So here is part two of my game-by-game season preview for Virginia. Take a look at part one and enjoy!
Game 5: vs. Maryland: Revenge Is On Their Minds.
SET UP: Virginia’s season really started to garner attention when the Cavaliers took down the Maryland Terrapins in College Park before a national audience in 2007. It was the coming-out party for Mikell Simpson, who had 271 all-purpose yards.
However, the Terrapins will not be the only ones with revenge on their mind when they come into Charlottesville. Despite a very poor 2006 campaign, Virginia would have gone bowling if it had not blown a 20-point lead against Maryland at home.
That loss killed a lot of the momentum for freshman quarterback Jameel Sewell and helped erase a bad history for Maryland when it comes to playing (or more accurately “being beat down”) in Scott Stadium.
So who will have the last word this year?
PREDICTION: This is a very hard game for me to predict. On paper, the Terrapins have a decisive edge here in late August. However, I have seen the underdog Cavaliers pull out victories at home before, especially against Maryland.
Also, the latest boggling decision to go with Jordan Steffy over Chris Turner can only help Virginia in my honest opinion. However, Virginia’s greatest weapon, Mikell Simpson, won’t be the big surprise he was last season. Don’t expect him to go for 271 yards this time.
The Cavaliers will run the ball and, without a solid quarterback for Maryland, Virginia’s secondary deficiencies will not be so glaring. A few timely turnovers, and this may be the game that Turner gets his starting job back and the Fridge might be looking at a pink slip.
RESULT: UVA 23, MD 20
Game 6: vs. East Carolina: Danger! Danger!
SET UP: The Cavaliers went down to Greenville in 2006 and lost 31-21 in a game that was not even as close as the score may indicate. Virginia had a hard time stopping the Pirates' offense and without guys like Chris Long of Jeffrey Fitzgerald, that task is not getting an easier.
ECU has a very hard schedule, but it has a load of returning players and ended the season with a victory over America’s favorite mid-major, the Boise State Broncos.
Still, Virginia has an amazing home record. Only twice in the seven years Al Groh has been there, have the Cavaliers lost more than one game at home. Can they find a way to get it done?
PREDICTION: The Pirates have a brutal schedule against teams like Virginia Tech, West Virginia and N.C. State all before this game, so they will certainly have a great deal of experience.
Patrick Pinkney had a solid passing performance the last time these teams did battle, but their victory really came from the ground where they scored four touchdowns and racked up over 200 yards.
Both of these teams have a shown a wonderful ability to win close games. The Cavaliers won five games by two points or less last season. That is an amazing accomplishment but…it also means they’re due.
RESULT: ECU 34, UVA 28
Game 7: vs. UNC: Same Script, Different Cast?
SET-UP: Virginia needed a great pass deflection from Nate Collins and a successful challenge of a field goal call to hold on to beat the Tar Heels last season. This year, many expect UNC to be the trendy team to contend in the Coastal Division and possibly reach the ACC title game.
Of course, if they want to accomplish this, they must beat a Virginia team who has not lost at home to the Tar Heels since 1981.
The Cavaliers have beaten North Carolina by an average margin of 15 points at home, since Groh has taken over, including a 23-0 beatdown in 2006.
Still that was then, what about now?
PREDICTION: T.J. Yates had a very solid outing last time these teams met, throwing for over 300 yards and almost single-handedly bringing the Tar Heels back from a big deficit. Not bad for a freshman.
Adding the versatile Greg Little to the mix in the backfield will help even more for UNC. In other words, if Carolina is ever going to beat UVA in Charlottesville, now is the time.
Still, Lalich actually had his best ACC performance against the Tar Heels going 7-for-10 and avoiding contact. Peerman also had a monster game, rushing for 191 yards. I think he can have just as much success this time around.
I think that little bit of experience will help Virginia but this may not be enough. A young and talented UNC squad will still be riding high after a possible victory over Notre Dame at home.
The road contest is right in the middle of a four-game home stand for the Tar Heels and Butch Davis will have them ready to come out strong.
We’ll see just how good Lalich is in a fourth-quarter drive.
RESULT: UNC 27, UVA 21
Game 8: at Georgia Tech: Stings Like A Bee.
SET-UP: A new era for the Yellow Jackets, as Chan Gailey was handed his walking papers last season. Groh certainly has done a good job of getting other ACC coaches fired.
When Virginia miraculously took out GT last year at home, it changed the course of the season for both teams. That game was decided by the great defense of Long and Fitzgerald and a timely touchdown pass from Sewell to Koch in the fourth-quarter.
This year Virginia will be going to Atlanta, where they have posted some surprising victories and some embarrassing defeats. So what will happen this year?
PREDICTION: This series has always favored the underdog. This is the rivalry which gave Virginia one of its best finishes ever with a hook-and-ladder long before the Broncos, and it also gave Virginia its costliest loss when it was ranked No. 1 in the country.
Paul Johnson appears dedicated to the option offense, something that Virginia employed a great deal when it had Marques Hagans and Sewell behind center. Georgia Tech will take some time to bring in the type of talent to fit Johnson’s mold and there will be a definite transition period.
