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Ground Game Still Difficult To Figure

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

November 8, 2005

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Virginia's football team needs one more victory to become eligible for a bowl, but it's going to take more than that for the Cavaliers' season to be considered a success.

With the schedule ahead of UVa in its final three weeks, maybe it's best that the Cavs focus on win No. 6. In succession, Virginia faces Georgia Tech (6-2) in Charlottesville, Virginia Tech (8-1) in Charlottesville, and Miami (7-1) in Coral Gables. A victory over any of those teams would represent no worse than the Cavaliers' second-best triumph of a season that has had few highlights other than an Oct. 15 upset (26-24) of then-No. 4 Florida State.

The Cavaliers were trashed for losing one week later at North Carolina, 7-5, although a respected Boston College team went into Kenan Stadium two weeks later and also dropped a two-point decision (16-14).

An open date gave the Cavaliers an extra week to prepare for winless Temple, but in reality Virginia was preparing for the remainder of the season, despite coach Al Groh's protestations to the contrary. It would be easy to dismiss Virginia's 262-yard rushing effort in a 51-3 victory over the Owls, and when tailback Wali Lundy said the Cavaliers "took strides, great strides," the second part of his quote may have been overstated.

Nevertheless, the insertion of sophomore Ian-Yates Cunningham at right guard against Temple was a quick attention-getter. Cunningham had never left the bench at UNC. Groh said Cunningham's promotion was little more than a response to the unavailability of Marshal Ausberry, UVa's starting right guard for the first seven games.

However, when a collection of injuries rendered Ausberry ineffective in the first quarter at UNC, Cunningham wasn't the first place the coaches turned. Against the Tar Heels, right tackle Brad Butler moved to guard and sophomore Eddie Pinigis took over at right tackle. Nothing worked that day, as the Cavaliers rushed for 90 yards as a team and had 199 yards in total offense.

Cunningham, one of the big names in UVa's 2003 recruiting class, started five games as a true freshman on the second of back-to-back Continental Tire Bowl teams. He missed the 2004 season after undergoing disk surgery but was projected to start at center for the Cavaliers this season. A red flag went up when the Cavs moved fifth-year senior Brian Barthelmes to center in the preseason. Groh indicated that Cunningham was suffering some after-effects from his back operation but later cited "performance" issues for Cunningham's absence from the lineup.

Groh, infamous for his unwillingness to elaborate on injuries, has been a little more forthcoming in recent weeks. However, nobody in the media is really sure of the nature of Ausberry's injuries, nor is it really clear what Jason Snelling's issues are.

When healthy, Snelling has the potential to be one of the top fullbacks in the country, as well as a punishing runner in one-back situations. However, in the six games prior to Temple, he had a combined six carries. Snelling, who had seven carries for a team-high 72 yards in the opening game, came off the bench to rush 17 times for 126 yards against the Owls. That included runs of 32 and 24 yards, the first for a touchdown.

Lundy started and rushed for 113 yards and four TDs before giving way to Snelling in the third quarter. Backup tailback Michael Johnson had a high-ankle sprain and was not in uniform, and No. 3 tailback Cedric Peerman injured an ankle while covering a kick.

So it was up to the old guys, Lundy, a fourth-year senior, and Snelling, a fourth-year junior. Lundy, who entered the season with 41 career touchdowns, had not scored a rushing TD all season before getting the first of his four against Temple, all on the ground. Never a burner to begin with, he suffered a sprained foot on his third carry in the opening game and, while he had missed only one full game, he went to Temple as UVa's fourth-leading rusher for the season, with 191 yards.

When he came out for practice on the Monday before the Temple game, Lundy said it was the first time his injured foot had felt close to 100 percent. It also was the first time Snelling had gone through a full week of practice.

"We've had six practices since the North Carolina game, and Jason was actively involved in all six of them," Groh said after the Temple game. "This was the first time this season that he's been able to take six in a row. Before many of the games, he's been limited to one practice a week."


The passing game wasn't at the top of the priority list, but there also were some subtle changes in that operation. UVa's top two receivers against the Owls were a pair of true freshmen, Kevin Ogletree and Maurice Covington, who had five receptions and four receptions, respectively.

Veteran Fontel Mines dropped a touchdown pass against Temple, just as he had failed to haul in a pass at the North Carolina two-yard line at a critical point in that game. It's conceivable that losses to BC and UNC could have turned into victories if Mines and fellow junior Deyon Williams had been more dependable.

Williams, who has been among the ACC's receiving leaders all season, did not play in the second half against Temple after injuring a shoulder while lunging for a ball in the first half. It would have been a tough catch, but there were some oohs out of the crowd when replays indicated that Williams let the ball get away from him.

Groh had been hesitant to praise his defense after the loss at UNC, but following the Temple game the Cavaliers had given up a total of one touchdown in two games. Again, the quality of the competition had to be a consideration, but UVa has gotten a little more healthy and welcomed back outside linebacker Jermaine Dias against Temple.

Dias is not good enough to be viewed as a savior and did not have a spectacular first two games before suffering a sprained foot Sept. 24. But, at 6-1 and 238 pounds, he has a little more bulk than 6-0, 220-pound walk-on Mark Miller, who was abused by UNC's tight ends.

Inside linebacker Ahmad Brooks had his first sack of the season against Temple, but that was his only tackle of the game and, after playing four games, he isn't close to his 2004 All-ACC form. UVa's defensive leaders have been the other inside linebacker, Kai Parham, who has 8.5 sacks, and fifth-year defensive end Brennan Schmidt.

In one four-play sequence against the Owls, Schmidt had a sack, an interception and a caused fumble. He also was credited by Groh, along with sophomore and fellow defensive end Chris Long, for setting a standard for effort and performance in practice.