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Virginia ready for Al Groh’s 3-4 defense
Former coach returns to Charlottesville with 6-0 Georgia Tech
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Saturday is Virginia's homecoming weekend, and former center John St. Clair is on hand to have his jersey retired at halftime. The Cavaliers also are celebrating the 80th anniversary of Scott Stadium, which opened on this day in 1931. Dr. John Risher, a 101-year-old who will be in attendance, was part of the Wahoos team that opened the stadium with an 18-3 loss to VMI.
But none of these homecomings is the featured attraction today. That belongs to former coach Al Groh, who will return to Charlottesville as Georgia Tech's defensive coordinator.
Groh's departure after the 2009 season marked a shift in philosophies for his old team and his new one, as the Yellow Jackets switched to his 3-4 defense while the Cavaliers moved back to a more traditional 4-3.
Both teams still were adjusting last year in Atlanta when Tech won 33-21. This season, expectations are higher, and Groh has been delivering.
Through six games, his unit has yet to use the same blitz twice in a third-down situation, and his defense ranks fifth in the ACC in yards allowed per game.
"It's a very in-depth defense," U.Va. junior Billy Schautz said. "If any team is more prepared for this 3-4 defense, we are because we have a bunch of players who have played against it."
Groh, undoubtedly, will have some wrinkles ready, but so will Virginia coach Mike London, who had two weeks to plan because of a bye week.
The Wahoos also could unveil portions of the playbook from training camp that have not been used in games. London is tagging it as a big game, welcoming a big crowd of recruits to town and expecting a large crowd in the stands.
He's not, however, terribly interested in the storyline involving Groh's return, which has received a minimal amount of play compared to last year.
"He kind of brought me up through this program," London said. "So there is always going to be a measured amount of respect there."
The players feel likewise, and many still keep up with Groh through texts. Last year, a large group of Cavaliers stayed around after the game to chat with their former coach.
Schautz said he thinks that will be the case this year, but only after the game, because "this week, he's my enemy."
And a formidable one at that. The Yellow Jackets are 6-0, and Groh's defense has been complementing Paul Johnson's prolific triple-option offense.
"That's the defense that I learned how to block in college," tight end Colter Phillips said. "So it's definitely something that I'm looking forward to, and will be a great challenge for us."
For Groh, it is the first of many returns to the Charlottesville area. He and his wife, Anne, have kept their home in the area and plan to retire there when his coaching career ends.
• Read Michael Phillips' Virginia blog at http://www2.timesdispatch.com/list/sports-college-uva/
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