Meet Virginia: Cavalier Football Making Its Mark on the ACC

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IOctober 27, 2008

To paraphrase Al Michaels: Do you believe in the highly unlikely?

Well, if you've been watching UVA football, the answer is clearly yes.

The Virginia Cavaliers, the team that lost to Duke by 28, is in sole possession of first place in the ACC Coastal Division.

Come again?

The same team that had been outscored in its first two road games by 63 points.

The same team that was ranked last, 119th, in almost every offensive category at one point.

The same team that lost its top two quarterbacks, defensive ends, and secondary players and was tied for the second-most freshmen and sophomores in the ACC.

The 2008 season was seizing on the operating table.  The doctor would have been merciful in calling the time of death after the Duke debacle.   After all, most of the fans and media had.

The U-Haul was parked behind Scott Stadium for Al Groh.

How could it get any worse than that?

Well, amazingly for Virginia, it didn't.

Instead of being Jack Kevorkian, Al Groh is playing the role of Lazarus.  He has brought his team (and his job) back from the dead.

It began with a 31-0 pounding of Maryland at home in a game that had every single person (particularly UVA fans) in disbelief.  A game that featured (gasp) Virginia's first passing touchdown of the season!

Oh, but that was just Maryland, the consistently inconsistent team that no one can trust.

Then Virginia knocked off the mid-major darling East Carolina.  The Cavaliers looked ugly early, giving the Pirates the ball in UVA territory the first three possessions, but were able to run behind Cedric Peerman to an impressive 35-20 victory that included a fake field goal attempt to seal the deal.

Of course, ECU had beaten West Virginia and Virginia Tech, but the Pirates were pretty banged up with some key injuries.  Just how much could we believe in Virginia?

Then Virginia went another step further as they extended one of the more impressive streaks in school history by beating North Carolina at home...again.

In fact, UNC has not won in Charlottesville since 1981, and the demons reared their ugly heads as Marc Verica, a fourth-string QB last year, led a two-minute drive to tie the game and connected on a 20-yard pass to tight end John Phillips in overtime to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against a Top 20 team.

Still, no credit.

Critics would point out that UNC went to the prevent defense and that Butch Davis lost the game more than UVA won it.  ESPN could not even pronounce UVA's QB's name correctly.

For the record, it's Ver-i-ca, NOT Ve-reek-a.

But no one can deny the shocker last Saturday.

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were the hottest team in the ACC.  They had only one loss to their credit, a three-point decision to the Hokies in Lane Stadium.  They also had just escaped Death Valley with a convincing victory against a Clemson team desperate for a win.

The Yellow Jackets clearly could take care of business on Homecoming, right?


Virginia overcame a 14-3 deficit in the first half and once again marched down the field late to score the go-ahead touchdown and win 24-17.

It is Virginia's second victory against a ranked team in as many weeks, the first time they have done that in six years.

It was also Virginia's first road victory against a ranked opponent since 2001!  That was Groh's first year at the helm. 

Now this is not the first time Virginia has turned its season around.

Just last year, Virginia opened its season with a humiliating beatdown by Wyoming on the road and followed it up with a poor performance against Duke. 

They ended the year with a 9-4 record and their first bowl game in January during the Al Groh era.

Both seasons featured close games, but really, the attitude of Cavalier nation is very different in 2008 than just a year ago.

For one, this transformation was far more severe.  The Cavaliers looked like a team incapable of beating just about anybody in the FBS, and now they appear at least capable of beating any team in the mediocre ACC.

Furthermore, the 2007 season was based around seniors like superstar Chris Long, while the 2008 season has been about the young guns.  Verica is just a sophomore and has only played six games under center in college football.  Yet many in Virginia believe he could be the next Matt Schaub, a former ACC Offensive Player of the Year.

Most importantly, in 2007 Virginia just seemed lucky.  They won five games by two points or less, an NCAA record which required everything from a missed Sam Swank field goal to a tipped pass on a two-point conversion against UNC.

In other words, the 2007 wins were about what the opponents couldn't do.  2008 has been about what Virginia has done.

It's been about Cedric Peerman's powerful runs. 

It's been about Verica's calmness under pressure.

It's been about the interception by Vic Hall to squash the Yellow Jackets' drive in the final minutes.

Virginia may not win another game this season, or they may run the table.  That's just how crazy this ACC season has been so far.

No matter what happens to Virginia, right now, the Cavaliers are something NO ONE expected just one month ago.


Next time: We've talked about the amazing run.  Now we try to analyze exactly how this ridiculous turnaround happened.


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