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Nov. 10, 2003

Virginia head coach Al Groh:

Q: Can you talk about the ACC results from the past weekend?

Groh: What transpired was probably just more of the same. It shows that any attempt to draw conclusions or make predictions based on comparative scores is probably very invalid and most likely useless. Just take the Florida State-Clemson game. If I were to say ‘Gee, Clemson lost by whatever it was to Wake Forest and we lost to Clemson, we must not be very good. Then I see what Clemson did against Florida State and I could say down there, we went into overtime with Clemson and had our chance to win, we must be pretty good. I don’t draw conclusions about our team based on any one of those things I just stated. I just think it’s a game-to-game thing. It’s not about who’s got bigger or faster or who can say ‘we’re better’. It’s just about who has the most points that day, and that’s the kind of season it is. You’re trying to get your team to play in a fashion so that you can have more points than the other guy at the end.

Q: Does the home field advantage concern you?

Groh: This was kind of the case last year, too. It just seems to be more significantly so this year. If you go to rise to an elevated status in the conference, you have to get some good road wins. I’ll use NC State is an example last year. State was cruising with a very strong season. They went on the road back-to-back weeks and lost to Maryland and Virginia in games where the point differential was pretty close. It’s not about close, it’s just about getting more than the other guy. That’s why I think to a large degree in this conference now, I really don’t think pre-season predictions mean much. First of all, it’s people who really don’t know about the team who are making them. That is, unless your in the halls and offices on a day-to-day basis, how does anyone really know the strengths and weakness of a team? They’re fun, and they transition people who are getting tired of the current sport just like they get tired of their current car. It gets them dreaming about the next sport that’s coming up. Then to say that certain teams exceeded expectations or were overrated. One, who’s rating them? And two, it’s not about that. It’s just about getting more than the other guys do. You certainly see that in the NFL more and more where one team is on the top one year, and they’re someplace in the middle of the pack or lower the next. The process then gets reversed with somebody the next year. That?s certainly what’s happening in our conference. There’s obviously a national trend toward that too.

Q: Can you talk about what’s at stake this Thursday against Maryland?

Groh: I think what last weekend created was there’s still a lot out there to be achieved for a lot of teams. Around here we don’t really talk about this one leads to that one. All we really think about is what do we have to do to figure out a way to beat this team.

Q: What’s different about this Maryland team compared to last year?

Groh: I don’t know whether this is different, but I think it’s a little difference. This wouldn’t be the most noted aspect of their team. It certainly would be overlooked unless you just looked at it statistically. I think they have a tremendous punt team. They have obviously a very, very good kicker. As good as their kicker was last year, I think this one’s even better. He gets great distance, and he gets excellent direction, and he gets it off very quickly. They have really terrific coverage. It’s been a tremendous field position creator for Maryland in most games. I can’t say that’s different, but that is what is significant about their team this year. They create a large amount of really long field for the other team. Long field plus the fact that they’re playing at defense the way you want to play it. They don’t give up very many long plays. They’re solid; they’re sound; they force long drives when the other team has a long field to go. Their team eventually gets the ball in an advantageous field position. They’re a strong running team; they’re able to keep the ball, make first downs that add to whatever yardage the punter’s going to make right now. That kind of conduct of the game generally has the opponent at a disadvantage throughout most of the game. That’s what I’ve noticed about them.

Q: Are their special teams better than they were last year?

Groh: Well, I just said, I think this punter’s better. Whether if his average is high or not, he’s better, and that punter was very good. Their field goal kicker is amongst the best in the league. He’s got range; he’s got accuracy. I think they have two very good players in those positions.

Q: Does your coaching approach change when you have a bye week?

Groh: We spend a little more time on it. We’d be a little bit ahead of ourselves to get too much further ahead now on the teams that follow this. The coaches don’t, but the people who are on the staff who are responsible for the video cut-ups and those things. They can get further ahead on those, so maybe their nights aren’t as long. In terms of our analysis and game planning, we pretty much stay on the schedule. It also depends upon which time of the year it takes place. Early in the year, we would tend to spend more time in practice while the team is still evolving. Later in the year, we probably spend less to try to keep the team fresh. Another aspect we have in college football is that if there’s not any coaching business for that particular day, there’s always something to do in recruiting. So I’d say probably as far as our week has gone, what it’s allowed us is more time in recruiting at this time of year than if we had been playing each Saturday.

Q: Do you feel the time off was useful and that the players came back fresh?

Groh: They did, but you can improve upon that in how you conduct your sessions, or you can wipe all of that out in terms of how you practice between the time they come back and when the game is. It’s not just the time that they had off but how we move on with the practice sessions coming up. We look at that not just as it relates to being fresh for this particular game but as it relates to the final month of the season. There is not a ‘get them rested up’ period of time before the remaining games after this.

Q: Is the Maryland game becoming more of a rivalry than it has been in past years?

