Virginia Football: Students Low on Optimism
Michael Reed Garcia from thefanaticmagazine.com talks about the upcoming Virginia football season.
With 2007 starting quarterback Jameel Sewell out of the picture due to grades, reports are that Peter Lalich will likely be the starter. The former coveted recruit in the 2007 class certainly looks the part at 6'5" and 225 pounds. How did he play in spring ball, and is this young quarterback developing the respect of his teammates?
From what I understand, Lalich’s performance in spring ball left a lot to be desired. Although he did not perform as well as senior Scott Deke, I still expect him to enter the season atop the depth chart.
Last year in summer camp, Coach Groh hinted at concerns about Lalich’s ability to grasp the playbook and command the offense. Given rumors that he is a not-so-stellar student, I expect that issue to continue to surface.
You could see it in the Gator Bowl. He looked confused in the pocket and was thinking too much; he seemed extremely uncomfortable. Whether or not he has learned from that experience and improves as a result is the real issue.
With that said, as long as Lalich maintains his confidence, I expect him to command a reasonable amount of respect from his teammates. He certainly says all the right things to the media, and I feel like his offensive teammates will be patient with a young quarterback, given how Sewell developed over last year. If he is the starter, the team will support him.
The Virginia Cavalier offense really struggled both rushing and throwing the football in 2007. They ranked 101st in the country in total offense out of 119 teams. Injuries appeared to have an effect with starting receivers Kevin Ogletree and Maurice Covington missing significant time, as well as running back Cedric Peerman, who rushed for close to 600 yards in five games before a season-ending injury.
Is Al Groh relying on the return of these players to fix the offense, or are there other adjustments he might make philosophically?
The returns of Ogletree and Peerman especially will help the offense, but let’s face it: Virginia is not a dynamic offensive force, even when fully healthy. The offense is not built around yardage, but rather on ball control and maximizing possessions.
I think the running game will be fine. With Peerman, a bruiser, returning and Mikell Simpson as an explosive second option, the Cavs have sizeable creative license with regard to running the ball.
The real concern is the passing game. With Sewell’s return improbable (but not impossible), there will have to be adjustments. This means no more option runs, fewer shotgun QB reads, and almost no sprint-out type plays. Instead, UVA will have to be more traditional in the passing game, relying on three- and five-step drops (Lalich’s specialty).
So yes, the Grohs will have to adjust how they approach the passing offense, although Ogletree’s explosiveness will help stretch the defense and make Lalich’s job (presumably) a little easier.
The offensive line appears to be strong on the edges with the return of tackles Eugene Monroe, Will Barker, and tight end John Phillips who saw snaps last year. How much of a concern is the interior of the offensive line, and will it affect a lot of the play calling?
The offensive line is at the bottom of the list of concerns right now. UVA has a history of really solid O-Lines, and with Monroe and Barker returning, that should continue to be the case. The interior line, though inexperienced, will be OK. They learned from a strong group of guys last year and should not be a weakness.
Even if they do struggle early, I don’t expect it to be much of a problem. UVA does not run Woody Hayes’ offense. The tackles and tight ends are much more crucial to the run-blocking schemes because of all the sweeps and off-tackle plays Groh calls. The only real issue here is whether or not they will be able to pass protect—and I think they will. The line is maybe the team’s strongest unit.
The Cavaliers return three starting linebackers, all of whom will be seniors. They are led by OLB Clint Sintim, who is on the watch list for the Bronco Nagurski award and led the nation in sacks by a linebacker last year with nine.
How is the defensive line looking, having to replace all three starters, and can they be effective enough to allow one of the finest groups of linebackers in the country to run free?
The defensive line is a major concern. Nate Collins is a formidable nose tackle, and he will definitely be up to the task of stopping inside runs. But I really doubt there is going to be much of a pass-rushing presence from this group.
The loss of Long hurts for obvious reasons, but unexpectedly losing Fitzgerald might be as devastating, because now there is no experienced pass rusher out of the front three.
At best, the defensive line will be able to “free up” the linebacking corps and consume blockers—but it will not make many plays by itself, and sacks are going to be the linebackers’ responsibility.
If there was a weakness in the defense last year, it was probably a lack of turnovers. Will cornerbacks Vic Hall, Ras-I Dowling, and safety Byron Glaspy's experience last year together bring out more interceptions? Is there a comfort level growing?
The defensive backfield totaled six interceptions last year. That is simply not going to cut it with the roster that returns. There is a lot of young talent at the corner position, but the guys there—namely, Dowling, Hall, and Chase Minnifield—are going to have to mature their games quickly.
There is something resembling a comfort level with those players, especially Dowling, considering that he played fantastically at some points last year (he tied for the team lead with two picks and nine pass breakups). Glaspy and Hall are solid, too.
With their collective size and speed, the defensive backs will be able to make more plays. I see more interceptions for this group, but also a lot more yards allowed through the air, because the chemistry might not be there at first, and inexperience at corner could be an issue.
USC will come to town on August 30 as one of the top-ranked teams in the country. What will the Wahoos need to do to start the season with a huge win?
It will take nothing short of a miracle for the ‘Hoos to win.
Where will the Cavaliers fit in the 2008 ACC standings, and will they be a top 25 team?
This could be a bowl team without the dismissals of six players in the offseason, most notably Sewell and Jeffrey Fitzgerald. However, those losses leave huge question marks at QB and defensive line. This, then, is a rebuilding year; the team will not break .500 in ACC play.
I hate to be so negative, but with all the personnel losses (coaches too—let’s not forget the impact Mike London had), it’s hard to see this team being as good as last year’s squad. And had it not been so seemingly charmed, last year’s team could have been 3-9—remember, it only won three games by more than a score.
I see this team going 4-8 (3-5), unless Lalich plays up to his physical capacity or the ‘Hoos are able to fill other positional voids.
I was informed over email this morning that last year's quarterback Jameel Sewell still has a chance to return. He is taking summer classes and is going to appeal to the academic administration for reinstatement. If he gets in, he will be the starter.
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