After getting thrashed by the Wyoming Cowboys in Laramie 23-3, the Virginia Cavaliers (7-1, 4-0 ACC) have rattled off seven straight wins, matching the longest winning streak in school history. Five of those wins have come by five points.
It is safe to say that no other team in the country has matched the “Cardiac Cavaliers’” ability to pull out the close games. Al Groh’s team is currently sitting in a comfortable, but very unfamiliar position: first place in the ACC Coastal Division standings.
There is something about that last phrase that just reads incredibly well. When you’re a Virginia fan you realize how rare this is and you learn to enjoy every last second of it.
Let’s take a look at the final few games on the slate for the ‘Hoos and see if the dream season will continue or if the Cavaliers will come crashing back down to earth.
Virginia should take care of business this weekend against NC State, a team that appears to be catching fire at the most inopportune of times. They had their best performance of the year in their 34-20 win against ECU last weekend. NC State quarterback Daniel Evans threw for over 300 yards and the Wolfpack defense racked up six sacks—very impressive!
To tell you the truth, this game scares me. UVAhas fallen victim to the all-too-familiar "trap game" over the years. Virginia was coming off their second win over FSU in a decade in 2005 and then traveled to Chapel Hill, NC next week and laid an egg. The ‘Hoos ran an endless amount of stretch plays and lost 7-5 to a UNC team that posted just five wins that season.
The UNC loss is easily one of the most embarrassing in UVA history. I don’t care if it was on the road, that UNC team was terrible. Their quarterback was named Matt Baker. Quick! How many people on earth can tell me who the heck Matt Baker is?!
That’s what I thought, nobody.
Anyways, back to the Wolfpack. In the end, NC State's rush defense is ranked 103rd in the nation and Mikell Simpson, Keith Payne, and Andrew Pearman(if he plays) are likely licking their chops.
I expect the Cavaliers to pound the rock, and pound it with authority, against the Wolfpack to prevail on the road.
Virginia’s leading rusher, running back Cedric Peerman, will likely be unable to play this weekend—he injured his foot against Middle Tennessee State and hasn’t been back on the field since. Look for versatile fullback Rashawn Jackson to possibly make his return to the line-up this weekend as well.
"I watched him run for a long time [Monday] night," Groh said, "and he certainly has progressed well beyond where he was last week. We'll just see what kind of load he can carry and then what kind of strength he has in there, so he doesn't go in there and run two or three plays and then [hurt his hamstring] all over again."
If QB Daniel Evans gets hot again, he could very easily make this a close game. If cornerback Chris Cook is out, Evans will take a blowtorch to the Cavalier secondary.
Vic Hall performed at a very high level against Maryland last Saturday—he held Darrius Heyward-Bey to 54 yards receiving on four catches—but it is my belief that Hall is a play-maker best-suited for the offensive side of the ball. It has been well-documented that Hall was one of the most decorated signal callers in Virginia high school football history—he set the record with 13, 770 yards of total offense in his high school career. He also led his team (Gretna High School) to back-to-back state titles.
Even though he is short—only 5'9"—you cannot ignore those numbers. Marques Hagans was around 5'9" and he was one of the best quarterbacks in Virginia football history.
Should Virginia play Hall at quarterback? It certainly wouldn't hurt to get him some reps in practice and get him acquainted with the offense. I think Hall would be better suited to run Virginia's offense at this point than Peter Lalich.
Let me make one thing clear, I think that Peter Lalich is going to be very good and will likely finish his career in Charlottesville as one of the best quarterbacks in Virginia football history. He has a tremendously high football IQ, is a natural leader, and is an ultra-accurate passer. That said, he's still a freshman and is going to need to learn a number of things before he's ready to be a starter on the D1 level.
Simply put, there was no excuse for Virginia's coaches not to give Vic Hall reps at quarterback in the spring when we had the likes of Scott Deke and Marc Verica running the Cavalier offense. I know the coaches were trying to get Vic ready to play cornerback, but it seems to me like we have a couple of better options—Mike Parker and Ras-I Dowling come to mind.
