Out-of-town Q&A: Virginia

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After a one-week hiatus, the out-of-town Q&A is back.

This week, Jeff White (formerly of the Richmond Times-Disptach, now of Virginiasports.com) checks in to talk Cavaliers.

Virginia is 2-3, having won two straight, and looks much different than the outfit that struggled to start the season. White talks spread offense, Vic Hall and the impact of dwindling crowds in Charlottesville.

1. How much of the much-hyped spread offense has Virginia scrapped in recent weeks, and how much has that played a role in the Cavaliers’ revitalization?

JW: Some elements of the spread remain — quarterback Jameel Sewell, for example, operates almost exclusively out of the shotgun — but this is essentially the offense UVa ran in 2007 and ‘08. And it’s no coincidence that the offense’s production has improved dramatically since the change was made.  For whatever reason, the players weren’t comfortable in the spread offense that coordinator Gregg Brandon was brought in to install.
Groh scrapped that system after Virginia’s second game, an ugly loss to TCU in Charlottesvlle. The linemen’s splits are tighter now, and it’s not uncommon for UVa to use two running backs on the same play. Moreover, we’re seeing lots of two-tight end sets, a hallmark of Groh’s offenses at Virginia.

2. After the quarterback tumult of the last two years, has the decision to go with Jameel Sewell steadied Virginia’s offense?

JW: Absolutely. The hip injury that Vic Hall suffered in the opener against William and Mary, a game he started at quarterback, may well have been a blessing. Virginia used three quarterbacks in that game, and that arrangement wasn’t going to work over the long haul. By the time Hall was healthy again, Sewell had cemented his status as the No. 1 quarterback, and the stability at that position has helped offense. Plus, it’s not as if there’s no place for Hall in the offense now. (See below.)

3. Is there a position Virginia hasn’t thought about using Vic Hall at? More to the point, does he look like he can be an effective receiver – and possibly a top target for Sewell – going forward?

JW: Hall probably would do well at tailback, at least on a part-time basis, but wide receiver is, in retrospect, where he belonged all along. He has great hand-eye coordination and runs well after the catch, and good things happen for Virginia when Hall has the ball in his hands. I expect him to catch a lot of passes going forward, and I suspect we’ll see him throw a few, too.

4. Any theories as to why Virginia always seems to need a little while to get things going – as was the case to some degree in the last four seasons?

JW: Not really. Groh’s record in bowl games with the Cavaliers is 3-2, and he easily could be 4-1 or 5-0. UVa’s record coming off bye weeks is outstanding, too, under Groh. But his Virginia teams are 3-6 in season-openers, and they’ve lost five of their past six games in September. By contrast, they’ve won 11 of their past 12 in October. It doesn’t make sense.

5. It’s easy enough to say Al Groh is on the spot to produce after two losing seasons in three years. But Saturday against Indiana, there were 15,000 unsold seats at Scott Stadium. Is that as troubling a sign for the program in general as the early-season losses and recent sub-.500 seasons?

JW: That’s a huge concern. With 25 teams, all of which are fully funded in terms of scholarships, UVa can’t afford to have tens of thousands of empty seats at home football games. Whatever the outcome this weekend in College Park, it will be interesting to see how many fans show up for Virginia’s  Oct. 24 game against Georgia Tech at Scott Stadium.

Much thanks again to Jeff White for lending his insight on Virginia.

Patrick Stevens

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