Virginia Moves on From Loss to Miami, Meets Wake Forest in ACC Football

Virginia senior running back Cedric Peerman, left, lost a fumble for the first time in his college career to end last week's overtime game against Miami.
Virginia senior running back Cedric Peerman, left, lost a fumble for the first time in his college career to end last week's overtime game against Miami. (By Andrew Shurtleff -- Associated Press)
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By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 8, 2008

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim has trouble sleeping after games regardless of the outcome; instead he pores over film to determine what transpired hours earlier and why. When the game is a Cavaliers loss, the need to analyze and understand becomes even more urgent. Following last Saturday's overtime collapse against Miami, Sintim endured watching his defense waste opportunities on Miami's game-tying drive, but he knew he needed to quickly let go of the gnawing loss.

"That's one of those games you can't let affect you," Sintim said. "That game is over and done with; you got to move on."

Given the nature of the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, Sintim's pledge becomes even more important. Virginia (5-4, 3-2) finds itself cluttered in the Coastal Division standings with five two-loss teams. Only Georgia Tech has more ACC wins than Virginia, and the Cavaliers beat the Yellow Jackets. Indeed, Virginia remains in contention for the ACC title game, but for the first time since rescuing their season from pending oblivion, the Cavaliers must rebound from a loss.

"There are a lot of teams in the same situation we're in," Sintim said. "There are a lot of teams in the hunt, just trying to win the next game. We're just one of those teams, and we have an opportunity to win this game against Wake [Forest] and then we can see where that goes."

Coach Al Groh did not even broach the conference race with his team. It was not a subject of discussion when the Cavaliers were struggling mightily in September, and it remained undiscussed when they flourished over the past month.

"I think a lot with teams, it certainly is the case with teams at the end of games, when on so many plays the game is on the line and it is the case during the course of seasons, that teams and players need to keep a lot of focus on the process and not on the outcome," Groh said. "You get one of those late drives where you're on offense or defense, it's just got to be about, 'What do you have to do on this particular play?' It's not, 'Well, if we do this we're going to win; if we don't do this, we might not win.'

"That's too much. You've just got to focus on the process of what that takes on that play. It's the same thing with each game, it's got to focus on the process of: What's it take to win this game? Then we'll see what it all adds up to."

As for keeping an eye on the opposition, the Cavaliers have taken varied approaches. Sintim, a football fanatic, pledged to devotedly watch Thursday's Maryland-Virginia Tech game. Fellow starting linebacker Jon Copper did not plan on watching the game -- Copper is married, and Thursday is "date night" -- and said he briefly monitors the other scores on the ESPN ticker Saturday nights.

Groh anticipates a focused approach will be particularly important today, considering the Cavaliers' and Demon Deacons' history of close games. When the teams met last season, Virginia escaped with a 17-16 victory, and the game was not decided until Wake Forest missed a field goal in the game's final seconds. Eight of the Cavaliers' games last season were decided by five points or less, and their past three games have come down to the final minutes.

All four ACC matchups last weekend were tight contests, with two overtime finishes and one fumble on the goal line negating a go-ahead scoring opportunity. Groh rattled off a list of prominent college football coaches -- Florida State's Bobby Bowden, Texas's Mack Brown, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis -- whose teams lost heartbreakers. That was all Groh needed to emphasize that any thought of the overall fate of his team would be counterproductive.

The optimism of rebounding from the Miami game does not result from the murkiness of the ACC standings, but instead Sintim's approach. Watch the loss, learn from it and then figure out how to correct the problems the next week.

"Anytime you lose a game, you want to come back and play well the next week," Copper said. "That's the mood, if there is one."

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