Hall has struggled tremendously with making tackles in the open field, some of which aren't his fault because he is so small, and has struggled in coverage numerous times(See: UConn pass interference penalty). I know he's still young and learning the position, but I don't feel like Hall has the natural instincts that a great cover corner should have on the collegiate level.
It's not his fault though—he's been playing offense most of his life, and for good reason. He is a play-maker and that is what he was born to do. At the very least, UVA could use him on more trick plays (UConn game), line him up at WR and run sweeps with him, and use his speed to attack the edges of the defense.
UVA could bring him in on run-specific plays as well, kind of like the way Floridaemployed Tim Tebow last year. At the very least, Vic Hall should have six to seven touches a game on offense because he's shown how dangerous he can be with the rock in his hands (Pitt, UConn).
Al Groh made his best statement when he told the team how these last four games will mark how truly special this season will be.
In my opinion, this season is always going to be special, regardless of if the Cavaliers lose three of the next four—which could easily happen because this seven-game winning streak has given nearly every call to the Cavaliers.
If the Cavaliers are able to win and go to the ACC title game, they would become one of the best Virginia football teams I have ever seen. They are certainly not the most talented, but as Al Groh has noted, this team has tremendous character and has a knack for pulling out the close games.
This season is eerily reminiscent of the 2002 season, in which the Cavaliers performed the unexpected and had nearly every bounce roll their way. That was a magical season—the 2007 campaign is shaping up to be just as magical.
Before the season started I said eight wins would be a very good season for the Cavaliers. That number will likely be reached this weekend against NC State. The final kick of the Cavaliers schedule is never easy and they finish with two of the best teams in the ACC (Wake, VT) and a dangerous Miami team on the road.
Anyway, I will have more analysis on the final three games as they come along.
My initial read is this:
Wake:I don't like Virginia’s chances against an immensely talented quarterback like Riley Skinner (2006 ACC POY). T.J. Yates (UNC) is the only good quarterback the Virginiadefense has faced all season long. I'd look for Skinner to have a huge day. Virginia will need to play their best to win because Wake is one of the best-coached teams in the ACC. They always come to play and make you earn your victories.
at Miami: Miami is having a horrendous season—by their standards at least. They were highly consistent (thrashing a talented Texas A&M team at home) until they decided to go to UNC and get manhandled in the first half. If the Hurricanes come to play, they can be a pretty tough team to beat. Add in the fact that Virginia football has never won a game in the state of Florida and this will prove to be a tough match.
Virginia Tech:The Hokies are probably the most talented team in the ACC, at least on the defensive side. The problem is, it took them three games into the season to wake up. They didn't start playing like they should have until the Ohio game.
I think they are one of the few defenses in the ACC that will force Jameel Sewell to throw deep. Sewell is excellent at hitting the shorter passes, the shovel passes, the swing passes, the screens, etc. but cannot throw a deep ball to save his life. One poster on a Virginia message board astutely noted that he overstrides when he plants his foot to throw the ball, causing it to sail when he throws it deep.
I agree with that analysis. I don't like Virginia's chances against the Hokies at home, especially if they can stop the run and the shorter passes and force Jameel Sewell to attack the defense vertically.
The Hokies could also have one of their biggest play-makers back on the field—linebacker Vince Hall. He is, without question, one of the best linebackers in college football. I was in the stands for the Ohio-VT game and watched Hall rack up 14 tackles, which is flat out amazing. The Virginia Tech defense didn’t allow Ohio to gain a single first down the entire second half! Hall and Xavier Adibi combined for 25 tackles that game. The two form the best linebacking duo in college football, in my opinion.
Hall suffered a broken wrist against Duke and had surgery on October 7. It looks like he will return for the Hokies' November 10 contest against FSU. If the 'Hoos want to pull out ahead in that one, they are going to have to figure out how to move the rock against that tenacious Hokie defense.
I'm not so sure they can, but if Mikell Simpson plays the way he did against Maryland (271 all-purpose yards), nobody will be able to stop him. The Cavaliers will play this rivalry game at home, so anything can happen.