Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Groh does it again

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Of course they won. Of course their defense dominated. Of course Nate Collins nailed the North Carolina quarterback as he was throwing, and of course the ball popped high in the air and soared for what seemed like hours, and of course Chase Minnifield dove in to pick it.

This wasn't a matter of if or even how. Virginia's 16-3 victory over North Carolina was as predictable as an "OB" sticker on an SUV.

Why? Because it was October, and it was Al Groh, and it was crisis time in Charlottesville. Which can only mean one thing: A celebration was about to ensue in the Cavaliers locker room.

"Who's to say how it's going to go every week?" Groh said.

Ha! Ha! Good one, Al. Here's who: We are. All of us. Any of us who've followed your program out of passion or profession could see this coming. I picked UVa in the Fearless Forecasters this week, and I did it with zero reservations, even as Vegas made the winless Cavaliers 13-point underdogs. I'm not saying that to brag, because my Forecasters record is nothing to brag about; I would just like to point out that I am not a helpless monkey. This was a system play if there ever was one.

Groh has become the predictable husband of 20 years. So maybe he forgets to pick up the kids from soccer practice and makes a mess of the house 363 days a year. But he's always there with a bouquet of roses on the anniversary, always handy with the box of candy on Valentine's Day.

That said, we'll take it. We'll smell the flowers, eat the chocolates and once again start to wonder if, just maybe, this is the time he's really figured it out. The Cavaliers have now won five straight in October, and they're 1-0 in the ACC with Indiana and Maryland up next. Really, is there any reason to believe they can't win one or both of those?

It's undeniable that the UVa players still believe in Groh. How that is possible when everybody outside the program seems to feel the opposite remains one of the great mysteries of the 21st Century, but it's a fact: These guys don't care what outsiders say.

"I think definitely Coach emphasizes it a lot, keeps it fresh in our heads," freshman linebacker Steve Greer said. "We know as a team that all that matters is what's going on within the team. As long as we know that --and I think we're pretty good at knowing that -- then I think we'll be all right."

The Cavaliers are a lot like a lot of the teams in the middling ACC and throughout the country: When they're not turning the ball over and making special teams gaffes, they actually look pretty decent. On Saturday, their defense looked several notches better than decent.

UVa ravaged UNC's offensive line with scheme -- "They either blitzed or pressured something in the neighborhood of 10 of the first 19 plays of the game," Tar Heels coach Butch Davis said -- and old-fashioned determination.

"Usually, when that happens," Groh said of the constant pressure, "they just beat blocks."

Collins' hit on T.J. Yates -- which led to that critical Minnifield interception -- was the culmination of a nightmarish afternoon for the UNC quarterback. Nose guard Matt Conrath batted down three passes. Collins and Zane Parr each got in for a sack in the first quarter. Three players harassed Yates on a key third-and-9 play in the third quarter, forcing a field goal.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers held the Tar Heels to 39 rushing yards, the lowest output for a UVa opponent since the Richmond game early last year.

"I wouldn't want to go against them," UVa quarterback Jameel Sewell said of the Cavaliers defenders. "Sometimes I have to in practice, but at least I'm not live. Those are some tough guys. They're mentally tough, and they're physically tough."

The offense wasn't great, but it was cautious and disaster free. Mikell Simpson delivered the team's first 100-yard rushing effort. And after 10 turnovers in their first three games, the Cavs didn't give it away once Saturday.

"It's definitely how we wanted to start off ACC play," Conrath said. "Anything can happen for us right now."

Of course it can. And who knows? This time, maybe it will.

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