By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Al Groh has said repeatedly over the years that quarterback is the most important position in football, and his point was driven home again Saturday night in UVa’s season-opener.
In the 26-14 loss to William and Mary, Groh and offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon used three quarterbacks — starter Vic Hall, Jameel Sewell and, in the fourth quarter, Marc Verica. None distinguished himself against a defense to which Virginia was thought to be superior athletically.
Hall, a graduate student, had a 34-yard touchdown run but otherwise gained only 20 yards on seven carries. He was 2 for 5 passing, for 7 yards, and lost a fumble.
Sewell, a fifth-year senior, had an 8-yard TD run but threw for only 80 yards, on 9 for 17 passing, and was intercepted three times. His third pick was returned 50 yards for a TD with 2:39 remaining, sending most of the UVa fans who remained at Scott Stadium to the exits.
Verica, a junior, was 7 for 11 for 50 yards, but he lost control of the ball early in another pass attempt, and W&M recovered the fumble with 5:46 left.
It’s tough enough for a team when one QB struggles. “When you have to say it about three, that makes it an overly tough situation for the overall team,” Groh said on his Sunday night teleconference with reporters. “We have a lot of plays there at that position that we need to improve upon.”
That Hall and Sewell would play against the Tribe was determined before the opener. Verica was the third option and, had the offense not sputtered, might not have played.
Groh said he envisioned rotating Hall and Sewell the way some teams use two tailbacks. The hope was that both would be “able to get into a nice rhythm and be productive … What the total play count would be would, of course, be determined by circumstances and maybe who had the particularly hot hand. But as you could see, nobody had a particularly hot hand last night.”
Hall and Sewell were more effective running the ball than passing, and they ran a lot. Maybe too much, Groh said.
Of the Cavaliers’ 39 carries, Sewell had 13 and Hall eight. (Verica had another seven, for minus-9 yards.) Tailbacks Mikell Simpson, Torrey Mack and Dominique Wallace, by contrast, combined for only 10 carries.
“We certainly didn’t anticipate that, and I didn’t have a full sense of that during the course of the game, although clearly it was apparent that the quarterbacks had quite a few carries and were fairly effective in doing it,” Groh said.
“The fact that both touchdowns came on excellent runs by the quarterbacks does point out their capability of doing such, but we don’t want it to evolve into where they’re the primary runners, no.”
It was a painful evening in several respects for Hall, who hurt his hip late in the first half and took no snaps after intermission. His most memorable second-half play was a muffed punt that William and Mary recovered at the UVa 9-yard line.
“There’s nobody who takes it more personally than Vic,” Groh said. “So I’d say that he and I are pretty much kindred spirits today.”
As for Hall’s health, Groh said, “He’s a little sore like a lot of [UVa players], but after a game we got a lot of guys with bumps and bruises.”
No. 17 Texas Christian visits Scott Stadium this weekend. The ‘Hoos haven’t started a season 0-2 since 2002, when they rebounded to win nine games. In 2007, Virginia opened with an embarrassing loss at Wyoming, then won seven straight.
“A lot of it has to do with the resolve of the players, the resolve of the players to fix the things that led to a less-than-desirable start,” Groh said. “Clearly those teams had a lot of resolve to do so, as well as having the personnel on hand to execute and make things better.”
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Four true freshmen played against W&M: Wallace, wide receivers Tim Smith and Quintin Hunter and defensive end Will Hill.
Wallace carried two times for 7 yards. Neither Smith nor Hunter had a pass thrown his way, and Hill didn’t make a tackle.
Other Cavaliers who made their college debuts Saturday: Mack, Devin Wallace (no relation to Dominique), Matt Mihalik, Aaron Van Kuiken, Colter Phillips, Patch Duda, Zach Mendez-Zfass, Matt Snyder, Ausar Walcott and Daniel Childress.
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Not everyone played poorly for the Cavaliers in the opener, Groh said. Case in point: Steve Greer, a redshirt freshman from the Cleveland area.
Greer started at inside linebacker and led the team in tackles.
“For a rookie that never has been in a game to step in and to make 12 tackles in the game is a pretty significant number,” Groh said. “In fact, he was the staff choice as the defensive player of the game.”
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Groh was asked about reserve tailback Keith Payne’s decision last week to quit the football team. Payne, who would have been a redshirt junior for the Cavaliers this season, plans to remain at the University and finish work on his degree.
Once Payne graduates, he hopes to transfer to another school for his final season of football eligibility.
“Keith wasn’t satisfied with his role on the team,” Groh said, “and we discussed it with him, and we agreed that he either had to be in with both feet — can’t be in with one foot and out with the other. You have to be accepting of your role and understand what it is and try to do the very best job you can with it, or else perhaps something else is a better alternative.”