As much as correcting the plague of miscues that troubled Virginia last Saturday in its 26-14 loss to William and Mary is of paramount concern to coach Al Groh, he also realizes the need to instill hope in his players.
There isn't an abundance of optimism in Cavalier circles after the team suffered its first loss to a Football Championship Subdivision program since 1986, when the Tribe handed the Cavaliers a 41-37 loss. Gaining some stability at quarterback is one of several jobs confronting Groh this week, but his first task of the week came Sunday when he met with his downtrodden team.
Groh talked to his team about the 2002 and '07 seasons. In '02, U.Va. started 0-2, but followed with a seven-game winning streak and finished 9-5, capped by a victory against No. 15 West Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl.
After starting the '07 season with a 23-3 loss at Wyoming, U.Va. again answered by reeling off a seven-game winning streak and went on to finish 9-4 with a loss to Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl.
"That history doesn't mean that that's a resource other than to point out that this has been done," said Groh on Monday of the turnarounds in '02 and '07. "It can be done."
Of course, there were big differences in the '02 and '07 teams and this year's team. The first two losses in '02 were to Colorado State and No. 5 Florida State — not an FCS school like W&M.
The '02 team also featured an ACC-best passing effort of 2,976 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions from quarterback Matt Schaub — not a trio of quarterbacks trying to work their way through the various stages of installing the no-huddle, shotgun spread offense.
The '07 team was led by 19 returning starters, including first-round draft picks on either side of the ball in defensive end Chris Long and offensive guard Branden Albert — not this season's 11 returnees.
Jameel Sewell was the quarterback on that '07 team, and he's joining Vic Hall and Marc Verica in U.Va.'s spread offense this season. Act one of the spread era left a lot to be desired.
The quarterbacks, who combined to complete 18 of 33 passes for 137 yards, were responsible for five of U.Va.'s seven turnovers against W&M. Hall had another turnover in the game when he muffed a punt on a return. Sewell threw three interceptions, Hall had the muff and a fumble and Verica had a ball slip out of his hand for a lost fumble just before he started his throwing motion. Center Jack Shields was responsible for the other turnover on a botched snap.
Despite the problems, Verica was certain U.Va. (0-1) could fix them before Saturday's home game against No. 17 Texas Christian. TCU, a Mountain West Conference representative that will be playing its season opener, finished first in the nation last season in total defense (218 yards per game), rushing defense (47 yards per game) and time of possession (average of 35 minutes and 10 seconds per game), and second in scoring defense (11.3 points per game) and sacks (43).
"I wouldn't say this offense is too complex to run," Verica said. "I wouldn't use that as an excuse for how we performed the other night, because the reason we lost is just because we didn't take care of the ball — fumbles, interceptions, bad snaps, things like that. That's not the offensive scheme, that's just fundamental football."
All three quarterbacks have good mobility, especially Hall and Sewell. Yet, they combined to have 28 carries for just 85 of U.Va.'s 131 rushing yards against a W&M defense that gave up an average of 155 rushing yards last season while playing a schedule that included 10 FCS opponents.
As hard as it must be for a coach who is feeling pressure to win from virtually an entire fan base, Groh has vowed not to hit the panic button. He has been in similar positions, and survived to tell about it.
"I told myself in the beginning that there was a degree of patience that was going to have to be exercised, and along with that patience, there is going to have to be my part positively reinforcing the plays," Groh said.
"There are certain things that transcend any system that you're in — being able to snap the ball properly, carrying the ball high and tight so you don't fumble it, catching punts properly … doesn't make any difference what your system is. You did that in the previous system, and we ran hundreds of snaps in the shotgun in previous years."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun