September 13, 2005
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Virginia's opening-game victory over Western Michigan answered few questions, most notably the ones surrounding All-American linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
There was a Brooks sighting during the Cavaliers' 31-19 triumph over the Broncos, but he was not in uniform, unless a Tracy McGrady throwback jersey qualifies.
The prevailing theory was that coach Al Groh was preparing for Brooks' debut in the Cavaliers' Sept. 17 game at Syracuse, but Groh hasn't said that. In fact, on the subject of Brooks, he's said hardly anything.
Brooks, who in January underwent an uncommon procedure designed to regenerate bone growth in one of his knees, was cleared by doctors for preseason drills in early August. By the end of August, he was in pads, so what's the hold-up?
"We know what his status is on that," Groh said. "It's no mystery. It's a combination of medical opinion, (Brooks') feeling on where his game is, and my observation as to his functionality."
Even if Brooks isn't quite 100 percent, he would have to be an upgrade on Mark Miller, a fourth-year walk-on who started in his spot against Western Michigan. Miller was placed on scholarship several years ago and is a respected backup, but in Brooks the team has one of the 2004 finalists for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation's top linebacker.
Virginia's other inside linebacker, Kai Parham, was the coaches' choice as the Cavaliers' top defensive player against Western Michigan, but in a three-man rotation that also included fifth-year senior Bryan White, Miller (two) and White (two) combined for four tackles. Moreover, Brooks moves to end in UVa's nickel formation, and he figures to the Cavaliers' top pass-rusher following the early NFL departure of outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock, now with the Arizona Cardinals.
Western Michigan quarterback Ryan Cubit, who had passed for nearly 4,000 yards in a career that began at Rutgers, had a shoulder injury that prevented him from playing against the Cavaliers. His emergency replacement, former junior college transfer Robbie Haas, was 33-of-49 for 271 yards. Haas mostly took three-step drops in new coach Bill Cubit's West Coast offense, and it was almost counterproductive for the Cavaliers to pressure him.
Syracuse quarterback Perry Patterson figures to be a little more vulnerable, and Brooks was a handful for the Orangemen last year.
The Western Michigan game answered few questions and created at least one. UVa tailback Wali Lundy, who has rushed for more than 800 yards in three consecutive seasons, came up lame during a 28-yard run on the Cavaliers' second series and did not return.
Lundy's injury was diagnosed as a sprained foot and, while he has missed little time during his career, he has a history of injuries that have reduced his effectiveness. His absence for the last three-plus quarters against Western Michigan gave Virginia a chance to establish a line of succession, but all it did was add to the confusion.
Speedy junior Michael Johnson had a seven-yard touchdown run but also fumbled three times, losing one. Jason Snelling, normally a fullback, had a career-long 33-yard run in his first series at tailback but later fumbled twice, also losing one.
By the end of the fourth quarter, Groh had turned to Cedric Peerman, a redshirt freshman who carried 10 times on the 12-play drive that resulted in an insurance touchdown with 5:38 left. Peerman carried on the last seven plays and, most importantly, held onto the ball.
Peerman, by the way, is no relation to the Cavaliers' All-ACC running back in 2004, Alvin Pearman. Obviously, they don't spell their names the same way, but Pearman's younger brother, Andrew, transferred from Hawaii after the 2004 season and will have three seasons of eligibility starting in 2006.
Fumbling is such a no-no for Groh that, following a fumble in the end zone last year against Clemson, Lundy lost his starting job to Alvin Pearman. Clearly, Pearman's production had something to do with that, but Lundy was left to answer questions about his fumbling despite losing the ball only twice in nearly 700 career touches.
Peerman also accounted for more than 100 yards on three kickoff returns and seemingly is in position to push Johnson for playing time. Johnson is a perennial prospect but, even before the Western Michigan game, Groh was voicing concerns about his ability to hold onto the ball.
In addition to the two lost fumbles, fifth-year senior quarterback Marques Hagans was intercepted two times and was the victim of four sacks. It would be a concern if Hagans had a history of interceptions and sacks, but in 12 games last season he was intercepted only five times and yielded 15 sacks.
On the positive side, Hagans was 17-of-25 for a career-high 252 yards and quickly re-established a connection with fellow fifth-year senior Ottowa Anderson, who had three catches for 109 yards, in the first 100-yard receiving game of his college career. Anderson missed the 2004 season while on academic suspension.
Hoops: Academics Derail Forbes
New Virginia basketball coach Dave Leitao, trying to rebuild a team that tied for last in the ACC regular season last year, suffered a serious blow when it was announced Sept. 9 that junior forward Gary Forbes would be transferring to another school.
Forbes had given hints that he might transfer when former coach Pete Gillen was relieved of his duties, but he voiced his support for the new regime on the day Leitao was introduced, and he had enrolled for fall classes.
Forbes attended summer school, and there was no suggestion that he was in academic difficulty until the start of September. A four-paragraph UVa news release did not give a reason for his departure, nor did it include a quote from Leitao, but it was clear that Forbes could not have played for the Cavaliers this season.
"It was a sad day," Forbes told the Roanoke Times. "I didn't want to leave. It wasn't necessarily my choice."
Forbes, a 6-6 swingman, was the Cavaliers' top returning rebounder. There also were times under Gillen when he served as a defensive stopper. He could score points in bunches, including back-to-back games when he came off the bench to score 21 points against Virginia Tech and 23 against North Carolina.
Forbes let it be known that he was not disenchanted with the program or with the new coaching staff, but sources said that Leitao and Co. were concerned about Forbes' offseason work ethic, which might have carried over to the classroom.
As the sixth man, Forbes (who will announce his transfer destination -- possibly Massachusetts -- very soon) played more than 22 minutes per game last year. He finally would have had the small forward job for his own in 2005-06. Now sophomore Adrian Joseph and true freshman Mamadi Diane will have to pick up the slack.