Thursday, September 14, 2006

UVA We Have a QB

The Virginia Cavaliers in action on Saturday, making their home debut against the visiting Wyoming Cowboys. After an embarrassing season opener on the road at Pitt, the Hoos needed to come out strong, and put on a show for the home crowd. By the time the dust settled, many fans left the stadium happy with the victory, but leery about how the Cav’s earned it, and what direction the team will take in the next few weeks.

The theme of Saturday’s game was missed opportunities. The Cav’s played bend but don’t break defense, throughout the duration of the game. Wyoming was able to move the ball up and down the field seemingly at will. However, the Virginia defense was able to tighten up in time, to hold the Cowboys to just three first half points, and three second half points.

The Cowboys racked up 313 total yards of offense, 168 yards on the ground, and 145 yards in the air. They dominated the Cavaliers in every offensive category. Despite low totals in yards, the Cowboys were able to find gaps in the Cavalier defense, whenever they needed to. This included a fourth down conversion in overtime that nearly sent the game into a second OT, if not for a horrible miscue by the kicker when he missed the extra point causing the Cowboys to fall 1 point shy.

The best aspect of the game for Virginia was their special teams play. Kicker Chris Gould converted on two of three field goal attempts, including one from 34 yards out that would tie the game, and eventually send the game to overtime. More importantly was the job done, while punting the ball. On several occasions he was able to pin Wyoming at or inside their own 10 yard line. From their it was either a break down in the defense, that let the Cowboys move the ball beyond the shadows of the uprights, or the Virginia offense was in capable of moving the mall even with good field position.

The biggest move of the game came with 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, with Virginia trailing 6-3. To begin the drive Coach Groh turned to junior QB Kevin McCabe to replace Senior and Captain Chris Olsen. When McCabe entered the game, the atmosphere around the stadium instantly changed. There was a charge that went through the crowd as everyone anticipated what the young McCabe could bring to the table. One thing we all knew for sure was after the poor performance over the past two weeks, the level of production from the QB could not get any worse.

McCabe came into the game and looked prepared to take on whatever the Wyoming defense threw at him. McCabe completed his first pass for 20 yards to Jonathon Stupar. He never turned back from that moment. While in the pocket Kevin McCabe looked calm and full of poise. He felt the Wyoming pressure and was able to buy time with his feat. McCabe was able to move with the pocket, keeping his head up, and his eyes down field. On several plays, this bought him enough time to look downfield and make a play to keep the Cavalier offense moving. The mechanics on Kevin McCabe’s throwing motion looked impressive also. Take the time to set his feet in before throwing, he ensured he was well balanced, and be able to keep his passes under control and not let them float. He also showed a knack for reading though his progressions. This was useful on three third down conversions, when McCabe made his reads and found the open receiver on the out routes, and worked the sidelines.

In Overtime, Kevin McCabe threw a strike to Kevin Ogletree that put the Hoos up in OT, after the converted extra point form Gould. For the first time all day UVA appeared to have a swagger to them when running the offense, which is something they have lacked all season.
While McCabe may be the answer for the Cavalier passing attack, however an answer for the problems of the running game has yet to be found. Jason Sneiling was out of action this weekend due to injury. This left the burden of the rushing attack on second year player Cedric Peerman. He was simply unable to carry the load. Peerman netted 44 yards rushing for the game, and as a team the Hoo’s netted 32 yards on the ground. It does not matter who is under center for Virginia, if they cannot get their rushing numbers up they will never be able to move the offense down field. Teams will be able to key in on the inexperienced QB’s and dominate the Cavalier offense.

Now it appears the Cavaliers have found a starting QB for the rest of the season. McCabe has the potential to turn into a solid two year starter for the program. Stability is something the Cavaliers need as they continue to search for an identity for this young team. At least this may be the end to one question for the Cavaliers, but there are still plenty more to be answered.

A win is always a good thing, and it’s great that the Cavaliers have made it back to .500, but they need more work. The schedule will only become more difficult as Virginia enters the ACC schedule. It is difficult to say what the future will hold for the Cavaliers, but if Saturday is any indication, Cavalier fans better prepare for what will be a long season.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Rebuilding is harder than you think.

