By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
FORT WORTH, Texas — Beneath a blazing sun and a cloudless sky, University of Virginia football players and coaches gathered on the field at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium for a short walk-through Friday afternoon.
The Cavaliers will be back there Saturday, and temperatures in the 90s are predicted for their game with the Horned Frogs. The heat is only one of the challenges UVa (2-1) can expect to encounter in a noon game (Eastern) that ESPN will televise nationally.
TCU (2-0), a new member of the Big 12 Conference, is ranked No. 17 in the latest Associated Press Poll. The Horned Frogs have won 27 of their past 28 home games, and they’ll play in front of a capacity crowd of 45,000 again Saturday.
As usual, head coach Gary Patterson and longtime coordinator Dick Bumpas have a stellar defense, this one led by junior end Stansly Maponga, who is “just an unbelievable pass-rusher,” said UVa’s offensive line coach, Scott Wachenheim.
In quarterback Casey Pachall, a 6-5 junior, the Horned Frogs have the nation’s leader in passing efficiency. Pachaell has thrown only six incompletions — and no interceptions — in his 39 passes this season.
“They’re a very, very good team,” Virginia coach Mike London said.
TCU learned early in the week that its No. 1 tailback, junior Waymon James, would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. That’s a blow to the Horned Frogs, but “I don’t envision the strategy of how they’ll play us will change,” London said.
“They have a system, and they get players to plug into the system and just do what they do. It’s through repetition, it’s through just doing things over and over again that they’ve made a name for themselves and become really well-coached, and players know exactly what they’re going to do.”
In its Big 12 debut, TCU won 20-6 at Kansas last Saturday. The Wahoos were the road, too, but they did not head home in high spirits. UVa quickly fell behind 14-0 in its ACC opener and never recovered in a 56-20 loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
London expects more resilience from the Cavaliers when they play away from Scott Stadium. In 2011, Virginia went 4-1 in the road games, and London said Friday that his latest team must “be able to respond to whatever happens. On the road, you gotta deal with other elements, the crowd and things like that, but it’s a football game, and you can’t get caught up with noise or what other people are doing. We just gotta take care of ourselves.”
The Horned Frogs’ record under Patterson — 111-30 — is remarkable, and they’ve earned the Cavaliers’ respect. Still, London said Friday at the walk-through, “we don’t fear anyone. We don’t fear any of our opponents. The majority of our team has been on the road and played in hostile situations before. So you respect what they’ve done, you respect the record, you respect the accomplishments. But at the same time, they put their pads on the same way we do.
“Being in a venue like this, where you won’t hear yourself think, that’s what you want. You’ve got to be able to win games on the road … What better than to win a game on the road against a top-20 team?”
The Cavaliers went into the Georgia Tech game without three players who started the Sept. 1 opener against Richmond: sophomore offensive guard Cody Wallace, junior wide receiver Tim Smith and senior defensive end Bill Schautz. All will be available for the TCU game.
“This is football,” London said, “and injuries and things like that happen … But obviously, when guys have played a significant amount of reps for you, to get them back is good news, particularly in a game like this. When you’re playing one of the best in the country, you’re going to need all the firepower that you can get.”
The `Hoos gained only 297 yards against Georgia Tech, the second straight game in which they failed to reach the 300-yard mark. Much has been said and written about the struggles of UVa’s running game, and TCU has allowed only 121 yards rushing this season.
“That’s a challenge for us,” London said. “We want to run the ball, but we’re also going to do anything we can to move the ball and try to put points on the board.”
The keys for UVa on Saturday?
“Obviously, we can’t have three-and-outs without running any time off the clock,” London said. “They have a very good defense, they limit points, limit ground games. We’re going to have to find ways to move the ball, and creative ways, and I think we’ve done a lot of that in practice this week.”
Wachenheim spent 12 years on the staff at Rice, so he’s well-versed in TCU’s winning tradition. He also knows Patterson and Bumpas personally, having coached with them at Utah State. Moreover, Bumpas was an Air Force assistant when Wachenheim played there.
Five times in the past 12 years, TCU has led the nation in total defense. Patterson and Bumpas favor a 4-2-5 scheme, but Xs and Os are only part of the reason the Horned Frogs have been so dominant defensively.
“Both those men are great coaches, they’re intense, their players play extremely hard,” Wachenheim said. “They’ve been running the same defense, the 4-2-5 system, since I was a player, and so I just think everybody on their defense knows exactly what to do, exactly how you’re going to attack them offensively.
“They play unbelievably hard. There’s 11 guys making the tackle, and sometimes when you look at up you think there’s 13, 14 guys on the field, they play that hard. That’s what’s been impressive.”
No one has to remind Wachenheim that his linemen haven’t been as impressive through three games. They’ve allowed five sacks and struggled to open holes for tailbacks Perry Jones and Kevin Parks. With new starters at both guard spots and a new center (Luke Bowanko, a starting guard in 2011), UVa’s offensive line was expected to be a work in progress, and that’s been the case.
Wachenheim, in a teleconference this week, cited a famous quote from Benjamin Disraeli — “Constancy of purpose is the secret of success” — and made it clear that he doesn’t consider the line a lost cause.
“I think we’ve got to just keep doing what we do, the way we do it,” Wachenheim said.
“The style of offense is not going to change. It’s going to be the exact same thing. We’re going to coach the fundamentals every day, and we’re going to get better at them … So we just go to work every day knowing that constancy of purpose is the secret to success. We don’t let anybody tear us down. We don’t let any negativity bring us down. We just keep working.”
UVa’s players and coaches, not surprisingly, fielded dozens of questions this week about the debacle in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets led by 42 points at one point and finished with 594 yards, 461 of which came on the ground.
“They just played harder than us,” senior defensive end Ausar Walcott said. “As a defense, we just weren’t ready to come out and play. Every team goes through it once in a while, and we went through it Saturday.”
Walcott and the team’s other veterans are determined to make sure that doesn’t happen against TCU — or any of the other teams left on UVa’s schedule.
“A lot of players on the team have a fire under them now,” Walcott said Monday at John Paul Jones Arena.
“Our captains talked to us and they told us, ‘You can either do two things: run, or you can stand up and fight,’ and I think a lot of players want to stand up and fight.”
The Cavaliers haven’t faced the Horned Frogs since 2009, when the visitors won 30-14 at Scott Stadium. The `Hoos haven’t played in the Lone Star State since 1995, when they lost 17-16 to Texas in Austin. They’re excited to be back.
“That’s a big football state, so it’s going to be real fun,” Walcott said.