U-Va.'s Inexperience Shows

christian olsen - university of virginia
Making his first collegiate start, Christian Olsen is mediocre in completing 16 of 33 passes for 128 yards and an interception behind a young, shaky offensive line. (Keith Srakocic - AP)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 3, 2006

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 2 -- Christian Olsen bided his time for four seasons at two schools, and Saturday night he had a few more moments to kill before he would finally step foot on a college football field as a starting quarterback.

So Olsen, never one to sit still, hopped on a stationary bike on the Virginia sideline at Heinz Field and pedaled as the Cavaliers kicked off to Pittsburgh.

Olsen's warmup was an apt omen. In his debut as Virginia's starting quarterback and Mike Groh's debut as Virginia's offensive coordinator, the Cavaliers' offense spent most of a 38-13 loss to Pittsburgh stuck in the same place, no matter how hard it tried. Olsen completed 16 of 33 passes for 128 yards behind a young, shaky offensive line in a contest that suggested the Cavaliers' season could be one of rebuilding.

"We're extremely disappointed and embarrassed in the outcome," Virginia Coach Al Groh said. "Their stars played like stars. We had no stars."

Groh said earlier this week he was excited at the prospect of Saturday's opener, that playing a quality opponent on the road at night would reveal where the Cavaliers stand, just where they are in their development as a team.

"If that's who we are, we're in for a long season," cornerback Marcus Hamilton said. "We didn't get it done, but I don't believe that's who we are as a team. If it is, then we're in trouble."

Pittsburgh, meantime, used a pair of touchdown passes of more than 70 yards by Tyler Palko and a swarming defense that ensured a sour opening act for Olsen. The Panthers manhandled Virginia throughout, but the deciding play came shortly after halftime on a meltdown by Olsen.

Pittsburgh pinned Virginia on its 3-yard line for its second possession of the third quarter, with Virginia down by a touchdown and sputtering. Olsen dropped back into his end zone and looked left to wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, who was covered by Darrelle Revis, one of the best cornerbacks Virginia will play this season. Revis blanketed Ogletree, the sophomore playing for the injured Deyon Williams, but Olsen tried to drop a ball over Revis, anyway.

He lofted the pass, ill-advised even if it was on target. It was not. Revis leaped and grabbed it, then scampered 19 yards untouched for a touchdown. After the extra point, Pittsburgh led 24-10.

"It was just a bad play on my part," Olsen said. "There was a little miscommunication between me and the receiver. He ran something different than I thought he would. I just made a poor choice in throwing the ball."

Olsen's first game as a starter was one to forget. Faced with constant pressure, he overthrew wide open tight ends three times and looked uncomfortable throwing passes that weren't screens or check-downs. His longest completion was a 20-yard slant to Ogletree.

Groh's offensive attack relied heavily on screens and short passes, reminiscent of the days when Matt Schaub quarterbacked Virginia. But Pittsburgh linebackers H.B. Blades and Clint Session -- who also ran back an interception for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, off Kevin McCabe -- swallowed the receivers, limiting Virginia's array of quick hits to minimal gains.

"We called a number of deep balls that didn't get thrown," Groh said.

For a lesson in efficient offense, the Cavaliers have a model in Pittsburgh's Palko, who completed 17 of 22 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came on the first play of a drive.

In the second quarter, after taking over after a U-Va. punt, Palko launched a pass to Oderick Turner off of a play-action fake that sucked safety Tony Franklin out of position. Turner hauled in the pass for a 72-yard touchdown, a play that wouldn't even be Pitt's longest. That came in the third quarter, when Derek Kinder out-maneuvered Hamilton for a deep ball and then sprinted in for a 78-yard touchdown.

Olsen finished the game where he had been the past four seasons, on the bench watching another quarterback -- backups McCabe and Jameel Sewell in this case -- run the offense.

Groh said after the game he has no doubts about Olsen as his starter. Still, for the results he's thirsted for since his high school days, Olsen will have to keep waiting, at least for one more week.

"I'm disappointed," Olsen said. "We thought we were going to play a lot better. Never in our wildest imagination did we think that we'd lose by 25 points."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company