The University of Virginia yesterday suspended four football players, including two defensive starters, from playing in tomorrow's critical ACC game against No. 24 Georgia Tech at Scott Stadium because of an unspecified violation of team rules.
The Cavaliers (5-3), who need one more victory to become eligible to play in a postseason bowl game, will face the Yellow Jackets without senior starting defensive nose tackle Kwakou Robinson and junior starting safety Tony Franklin, leaving them critically thin on the defensive line and in the secondary.
The other suspended players are senior wide receiver Ottowa Anderson, who also plays on several special teams units, and sophomore defensive end Vince Redd.
A day after Cavaliers Coach Al Groh acknowledged he was investigating an internal matter, the school announced the suspensions in a one-paragraph release, which didn't specify the nature of the violations. During a teleconference with reporters yesterday, Groh didn't say whether the suspensions only included tomorrow's game or if the players would be reinstated before the Cavaliers' last two games, against No. 8 Virginia Tech on Nov. 19 and at No. 4 Miami on Nov. 26.
"We'll review things as time goes on," Groh said. "It's an internal matter and it will be dealt with internally. It's not going to be a distraction to me and the team, so I'm done with it."
Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage said in an e-mail that the football program was investigating the rules violations. The loss of Robinson, a junior from Brooklyn, especially hurts Virginia's depth because last week junior defensive nose tackle Ron Darden was forced to quit playing football because of multiple concussions. Robinson, who started five games, had 20 tackles in 217 plays. Virginia's only other nose tackle who has played this season is sophomore Keenan Carter (Potomac, Va.).
Earlier in the week, when Robinson was reached on his cell phone, he said he had heard speculation that he was going to be suspended, but said "there isn't any truth to it."
If Carter can't play the entire game, Groh said senior defensive end Brennan Schmidt (DeMatha) would move inside in the Cavaliers' 3-4 defense. "He might be the best nose we have," Groh said of Schmidt, who will tie the school record with 48 career starts if he starts against the Yellow Jackets, who have won three games in a row but haven't won in Charlottesville since 1990.
The loss of Franklin, a defensive captain from Cleveland, also is big. The Cavaliers will be forced to start redshirt freshman walk-on Byron Glaspy, who hadn't played until he had 38 plays in last week's 51-3 victory over Temple. An engineering student from Basking Ridge, N.J., Glaspy made the team through open tryouts during the spring, Groh said. Sophomore Jamaal Jackson will play behind Glaspy.
"He has good athletic ability and he has good speed," Groh said of Glaspy.
The loss of Franklin couldn't come at a worse time for the Cavaliers, who will try to slow down Yellow Jackets receiver Calvin Johnson, who leads the ACC with 90.6 receiving yards per game. Virginia was already thin in the secondary after freshman cornerback Chris Cook broke his leg at Boston College on Oct. 8. Cook's injury forced freshman Mike Brown, 5 feet 9 inches, into the starting lineup. Johnson is 6-4 and has great leaping ability.
Redd, 6-6 and 280 pounds, was the top backup behind Schmidt and also had emerged as one of the team's better pass rushers on third down plays. With Redd sidelined, sophomore Allen Billyk will play end if Schmidt comes out of the game or moves inside.