2007 ACC Football Season Preview: Virginia

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Virginia Cavaliers

18 returning starters (8 offense, 10 defense)

Key Players: QB Jameel Sewell, LG Brandon Albert, TE Tom Santi, WR
Maurice Covington, RB Cedric Peerman, DE Chris Long, DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald, LB
Jon Copper, LB Clint Sintim, LB Antonio Appleby, S Nate Lyles, CB Chris Cook

Overall
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UVA went 5-7 last year with a very young offensive line and quarterback. The
defense wasn’t experienced either, but they still finished 17th nationally in
total defense. That’s a very good mark, but unfortunately for the Hoos, they
offense was just 113th nationally in total offense. That ranked dead last in the
ACC. To sum it up, the UVA offense was the worst in a conference of very bad
offenses.

This year, they should be better. How much better is the question. If they
are just a little better, then the Hoos will either be sitting at home in
December for the second year in a row, or heading out west to Boise or San
Francisco. But if there is more than a little bit of improvement, UVA could be a
lot better than people expect.

Offensive Strength

UVA has plenty of tight ends, and you’ll see the Cavaliers use a lot of
formations that use multiple tight ends. The starter is senior Tom Santi, a
preseason All-ACC pick. Santi is athletic and is used quite often in an H-back
role. He has 61 career receptions and three touchdowns.

Also in the rotation will be r-senior Jonathan Stupar, who has 40 career
receptions and one touchdown. He started nine games last year in the two tight
end set. Joining Santi and Stupar is junior John Phillips. He isn’t a factor in
the passing game, with just four career catches. But at 6-6, 257, he is UVA’s
best run blocker.

The Hoos have three good tight ends this year, and two of them are major
threats in the passing game. After reading about UVA’s offensive weakness in the
next section, you’ll understand why these players are so important.

Offensive Weakness

As a sophomore last season, Kevin Ogletree led the team with 52 receptions,
which ranked third in the ACC. However, UVA likely won’t have the services of
their top receiver in 2007, because he had reconstructive knee surgery after
tearing his ACL in the spring and is very likely done for the season.

With Ogletree out, UVA has one wide receiver on the team who caught more than
six passes last season. That is junior Maurice Covington, who has all of 11
receptions in his two year career. Cary Koch, a transfer from Tulane who caught
23 passes in 2005, will be in the rotation. Chris Dalton is a r-freshman that Al
Groh is high on, but he’s only a freshman. And senior Chris Gorham was moved
from cornerback to wideout this season.

Basically, the Cavs are grasping at straws to find a receiving playmaker for
Jameel Sewell. As of right now, things aren’t looking good.

Defensive Strength

UVA has a couple of major playmakers on the defensive line. Defensive end
Chris Long, son of former NFL All-Pro Howie Long, has been starting since he was
a freshman. He has had double digit tackles for loss in each of the past two
seasons, and he’s one of the toughest players to block in the ACC.

Long isn’t UVA’s only good defensive end, though, and some might not even
consider him their best. Sophomore Jeffrey Fitzgerald is a star in his own
right. As a freshman last season, Fitzgerald had 12 tackles for loss, five
sacks, broke up three passes and had two interceptions.

With Long and Fitzgerald, the Hoos will be very difficult to deal with up
front this year.

Defensive Weakness

It should be easier to attack UVA through the air this year, rather than on
the ground. UVA’s secondary is not below average, but relative to the defensive
line and linebackers, they are a weakness. They have experience, and there is
solid talent there, but there are no Chris Longs, Jeffrey Fitzgeralds or
(linebacker) Clint Sintims in the defensive backfield.

Chris Cook is a good cornerback, but he might be better suited for the safety
position. The other cornerback is Vic Hall, who is a very good athlete but is
unproven at cornerback. But even with a few question marks, this unit should be
solid.

Key Game

Last season, Wyoming took UVA to overtime in Scott Stadium before falling
13-12 thanks to a missed extra point. This year the Hoos must travel to Wyoming.
This isn’t a trap game because it’s the first game of the season, and Duke is
the following week, but UVA is going into an environment they aren’t used to.

They are traveling over halfway across the country to play a team in a
different time zone. They’ll gain no prestige from winning the game, it’s not a
recruiting territory, and it’s not a made for television game. I have no idea
why Virginia scheduled this game. If they manage to lose the game, which is
unlikely but possible, the heat will be on Al Groh even more than it already is.

Will Stewart’s Take

This is a critical year for Al Groh, to say the least. The Virginia program
has lost the momentum Groh sparked at the beginning of his tenure, when he
signed one of the top recruiting classes in the country in February 2002 and
followed that up with a nine-win season and a bowl victory in the 2002 season.

Seven years into his tenure, a coach should be hitting his stride (barring a
program altering event like probation), not scrambling to field a winning team.
In 2006, Groh’s Cavaliers, eternally young and inexperienced, posted five wins
… the same number of wins his first team posted in 2001.

As Chris noted, the Cavs have huge, gaping holes at wide receiver, and that’s
a big problem in the defense-heavy ACC, where it’s tough to run the ball. That
puts the pressure on second-year QB Jameel Sewell to make plays and offensive
coordinator Mike Groh to come up with something in the play-calling arena to
cover for the team’s offensive shortcomings.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Virginia has a solid defense, and
the Cavaliers have games against divisional rivals and ACC softies Duke and UNC,
while they avoid Florida State, Clemson, and Boston College. The Cavaliers get
Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and the Hokies at home. Combine that with an OOC
schedule that includes road dates at Wyoming and Middle Tennessee State (on the
road!) and home games against Connecticut and Pittsburgh, and UVa could put
together some wins.

If Sewell improves and the defense is stout, six wins is easily within reach,
and seven or eight is possible. That will send the Cavaliers bowling, but the
alternative — a losing record and no bowl for the second year in a row — is
unthinkable for Groh.

The truth is undeniable: The surge the Cavaliers made at the beginning of
Groh’s tenure didn’t lead to the upper echelon of the ACC, and it’s not likely
to any time soon, if ever. Virginia Tech has assumed a stranglehold on in-state
recruiting, the lifeblood of the Tech and UVa programs, and the Hokies have
beaten the Hoos seven out of eight times, dating back to 1999. If Groh doesn’t
make a move soon and gain ground on VT and the rest of the ACC, I think the
Cavaliers will move on to the next coach.

UVA
2007 Football Schedule

UVA
2007 Roster

UVA 2007 Depth Chart not available

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