Highlights from Al Groh's Weekly Press Conference

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The Cavaliers are coming off a rousing 31-0 win over Maryland at home last weekend to start a three-game homestand. The team returns to action this Saturday against East Carolina looking to avenge a 31-21 loss to the Pirates two years ago. East Carolina opened with impressive wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia but lost its last two games coming into this weekend and stands at 3-2 overall. Saturday's game is slated to kickoff at noon and will be televised on the Raycom/ACC network.

Virginia head coach Al Groh talks about the coming match-up and reviews the win over Maryland.

Q: In East Carolina’s two losses, is the common thread the absence of MLB Quentin Cotton?
Groh: I wouldn’t say that would be the reason for it. When a team wins a game it’s about a lot more than one individual’s performance. And when a team doesn’t its about a lot more than that, too. I’m sure that their coach would say that their team didn’t play as well in those games as their team played in the preceding games.

Q: On Sunday when we spoke to you, you had viewed the first two games which were big upsets. How has East Carolina been different since?
Groh: We take our reading that at this stage that the two highly most rated teams that they played are Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Those are the teams that they beat and played their very best against. So, we take our reading off of their performance against those two best teams as to what East Carolina is capable of, so we can see what the bench mark is for their performance and clearly we have to aim at that, and above that bench mark, to be competitive in the game.

Q: East Carolina has scored touchdowns on a blocked punt, a blocked field goal and two interceptions, so they’re capable of scoring in a variety of ways. When a team has done that is that part of the game plan or scouting report?
Groh: Yes, sure. I think our players are definitely acquainted with the fact that what happens to the ball is of great significance at every game, but it’s of particular significance when a team has shown a real trait to be able to do that. There are certain individuals on some teams that just have a knack for it. You just can’t say that this team blocks kicks or intercepts passes. The players have to be aware of those players who have a real knack for doing it.

Q: Would you say speed is East Carolina’s best attribute?
Groh: They’re built on speed. It’s a speed style offensespread out all over across the field. (They have) wide receivers who can run, a quarterback who can run, two or three running backs who have real good speed and the tight end is a very good vertical player. It’s definitely an offense built on speed and built for speed.

And defensively, that’s their game. They’re not an overly large defense so everything is built on speed, quickness, get to the ball (and) pass rush games rather than power moves. Those types of things.

Q: You’ve said you really don’t think about past seasons at all, but you see the guys that were on the team in 2006 use that at all as motivation?
Groh: We’ll see. The reason I say that we’ll see, is we were with them Sunday nighta little early at that time to be very specific about the opponentmost of what we’re addressing is the previous day’s game. If we are addressing anything on the upcoming opponents, it’s usually more on special teams than scheme. All the offense and defense work we do against ourselves.

Today will be the first time to really go in and for us to talk about in detail the upcoming opponent as well as for those guys to focus on the information, or whatever else gets their attention.

Q: You talk about speed for East Carolina. How do you try to combat speed in more general terms?
Groh: Try to go get more yourself, that’s the first thing. As teams are put together now, most every week coaches can come in and talk about how big a team is. I mean everybody’s got big guys’ whether they are good big guys or not is the question. Nobody is playing with little linemen, everybody’s got big guys.

So the issue isn’t whether you have a big team or not, the issue is whether you have good big players. But not everybody’s got speed, and when a team’s got real speed, it makes a difference. It’s hard to catch unless you’ve got guys that fast.

Q: Did the offensive line make that much of an improvement in a just week’s time or is that something that had been slowly coming before it clicked?
Groh: It has been coming. It wasn’t just here to here (indicates with hands a distance), it was a significant jump up from what it had been

This is what we all fret over and try to get, is that when you see a move of your team as last week’s team did, to try to keep that going. In the past we’ve had a precedent for it. With a similar style team in ’02 (with) a lot of young playersI think that was the team we started nine freshmen and lost the first two games to Colorado State and Florida State(but) ended up winning six or so in a row. (It) had a real good South Carolina team come in here and found a way to win the game and went on to win six in a row and ended up winning nine games.

I am not making any predictions, but last year’s team started the same way. Once the team started to solidify and build some momentum the performance stayed up there. It didn’t take a precipitous drop back at any particular time. We may have a lost a game or two in there but it wasn’t because we dropped way back. And that was the case in that other year, too.

There’s that possibility with this team because there are so many new participants, that there’s a lot out in front of them. It should be the case. How well we meet that circumstance and that challenge will determine just how far we can go.

Q: Was the Maryland game Will Barker’s best game?
Groh: Yes it was. It’s taken a while to get that third-year performance from Will. Last Saturday he played like a player who had been pretty much the starter for the previous two years. It’s not just some of the younger players that we’ve been waiting to come on, there was some of the veteran players that we’ve been waiting to come on and he was one of them. Hopefully that’s a sign of things (to come).

