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Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Virginia season review

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Overview: The Cavaliers managed to morph from a downright bad football team into one capable of winning the ACC title before finishing the season the way they started -- poorly. A tumultuous offseason that included the loss of starting quarterback Jameel Sewell to academic troubles contributed to a second 5-7 record in three seasons for embattled coach Al Groh. Virginia was 1-3 in September, 4-0 in October, and 0-4 in November. Part of the problem was up front, where Virginia had three first-time starters on the offensive line tasked with protecting a new quarterback.

Not only did Virginia lose Sewell, but it also lost his backup, Peter Lalich, who transferred after his own off-field troubles became a distraction. Turnovers were costly throughout the entire season, and Marc Verica's 16 interceptions were the most by an ACC quarterback and the second-most during a single season in school history. The Cavaliers ended the season on an all-too familiar note -- with a loss to rival Virginia Tech -- and offensive coordinator Mike Groh was not retained by his father.

Offensive MVP: Tight end John Phillips. He was the ACC's leading receiver among tight ends with 48 catches for 384 yards. Phillips led the Cavaliers in receptions in four games this season, and caught seven against Miami. His ability to block, though, is what makes him a complete player.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Clint Sintim. He was one of the most dominating rush linebackers in the ACC, and had a streak of five games with a sack. Nearly a quarter of his tackles were behind the line of scrimmage and nobody on the team came close to his 24 quarterback pressures.

Turning point: The 24-17 home loss to Miami halted the four-game winning streak and proved to be costly in the Coastal Division standings. It snowballed into a four-game losing streak.

What's next: Groh needs to make a few hires and finish recruiting -- two critical jobs for a coach who is already on the hot seat for next season. The fact that athletic director Craig Littlepage didn't extend Groh's contract this season is evidence of that. Establishing an identity on offense will help, and that will start with a new coordinator.