Who knew rebuilding could be so difficult? Well, University of Virginia of fans are finding out just how difficult it can be. On Saturday, the Cavaliers kicked off their fall season on the road, at the University of Pittsburgh. The trip up and back, may have been the only successful part of the weekend the Hoo’s.From the opening drive, Virginia appeared to be in trouble. Pitt marched right down the field converting 2 third and longs as they attacked the Cav’s defense right up the middle. The drive was capped off, with one of the most perfectly executed play-action calls this writer has ever seen. After faking the handoff, Pitt QB Tyler Palko, had clear space to run into endzone, but instead he threw a shot-put style pass to his open receiver standing in the endzone, adding to the embarrassment of the Virginia defense. After a shaky first drive, the Hoo’s settled down, and began to play some football with the Panthers. Both teams went back and forth during the first half. Entering halftime Virginia trailed 17-10, but they had seized a large chunk of momentum following a pick late in first half.That was the end of the good news for the Cavaliers. The second half was full of mental lapses, poor decisions, and bonehead plays. Down 17-10, with a chance to move the ball downfield and tie the game up, the Cav’s botched the punt return when two players collided into each other. This gave Pitt an opportunity to down the ball on the Cavaliers 1 yard line. The next play QB Chris Olson’s pass was picked off, and the Panthers were ready to pour the route on. On the defensive side of the ball, the Cavaliers struggled, to stop the basic run plays. Pittsburgh used a textbook game plan to defeat Virginia. In the first half, Pitt ran the ball right at the Virginia defense. Using its strength to overpower UVA’s 3-4 schemes. On the D-Line the front 3 of Virginia was not big enough to hold up the Pitt O’Line. The linebackers were not quick enough to scrape off the backs of the D’Line and make plays. As result everyone was moving back and catching, no good. When third and long situations came about, UVA brought one of the weakest blitz packages imaginable. The Hoo’s had no pass rush and the seasoned QB Palko had plenty of time to pick apart a weak secondary. In the second half Pitt went to the play action pass. The Virginia corners had become so accustomed to pressing up to cover the run that they bit at any hint of a run. The Panthers were able to go over the top and catch the Hoo’s sleeping, almost at will during the second half.As the final buzzer went off, and the Cavaliers left the field in a 38-13 defeat, there were plenty of emotions running through my mind. Naturally as a fan, there’s a sense of pain that comes with a lost, especially one of this magnitude. But I began to remember what I heard everyone saying throughout the summer and during the game, “This is a rebuilding year.” That’s when I got to thinking what does that really mean? 38-13 is what it means apparently.Then again, what can you say, 2 QB’s 2 RB’s, 5 OL, 2 LB’s and 2 DL’s., that’s the personnel losses for the Cavaliers over the past 2 years. That’s just the players who left the program to the NFL. Those are numbers that the OSU’s and Miami’s of the world are used to. However, they do an excellent job of continually bringing in top notch players to replace the ones who have left. Al Groh and company have failed to do that. Saturday night Virginia saw the debut of the Chris Olsen era. Chris is a fifth year transfer and getting his first playing time of his career, and on Saturday he showed that inexperience. Olsen guided the offense to 211 yards of offense, terrible. Virginia showcased a new offensive line that provided no holes, for what is still a talented group of backs. However, unless your name is Barry Sanders it is near impossible for a back to gain yards without a solid blocking scheme in front of them.Rebuilding truly will be more difficult than anyone ever thought. Next week is Wyoming; Virginia will be at home and has a chance to get to .500. These are the games Virginia must win this season. They cannot afford to give away anything as this season will be an uphill battle.

Who Platoons a Backup QB?

This may be the worse or at least the strangest QB situation that the NFL has seen in years. The Washington Redskins are struggling, not with finding a starting QB; it’s the backup QB that is posing a problem for the Skins. The veteran Todd Collins or the second year player Jason Campbell; both are fighting for the right to backup starting QB Mark Brunell.

Throughout the preseason Campbell and Collins have gone back in forth in attempting to earn the role of back up. Collins is offensive coordinators Al Saunders favorite pick for the job. Todd Collins has been a backup QB for the Kansas City Chiefs and Al Saunders for years now. He is the only player on the Redskins roster that understands the entire 700 page playbook that Saunders plans on utilizing this season. Great pick for a backup QB on paper. The problem with Collins, is when he took the field in the preseason, he was terrible. Continually he appeared to be lost in the pocket, and incapable of completing passes to any of his receivers on the deep or the shallow routes.

Enter Jason Campbell, the young gunslinger from Auburn, who led his team to an undefeated season as a senior in college. The Skins spent three picks, just to move up high enough into the draft to pick him up two years ago. So far, he has yet to see the field in anything more than a pre-season exhibition. Campbell is a big boy, with a live arm, and the ability to avoid pressure in the pocket, and make plays happen with his feet. Problem; as Al Saunders said, he is incapable of grasping the entire playbook that he wants to install, and therefore a poor pick as the backup.

This leaves head coach Joe Gibbs with a dilemma entering the regular season. Who does he go with? The seasoned veteran, who may not be physically able to execute the plays that he can call so deftly, and your offensive coordinator, loves, or the young gunslinger who may not understand the play call that but has the physical tools to get the job done.

Well, the Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs is in the Hall for a reason, and he found a way to fix this situation that would have made any D.C. politician proud. Gibbs has instituted what may be the first ever platoon backup QB. It goes something like this: If the starter Brunell goes down with an injury during the game, then Todd Collins will come in and take over at QB. However, if Brunell is hurt, and is slated to miss the entire week leading into a game, the Jason Campbell will take all the snap in practice, and he will be the starting QB the following weekend.

Now this situation leaves plenty of questions that need to be answered. In my years of following football, I have never seen anything like this, and think it may be one of the worse ideas ever. However, it is somehow fitting that the Washington Redskins. The skins have the largest coaching staff ever, with multiple assistant coaches, and head coaches of this and that. They have five RB’s on the roster. A platoon backup QB just shows the continual disarray the Skins have in trying to find a path for the future.