As his team looks to regain solid footing after failing spectacularly in its showdown with Florida State, Virginia Coach Al Groh has told his starting defenders they will have to earn back their jobs in practice this week.
The Cavaliers (5-1, 2-1 ACC) had trouble in almost every facet of Saturday's 36-3 loss in Tallahassee, a defeat that knocked them from sixth to 14th in the national rankings and stands as their most lopsided since the Seminoles beat them, 43-7, three years ago. But for a team and a head coach that pride themselves on stout defense, allowing a season-high 470 yards was especially tough to swallow.
Groh declined to discuss with reporters what he told the team Saturday night, but senior safety Marquis Weeks said the message is clear heading into this week's game at Duke (1-5, 0-3).
"When the head coach says that he's looking at people and he's going to find out who wants to really play . . . you have to take that to heart," Weeks said before Monday's practice. "That's nothing to play around with. . . . Your position on the team is never solidified. If someone starts playing better than you, you can at any time lose your job, but just the way we lost and some of the mistakes we made, it's going to be more of a focus."
Virginia has more depth this season than in past years, but at most defensive positions, the starters seem well entrenched. Senior inside linebacker Rich Bedesem, a former starter, and freshman cornerback Philip Brown are the only backups who pose an obvious threat to the starters.
Nowhere to Run
In their first five games, the Cavaliers amassed rushing totals of 286, 299, 326, 225 and 239 yards. Against Florida State, they netted 20 yards on 29 carries.
"They're not the number one rushing defense in the ACC for nothing," right guard Elton Brown said.
The Seminoles are even better than that; ranked fifth in the nation last week, they are now down to 58 rushing yards allowed per game, the best in Division I-A.
The biggest issue, Groh said, is that Florida State's cornerbacks are so good they allow the safeties to creep down near the line of scrimmage instead of staying back to guard against deep passes.
"There's a traffic problem in there," Groh said. "But that's not the first time that's occurred. That's historically the case. Miami, which has always been a good running team, had little to no production against the same defense running the ball. So there was a pretty good indicator there that it might be a little stiff."
The Hurricanes needed 32 rushes to gain 109 yards in their season-opening overtime win against FSU. . . .
The second-half injuries that knocked Brown (knee) and quarterback Marques Hagans (hip) out of Saturday's game likely will not keep them from playing at Duke.
Groh said he won't know for sure until the players go through a few days of practice, but Sunday afternoon "both of them were less uncomfortable than, given their circumstances on Saturday night, I thought [that] would have been reasonable to expect."
Brown wore a brace on his left knee when he met with reporters Monday, but he said he'll be out there against the Blue Devils. . . .
Groh wasn't pleased with what he called the "unnecessary" low block FSU center David Castillo threw against Virginia nose tackle Andrew Hoffman on Saturday. "I wouldn't condone it," Groh said.
Hoffman was several yards behind the play -- though still pursuing the ball carrier -- when Castillo dove and hit his right knee from the side. Hoffman was able to return to the game. . . . Virginia is 15th in the inaugural Bowl Championship Series rankings released Monday.