The Sabre: Almost everything, but it all starts with Cedric Peerman. Cedric got hurt in the second game of the season, and his return against Maryland sparked the team. Without him, the offense was too one-dimensional, and brand new starting quarterback Marc Verica had to do too much (more on him later). Also, almost inexplicably, the offensive line went from a disfunctional unit in the Duke game to turning in impressive performances against Maryland and ECU. The run blocking made the Peerman-less running game even worse, and suddenly the combination of both a healthy Peerman and a functioning offensive line has turned the offense completely around. On the other side of the ball, with the offense clicking more, the defense is getting the rest it needs to perform better.
The Sabre: Marc Verica is the man now. Peter Lalich's dismissal threw the team for a loop, and we could see a program struggling to figure out its future as a quarterback with no starts under his belt took over. Virginia has a ton of young players in the two-deep, and this sort of shock to the team certainly affected their psyche. It takes a special lack of confidence to lose to Duke.
But Verica still looked solid in even those early losses and has continued to improve. Tossing deep touchdown bombs in the past two weeks is symbolic of both his improved game and confidence. By showing a leadership that seemed to be lacking on the offense earlier in the season -- as well as getting Peerman back -- the team itself has gotten its own confidence back as well.
The Sabre: It's a pretty big deal for us. We've got a number of rivals, but Carolina will always have a special place in our hearts. Believe me, we wear that 30 year drought in Charlottesville you guys are carrying like a badge of honor.
The Sabre: Peerman, of course, because he's the engine in this offense. I think he's certainly the most valuable player on this team.
Also, Kevin Ogletree is one of the most underrated receivers in the conference, and he's been able to open up the offense by getting open and snagging almost any pass that comes his way. He's been on the receiving end of those Verica touchdown bombs, and it's been very significant to add a deep threat to the offense. In addition, the attention he's getting is giving Maurice Covington an opportunity to get open and snag some critical receptions as well.
On defense, Ras-I Dowling is having a great year as a clamp down corner, but I'm going to give the nod to Clint Sintim. The linebacker is blowing people up, and creating a monster attitude throughout the front line. These guys were getting torn up earlier in the season, and this sort of resurgence with Sintim and company has allowed the defense to throw a shut out against Maryland and keep a strong ECU offense under wraps.
The Sabre: You know, Al Groh is one hell of a survivor. I've blogged about how the combination of his massive buyout, Virginia's fear of change, last season's success, and his built-in excuses (losing two starting QBs in one year) will combine to keep him around unless something catastrophic happens. And I think he's now won enough games that the catastrophic is off the table.