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Cavaliers aim to tackle Tribe in season opener

Quarterback position continues to remain unsure as Virginia looks to improve upon last year

Virginia wide receiver Ras-I Dowling (19) returns an interception.  The #23 Virginia Cavaliers defeated the #24 Wake Forest Demon Deacons 17-16 at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, VA on November 3, 2007.
Virginia wide receiver Ras-I Dowling (19) returns an interception. The #23 Virginia Cavaliers defeated the #24 Wake Forest Demon Deacons 17-16 at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, VA on November 3, 2007.

The question of who will start the season at quarterback is generally settled some time before the first game of the season. Asked if this was the case for the Virginia football team, coach Al Groh and linebacker Aaron Clark were not exactly decisive.\n"No, not necessarily," Groh said.\n"No idea," Clark added. "If I knew, I couldn't tell you anyway."\nAt least that is settled.\nTaking nothing away from a William & Mary team that posted a 7-4 record in 2008, indecision at the quarterback position preceding the season opener may be a bit more disconcerting against an opponent like USC, for example.\n"The disadvantages of starting the season against USC are a bit apparent to anyone who plays them," Groh said.\nIt was certainly apparent to Virginia last year when the Cavaliers suffered through a 52-7 colossal beatdown against the Trojans which, for all intents and purposes, served as an exhibition for USC.\n"It carried a lot, it was rough," senior linebacker Denzel Burrell said. "It was hard not to turn on television and see the highlights of the game, and hear about how great their team is and read about all the things we were doing wrong. It definitely carried over."\nStronger team unity, however, has Burrell hopeful that the 2009 campaign will begin on a higher note.\n"That was a big thing last year early in the season - letdowns - players leaving, and being suspended, and things like that - that really hurt us," Burrell said. "That's been a big thing in the offseason - to be your brother's keeper and really watch over everyone on the team."\nVirginia's general optimism may also arise from the fact that William & Mary does not produce first round NFL draft picks on a yearly basis, or ever, for that matter. The team's decision to play its in-state FCS opponent stems from the recent establishment of a regularized 12-game season by the NCAA.\n"Whereas before it was based on some kind of calendar formula - how many solar eclipses there were in a particular year or whatever," Groh said. "I just couldn't figure it out - I just would wait until the administration said, 'You've got 11 or 12 games to play.' But the opening up of the 12th game on an annual basis gave us the opportunity to expand our schedule, and in doing so, then, we thought the best thing for all parties concerned ... was to schedule those games locally."\nVirginia's second game last season against Richmond was another recent example of this sort of scheduling. But to everyone who watched that game, it was apparent that even FCS opponents could give the Cavaliers a run for their money. Holding only a 3-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Virginia seemed on the verge of a total collapse following the previous week's nationally televised embarrassment. Only a couple of late-game heroics, including a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown by-then junior Vic Hall - coupled with a flurry of squandered opportunities by the Spiders - sealed the victory for the Cavaliers.\nDuring its season finale, Richmond played another in-state opponent: William & Mary. The Tribe took the Spiders to the wire, losing in overtime, 23-20. In another game of note, William & Mary opened the 2008 season against N.C. State in Raleigh. The Tribe outscored the Wolfpack in the second half but fell in the end, 24-14. These strong performances showed Groh all he needed to know about William & Mary's high-powered offense.\n"We have complete exchange with William & Mary," Groh said. "It's one of the highest scoring teams last year that they've had there in coach Laycock's 30-year tenure."\nIndeed, William & Mary averaged an impressive 397.5 yards and 32.8 points per game last season. Although the Tribe lost graduated senior quarterback Jake Phillips - brother of former Virginia tight end John Phillips - Groh said he is impressed by wide receiver-turned quarterback R.J. Archer.\n"We've had a chance to watch some of the games that he played in previous years as a wide receiver," Groh said. "And we also respect the fact that we had a pretty good quarterback here in '05 to '06 who played wide receiver the previous two seasons, so we use that as a precedent ... We have a very high appreciation of how a guy can step in and do very well, especially when he's a veteran player."\nIf Archer really is the second coming of former Virginia quarterback Marques Hagan, then the Cavaliers certainly have reason for concern come Saturday.\nAt least Groh knows the other team's starting quarterback. Once he decides on his own, the 2009 season will finally begin.


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