VMI doesn’t appear on any future Virginia football schedules, and despite the programs’ considerable history — Saturday is their 83rd meeting — and the schools’ close proximity, that’s probably for the best.
Not to suggest the Cavaliers stop scheduling Championship Subdivision teams. Most Bowl Subdivision programs play FCS counterparts, offering a six-figure payday in exchange for near-certain victory.
Virginia is contracted with quality in-state FCS opponents Richmond (2014, ’16 and ’18) and William and Mary (2015, ’17), games that could be competitive — the Spiders and Tribe scared North Carolina State and West Virginia, respectively, earlier this season. But given the limitations of a military institution, VMI struggles to compete against the FCS, let alone the FBS.
Indeed, last week the Keydets (1-2) lost at home to Division II North Greenville 37-24. VMI is 0-26 against the FBS since Division I was split in 1982, lost at Virginia 48-7 three years ago and hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 1981.
Time was when VMI could run with programs such as Virginia and Virginia Tech — the Keydets defeated the Cavaliers and Hokies in 1959 and ‘67. Military careers were more desireable, and the draft made service more universal.
No longer. Still, Sparky Woods, VMI’s sixth-year coach and a former Virginia offensive coordinator (1997-98), called Saturday’s opportunity “a great life experience.”
“You can look at the obvious reasons that it’s not a good thing to do,” he said, “but I rather choose to look at the reasons that are good for it. … This is America, it’s a 60-minute opportunity and you want to take advantage of that. … Certainly we appreciate the money and we’re going to go over there and get after it.”
Virginia is paying VMI $325,000, a serious chunk for a school that reported an athletics budget of $11.1 million in 2011-12 — the Cavaliers reported $74.5 million in expenses for the same fiscal year.
Virginia was idle last week after opening the season with a 19-16 victory over Brigham Young and 59-10 loss to No. 2 Oregon, and Woods insisted the Cavaliers were impressive even against the Ducks.
“They were able to make some big plays on Virginia as a result of their speed,” he said, “but down in and down out, I was impressed with how Virginia stood up to them.”
Like most coaches, Woods is most struck by the skill and size of the Cavaliers’ defensive line, led by Brent Urban, Jake Snyder and Eli Harold. Unlike many, Woods confessed that physical mismatches make him worry about injuries.
“Yep, I do,” he said. “You don’t go into a game in fear of getting hurt, but you realize when you’re playing against bigger, stronger, faster, that’s a possibility. We got hurt playing them a couple years ago. We lost a couple quality players. … You’ve gotta pad up and you gotta go play.”
VMI is allowing 510.3 yards — North Greenville gained 504 — and 32.7 points per game. Senior quarterback Eric Kordenbrock (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) is averaging 272.7 passing yards and threw for 369 and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, against North Greenville.
“I think he’s a good quarterback,” Woods said. “He would be a good guy who would be excited about this (game) in the sense that he has aspirations, he’d like to have a chance to maybe be considered as a NFL football player one day. He’s been a great ambassador for our school. … He was part of the defeat last week, too, so he’s not perfect, and he realizes that.”
As the son of a Vietnam veteran, Virginia coach Mike London has an affinity for the military and those who serve. And given that, expect him to ease the throttle back if/when the score becomes too lopsided.
“Even though that's your opponent, you take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that these young men maybe one day might be put in harm's way,” London said. “But here they are in this moment, this time, that they represent what I think is truly great in America is people saying service to country, service to corps.”
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