It doesn't sound like Virginia coach Al
Groh is underestimating East Carolina.
He's preparing his Cavaliers for the
team and quarterback that rose to No. 14 in the national rankings with
wins over Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Tulane not the Pirates who
faltered in the late stages of an overtime loss at N.C. State or the
group that came home the following week and yielded 621 yards of total
offense in a Conference USA defeat at the hands of Houston.
The Cavs (2-3), who host ECU (3-2) at
noon on Saturday, have themselves been a snapshot of the
unpredictability and inconsistency that have characterized college
football this season. Just a week after stumbling to a 31-3 setback at
Duke, Groh's charges recovered to stun Maryland, 31-0. The Terps were
coming off of a 14-10 win at Clemson that had labeled them as solid
favorites against the Cavs.
"We judge them on the Virginia Tech and
West Virginia games," Groh said of the Pirates. "Clearly, those two
games showed them at their best. That's what we have to be prepared for
and that's certainly what we expect. To beat two Top 25 teams
back-to-back like that is a tremendous achievement, particularly early
in the season when some teams are still growing."
Groh indicated that ECU will present
different challenges from the strengths the Cavs encountered in their
matchup with Maryland.
"They've got a lot of speed," said the
Virginia coach of ECU. "They're a very different style from the one we
just played so it really is a starting-all-over-again week for us."
Groh has been impressed with Pirates
quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who was nearly flawless in ECU's 2-0 start.
Pinkney also delivered the winning touchdown pass in the
come-from-behind victory at Tulane.
Pinkney hit Jamar Bryant for a 24-yard
score with 1:41 left at the Louisiana Superdome for a 28-24 win over the
There was breaking news from ECU on
Wednesday regarding Bryant and it wasn't good.
The junior wide receiver has been
suspended indefinitely for a violation of team policy according to an
announcement from head football coach Skip Holtz.
Bryant, whose 18-game consecutive start
streak will come to an end, is currently the Pirates' second-leading
receiver this season with 19 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns.
After a pair of four-catch efforts
against Virginia Tech and West Virginia , he recorded back-to-back
season-high five-reception totals against Tulane and N.C. State. Bryant
scored on his only catch against Houston a 12-yarder which extended
his reception streak to 19 straight games.
"Jamar Bryant has been suspended
indefinitely for a violation of team policy," Holtz said. The
fourth-year ECU coach did not address specifics, but added "there is an
expectation of conduct associated with being a member of the Pirate
As a sophomore in 2007, Bryant led ECU
in receptions (48), receiving yards (704) and was co-leader in receiving
touchdowns with six. His catch total was the sixth-highest in school
single-season history, while his total yardage ranked tenth all-time.
He opened his Pirate career with 11
receptions for 108 yards in 10 games as a freshman in 2006.
Bryant's absence obviously takes away a
valuable target, a factor Pinkney and the Pirates will have to overcome.
"Patrick is a very versatile player,"
said Groh, who coached the New York Jets before returning to his alma
mater. "The first two weeks of the season, he completed 80 percent of
his passes. The ball was hardly ever on the ground. He's an excellent
runner with the ball. He's got the third most carries on their team.
"He's the guy you've got to keep under
control or else he's going to control the game."
movement at UVa
The Cavaliers have been a program in
transition in terms of personnel. Freshmen and sophomores comprise 72
spots on the UVa roster. The Cavs have just 16 seniors. A total of 16
players have made their first start for Virginia this season. Twenty
players have made their first college appearance.
Peter Lalich started the first two
games at quarterback before he was dismissed from the team. Sophomore
Marc Verica has taken over and improved significantly from the loss at
Duke to the win over Maryland. Verica completed just 19 of 42 passes
against the Blue Devils for 194 yards with four interceptions. He was 25
of 34 against the Terps for 226 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.
The Cavaliers have provided good pass
protection with just six sacks in five games and senior tackle Eugene
Monroe is a big reason why. Monroe started 11 games in 2007 and did not
allow a sack. Monroe is currently rated the No. 1 prospect for the 2009
NFL draft by analyst Mel Kiper.
Senior running back Cedric Peerman
returned for Virginia after missing the Duke game with an injury and ran
17 times against Maryland for a season high 110 yards with one
touchdown. He also had a career high seven catches. Junior Kevin
Ogletree had five catches for 100 yards with two scores. His 51-yard
touchdown catch from Verica in the first quarter helped set the tone for
"We've got a lot of new players," Groh
said. "It's a growth process with them. They really stepped up and
really showed progress."
Holtz spoke positively this week about
the value of an open date for the Pirates to regroup following two
"This open date was very needed," said
the ECU skipper. "It has been a very emotional September, obviously,
with all the highs and lows that we've been through as a program. I
think it was great to give these players, coaches and everybody an
opportunity to get away and get their feet up under them a little bit.
From a mental standpoint as well as a physical standpoint, it gave
everybody the opportunity to kind of recharge their batteries."
The ECU coaching staff also has had
some time to do some assessments.
"It has also given us an opportunity,
as a staff, to evaluate where we are from a scheme, play-calling and
personnel standpoint," Holtz said. "We were really able to evaluate
ourselves on offense, defense and the kicking game after five games. It
was an opportunity to not only catch your breath, but to evaluate
yourself with where you are. I think it has been an extremely productive
open date and off-week."
down could be key
ECU is 2-0 against the Cavaliers. The
first meeting in 1975 came the season after Sonny Randle left ECU to
coach at his Charlottesville alma mater. The Pirates were
highly-motivated as they piled up a school record 699 total yards in a
topped the Cavs 31-21 in
Greenville in 2006.
Pirate third downs may be a key as the
teams meet for a third time. UVa limited Maryland to four-for-13 on
conversions in third-down situations last week.
Improvement on ECU's one-for-13
third-down performance against Houston has no doubt been a priority
during its bye week.