By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Will quarterback Jameel Sewell be available this weekend for UVa’s Coastal Division clash with 11th-ranked Georgia Tech at Scott Stadium? Defensive end Matt Conrath? Tailback Mikell Simpson?
If Al Groh knows, which may well be the case, he didn’t let on during his regular Sunday night teleconference with reporters. No surprise there, given Groh’s longstanding practice of publicly disclosing as little medical information as possible.
Asked about Sewell, who left the game Saturday at Maryland with a sprained right ankle, Groh said, “He’s like a lot of other guys that played last night. It was a pretty rugged game, and we got quite a few guys that are sore, and we’ll just see how the week goes.”
Conrath, who sprained an ankle in the final minute of the first half and didn’t return Saturday, is “about the same as Jameel,” Groh said.
Simpson, who rushed for four touchdowns Oct. 10 before suffering a neck injury against Indiana, didn’t play in College Park. He was held out partly as a precaution and partly because of what evaluations of the injury revealed, according to Groh.
“Probably about equal measure of both,” Groh said. “Clearly there are more important things in life than just football, especially with a young guy like that who’s got everything in front of him. We’re going to strictly go on whatever the medical people say, but at the same time, if forced to make any [decision] on it, we will certainly be on the cautious side.”
Sewell’s backup is junior Marc Verica. Conrath’s is sophomore Zane Parr, and Simpson’s is senior Rashawn Jackson, who rushed for a career-high 90 yards and one touchdown in Virginia’s 20-9 win over Maryland.
Later that night, Georgia Tech upset then-No. 4 Virginia Tech 28-23 in Atlanta.
“Big win for them,” Groh said of the Yellow Jackets, who already are bowl-eligible. “Puts them in a very positive position.”
The same could be said of the Wahoos’ victory in College Park. UVa (2-0, 3-3) took over the Coastal lead — Georgia Tech (4-1, 6-1) is second — and is the only ACC team without a conference loss.
The Jackets’ win set off a frenzied celebration in Atlanta, and second-year coach Paul Johnson was asked Sunday how tough it will be to keep his players’ minds in the present this week.
In a game Raycom will televise, Virginia hosts Georgia Tech at noon Saturday.
“I don’t know if it’ll be that difficult,” Johnson said. “Virginia’s leading our league, they’re the only team that’s undefeated in the league, and Georgia Tech hasn’t won up there since Methuselah was a boy, so it should be easy.”
The Jackets have lost eight straight in Charlottesville since upending then-No. 1 UVa at Scott Stadium in 1990.
Virginia has also won two of the teams’ past three meetings in Atlanta, including last year’s game. The ‘Hoos shut down the 21st-ranked Jackets’ vaunted option offense in the final three quarters and rallied to win 24-17 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
This season, Georgia Tech ranks No. 2 nationally in rushing offense, at 286.1 yards per game. If the Cavaliers are to win Saturday, they’ll probably need to keep the Jackets’ quarterback, Josh Nesbitt, from running wild.
In his past two games, Nesbitt has totaled 262 yards and six touchdowns rushing.
Of preparing for Georgia Tech’s offense, Groh said that “whenever you’re dealing with something that’s unique — you just see it one time a year — I don’t think you can gather enough information in one week’s time. You have to have a little bit of backlog with teams, and so we have tried to do our own research and analysis and talked to some people who’ve had their own experiences and see what they might have learned, to try to get us moving along a little faster than might otherwise be the case.”
If Conrath can’t play Saturday, the second-team defensive ends will be Brent Urban and Will Hill. Urban has yet to play this season.
MR. RELIABLE: UVa kicker Robert Randolph, who was 3 for 4 on field goals as a true freshman in 2008, is 9 for 9 this season.
Randolph, who’s from Naples, Fla., was accurate in high school too, Groh said.
“His growth has not really had to be in the area of accuracy,” Groh said. “His growth has been in the speed of the operation and how quickly he can get height on the ball.
“Both things usually are things that rookie kickers have to grow into, because clearly the intensity of the rush is much more so in college. There are taller guys trying to block it. There’s been a much greater effort to get your field-goal-blocking teams prepared for such moments. So while the ball’s the same and the uprights are the same, everything else is quite a bit different.
“That’s been the program we’ve been on, to try to improve those two areas.”
Randolph connected from 32 and 31 yards against Maryland. He kicked a school-record 50-yarder for Naples High, but his long as a Cavalier is 43 yards.
On the UVa roster, the 5-10 Randolph is listed at 160 pounds, so “there’s not a lot of muscle mass there,” Groh said. But it’s “not necessarily about how big they are, but how much whip they get in their leg and how much torque they have. Connor Hughes certainly wasn’t a large individual, but he had very good range for us.”
Ultimately, Groh said, the “most important thing with that position is definable accuracy. At what point can you count on the kicker to be accurate. And that’s much more important than, ‘What’s his range?’ If they’re all over the place with the ball, then you don’t really know how to set your game up.”
ROAD WARRIORS: The Cavaliers are 1-2 at Scott Stadium this season and 2-1 away from Charlottesville.
“Frankly I don’t think it makes a lot of difference to us where it us,” said Groh, whose teams generally have struggled on the road during his tenure at UVa.
“The team understands very clearly that it’s the 11 guys in the other uniforms who have to be dealt with. There’s nobody who can come out of the stands to help you play better, and there’s nobody who can come out of the stands to make you play worse. It’s about what we do as a team.”