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Virginia avoids Groh subplot

Al Groh was Virginia's head coach for nine years. Now Georgia Tech's defensive coordinator, he'll face his old team on Saturday.
Al Groh was Virginia's head coach for nine years. Now Georgia Tech's defensive coordinator, he'll face his old team on Saturday. (John Mcdonnell)
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

CHARLOTTESVILLE - Al Groh has gone from the guy in the glass to the man behind the curtain. And just as the characters in "The Wizard of Oz" were instructed, the Virginia football players are paying Groh no attention this week. Not publicly, at least.

When last Groh was seen as Virginia's head coach - following a 42-13 loss to Virginia Tech last November - he recited Dale Wimbrow's poem "The Guy in the Glass." On Saturday, Groh (now Georgia Tech's defensive coordinator) will face the Cavaliers for the first time since his departure.

And while Virginia has prepared for the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense and 3-4 defense for weeks, players are doing their best to ignore an obvious subplot to Saturday's matchup. Groh, after all, led Virginia the previous nine seasons.

"I'm just going into it as another game," sophomore linebacker Ausar Walcott said. "I'm just going to look at it as another game. I respect Coach Groh. He's a real good guy, so I'm just going to go over there and play like it was any other game."

"We don't think about it," junior wide receiver Kris Burd said. "It's just U-Va. versus Georgia Tech. We're just going to go out and play the 11 guys they put on the field."

"Honestly, I've never thought about who the defensive coordinator was when we play other teams," junior center Anthony Mihota said. "So I'm not going to start thinking about it now."

What the Cavaliers are acknowledging is the threat posed by Georgia Tech's run-based offensive scheme. Led by senior quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, the Yellow Jackets lead the Atlantic Coast Conference - and rank No. 6 in the nation - in rushing offense (298.2 yards per game).

Virginia Coach Mike London said his team spent part of its bye week three weeks ago practicing against elements of the triple option. Defensive coordinator Jim Reid ran an option offense was he was the head coach at division I-AA Virginia Military Institute in 2006 and 2007.

Nesbitt, the ACC's second-leading rusher, is averaging 86.8 yards per game on the ground and has tallied six rushing touchdowns. He'll be of particular concern to the Cavaliers, according to London, especially after a slew of missed tackles led to Virginia giving up 256 rushing yards in a 20-point loss to Florida State over the weekend.

"This is definitely an assignment-oriented football game," London said. "But at the same time, you can have a guy on him, or two guys on him, and he's good enough to make them miss."

On the other side of the ball, Groh's defense is struggling to transition from the 4-3 scheme the Yellow Jackets used last season to the 3-4 alignment. In the ACC, Georgia Tech ranks No. 8 in total yards allowed (347.8 per game) and No. 10 in points allowed (25.4 per game).

London said the Cavaliers also practiced against the 3-4 defensive alignment during their bye week, though he expects the way Georgia Tech will operate it Saturday will be far different.

"Nothing is like playing a 3-4 team from a guy that knows the 3-4 defense," London said. "So that will be a challenge for sure."

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