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Nov. 17, 2003

Virginia head coach Al Groh:

Q: Is there something the defense needs to improve to work?

Groh: It’s the same thing every defense has got to have. It all starts in the back end [secondary]. Those people who don’t understand think it’s about how you add up to seven. Is it 2-5, 5-2, 3-4, 4-3? The issue is what you add up to in the back end. Mickey Andrews, the defensive coordinator at Florida State has a statement that most coaches have heard a lot. That is, ‘It’s not up front where you lose games, it’s always in the back.’ In this day and age, most of the teams, in the course of a game, play some form of each configuration.

Q: What would you attribute to be the cause of the team’s inability to cause turnovers?

Groh: Those things are a curious thing. Sometimes they just come. I think I said this earlier in the year: The second year that we were at New England with Coach [Bill] Parcells, we went from 5-11 to the playoffs. We also led the NFL in takeaways. The next year our record dropped off significantly, as did our takeaways. That’s not the only reason we made it or didn’t make it, but it’s certainly a huge contributing factor. Right now we’re at about 50% of what we had last year. As I look at the numbers in the league [ACC], curiously many of the teams are very low in takeaways this year. I don’t know whether all the offensive teams are putting more attention into it, or it’s just the circumstance. One of the things that I look at when we assess an opponent, there’s a line there on the statistics that you receive that says fumbles. They have one number followed by a hyphen and another number. There are some teams that have a fairly high number first, but they have a low number second. That just means that when they fumbled the ball, they got it back. Maybe last year when they fumbled it, they didn’t get it back. That’s part of it. Another part of it is, a lot of the fumbles that are caused are caused in the pocket. As teams are getting the ball out of there in a hurry or using more maximum protection schemes. Then there’s not as much disruption of the player who frequently is the most vulnerable player toward fumbling the ball, and that’s the quarterback.

Q: Is there a risk in players looking for a turnover too much because it cuts down on their tackling?

Groh: Oh, yeah. That last play at NC State, we had somewhat of an occurrence with that. We had a player who was trying to pull the ball out rather than tackle the ball. Now, I’m not saying that wasn’t a sound desicion at the time-the game was on the line, the ball was turned over, the game was going to remain tied. Even if the tackle had been made where it was attempted, in all likelihood they would have tried to get the field goal kicker on. That’s part of it. For example, we had a critical play last year, maybe a turning point in the season. We’re playing North Carolina, the score’s 21-0, we come back and score. Return the kickoff, it’s 21-7. They drive all the way down, the ball’s on whatever it was, the three-yard line. [CB Almondo] Curry makes a really heads-up play on a bigger, stronger receiver who he knows he probably can’t get on the ground. He reaches in and pokes the ball out and it lies right next to the sideline. It never moves. We get it. We go 97 yards. Now it’s 21-14. If the ball rolls four inches, we don’t get it. In all likelihood, they score, it’s 28-7 and who knows then what the season becomes. So sometimes that’s part of it. Like the play at Clemson. Those teams who really put together a pretty significant season, unless they’re a just a clearly superior team, you can trace back and look and see where their field goal kicker had a really good year. The turn over thing is part of it, too.

Q: Do you think last year gave anyone a false impression of where this program was?

Groh: I think it gave a lot of people, not me. That doesn’t make it any different than a lot of other teams. There’s a lot of teams that didn’t have a good season last year that played pretty good ball. That’s the way it is. As I said repeatedly, it’s not about who’s got this or who’s got that. It’s about who’s got more points, and that’s part of it. You’re not lucky when you get them, and you’re not unlucky when you don’t. That’s part of the game. Those are part of things that make you win or cause you to lose.

Q: Have you seen encouraging things from safeties Robbie Catterton , Lance Evans or DB Shannon Lane?

Groh: I think their progress has been pretty solid. It’s getting to the time here now where some of these players really got to accelerate their development to make a move on their position either right now or to have themselves ready for the spring. I think there’ll also be, in all likelihood, some competition from some incoming players.

Q: How has WR Kenneth Tynes done?

Groh: Considering he didn’t have any camp, and he’s got no background as a player in a position, while we haven’t graded him on his aptitude in the defense, most of the stuff he’s doing is on the show team. I think kind of remarkably, just on general instincts and so forth.

Q: Will you mention anything about becoming “bowl eligible” to the team?

Groh: I haven’t thought about that one way or the other. I’m sure they’re aware of it, too. They don’t need any prodding from me. Win the game, and that takes care of itself. There’s the team probably that in this conference has fallen out of a good position, because they spent a lot of time after a significant win thinking about what a good bowl they could go to this year, and they just forgot to win two more games.