I think GT will be in good shape for the future, but this is the style that matches perfectly with the smash-mouth approach of Virginia.
With Virginia’s powerful linebacking corps they can limit the big plays of the Yellow Jackets and produce their second road win in Atlanta in their last three attempts.
RESULT: UVA 28, GT 17
Game 9: vs. Miami: How The Mighty Have Fallen.
SET-UP: 48-0. It will be weighing on the minds of both teams when the Hurricanes come to town. The Cavaliers were playing in an essentially useless game and Miami was playing its final home game in the Orange Bowl.
Yet Miami appeared to be the ones sleepwalking, and the Cavaliers absolutely humbled the Canes, scoring at will throughout the game and completely shutting down Randy Shannon’s offense.
Will Miami turn the tables?
PREDICTION: The Cavaliers had 418 yards of total offense last year, and most of those came through the air. If Sewell could cut through the Hurricane defense, I think Lalich will be just as successful.
More importantly was that Miami had as many interceptions as they had third-down conversions. That is not going to get it done. Even with some extra experience, I do not expect those numbers to improve dramatically on the road in Charlottesville.
I think Miami is better than Virginia, but are they really 48 points better? The Cavaliers know this is a critical home game and they will play with a tremendous passion and energy.
WR Maurice Covington and Kevin Ogletree will have great performances, and the line will give time for Lalich and allow Peerman to put up some nice numbers as Virginia uses the clock and tames Hurricane Ibis.
PREDICTION: UVA 31, Miami 21
Game 10: at Wake Forest: Just For Kicks
SET-UP: Virginia has only lost to Wake Forest once since 1984, but last year it required a missed field goal kick from Sam Swank in the final seconds to secure a one-point victory. The Demon Deacons will pose a stiffer challenge this year as they hold an edge in talent and experience.
Redshirt junior Riley Skinner knows how to get the job done. He has already tried the career record for most wins as a starter at 18 and helped march the Demon Deacons down the field against the Cavaliers last season, including two fourth-down conversions.
PREDICTION: This will not be pretty. Virginia will be happy after it’s victory against Miami and the ingredients will be there to lay an egg against one of the best stories in the ACC.
Jim Grobe is a better coach than Al Groh and he will make the right adjustments to keep the offense moving. Virginia was able to limit Wake Forest to field goals last season to help secure its victory, but I do not think it will be as easy this time around.
Josh Adams and Skinner will put up big numbers en route to challenging Clemson for the Atlantic Title.
PREDICTION: WF 38, UVA 13
Game 11: vs. Clemson: The Spoiler?
SET-UP: Virginia would love nothing more than to spoil the season of the Clemson Tigers. The Cavaliers have not played the prohibitive ACC favorite since a 30-10 victory at home in 2004.
Though that was a wonderful thrashing, Heath Miller is not exactly around anymore and the Tigers have the best offensive player in the conference along with a rushing tandem that may be impossible to stop.
So can Virginia’s own tandem of Simpson and Peerman pull out a shocking upset?
PREDICTION: We all know Clemson has had a penchant to underachieve lately, but this really seems to be their year. Virginia could easily be a trap game because the Cavaliers will be far better than where they are at the start of the season.
They remember the 29-game losing streak that brought shame and they have a very stout defense and an efficient offense.
However, they have a hurting secondary.
Cullen Harper will light up Scott Stadium and make the big plays when he needs to in order to keep drives alive. Harper will make up for a sub-par performance from the rushing game and keep Virginia on its heel.
The Clemson defense will also have a big day putting pressure on Lalich where he will become close friends with the turf. I would love to pick the upset but logically, Clemson has too many weapons.
RESULT: Clemson 35, UVA 17
Game 12: at Virginia Tech: The Rivalry of Insignificance
SET-UP: It has been five long years since Virginia defeated its archrival and the trend does not seem to be improving. The Cavaliers have actually played better on the road than it has at home against the Hokies, but they have still yet to record a victory at Lane Stadium since the 1998 comeback victory.
Virginia Tech will have either Sean Glennon or Tyrod Taylor firmly cemented as their quarterback by this point and its young defense led by Macho Harris will have solidified nicely.
Virginia will be older, but will they be wiser?
PREDICTION: Virginia’s biggest weakness in these rivalry games has been its inability to score. The Hokie defense has physically pounded the Cavaliers and even though Virginia has gotten tougher it has not gotten much faster. Without a vertical passing game, VT has stacked the box and pinned their ears back. Since the Hokies typically don’t miss tackles, Virginia cannot sustain long drives.
Lalich may be accurate, but he has not shown a great deep ball. Therefore, VT will be able to keep everything in front of them and continue a disappointing series for the Cavaliers.
RESULT: VT 28, UVA 10
A 5-7 season for the Cavaliers and no bowl game. Certainly not what people were hoping for but, fortunately, that is why they play the games.
I hope the Cavaliers prove me wrong, for there certainly is the potential for an even better season. Some of those losses could easily be turned around but, then again, so could some of the wins. After all, others are predicting a winless ACC season.
Thankfully, we’re about a week away from finding out!
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