By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Al Groh’s ninth season as UVa’s football coach begins tonight against William and Mary at Scott Stadium.
This marks the first time in Groh’s tenure, though, that the Cavaliers have opened against an opponent from the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA.
His team is expected to beat the Tribe, but opening day hasn’t always gone well for Groh. As coach at his alma mater, he’s 3-5 in those games.
Here’s a look back at Virginia’s past eight openers:
* Aug. 25, 2001: No. 22 Wisconsin 26, UVa 17 — In the Eddie Robinson Classic at Madison, Wis., the Badgers spoiled Groh’s return to the college game. (He’d been the New York Jets’ head coach in 2000.)
In 2002, Matt Schaub established himself as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, but he struggled against Wisconsin, completing only 3 of 10 passes for 24 yards. He threw two first-half picks that led to 10 points for the Badgers, and Groh eventually replaced Schaub with Bryson Spinner.
The most talented player on that UVa team, tailback Antwoine Womack, suffered an injury in the first quarter that sidelined him for most of the season.
A bright spot for the ‘Hoos: true freshman Alvin Pearman, who returned three kickoffs for 103 yards and three punts for 31 yards.
* Aug. 22, 2002: Colorado State 35, UVa 29 — In the Jim Thorpe Classic at Scott Stadium, Schaub was unimpressive again, and this time Groh turned to the electrifying Marques Hagans.
Hagans rushed for 45 yards and one touchdown and completed 10 of 13 passes for 120 yards, with no interceptions. But he also had the fifth of UVa’s five turnovers, fumbling away the ball at the Colorado State 1-yard line in the final seconds.
The temperature at game time was 97 degrees, and the humidity was suffocating. That didn’t stop true freshman Wali Lundy, in his debut for UVa, from carrying 20 times for 94 yards and two TDs.
* Aug. 30, 2003: No. 18 UVa 27, Duke 0 — The Cavaliers paid a steep price for their first season-opening win under Groh. Schaub, the reigning ACC player of the year, hurt his throwing shoulder on Virginia’s first drive, an injury that kept him out of the following week’s game at South Carolina.
Even without Schaub, the ‘Hoos overwhelmed the hapless Blue Devils. Tailbacks Lundy and Pearman rushed for 88 and 68 yards, respectively.
Schaub’s replacement, Anthony Martinez, completed 6 of 15 passes for 76 yards and one TD.
* Sept. 4, 2004: No. 15 UVa 44, Temple 14 — At Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Ahmad Brooks, better known as an all-ACC linebacker, returned the opening kickoff 40 yards, and the rout was on.
The Owls offered little resistance. Lundy ran for 104 yards and three TDs, and Hagans completed 17 of 22 passes for 211 yards.
Hagans’ completions included a TD pass to All-America tight end Heath Miller.
* Sept. 3, 2005: No. 25 UVa 31, Western Michigan 19 — At Scott Stadium, the best player on the field was Broncos wide receiver Greg Jennings, who caught 16 passes for 156 yards.
For Virginia, the game marked the college debut of redshirt freshman tailback Cedric Peerman.
After three quarters, the score was 24-19, and UVa fans were uneasy. But Peerman’s 1-yard TD run with 5:38 left capped a 12-play drive on which he carried 10 times, including the final seven plays. His TD ended a scoring drought of more than 35 minutes for the Wahoos.
Lundy started at tailback but limped off with a sprained left foot early in the first quarter. His replacement, Michael Johnson, fumbled twice. So did Jason Snelling (seven carries, 72 yards), who replaced Johnson.
And so Groh turned to Peerman, a move that produced the desired results. Peerman finished with 69 yards on 16 carries and returned three kickoffs for 104 yards.
Hagans completed 17 of 25 passes for 252 yards and one TD, but he was sacked four times and threw two interceptions. Wideout Ottowa Anderson caught three passes for 109 yards.
* Sept. 2, 2006: Pittsburgh 38, UVa 13 — After three straight opening-day victories, the ‘Hoos fell hard at Heinz Field. Virginia had two two interceptions returned for touchdowns, and Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko threw scoring passes of 72 and 78 yards.
Christian Olsen started at QB for UVa. He completed 17 of 34 passes for a modest 133 yards before being replaced by Kevin McCabe. Jameel Sewell, in his UVa debut, later took over for McCabe.
The Cavaliers totaled only 211 yards of offense.
* Sept. 1, 2007: Wyoming 23, UVa 3 — What turned out to be a nine-win season started inauspiciously for the Cavaliers.
In the high altitude of Laramie, Wyo., UVa turned in an inept performance. The Cowboys totaled 452 yards of offense, to only 100 for the Wahoos. Wyoming (27) had more than five times as many first downs as Virginia (five).
The high point for UVa might have been a 67-yard kickoff return by Andrew Pearman, Alvin’s kid brother.
Sewell, who’d started the final nine games of the 2006 season, was 11 for 23 passing — for only 87 yards — with two interceptions against Wyoming. Late in the game, Sewell gave way to true freshman Peter Lalich, who completed 3 of 5 passes for 16 yards.
* Aug. 30, 2008: No. 3 Southern California 52, UVa 7 — In their first visit to Charlottesville, the mighty Trojans were even more dominant than expected.
Lalich battled throughout, completing 18 of 35 passes for 155 yards, with one pick, but he faced constant pressure on a day when UVa rushed for only 32 yards. The Cavaliers’ only touchdown came on a 7-yard run by tailback Mikell Simpson late in the first half.
USC, whose lineup was stocked with future NFL players, piled up a staggering 558 yards of offense, to only 187 for UVa.