Q: Have you been pleased with T Brad Butler’s development?

Groh: I think his progress has been satisfactory. I think it’s been pretty good. Considering, with the exception of one game last year, he’s a first-year starter. He’s a second-year lineman. I think he’s going to have more power and more muscle on him. Most of these linemen, unless they’re of a significant type, become really, really proficient players their third and fourth year- whether they’ve played in games or not. Obviously, the opportunity to play in games is a big advantage, so that’s a big advantage he’s got going for him over a player who hasn’t seen much game action.

Q: Is the Ian-Yates Cunningham/Brian Barthlemes situation performance related?

Groh: I’d say almost all these positions are performance related. If we had a little more competition in some spots, it would be more performance related.

Q: Have you been surprised by some of the struggles on the offensive line this year?

Groh: There were two things that I thought would be an issue this year. One, they’re continuing to establish themselves and develop some depth and some power on the offensive line. It’s easy for me to say now, but I could bring the witnesses up here to say that I constantly said to a number of people within the program that we had to improve certain things, because we had to approach this season in anticipation of the absence of certain things that happened last year that you can’t count on in any game or any season. You can’t count on, coming out of the locker room down 21-0, and running the first play back for a touchdown. It happened, because the players performed very well, but that’s not an every week occurrence. You can’t count on the guy poking the ball out and you get it. The only thing you can count on is how you play on each play when the ball is snapped. All those other things either add to it or subtract from it.

Q: In some of the games this season, it seems that one or two plays have determined the outcome of the game. Is that a sign of how close you are to taking that step or how far you still have to go?

Groh: That’s why I really don’t lament it. It is what it is, and it was last year. That’s why I always say, ‘you are what you are.’ If you’re good enough or fortunate enough to make that play, then you win the game. You should be judged simply on the fact that you won the game?not that the ball bounced off somebody’s hands and Ryan Sawyer caught it like he did at Wake Forest or that the ball bounced on the ground and the guy at Clemson caught it instead of us. It goes both ways over a period of time. That’s why you’re seeing both in the NFL and in college football so many instances of a team that’s up there one year and down there the next, and then they’re back again. New England had it for a year. Whatever it is, New England had it. They won the Super Bowl. Last year they didn’t have it. You could say they had it because of the “Tuck” play. If that play had been called differently, then they didn’t have it, but they had it for whatever reason, and they won the Super Bowl. Last year, whatever it is, they didn’t have it, and they missed the playoffs. This year they got it back.

Q: Last year, you had a lot of games where one play turned things in your favor. Two of your last three games, you had dominating performances that gave an indication that you had taken care of that:

Groh: The one where we were really more so that was the closer score-the N.C. State game. Even though the margin was very great in the Maryland game, at the time when Maryland had the lead, a player on their team dropped the pass out in the open. Then they got two egregious personal foul penalties that dramatically helped us. Last game, we got the roughing the passer penalty that dramatically helped them. The penalty they got last year really would be in the same category that I played ours this year- a seven-point penalty. Without the penalty, I’m not sure we would have continued the drive and scored. This year, obviously, with it being a third-down penalty, that drive wouldn’t have continued and scored. There’s just two plays of player commission that were really seven-point plays in each one of those games. The game that we had the best physical control of really was probably the N.C. State game, even though that margin was much closer.

Q: Were you prepared for the outcome of this season?

Groh: I just knew it would be one of those seasons that every week it was going to be basically the same. There were going to be a lot of teams that were going to fight it out, and a team is going to win and a team is going to lose-just like what happened in so many games last year. We fought it out with [N. C.] State, we made a play at the end of the game, and we won. We fought it out with [N.C.] State this year, they made a play at the end of the game, they won. We had those occurrences in the Maryland game to go for us last year, went the other way around this year.

Q: Last year, QB Matt Schaub rushed for 273 yards. Would you have continued to do that had he not been hurt? Can you run him more now?

Groh: Let’s say that after the 11th play of the season, that for quite some time we eliminated all thought of using those plays. One, out of common sense. Two, out of great example of how much he meant to the team, as if we didn’t already know.

Q: How do you keep up the team confidence for the upcoming game?

Groh: It’s more a question of just the preparation than just keeping them confident. I don’t have a serum for that. They practice well, feel as if they’re well-prepared, I think that’ll create an element of confidence.

Q: Did he players think that the play was dead or stopped on Allen’s run and relaxed for a second?

