- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE | Coach Al Groh is clearly already weary of the black cloud overhead just two games into a season that is likely to determine his future at Virginia.

The Cavaliers (0-2) have lost to William & Mary and No. 15 TCU, the latter in a blowout. Their new spread offense has done little to meet expectations that it would be exciting to watch, and the new approach to special teams has been plagued by mistakes.

“You know, there’s a lot of story to be played out in the course of this season: Who is distracted, who is undistracted, who is focused, who is not focused, who is confident, who is not confident,” Groh said Monday. “These seasons are books. They are not chapters.”

So far, the first two chapters have suggested it is a book about doom.

After losing to an Football Championship Subdivision team for the first time in 23 years in its opener, the Cavaliers trailed the Horned Frogs 30-0 before scoring two late touchdowns on Saturday. They were booed when they botched a 40-yard field goal try in the first quarter and more lustily as the game went on, and they played in front of the smallest crowd at Scott Stadium in a decade.

It’s not the kind of start Groh was hoping for — or may need — at a school that has declined to add a year to his contract following two of the last three seasons.

This week, Virginia plays at Southern Mississippi, which is 2-0, and Groh said it is critical for his players to trust in the systems it is using and focus on getting better.

“We have a saying that it’s all between the white lines,” Groh said. “That’s all that really counts. Except in a few memorable circumstances, there’s not much history of anybody coming off the sidelines, much less out of the stands, to impact any particular play.

“It’s just whatever happens in between the white lines that determines the outcome.”

So far, between the white lines has been the problem.

In the preseason, while installing the spread offense, many of the players and coaches thought they had picked it up well and were ready to put it on display in games.

To have struggled as they have — they are averaging 222.5 yards — has been surprising, as has their offensive line’s inability to protect the quarterback or open running holes. TCU had eight sacks Saturday, and the Cavaliers are averaging just 94 rushing yards.

“In camp we were very confident in our offense and we still are,” left guard Austin Pasztor said. “It’s tough just to see the way our offense has been so far.”

Tougher still when they sit down to review their failings on game film, he said.

“It’s usually not the defense so much that’s preventing us from running the play well but ourselves. We’re beating ourselves with things we’re doing wrong ourselves,” he said.

Fixing those issues would be a huge boost to the Cavaliers, and so might going on the road, as they will this week, because at least then the booing they hear will be expected.

“Right now, it’s only the people inside our team that believe in us, so it doesn’t matter where we play,” defensive end Matt Conrath said. “We’re just focused on our team.”

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