Virginia finishes its season on a sour note and misses a bowl game for the first time since 2001.
All season, Chris Long forced himself to watch teams rejoice when they defeated Virginia. Unsavory as that might have seemed to him, he wanted to carry those memories into the offseason, which officially started Sunday for the Cavaliers, who finished 5-7 and failed to qualify for a bowl game after losing 17-0 on Saturday at Virginia Tech.
"What I've tried to do all year is just take these mental pictures of watching other teams celebrate," Long said. "I'll be taking a lot of mental pictures during bowl season. ... You've just gotta remember how these things feel."
Plenty of Cavaliers can use thoughts of this sour season as motivation for 2007. The only starters Virginia loses are cornerback Marcus Hamilton, wide receiver Fontel Mines and tailback Jason Snelling. Safety Tony Franklin started sparingly.
Virginia also played just one of 16 true freshmen this season, as coach Al Groh showed more restraint than he has in the past, when he blew redshirt opportunities on limited action. Groh anticipates those players spelling Cavaliers who rarely left the field this season, such as linebackers Clint Sintim and Antonio Appleby and defensive ends Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald.
Among the redshirting defenders who could have an impact are lineman Sean Gottschalk and linebackers John Bivens and John-Kevin Dolce.
Groh liked what he saw from his redshirting players in practice and surely enjoyed the one-month, late-season stretch in which the Cavaliers won three of four games.
"Over the last five weeks, we've gotten a real good picture of the progress ... and what this team can become in the future," he said.
Still, most Cavaliers were stung by Saturday's performance -- Virginia's seventh loss in its past eight games against Tech. Hamilton never envisioned finishing 5-7.
"I wouldn't have believed it, and I would've bet against it," he said. "I think we're way better than a 5-7 team."
They certainly didn't play like it for most of the season, especially on Saturday.
A week after the tight ends caught eight passes against Miami, they caught just two against Tech -- both by Jon Stupar. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh's play-calling was more conservative Saturday than it was against the Hurricanes. Virginia coaches wanted to avoid letting the game spiral out of control by taking chances that Tech's stingy defense could exploit. The strategy failed miserably, as Virginia had its worst offensive performance since 1980.
The Cavaliers allowed just 85 first-half yards and intercepted Sean Glennon once. But the Hokies scored on their first two drives of the second half, going 74 and 91 yards for a field goal and a touchdown. Virginia failed to wrap up Glennon on the 74-yard drive, allowing a 19-yard scramble on third down. On the 91-yarder, Tech scored on a 49-yard pass to Eddie Royal, also on third down. Tech finished with 302 yards.
B SPECIAL TEAMS
It's impossible to kick a field goal when, like Virginia, you never run an offensive play in your opponent's territory. Ryan Weigand punted six times for an average of 45 yards and a long of 58. But Groh was displeased with Weigand's 29-yarder in the fourth quarter. Groh's season-long case of punter envy only worsened Saturday as he watched Tech's Nic Schmitt.
Virginia's play-calling was far too predictable. A molasses tailback like Snelling trying to run sweeps around the edge against Tech's lightning defense? Please. Virginia continued its pathetic performances on the road. The Cavaliers were 1-5 away from Scott Stadium this season, with their only win coming against Duke. Virginia is 10-23 on the road under Groh -- a stat so remarkable it cannot be understated. *
OVERALL VS. Va. TECH: F
FINAL SEASON AVERAGE: DCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun