Football is often about numbers.
For most of Al Groh's career, the numbers have been stacked against him.
The nine-year head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers is 57-47 overall, 35-30 in the ACC. Those numbers are mediocre at best; underachieving to many outside observers.
The most unforgivable statistic though is that Groh is 1-7 against arch-rival Virginia Tech.
Well the 2009 season started off with a thud, an 0-3 start had Virginia looking at potentially winless season.
The offensive numbers are consistently near the bottom of the barrel among FBS teams.
Good thing for North Carolina.
For as poor as Groh's overall numbers may be, he can hang his hat on this: Virginia is 7-2 against the Heels since his arrival, 3-0 against new coach Butch Davis. With a 16-3 victory Saturday afternoon, Virginia continued its dominance over its "other" arch-rival and a visibly emotional Groh could finally breathe for a weekend.
It is not easy for any coach to have to listen to all the constant criticism and negativity attacking his program. Virginia and Groh had been written off as dead and Groh's response was pretty adamant.
"We're pretty hard to stick a fork in," Groh said after the game.
Well, in October that seems to be true. Virginia has won five straight games in the month of October and 10 out of its last 11. If only Groh could somehow create his own calendar, the Virginia coach could really make some noise.
Let's be fair, Groh is not really a sympathetic figure, but you could see just how much the victory meant to him. Obviously, no one wants to succeed more than he does and even if this season is his last, he wants to go out on a positive note.
This mess may have been a situation Groh created, but at least he was able to rally the troops enough to win their ACC opener for the ninth time in the past twelve seasons. His team continues to fight, now one must wonder if they can actually continue to win?
The South's Oldest Rivalry may have been an ugly game at points, but any win is beautiful to the deprived fan-base in Charlottesville. More importantly, there were signs of change and progress that gives Virginia the chance to avoid humiliation this season.
First and foremost, the Cavalier defense played an outstanding game. Finally Virginia was able to bring pressure and noticeably frustrated Tar Heel quarterback T.J. Yates.
In the process, Virginia held North Carolina to a paltry 174 yards and more importantly kept them out of the endzone for the first time since a 7-0 loss in 2006.
If your defense plays that well, who cares how bad your offense is.
Virginia's secondary—which looked so good on paper—stepped up with big hits and big plays for the first time this season. Two interceptions late in the fourth quarter sealed the game and allowed the Cavaliers to walk away with the victory.
On offense, Virginia struggled to manufacture yards and points. The Cavaliers could not get into the endzone until there was less than 10 minutes left in the game.
However, the Cavalier playmakers continued to improve.
Quarterback Jameel Sewell, coming off a strong performance against Southern Miss, managed 169 yards with his arms and his legs. While he continued to throw some wayward passes, the receivers were actually the ones letting Sewell down.
As Sewell continues to develop, so will the wide receivers. Virginia had eight different players record a reception this game and if Kris Burd or Javaris Brown can break out of that pack than Virginia's offense will begin to turn things around.
The biggest development for Virginia on offense though came in the form of Vic Hall. The return of the senior captain is something that cannot be overlooked.
While Hall's days at quarterback are probably over, he provides versatility and is a great decoy on offense. Case and point, Hall received a pass in the backfield and passed it back for a first down.
Okay, technically the play was erased with an illegal formation penalty but it still showed that the offense can move beyond the simple quarterback draw play each and every down.
Hall can provide those special plays that make defenses crazy change the momentum of the contest.
If he can stay healthy, which hasn't been an issue so far this season, Hall can provide big plays on offense and defense. At worst, he will garner extra attention from defenses and allow other players to make big plays.
The final ray of light though comes from Robert Randolph. The Virginia placekicker was three-for-three on field goal attempts, all of which were longer than his season long of 34 yards entering the game.
The truth is, Virginia has only been as good as its special teams during the Groh era. When the Cavaliers have a reliable kicker, they are a tough team to beat.
While one game does not make a career, Randolph gave the players, the coaching staff, and the fans faith that he can deliver when his team needs him.
Considering how rarely Virginia gets into scoring position, they must take advantage. With Randolph playing well, the Cavaliers have a chance to convert on their opportunities and keep themselves in the game.
In the end, this is only one game. This victory does not save Groh's job nor does it mean everything will turn around. It certainly does not mean Virginia will defeat Indiana next week or that fans will show up.
What it does mean though is that Virginia is 1-0 in the ACC, and has defeated one of its oldest rivals yet again and has the talent to fight with just about any team in the conference.
So will they?
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