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Oct. 10, 2006

Charlottesville, Va. –

Select comments from Virginia head coach Al Groh at his weekly press conference on Oct. 10, 2006

Q: When you look back on the Maryland series it seems like it has included some of your highest moments as coach here and probably some of the games that the team played some of the worst. Is it odd in that regard?
I’m sure that both teams probably would say the same thing. We have had probably two of our best played games here in this series and we’ve had three of the games where we really were disappointed in our level of play. Clearly it works both ways. I’m sure Maryland is saying that they had three games where they really went out and got done what they planned to do and two games where they can’t understand why it didn’t go better.

Q: Did Maryland show you a lot last week about the way that they played against Georgia Tech?
The key thing that we have noticed about Maryland is that really pretty much from the second half of the West Virginia game on is the improvement in their execution. It really went from half to half. From the start of the second half through the following game and certainly through Georgia Tech game the execution in all three phases has really spiked up.

Q: You said some of the results had been expected or you could kind of see them coming. Did you think you guys would be where you are now or was it a little worse than you thought?
I didn’t have any thinking in terms of what it was. Defense is very important. You gotta play good defense to be able to win. I’m not saying anything that dispels that notion, but however many it takes, you have to be able to outscore the other team. And when you can’t do that you’re going to have struggles regardless of how well the other phases of your team are doing. Most of the real good games that we’ve had here and most of the real good wins we’ve had here probably a very high percentage of our scoring came as a result of passing the ball. Many of those notable games that we had when Matt Schaub was the quarterback for two years, is not to say that we didn’t have good yards running the ball, but we made a lot of yards and a lot of scores passing the ball. We beat Florida State last year by passing the ball. Marques (Hagans) I think was 21 for 29 against Georgia Tech passing the ball; we made a lot of yards in that game last year. Obviously he set a career passing record in the mid-300s against Minnesota. We ran the ball well in that but we made a lot of yards and a lot of points by passing the ball. We had some struggles early in Matt’s tenure or the first year we were here when the quarterback who had proceeded us had graduated. We had Matt Schaub and Bryson Spinner competing for the job. Both of them tried to establish themselves as quarterbacks. We had some sporadic play there. Certainly the struggles of that team in the first year here had more to do with just that position but we had some of the games that we lost that we just couldn’t score enough to win. As soon as that picked up we were able to score enough to win by passing the ball. We haven’t been through that circumstance before. Having notice it with other teams and observed it over 30-plus years, when there is a quarterback transition it’s unusual that your passing game just jumps up immediately. Some teams are so powerful they had the wherewithal to win without that, but that is unusual. We didn’t sit around and predict what it was going to be other than we knew that this passing game wouldn’t produce as it has in the last four years here for a little while. The way the game goes right now it is no longer three-yards-and-a cloud-of-dust game. Georgia Tech had a real good win against Virginia; Georgia Tech had a real good win against Virginia Tech; Georgia Tech prides themselves on being a run oriented team they scored the majority of their points in those two games passing the ball. They scored the majority of their points last Saturday passing the ball.

Q: How long do you think it will take to get the passing back to where you’ll be successful? Is it a seasonal thing…?
It goes with each individual quarterback. I don’t want to seem that I am trying to teach everybody a history lesson, but you know the first year we were here, we had these two quarterbacks and the reason two of them played in the games was: neither one could ever seize the position. And because we had an alternative, whoever was the quarterback in the game at that time, if he was clearly struggling we could make a change.

When we would put the other guy in that didn’t mean like, `well, wow we think it’s going to get better.’ It just meant that we could see that this kid’s struggling and maybe it will get better with the other guy, so we had an option to try. Each player had his high moments and his low moments. Spinner decides to transfer, Matt has an excellent spring practice, he has an excellent training camp, we come into the first game of the season and he throws three or four (editor’s note: just one) interceptions. He had the year before to really take hold of it, which didn’t quite happen; he had all of training camp, we had high expectations and so did he and in the very first game of the next year, which was his fourth year in college, he threw or 3 or 4 interceptions. We put (Hagans) in the game and (he) had one of those hot first starts, We go down field and he fumbles into the end zone on the last play of the game and we lose the game. (The next game) we play Florida State and start (Hagans). He was a little overmatched given the circumstance being the young player he was, but he was kind of in the same age as Jameel is right now. We kind of had a little mercy on him and I think he was 1 for 11 when we took him out and Matt came in and went something like 17 for 24 and by the time the year was over he was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. To answer your question, that didn’t start until the second game of his fourth year in college. He had the whole year before to play, the whole training camp, the whole spring practice and then had a bomb in the first game. Whatever caused it, whether it was the confidence he got from a real good second half down there or whatever, he’s never slowed down since. Now he’s completing them against the best defenses in the world, that was his timetable. Who’s to say what this player’s timetable will be. I think it might be real soon. We are not conceding anything. We’re not conceding that we are not going to get enough points this week, next week, or the week after, but until we start producing points on that basis then there are going to be some struggles.