Q: Can you talk about ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney and what kind of challenges a mobile quarterback like that presents to a defense?
Groh: (He’s a) very dynamic player. (He) came out of the first two games having completed something like 82 percent of his passes. I mean that’s unreal. Who completes 82 percent of their passes? That says a lot about why they were able to beat two well thought of teams in those two games. That’s such a hot pace, it’s pretty unrealistic to ask anybody to maintain that pace for 12 games. If they did they’d go directly to the college hall of fame.

He’s a multi-talented player. Obviously at 82 percent, he can clearly throw the ball and yet at the same time he is number three on their team in rushing behind two of their very good tailbacks. He’s a ball-in-the-hands-almost-every-play guy and makes the decision whether to hand it off or keep it, or makes a decision who to throw it to. (He’s) clearly the catalyst for everything good that happens to the East Carolina offense.

Q: On the long touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree last week, was that something you saw on film or was it based on Marc Verica’s confidence or what?
Groh: That one wasn’t particularly opponent based. We haven’t had an increased level of success with it during practice to feel that it was worth it, to try those plays. We can see certainly the impact that it had on the game. It changes the game in a hurry, players get energized by it, fans get energized by it, I mean we all loved it. But you have to develop a proficiency to be able to do it and we are making some progress in that direction. We still go out there and throw some over their head or throw some behind them but fortunately Marc and Kevin did a great job on that one. (He) put it right where it had to be and we had the protection to enable us to do it.

Q: As hot as your team was on Saturday against Maryland, are you confident that’s the team that’s going come out the next couple of weeks?
Groh: We are hopeful. The only way that that can happen is that collectively we’re the same guys and we’re the same team this week throughout the course of the week that we were last week. That will get us back to that point and probably that point won’t be good enough to continue to beat some of the teams that we’re playing. So if we want to do better than we did last week, we are going to have to do better. If we want more, we are going to have to do more to get there. But we did more than we did the week before, so we got more back. I would say the competition will continue to step up, so not only does our team in and of ourselves have to progress, we also have to be ready to match the increased level of competition as the teams get better and better.

Q: I’m not sure how interaction you have had with Skip Holtz, but what do you see as his fingerprint on this ECU program? And has he turned it around and has he done good things with it?
Groh: They’ve done a great job with it. The win that they had last year against Boise State in the bowl game was tremendously impressive. They’ve beaten West Virginia, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina here of late. They’ve done a great job with it.

That’s a school with a strong football tradition, even when they were playing in I-AA, I don’t know what it was called at that time, but when Clarence Stasavich was the coach there, East Carolina had real good teams. I remember during the years when I was coaching at North Carolina, Pat Dye was the coach there and they had real good teams.

East Carolina itself is no newcomer on the list of teams that have been very successful in college football. They are one of those regional based schools that has a very rabid and very loyal supporting fan base behind them. It’s a very good football atmosphere and they’ve been good for a long time. Then they slipped a little bit, and Skip has clearly done a terrific job of utilizing all of the resources there, the fan base and the player pool in the state of North Carolina, to get it back to what historically they’ve been.

Q: Clint Sintim and John Phillips talked about fans that they want immediate results they want wins right off the top. How big was it to get that win against Maryland especially from an emotional standpoint?
Groh: It was very positive. One of the things in human nature that we all respond to is positive reinforcement and that’s positive reinforcement mostly from your own endeavors and your own results. The players can see that what they are putting into it are bringing those type of results and they can also see where we can improve. But that I think that’s certainly reinforced then that if we keep on this path and keep doing the right things. The players know where we are, why we’re there, where we’re going, what we have to do. The players know all of that.

Q: Did you get a good sense that when everything’s clicking that this would be the kind of team you’d be?
Groh: It would be a little rash to say that we’re going to win them all 31-0, but we certainly did see on a play-to-play basis our ability to execute different schemes, whether it’s on offense or defense, that if we do it the right way we can execute the scheme and get good results with it.

One of the words that you hear coaches use all the time is consistency. Once you find out that a player is a consistent performer, then you find out that your team is a consistent performer. Then you have a better sense of what you’re going to get every week.

Q: What’s the importance of this three-game homestanding, with two ACC games and one nonconference game?
Groh: You’re in the meat of the schedule (and) if you’re going to do something, you’ve got to start putting some streaks together. It’s not only important for us, it’s important for every team this time of the year, and it ... sets the positions for the stretch run at the end of the season. It’s a little premature for us to be thinking about that, frankly. Our commitment is strictly to this week’s game.

This is really true. (There is a) 50-percent chance that I know who the game is after East Carolina, (but) there is a 50-percent chance that I wouldn’t get it right if you ask me about the one after that.