By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 2, 2007
LARAMIE, Wyo., Sept. 1 -- Against the picturesque backdrop of spacious fields and distant mountains, Virginia authored an unsightly season-opening performance. Saturday's 23-3 final score was not indicative of how thoroughly Wyoming dominated the Cavaliers.
"We just outplayed them in every aspect of the game," Wyoming Coach Joe Glenn said.
Virginia's defense, which was expected to be the strength of the team, gave up 27 first downs. Wyoming amassed 471 total yards. The Cavaliers' offense, meantime, was inept. It accumulated only five first downs and 110 total yards, including only 7 net rushing yards.
The performance of quarterback Jameel Sewell in particular was so poor, his future as the starter is now in question. Virginia Coach Al Groh said the staff and players still have "a lot of confidence" in Sewell, who threw two interceptions and overthrew several open receivers, but Groh did not guarantee that Sewell would be the starter in Saturday's home opener against Duke.
"We'll see how things go," Groh said.
Unlike Virginia's 13-12 home victory against Wyoming last season, which was decided by a missed extra point in overtime, this season's matchup was a one-sided affair played before a crowd of 31,620, the largest opening-day crowd in school history. This was the worst-case scenario for a Virginia team entering the season with optimism after last year's disappointing 5-7 record.
Despite 10 starters back on one of the nation's stronger defenses, Virginia could not stop Wyoming's no-huddle attack that converted 10 of 20 third-down attempts. Virginia's offense, meantime, showed little progress from last season.
The Cavaliers followed its 112-yard output in last season's finale against Virginia Tech with an equally ineffective showing. Over the past 27 years, since a loss to Maryland in 1980, Virginia's two worst performances in terms of total yards have come in its past two games. For Wyoming, it had been 29-years since the Cowboys last held an opponent to fewer than 130 yards.
Freshman quarterback Peter Lalich was called upon to play Virginia's final offensive series, which means he will not redshirt this season and could be available next week. When asked if he expects to start next week, Sewell said, "Whatever we can do to win, if that's me sitting down and letting him taking shots to win, it's whatever . . . as long as we win."
Sewell, who started Virginia's final nine games last season, completed 11 of 23 pass attempts, but said his accuracy was "terrible." He said he had constant problems with his footing and that he felt a lack of energy at the game's start. Sewell did not attribute that to the altitude of War Memorial Stadium, which sits 7,220 feet above sea level.
"I just felt dead," Sewell said.
Groh said Sewell generally made the right decisions but missed too many open targets.
"We had some guys open there in the first half," Groh said. "That's the story a lot with the passing game. You've got to be able to throw it. You've got to be able to catch it. When they had guys open, their kid did a great job. When our guys were open, we did not get it to them."
After a poor start, Sewell said he started putting pressure on himself to make plays. Trailing 13-3 in the third quarter, Virginia's Andrew Pearman returned a kickoff 67 yards to start Virginia's drive at the Wyoming 29 yard line. Two plays later, however, Sewell lost the grip on a pass that cornerback Julius Stinson intercepted.
Stinson said his team's defensive performance was "pretty much of a shutout. They didn't get past the 50-yard line more than a couple of times."
Wyoming used a no-huddle offense to control the ball for two-thirds of the game. Sophomore quarterback Karsten Sween, who completed 25 of 34 passes, threw for a career-high 253 yards.
Wyoming ran 88 plays, 42 more than Virginia.
"That's a tremendous disparity," said Groh, who is now 10-24 on the road at Virginia. "That's pretty difficult to overcome."
For Virginia, the day got off to an inauspicious start when a bus carrying several school officials, including Athletic Director Craig Littlepage, broke down on the 45-minute ride from Cheyenne, forcing the contingent to arrive in Laramie via school bus. Things only deteriorated when the game began.
In the first half, Sewell overthrew three receivers, including two different tight ends who were open, and underthrew another receiver.
Sween, on the other hand, demonstrated pinpoint accuracy at times. On a key play, he faked a handoff and threw deep to Hoost Marsh, who made an over-the-head catch for a 48-yard reception after beating safety Jamaal Jackson. Wyoming took control of the game, 10-0, after Sween floated a pass to the back corner of the end zone, where 6-foot-2 wide receiver Greg Bolling outjumped 5-9 cornerback Vic Hall for the ball.
"Nothing pleases you with a game like this," Virginia defensive end Chris Long said.