By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006
ATLANTA, Sept. 21 -- As Virginia's offense wheezed and stalled again Thursday night, the presence of the man standing on the sideline decked out in a Cavaliers orange polo and backward baseball cap served as a cruel reminder to Al Groh. For the past four seasons, the Virginia coach could count on either Matt Schaub, on hand because he plays quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, or Marques Hagans behind center. And those players gave him a tested quarterback with the skills and leadership to run an offense.
Those qualities have been noticeably absent from Cavalier signal-callers this season, leaving Groh to turn to Jameel Sewell, a left-handed redshirt freshman making his first career start. The result, however, was more of the same -- a 24-7 loss in which Virginia engineered 166 yards of total offense, the lowest total since Groh took over in 2001. The Cavs mustered just nine first downs.
Groh, who has shuffled quarterbacks at a staggering rate this season, stuck with Sewell throughout. He wanted to make Sewell work through the adversity of playing his first game at the helm of a struggling team, on the road against a conference opponent in front of a national television audience. Groh said after the game he has settled on Sewell as his quarterback, and he wanted to use the loss as a growing experience.
"The future is now," Groh said. "I didn't invent that one, but it still applies. The process has started. Let's not make too big a deal out of it."
Sewell's first start, however, shed few rays of hope onto a dreary quarterback situation. His throws were wild, either sailing over receivers' heads or bouncing yards shy of their intended targets. He finished 15 of 31 for 115 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown.
Sewell couldn't lead Virginia (1-3, 0-1 ACC), off to its worst start since 1986, across midfield until 4 minutes 5 seconds remained in the third quarter, by which time Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-0) had built a 24-0 lead. Virginia's only score came with 12:20 left, a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree on fourth and nine.
"I felt like the first half went awful," Sewell said. "I wasn't too nervous. I had no fear. I guess it was kind of a mental thing."
"We were determined to have him play through it," Groh said. "He did a nice job of that. You can see on his best ball, he throws a real [good-] looking ball."
Under the guidance of first-year offensive coordinator Mike Groh, the coach's son, the Cavaliers have mustered only 43 points, or 10.7 per game, in four games. With a full slate of games scheduled for this weekend, that places the Cavaliers 111th in the nation, behind the likes of North Texas and Alabama-Birmingham.
"What needs to happen?" Al Groh said. "A lot of things, obviously. If you've got a weekend to sit down with me, maybe I can adequately answer that question."
While an entire team couldn't provide any offense for Virginia, Calvin Johnson gave Georgia Tech a jolt of electricity. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound wideout caught touchdown passes of 58 and 66 yards and finished with six catches for 165 yards, cementing his status as perhaps the country's best wide receiver.
His first big play came at the end of the first half, when Virginia gave the ball to Georgia Tech with just more than a minute remaining. Quarterback Reggie Ball took a shotgun snap, bounced in the pocket and unleashed a missile down the center of the field, where Johnson had split safeties Jamaal Jackson and Byron Glaspy on a post. Johnson glided under the pass and coasted in for a 58-yard touchdown, holding the ball out with his right hand as he crossed the goal line to give the Yellow Jackets a 17-0 lead.
His second touchdown, the one that sealed the game, came on the Yellow Jackets' first possession of the second half. Johnson beat another double team with an out-and-up, and Ball beamed another pass through the night. Johnson darted into the end zone to put Georgia Tech up, 24-0.
"He just ran down the field," Groh said. "It's not like it was a complex pattern."
Despite his dominance, Johnson didn't make the Yellow Jackets' most exciting play. Georgia Tech set up its first score on a nifty halfback option to Ball, who nearly juked Jermaine Dias but slipped at the 5-yard line. Ball began in the shotgun and handed to fullback Mike Cox, who scooted right as Ball leaked to the left. Cox lobbed the ball back across the field to Ball, who had open space ahead. Two plays later, Ball rolled left and sneaked by the pylon off a dominating block by Johnson. The drive covered 84 yards in 11 plays and made it 7-0.
The Cavaliers expressed excitement over this game during the week, savoring the opportunity to forget the damaging Homecoming loss to Western Michigan with their first ACC game. Those hopes evaporated quickly, though, because of an offense yet to find itself. It has, it seems, at least found its quarterback.
"I can be [it]," Sewell said. "I would like to think so."