Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Memo to Al: Take some risks

Al Groh needs to bring it.

And by "it," I mean the arsenal of junk a desperate team brings.

Halfback passes. Fake punts. Fumblerooskies. Trumped-up formations. Bizarre personnel packages.

Stuff it all in a sack and carry it to Blacksburg.

It's his best chance.

He doesn't have to use every fluky arrow in the quiver, but he should be prepared to fire plenty. The whole "our-11-against-your-11" routine won't work. Not in a riled-up Lane Stadium. Not against this Tech defense, a growing menace imbued with confidence.

If Groh makes this a blocking and tackling contest, tack it up as the fifth straight win in the series for the Hokies.

Neither team has blocked consistently. Both teams tackled well last week. But on the whole, Tech has more talent. A wrinkle-free clash won't be good news for UVa.

The Cavs need some nonsense.

Vic Hall should play at quarterback a little. Just do it. Not as a starter, but as the latest example of a national trend. Run the "Wild Wahoo" formation and show the people what they've been missing.

Here are three reasons Groh should do it:

1. Marc Verica is struggling right now. This is news to nobody. He's thrown six interceptions in the past two games. You're not exactly taking snaps away from Matt Schaub here.

2. It would show the team's success is more important than Al's ego. Groh has never, not once, endorsed Hall as a quarterback. He's made cases for everyone else -- academic casualties, struggling starters, career backups -- but not Hall, whose career total-offense numbers were eclipsed by only four players in any state, in any country, on any planet, in the history of high school football.

Groh had license to say "I told you so" when Verica helped key a four-game winning streak, but that sensation has cooled considerably. It would be a major surprise to unleash Hall in such a role, and it would put the coach at risk for some second-guessing if Hall excelled. So what, though? Just win. Second-guessing is much more tolerable under those circumstances. Which brings us to the most important reason:

3. It could work. Western Kentucky, which just finished 2-9, gave Tech loads of trouble with direct snaps to tailback Dexter Taylor. Hall could, too, while having the additional threat of throwing downfield. And if it doesn't work, well, what exactly have you lost? One series? And you can tell all the Hall lovers like me where to stuff our opinions.

So try it. And try everything else you can think of, too. That fake field goal against East Carolina? By all means, dust it off once more. Then run an onside kick and two double reverses to try to score again.

Today's game isn't as big as last year's, but it certainly has more tension. Last year, the winner would go to the ACC championship game and the loser would have a fine season. This year, the loser will be 7-5 (Tech) or 5-7 (Virginia). The loser will have forfeited its ticket to the ACC championship game (Tech) or its eligibility for a bowl game (UVa).

We're told this will be a boring game. That both offenses stink. That the first team to three points wins.

Hey, that's great news if you're the Hokies. They're the better team, the team that has been winning grind-house matchups like that for more than a decade.

If you're Tech coach Frank Beamer, you can run Darren Evans behind fifth-year senior center Ryan Shuman, hoping to find a soft spot in the middle of UVa's 3-4 defense. You can sit back and watch your defense do what it's been doing for the past six games.

But if you're Groh? You'd better bring it. And by it, I mean everything. He should turn around right now if he forgot the kitchen sink.

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