By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the true freshmen, this is new, the vitriol arising from Virginia’s stunning loss to William and Mary in the season-opener Saturday night.
The veterans on the team are more accustomed to dealing with criticism.
Many of them were around in 2007 when, on opening day, Virginia lost 23-3 at Wyoming in a game that wasn’t as close as the score suggests.
Then there was the 31-3 loss at Duke last season. That ended the Blue Devils’ 25-game skid in ACC play and dropped Virginia’s record to 1-3 overall. In those three losses, UVa had been outscored 128-20, and critics assailed the program from every direction.
Inside the McCue Center, the team stayed together.
“I think we felt we were better than how we were playing,” recalled Steve Greer, a redshirt freshman who starts at inside linebacker. “We knew we were better, and we just wanted to kind of come out and show that, and I think we finally did against Maryland.”
Indeed, a week later after the debacle in Durham, the Cavaliers shocked the Terrapins 31-0 at Scott Stadium. Wins over East Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia Tech followed, and suddenly the Wahoos led the ACC’s Coastal Division.
UVa’s ascent, as fans know, abruptly stopped there, and Al Groh’s team closed the season with four straight losses to finish 5-7. But the Cavaliers managed to achieve mediocrity in a year in which they’d once seemed destined to finish 2-10 or 3-9.
In 2007, they achieved more than mediocrity. After losing at Wyoming, the ‘Hoos ran off seven consecutive victories, and they ended the season in the Gator Bowl. And so the team’s older players are reminding themselves that the loss to W&M, however disappointing, was only one game.
“There’s a lot of guys on this team who have seen the highs and have seen the lowest of lows,” junior quarterback Marc Verica said this afternoon. “That past experience is something you can rely on in a situation like this. This isn’t the first time we’ve been in this circumstance where the first game didn’t go as well as we had hoped, and we really only had each other. Everyone was against us. So this situation is no different.
“I would just tell a lot of people not to forget that one of our best seasons here was after a pretty devastating loss in Laramie.”
If the challenge facing the Cavaliers is greater this season, it’s because their next opponent is 17th-ranked Texas Christian. The teams meet Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Scott Stadium — this is TCU’s opener — and Virginia is up against a program that has won 11 games in four of the past six seasons.
“A very, very strong team,” said UVa’s ninth-year coach, Al Groh.
His players realize that. Still, their goal is to “bounce back the way we did last year [after the Duke loss], because that was a pretty defining moment in our season, how we came back and how we fought through that adversity last year,” Verica said.
“Any time you lose a game as bad as we lost at Wyoming or the other night, all you can really do, you just got to stick together, and you just gotta trust each other. You gotta trust your teammates, you gotta trust your coaches and you gotta trust yourself. Things aren’t always going to go as you planned. It’s really just important to have faith in the system, have faith in yourself. You gotta win that confidence back.”
Verica added: “That’s the great thing about this game: Week to week, there’s always a chance of redemption. And win or lose, you’re going to have to prove yourself the next week.”
In his postgame press conference Saturday night, Groh acknowledged there would “be a lot of negativity out there, some of it well-deserved.”
He talked today, at John Paul Jones Arena, about the approach the coaching staff takes with the players each year.
“One of the things that we tell them before the season ever starts is a team collectively and the players individually have to be prepared to handle both the love and the hate, because both of them come during the course of the season,” Groh said. “The players and the team … everybody needs to talk to themselves, and the team needs to talk to itself, because every week the team is going to get one or the other.
“Every week. If you’re 12‑0, the team has to be able to tune out the love. And if you’re 0‑12, a team has to be able to tune out the hate. Because either way that affects how the players think, and all the players can think about is what they need to do to do their job.”