Groh: There was one player who was unfortunately grievously out of position, and had the player been in position when the ball bounced out there, I think the play would have probably been one of the better played plays of the game. As I have said to the players, ‘Last year we made ourselves a team that was hard to beat. This year we’re a team that makes it hard on ourselves.’ We’re right there, but we make it too hard on ourselves. We get a penalty on third and three, a seven-point penalty on a play in which on an ensuing play, we would have had the ball. I think you can reasonably say, that would have at least taken a while longer to get those seven points, maybe never. That’s a seven-point penalty. Then we get down the 20-yard line, we get a holding penalty. Now we have no other option but to try for a field goal. There’s two penalties right there that made it hard on ourselves. We have a real nice play; we go down; we score; it’s 14-7. Everybody’s hyped on the sideline; we’re right back in the game; we have a simple little play in which a number of players at the point of attack play very well-should be one of our better plays-have somebody out of position. It takes all the juice out of us there for a while. Plus, it adds seven more points; it makes it hard on ourselves. That’s the trick of getting your team to play. You’ve got to be a team that’s hard to beat rather than a team that’s hard on yourselves. Sometimes you go through a whole stretch. Last year we had a team- I’ve said this about them with great respect on a number of occasions-I’ve been around few teams that got it as good as that team did. They just knew exactly what they had to do going into a game and during the course of a game to win. They just got it. This team shows up- by shows up I mean they work hard in the weight room, they work hard in practice, they give effort in the games, they fight back, that’s been proven- but we just make it hard on ourselves.

Q: Two years ago, Georgia Tech was in Charlottesville. That was a pivotal game, coming back and winning in the fourth quarter. What are your memories from that game?

Groh: That one was so wild, that’s like a kaleidoscope of memories. There was an inordinate amount of lead changes in the fourth quarter alone [7], so there was no rhythm to it. It was just big plays.

Q: Is there any reason you can give as to why Kevin Bailey hasn’t been able to help you a little more after returning from his injury?

Groh: Kevin and I have spoken about this. He was out for a long time, and when he came back, he was really feeling pretty spiffy. The grind of it all and all that work on top of that long period of where he worked very hard in his rehabilitation, it’s obviously not the same as being out there and getting in. It just really has kind of worn him down. I think there’s a lot of players who undergo this surgery?fortunately for us Alvin Pearman is an exception and looks like Greg Jones from Florida State somewhat falls into the same category?there’s a lot of players who undergo their surgery that after they’re cleared to play and are out there performing that it’s another season again before they’re really the same guy. I think that there’s some elements of that in Kevin’s situation.

Q: Were you encouraged by Thursday night?

Groh: I was. I think that Randy Starks, the defensive tackle, he’s the best we’ve played against this year. He’s a very good player. I think the safety, Williams, is a very good player. I think maybe the best safety that we’ve seen this year. So I think there were some positive progress there.

Q: What do you think about Georgia Tech’s linebackers?

Groh: Very good players. They’re senior players. They both have speed; they got real good instincts; they know the paths to the ball. By this time they’ve seen- it’s apparent from watching the tape- they’ve seen all these plays that everyone runs x amount of times in their career. They can read and blocking schemes; they know when to go under, when to go over. I think both of them, because they have the kind of speed that allow them to be good special teams players, they both have real good chances to be on teams next year. I think they’re both good players- amongst the better linebackers in the league.

Q: Can you talk about Georgia Tech’s defense as a whole?

Groh: Mostly sparked by those two guys. They’ve got a new guy, Henderson, that leads the conference in sacks that has really burst on the scene for them. He’s got 10 sacks this year. Those three players are very good and they themselves have two very good safeties- two big, 6′ 2, 215; 6’2 and a half; 210; real rangy. They play their safeties down low quite a bit, so that guy kind of size is part of the deal. A lot of zone blitzes- coming at you most every play.

Q: What are the strengths of Georgia Tech’s offense?

Groh: Relentless runner, high-energy quarterback, speed receiver.

Closing remarks: One more issue that we have in this game that I want to bring to notice is the number that’s really different in this game and that will be a big factor to us, and that’s the start of the game. We’ve had a tremendous environment here for the previous four games. All those games were pretty convenient and accommodating starting times. One of the things that has been notable was how much earlier the crowd has arrived than ever before in our short tenure here. For old and young alike, that’s going to be a little more challenging for this particular game with the early start [Noon]. We’ve been some places where the environment was very loud and very electric, but none more so than our home games this year. Hopefully we’ll be able to turn the clocks ahead or turn them back by a substantial amount of hours- have the same kind of early show-up and energy.

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