Groh: I think historically, it’s always been one of the more significant rivalries for each team. I’m sure we’ll continue that way under the new alignment, both because of the history of the large amount of games played between the two teams and the proximity of the two states. Given the way that this conference is shaping up, if you want to do anything in the conference over the course of the season, you’d better have a lot of rivalry games.

Q: Maryland scored 59 points against North Carolina but only 3 against Georgia Tech. What is their real offense?

Groh: I think that’s just another illustration of what we were speaking of in the beginning. Clemson scored 13 against Wake Forest and 26 against Florida State, gave up 48 to Wake Forest and gave up whatever it was (6 or 3) to Florida State. I wish I knew. Around the NFL, the word that’s tossed around is parity.

Q: What concerns you about Maryland’s offense?

Groh: Power. Very power-oriented team.

Q: How important is it to control Maryland’s WR Steve Suter?

Groh: It ties right in with that punting side of things. There’s a lot of guys working hard to create those returns, so it’s not exactly the way I say this. He by himself is a weapon for creating that field position. That is, the combination of their return teams and their punter make them at least as good as anybody in this league at using their special teams and creating advantageous field position. The offense and the defense have the capability of taking advantage of that particular field position. The defense getting long field to defend and the offense often getting a more advantageous field position which allows them to play in a particular style which fits being a power team and run the ball with authority.

Q: Have you been pleased with your special team so far this year?

Groh: Yes. Our kickoff coverage has been excellent. Obviously our placement work has been good. We blocked two or three placement kicks from the other team. I think we’ve been able to pressure and get the results such that when kickers look at the tape, they understand that there’s going to be pressure, they’re going to come. I’d like to be able to get more yardage per punt return, but yet when I look at the statistics of conference teams in conference games only, I think we’re third or fourth in the league in punt returns. I don’t think our punt returns have been fantastic, but I think we’re third or fourth in the league in that. I think the punt game is just the issue for us right now.

Q: Can you comment on the development of Freshmen WR Fontel Mines and Deyon Williams?

Groh: Their development seems to have clicked in here a little bit of late with both of them. They both had good weeks here in practice. They’re two different kinds of receivers. Obviously they take on different roles. We’ve tried to?as with the case with a lot of players?if the player’s not your primary player there for the first year through, try to put the focus on those things that the player has the highest level of proficiency at when he arrived. Try to maximize those things and then come back in another point in time and build his whole game.

Q: Was the defense’s effort against NC State really representative of the way it can play? Do you feel like those guys coming back really have something to prove Thursday night?

Groh: I hope so. I hate to use the same answer for lots of different questions, but again, when I try to ascertain the other teams that we’re playing, what is representative? We’re playing a team that scored 3 points in one game and 59 in the next. I know one’s not representative. I hope the other one isn’t. Georgia Tech is a team that was 15th in the country in rushing defense. That seemed to be pretty representative of their team. Then they just gave up 240 yards rushing, or whatever. So, what is representative? That’s what I think is really the issue. It’s not what’s representative. It’s just playing each game so you can have more than the other guys.

Q: In the same sense, does momentum not seem to mean much?

Groh: I’ve said this before. I think people that haven’t played the game overrate this momentum thing. The lack of such is much more of a factor. That is, if a team is experiencing no success and just kind of a down feeling around the team and a lack of confidence. I think that can be a factor in a team spiraling downward. As far as winning the game, it’s always the same thing. If you play better than they do, you win. If you don’t, you probably don’t win. There are some games on some team schedules but no longer in conference play here that if you don’t play well, you’re not going to win. The match-ups are such that there’s not many teams that have a personnel advantage. The coach better have a good day, the quarterback better have a good day, the place kicker better have a good game, the nose tackle better have a good day. If any of those things are amiss, it might be at that particular spot that changes the game.

Q: How often do you go against Maryland in recruiting and does that add another dimension in the competition?

Groh: I’m sure it does for the players- the players on each side who were recruited by both teams. It doesn’t for me because you realize in recruiting year after year that most of the schools in the same geographical area, you’re going to go after many of the same players. I’m much more concerned about the competition on the field. You’re going to lose certain players to some teams, and you’re going to gain certain players from some teams. Then the ones you’ve gained them from this year, you lose one the next year. Who wins the game is all about who plays better inside the lines.

Q: Can you talk about Maryland’s quarterback Scott McBrien?

Groh: I think he fits the way they want to play very well. I think their team is sculpted around him as part of the overall entity of how they want to play. They’ve got an experienced offensive coaching staff, the head coach is very good offensively, they know how to take the talent they have and use it to the talent’s best advantage and put the whole thing together as a total package.

Q: How important is QB Matt Schaub’s ability to pass the ball in stride?

