. Schaub returned from an injured right (throwing) shoulder in time to save the Cavaliers' season, if not his longshot Heisman Trophy campaign. For one thing, Schaub won't appear in the Division I-A statistics until he has played in 75 percent of his team's games, which won't be until week eight, provided he doesn't miss any more time. Schaub, the returning ACC player of the year, has considerable ground to make up in his continuing battle for recognition with N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers. But if the last two games are any indication, he has suffered no lasting effects from his injury, described as a level-three (most severe) separation by Groh. Schaub gained a reputation for accuracy during a 2002 season in which he completed 68.9 percent of his passes, but he has been even more precise this season, completing 19 of 22 passes at North Carolina. In three second-half series, Schaub was nine-for-nine and led the Cavaliers on touchdown drives of 63, 67 and 75 yards before calling it a day with 11:22 left. Much was made of Virginia's problems at receiver when redshirt freshman Anthony Martinez finished the season opener against Duke and went the distance in a 31-7 loss at South Carolina. Schaub has been getting everybody involved, including 6-5, 205-pound freshman Fontel Mines, who had three receptions for 45 yards — the first three receptions of his college career — against the Tar Heels. Mines' first reception went for 18 yards and a touchdown and duplicated a feat performed earlier in the season by another true freshman, Deyon Williams. Veterans Art Thomas and Ottowa Anderson had games with seven and six receptions, respectively, as the Cavaliers seemed to be coping with the preseason loss of top returning receiver Michael McGrew. Tight end Heath Miller made second-team All-ACC last year as a redshirt freshman, when he had numbers that were far superior to those of first-team choice Sean Berton of N.C. State, and it would be a crime if Miller didn't make the first team this year. Groh said Miller may have had the best blocking game of his career in a 27-24 win over Wake Forest, and that's for a player who already was regarded as a good blocker. Miller had a huge touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone as UVa was trying to rally from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit. Meanwhile, Virginia may be the only team in the ACC that's not grumbling about problems on the offensive line. Everyone thought it was funny in the preseason, when Groh complained about having only “one and a half” reliable blockers along the front five, but the Cavaliers' opponents haven't been laughing this fall. Right guard Elton Brown has been dominant when healthy, and the rest of the starters have been very consistent. UVa topped the 200-yard mark on the ground three times in its first five contests, and the Cavaliers' 183.8-yard (per games) and 4.5-yard (per carry) averages through five games led the conference. Tailback Wali Lundy was the only ACC player averaging more than 100 yards per game, and the Cavaliers' consistent execution of the toss sweep in several games stood out in a league lacking in outstanding blockers. Winning Despite Several Injuries The argument can be made that Virginia might have been able to beat South Carolina with Schaub at 100 percent, particularly in light of his recent play and the fact that it was a 10-7 game late in the third quarter. But the Cavaliers have been able to survive an epidemic of injuries and illnesses that cost them McGrew and fullback Jason Snelling (31 receptions in 2002) before the season. Brown, who has physically dominated almost every defensive lineman he's faced this year, missed both the Wake Forest and North Carolina games after being diagnosed with a concussion following practice Sept. 25. Starting inside linebacker Richie Bedesem did not make the UNC trip after injuring a knee against Wake Forest, and safety Willie Davis has not played since he was involved in a violent collision against South Carolina. Insiders reported that Davis sustained nerve and spinal damage and may never play football again. Fourth-year junior Jay Dorsey has met with mixed results since replacing Davis, giving up a long touchdown pass to Wake Forest's Jason Anderson but coming back the next week to register a team-high nine tackles against North Carolina. The Tar Heels did not have a completion of more than 21 yards. Dorsey was in front of Davis going into the fall but was quickly passed on the depth chart and was off the two-deep for a short time. Normally, safeties are easier to find than cornerbacks, but Virginia is an exception. The Cavaliers have two proven senior cornerbacks in Muffin Curry and Jamaine Winborne, and they have a line of succession established with redshirt freshmen Marcus Hamilton and Tony Franklin behind them. At safety, on the other hand, the Cavaliers have a converted cornerback in Jermaine Hardy and a journeyman in Dorsey, with redshirt freshman Lance Evans and true freshman Robbie Catterton backing them up. Hardy has been solid, but UVa is holding its breath at the other spot and would have to take desperate measures (moving Winborne?) in the case of an injury. Blackstock, Brooks Lift Defense The Cavaliers may have had their most impressive defensive performance of the season against a UNC team that had averaged 36 points in its three previous games. The Tar Heels did not have a touchdown in the first three and a half quarters against UVa, which had been averaging two sacks but came up with five against the Heels. Two of four third-quarter sacks were the work of sophomore outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock, who did not have a sack this season until he got to Wake Forest quarterback Cory Randolph on the final play of that game. Blackstock might have had three or four sacks against North Carolina if not for Darian Durant's elusiveness. The UVa-Wake Forest game also marked the first time the Cavaliers had used true freshman Ahmad Brooks as an outside rusher. Brooks has been starting at inside linebacker in Virginia's base 3-4 formation, but he now moves to the outside in obvious passing situations, when the Cavaliers are in their nickel or dime packages. Brooks had his first collegiate sack against the Deacons and followed that up with a third-quarter sack at North Carolina. Early reviews suggest that Brooks' huge buildup was warranted. He was named USA Today's national defensive player of the year in 2001, before spending the 2002 season at Hargrave Military Academy. A 2001 UVa signing class that included Blackstock, Brooks and Lundy may one day be regarded as one of the Cavaliers' finest ever, and that doesn't include a player who joined that group as a walk-on, placekicker Connor Hughes. Hughes followed a game-tying 53-yarder with 1:51 left with a 38-yarder that lifted Virginia past Wake Forest with 10 seconds remaining.