UVA Football: Is Patience a Virtue?
With an 0-3 record for the first time in the Al Groh era, the eyes of Cavalier fans are no longer on the head coach, but on Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage.
Littlepage recently sat down with former Richmond Times Dispatch writer Jeff White for a very interesting interview. In it, White did a good job of asking the hard questions, particularly the one that everyone in Virginia is interested in: What is the future of Al Groh?
Littlepage is no fool. He saw the empty seats against TCU two weekends ago. He can hear the angry alumni, and he can see the dismal product on the field. So when asked on his stance, Littlepage spoke with a practical thoughtfulness.
"Two games into a season [is not a long time], particularly given the number of new things that have been incorporated into the program, everything from new staff to new techniques and schemes, relative to the X's and O's," Littlepage said. "I think that the players and coaches deserve the opportunity to show that these changes can be successful."
Last weekend, Littlepage's cry for patience was rewarded with glimmers of hope.
The Cavalier offense, which had been non-existent the first two weeks, found a groove this past weekend against Southern Miss. Even more shocking, it was Jameel Sewell who made this offense move with his arm as well as his legs.
Rather than allow the Golden Eagles a chance to crowd the box, Sewell started off where he left off late in the TCU game. His long bombs to Tim Smith and Kris Burd in the first half were not only accurate, but they changed the game as it allowed Virginia to open up the playbook which appeared to have been gathering dust since the opening of the season.
In total, the Virginia offense racked up 390 yards, 312 of them in the air. By comparison, the last time Virginia racked up over 300 passing yards was in the Music City Bowl game in 2005 with Marques Hagans.
Most importantly for the Cavalier offense, though, was that they scored 34 points, the most since a victory over East Carolina last season.
There was just one bad note about the Virginia's offensive turnaround: they lost.
Despite the improved offense, the defense continued to suffer from big plays, poor tackling and miscommunication. A 17-point lead disappeared behind 20 unanswered by Southern Miss in the final 22 minutes.
Indeed, this contest was far from clean. Both teams were plagued with penalties, turnovers and just bad decisions. None of that matters for Southern Miss, however, as they ride on an eight-game winning streak. It also matters little to Virginia, which despite improvement, has now lost seven straight games.
So, with the bye week ahead, Virginia must sit and contemplate it's football fate.
Littlepage's comments are not without merit. Just look at the Michigan Wolverines, a team that had one of the worst seasons in memory last year and have rebounded nicely to start 2009.
Teams simply cannot overhaul everything and expect immediate results. There will be bumps along the road.
Virginia proved last weekend that it can produce points. Could a year of experience bring sustained success next season? Most likely yes. Virginia is still a young team, and if the team continues to turn things around offensively it might be easier to bring in wide receivers that have normally shied away from the former pro-style offenses run by the Cavaliers.
The better question is, will Virginia fans have the patience to find out?
For all the changes being made this season, this is not Groh's first year at Virginia, it is his ninth. The problem of Virginia football is far deeper than a new offense or inexperience.
The problem is not patience, the problem is faith.
Virginia fans have lost faith in Groh, as a result, the program has reached a dreaded point of apathy. Most fans believe that Groh will never get Virginia to the level of winning they strongly desire, even with a functioning offense.
Despite the terrible road record for the Cavaliers over the past decade, Virginia really needed to get out of Charlottesville for the environment had become almost caustic.
To his credit, Groh has done a great job of keeping the faith of his players. It's clear that Virginia has not given up on their season despite the terrible start. They still work hard and are trying to prove people wrong.
Jameel Sewell has faced all of the criticism and came up with probably the greatest overall performance for his career. After all, the senior did not battle back from academic adversity just to lead the team to one of the worst seasons in decades.
Groh is no fool, he has been able to adjust to some of the major problems facing this program. However, the question remains over whether it is too little, too late.
Virginia fans are stuck in an uncomfortable conundrum the rest of this season.
Obviously they want their team to be successful, but every victory this season will only bolster the cause for keeping Groh and company one more year.
After all, with all these changes, the Cavaliers will have to make strides into next season and continue improving. Right?
Don't blame Virginia fans if that scenario does not instill them with confidence.
However, what's the alternative? Virginia fans cannot root for their team to lose, it goes against everything natural. After all, it's not the players fault their coach has lost the faith of the Cavalier nation.
If Groh is indeed let go, he will leave with millions of dollars and a solid career where he currently ranks second all-time in school history for wins. Those players though will leave with a wasted year and memories that will torment them for quite some time.
Virginia has been patient with Groh. The fans and administration have stood by him when many across the country were calling for his job these past few years. The 2007 ACC Coach of the Year has over two months to turn things around again.
Will the offense resurrect a sunken season and save Groh yet again, or will the Cavaliers decide that patience is no longer a virtue?
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