Groh: All the elements of the routes are all coordinated within the pattern. That’s why the quarterback’s ability to know what he’s looking for, to make the read quickly, and make an immediate decision is so valuable. Since they’re all put together in a coordinated fashion, whether the ball’s going to the deepest receiver, the intermediate receiver, or the short receiver, it should go to each one of those on the same element of timing. Therefore, each player would then get the ball in the optimum position. If he goes back and would throw the deep ball on timing but hold the ball for a long time to determine if he’s going to throw deep or short, by that time the short ball probably doesn’t look very good. His sense of timing and rhythm in the passing game is integral to what we’re trying to do with the ball which is not different than what a lot of teams are trying to do with it in that style of passing. It’s very important.

Q: Is Maryland’s secondary the best in the ACC?

Groh: Their numbers would certainly attest to that fact. They’re lower in the country in scoring defense. They’re a very good third down team. Part of that is I think they lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in sacks- they’ve got 29 or 30 sacks. That’s the key- punt the ball down there, get good field position, play good solid run defense, get the team on third down, rush the passer, or make them punt the ball back to you.

Q: Did freshman G Ian-Yates Cunningham earn his starting position?

Groh: I thought he did a pretty good job overall. He’s practiced well here. Probably had a couple of his better practices. It gives us hope that maybe his time is coming now. Kind of through this baptism maybe he’s ready to pick his game up here. We’ll find out a lot this week because he’s going against one of the best. It’ll alternate based on the formation, but he’ll get plenty of times at this starts, and this guy’s a really good player.

Q: Can you talk about LB Kai Parham’s and Ahmad Brooks’ progression?

Groh: There are some plays that come up, whether it’s in practice or games, that in my mind I think the linebacker ought to be on it right away. The two of them have such enormous possibilities which I’m very confident they’re going to achieve. They’re very intent on the practice field. I just have to keep in mind from my perspective on them, they’re side by side, they?re running the whole operation, they don’t have a veteran player to take over that responsibility for them, and they’re both two true freshmen starting in there. I say Parham’s a true freshman, because he really didn’t participate last fall because of his back injury. Spring practice is really the first time that either one of them got any practical application in the system. Those things considered, I think they’re both doing well. There are some things they experience in every game that it’s the first time they’ve seen this particular one, and sometimes those things are a little tricky. After a while there won’t be too many things, whenever that point in time is. They’ll know right now when it happens instead of having to come to the sideline and have it explained to them or taught to them at a film session on Monday afternoon. They’ll know, but there’s something that we’re teaching them everyday in practice that’s brand new to them or developmental in the system. There’s something every day, every day.

Q: Did LB Rich Bedesem benefit more than usual from his time off?

Groh: Seems to. In fairness to him and the evaluation of his performance from everybody’s perspective, he’s got an injured knee. We’re really fortunate to have his services at all as opposed to not having them, so that’s where he is with that.

Q: Can you talk about PK Connor Hughes and how valuable he has been?

Groh: 14 out of 15. I had to fill out a ballot for an All-American team, so I went to the NCAA statistics. I think the guy from Old Miss is 22 for 23. I believe that’s the highest percentage on the most kicks. There’s another player who was 11 for 11 before last Saturday, but probably in the law of averages, 22 for 23 is harder to beat than 11 for 11. Connor had 14 for 15. It was those two players that had the highest percentage. Then he had the next percentage. So that bespeaks of what he means to our team.

Q: How important has Ryan Childress been at long snapper?

Groh: Ryan’s had a great career for us. Very dependable player. That’s what you’re looking for in all your positions, but obviously that’s one where dependability exceeds all other requirements. He certainly is that. That certainly builds a confidence level into the kickers. That’s a facet of the operation that they can dismiss from their thinking. Just get in the rhythm, and Matt [Schaub’s] an exceptional holder. The combination of Ryan to Matt makes it easy by the time the equation gets down to Connor. That’s another aspect that helps the Maryland punt team. They’ve got a great snapper.

Q: With punters Tom Hagan and Noah Greenbaum, what are you looking for?

Groh: We’re just looking for positive signs at any juncture. When each player gets a rhythm and a consistency. There certainly are enough kicks in practice for us to say, ‘Whoa, that’s the guy, or he’s got it now.’ In reference to the question about Connor [Hughes], even before it appeared that he was ready to kick in the games last year, one of the things that made us feel so hopeful about Connor is that he reminded us a lot of Matt Barr who had a great career in the NFL. Matt Barr was a very thoughtful kicker. He understood all the dynamics of the position, and his preparation was meticulous. He was a great model for anybody who could have been around him. Matt Barr might as well have been a robot. His leg was on a track with ball bearings. His right shoulder was on the same track. His head was on the same track. It’s just everything moved that way every time. He had tremendous consistency. Connor’s got that kind of easy swing, good consistency, hits the ball the same every time, and his ball is straight. Some kickers make a lot of kicks, but they don’t make them this way. That’s one of the things you try to look for a lot. Even if he misses, is his ball straight? He kicks a real straight ball. He’s very consistent in his mechanics, his impact point is much the same all the time. I don’t think he’s on a hot streak at 14 for 15. I just think he’s a very consistent kicker.

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