Q&A with The Sabre, a Virginia website.

Kris Wright, editor of TheSabre.com, a Virginia fan site with blogs and an active message board, was kind enough to answer some questions about the Cavaliers, the future of Al Groh, and the UVa basketball team, now led by Tony Bennett.


1.  Virginia began the season 0-3, including a loss to William & Mary, but finally won a game last week by dominating heavily favored North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  How do you account for the turnaround?

Kris: I hate to play down a win - especially when it is your team's only win - but the turnaround had as much to do with UNC as UVa. The Tar Heels' offensive line has been hit hard by injuries, leaving inexperienced players dealing with a lot of pressure from opponent defenses. Virginia, which has struggled to stop the run and struggled to pressure the quarterback, suddenly produced 8 QB hurries and 2 sacks while holding Carolina to 39 rushing yards. UNC threw an interception that led to Virginia's only touchdown too. Long story short: UVa is an inconsistent football team so it's hard to tell what kind of team will show up - great offense like at Southern Miss, great defense like at Carolina, or bad outings like TCU and William & Mary. We'll see.

2.  For IU fans who aren't familiar with your team, which players on each side of the ball do you expect to have the most impact in Saturday's game?

Kris: There are a handful of names to keep an eye on. For offense, quarterback Jameel Sewell, running back Mikell Simpson, receiver Kris Burd, and "do it all" Vic Hall are all potential playmakers. On defense, start with Hall again as he'll likely be in on passing downs and add defensive end Matt Conrath, corners Chris Cook, Chase Minnifield, and Chris Cook as possible standouts. On special teams, punter Jimmy Howell has played well and Minnifield returns kicks.

3.  Virginia coach Al Groh and IU's Bill Lynch both were included in all of the preseason "hot seat" articles.  What do you think Groh has to do this season to save his job, or is it too late? 

Kris: I don't guess it's ever "too late" as long as announcement hasn't been made yet. In Groh's case, the situation is fairly clear: he has to finish .500 or better to even have a chance of staying. Beyond that, I tell fans all the time that it's dangerous to take a "number of wins" perspective for the decision. Things like ticket sales, donation levels, recruiting, attendance, fan excitement, and so on are just as important as wins for any decision on Groh this year.

 

4.  UVa has an interesting football history.  The Cavaliers were horrible in for most of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, but since George Welsh arrived in the early 1980s, winning seasons have been the rule, by far.  On the other hand, UVa hasn't really broken in to the top tier of the ACC very often.  That's a long-winded way of asking what your expectations are for the program.

Kris: I think Virginia fans expect more than we've been getting lately. Two losing seasons in three years (and with a 1-3 start, a long way to go to avoid a third in four seasons) isn't acceptable. UVa is located in a strong high school football region (Virginia/D.C. and close enough to pick up players from places like North and South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc.) and has enough fan support, financial donors, and facilities to be much more successful than it has been in recent seasons. You'll get a big debate on how academics impact things depending on who you talk to, but as a whole, I think Virginia fans expect the consistency of the George Welsh years mixed with peak years similar to the likes of Virginia Tech and Boston College, last season's ACC Championship Game opponents.

 

5.  Since I write about Indiana, I have to ask about basketball, of course.  Virginia recently hired Tony Bennett, who was a strong contender for the IU job in 2008.  From what I understand, Bennett is recruiting reasonably well so far.  On the other hand, his deliberate, 58 possessions-per-game style is not exactly consistent with the typical ACC style.  How has Bennett been received so far, and how do you and other UVa fans feel about his style of play? 

 

Kris: Coach Bennett hasn't lost a game yet! What's not to like? Seriously though, the reception for Coach Bennett has progressed from shock (UVa fans were knee deep in Tubby Smith rumors before Bennett was hired) to disappointment (not a "big" name) to excitement (good recruiting start, good fan/community interaction, etc.). His style of play is one thing fans were concerned with initially and many probably still are. I will say that from talking with Coach Bennett, watching Washington State games/highlights, and listening to recruits describe their conversations with the coaches, I think this "grind-it-out, always-walk-it-up" perception of the style of play isn't exactly accurate. He likes to push the ball up the floor when it makes sense and to take early shots if the player is open for a practiced, in-rhythm look. The possessions drop and the game "slows" much more because of the pack-line defense and "force tough shots" mantra than because of the style of play on offense. Florida State, Boston College, Miami, N.C. State, Virginia Tech, and even Duke have had success with similar styles at times this decade in conference play. We'll see how it goes for Coach Bennett and company.

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