Q: I know Maryland has been looking for some consistency in their passing offense. What have you seen from Georgia Tech tape, what opened up that they didn’t have early on?
Probably the two things that helped them a lot were in terms of their scoring, as much as anything, was special teams and takeaways. That is they ran a kick off back for a touchdown, they recovered a fumble on the eight-yard line and went in to score a touchdown. One of Bill Walsh’s doctrines was that in his system of offense he said, `you pass to score and run to win’ and that’s really the way their games were conducted. The 49ers when they were in their heyday, when Bill Walsh was the head coach, always had a pretty good rushing total within the NFL. Most of those yards came from midway through the third quarter until the end of the game. They would get all of their points early in the game with their passing game, then they’d start running the ball to run the clock out and they would look like they had a lot of yards running but they made their points by passing the ball. You get a lot of your points from your passing game, but with special teams, field position or runbacks and the turnovers that you can create, that’s where points come from. When those three things are minimized or lacking then scoring becomes a struggle and when scoring is a struggle you are always at risk, whether you are going to end up with enough or not. Whether enough means 14 points, or enough means 29 points, it’s always an issue so. What they did is they got 14 points directly off those two plays and then they had their first 100-yard rusher of the season in Lance Ball, that’s where I really saw the thing spiked up which was with the takeaways and with the special teams return.

Q: Against Minnesota in the bowl game last year, Tom Santi got a lot of yards, but this year he’s averaging eight yards per reception. Do you need to get him more involved?
I think he had 126 yards in that game. We would very much like to. It has been a concerted part of the game plan in the last couple of weeks to do so. There was one play last week I remember in particular, where the defensive front caused Jameel to throw the ball hot rather than to the receiver on the vertical route, which was the only thing he could do, otherwise he was going down. It was one of those things where the other team overloaded the protection. It was one of those plays we talked about on Sunday that made us feel real good (and we could say), `wow, this is the first time he’s got this hot read and seen it pre-snap wise.’ It’s only a seven-yard gain, but you know for the coaches looking at it, it was a real positive play to see that he got it. Would we have liked to have hit that down the seam? We sure would have.

Q: Another guy who was a big part of the passing game last year was Jonathan Stupar. Is he well?
He’s been well. The answer to that question is the same as the question (before which) is that when one of them is in there by himself then obviously the same package of plays are available to each one. When the two of them are in there together there is some overlap and there is some uniqueness to it individualized to what each player gets but still they are both significant parts of that packet. That is one of the reasons we like both of them in there at the same time.

Q: Do his stats jump out at you or the lack of numbers?
When I look at the offensive sheet, the lack of numbers in almost every category whether it’s completed passes, touchdown passes, yards per catch or points scored, they all are pretty much the issue. Where the more positive numbers are to this point are the defensive side and that’s held us in a little bit. But unless you are just going to give up zero and it’s not just the ability to move the ball to point-scoring range, it’s not just about the points that you get, but it’s about being able to create some field position and some time of possession, that also helps in the only place that really counts on defense which is on the scoreboard. The other team scores or if you can answer right away with a score your defense sits down, the score is tied that’s just been a little bit of a struggle here so far this year to generate enough offense so that we can be the first team to score. If you don’t score after a while then you increase the odds that are not going to be the first one to do it. And that’s a big advantage.

Q: Has the been a point in the last 14 quarters when Sewell has been playing that you’ve come close to making a change at quarterback?
No. We have a very positive picture of where this is going to go and we know the only way to do that is to go through the process and whatever the growing pains might be and we know it’s the best path to take and we are committed to it.

Q: You mentioned down at East Carolina that the teams doing well have experienced quarterbacks. Not to make excuses, but can you still win with inexperienced quarterbacks?
Well you certainly don’t want to say that you can’t. Just on the surface that’s the only thing to believe, otherwise then that relegates you to playing exhibition games and we don’t have any plans in doing that. You just have to find ways to do it. Let’s just make a hypothetical–you look at the stat sheet and the other team didn’t have many yards, they didn’t have many first downs, and they didn’t have any turnovers, so you can say your defense played great. Well, your defense didn’t do enough to help. They didn’t get the offense the ball in field position or special teams wise you need to make more plays to create field position or get points. That’s how you put your teams together, that’s how you put seasons together. You just work with you have and sometimes it goes a whole year and that’s the way you go, or sometimes it goes from game to game. You win that particular way, players are aware of that and we discuss it a lot.

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