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Behind enemy lines: Virginia

Written by Sam Werner on .

This week, I enlisted the help of Andrew Ramspacher, who covers Virginia football for The Daily Progress (Charlottesville, Va.) to help preview this week's game between the Panthers and Cavaliers. Here are Andrew's responses to a couple of questions...

1. What the heck is going on with Virginia's quarterback situation? It looked like both Matt Johns and Greyson Lambert were getting time before Lambert got hurt against BYU, and then Johns played the whole game against Kent State? Could we see both guys on Saturday? What are their various strengths and weaknesses and how do they complement each other?

All spring and summer, Greyson Lambert was the no-doubt No. 1 QB. Heck, he was named a co-captain in April, despite being a redshirt sophomore and never starting a game in his career. With training camp came all kinds of features on his leadership and how he was the one to finally stop the decade-old UVa QB carousel.
Well, that lasted for all of eight series against UCLA in the opener. Lambert threw two early picks that were returned for scores and the staff turned to little-known Matt Johns, who nearly rallied the Cavaliers from a 21-3 second quarter deficit.
At first, it appeared Virginia had another quarterback controversy. The two split time against Richmond in Week 2 before Lambert outperformed Johns in the Week 3 upset of Louisville. Despite the continued "or" on the depth chart, Lambert was the guy for BYU and did a nice job, setting career highs in passing and rushing yards, before going down with the ankle injury late in the third quarter. Naturally, Johns comes in and leads UVa to 17 points.
Lambert was a no-go against Kent State, giving Johns his first start. Two early interceptions were eventually made up for by a couple scores and guiding the offense to 520 yards.
Lambert's a "gametime decision" to go against Pitt. If he's 100 percent, he'll likely start. Lambert and Johns don't differ much — both 6-5 with decent mobility — but Lambert has the better arm and is least likely to make a mistake. He's UVa's best option. Then again, Johns has proven success. There's a good chance you could see both Saturday.

2. Kevin Parks is obviously the workhorse for this Virginia team. Has he taken a step forward as a senior? How have the Cavaliers done mixing in guys like Taquan Mizzell? With the quarterback situation a bit unsettled, how has Virginia gotten the ball in the hands of its playmakers?

It's been a playmaker-by-committe deal all year. Parks, coming off a 1,000-yard season, has had his load lessened a bit because of better health to Mizzell. Senior Khalek Shepherd is also very much in the mix. That trio combined for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries last week, its best performance to date. Still, this is an average rushing team (69th nationally), mainly because of a line that's struggling to replace a pair of draftees — left tackle Morgan Moses, now with the Redskins, and center, Luke Bowanko, now with the Jaguars.
Fourteen different Cavaliers have caught passes this season. Canaan Severin leads the team with 20 grabs, good for just 10th-best in the ACC. While Parks remains the No. 1 back, I wouldn't say Severin is the team's No. 1 WR. Contrary to Pitt, I'm not sure UVa has a No. 1 WR — and the 'Hoos are cool with that. They're fine spreading the wealth.

3. The defense appears to be improved even off last year's solid unit. What are the keys to this defense, particularly when it comes to its great success forcing turnovers? Anthony Harris is obviously a star, but what are the other key areas where the defense has improved this year?

The key is a second year in Jon Tenuta's system. Very blitz-heavy, it's a unit that needs takeaways and sacks to be successful. Last year, it showed flashes (see a shutdown of BYU, seven sacks at Pitt, forcing five TOs vs Georgia Tech), but it was fairly inconsistent. Bring back nine starters and add the nation's best high school safety — Quin Blanding — and Tenuta's crew is humming.
Harris is the leader on the back-end, but he's got plenty of help in Blanding — the team's leading tackler — and corner Maurice Canady, a junior quickly turning into one of the ACC's top cover guys. Linebackers Henry Coley and Daquan Romero — a combined seven sacks and four forced fumbles between them — are off to All-ACC starts. Same goes for D-ends Eli Harold and Max Valles and their 10 combined sacks.
Areas of weakness are tough to find in this entire group.

4. At least through five games, Virginia appears to be one of the most improved teams in the ACC this year. Were the close loss against UCLA and win over Louisville enough to save Mike London's job, or he still on the hot seat for the rest of the season? Can Virginia be good enough on a week-to-week basis to be a factor in the wild Coastal Division race?

It's tough to say. Right now, his job looks pretty safe. He's taken on one of the nation's toughest schedules and has three wins with two very competitive losses to Top 25 teams. But it wasn't long ago when Virginia was on a 10-game losing streak. This season can certainly spin downward in an instant, sending him right back to the hot seat.
Win Saturday, and, yes, UVa is good enough to be a factor in the Coastal. It'll be 2-0 in the league with an extra week to prepare for a trip to Duke. All of sudden, the script goes from "Can London save his job?" to "Does London win ACC Coach of the Year?" The defense has already proven it can carry this team. Meanwhile, the offense has put up back to back 500-yard games. If the two catch up to each other, Virginia has a great chance in a WIDE-OPEN division.

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Battle of the plants, lessons learned in a flower box, guest blog

Written by Doug Oster on .

flower box battleBattle of the plants! Only time will tell who wins. Photo by Joe Ruth

By Joe Ruth

I learned an important gardening lesson this year when I planted my flower boxes. I watched the savage slow motion, life and death combat going on all around me, waged by all those pretty plants as they desperately slug it out for soil, water, sun, nutrients and bees. 

Let me explain, in the past I’ve always planted single plant flower boxes to display outside of our townhouse porch.  This year I decided to mix it up and put different kinds of plants together into the various boxes.  Generally, we run up to McTighe’s (I can’t say enough good things about them) on Route 8 and I just buy whatever looks the healthiest and what’s at the right stage of growth to plant, so that’s what I did.  Just picked up little of this and that and figured I’d mix it all up into some fun stuff.  Little did I know what I was setting off.

In one box, I planted a combination of lantana, some great looking listeria, a couple of mini snapdragons and some kind of portulaca (moss rose) type thing.  Colors looked OK and the height levels at the time looked OK, so what the heck. 

Immediately all heck broke loose.  The lantana almost immediately killed the listeria.  I know it wasn’t just circumstances because the same Listeria plants in the next box did just fine.  The spreading roots and stems then went after the snapdragons and tried to overwhelm the portulaca. 

I counted on the portulaca as a goner but it fought back and poked it’s own stems out underneath the lantana and put on some nice flowers. Take THAT, bully plant!  Now we’re getting in the life boat and getting OUT OF HERE!!! 

The snapdragons at first dropped off to very little but recovered and at least made a go of it.  Not totally strong but they weren’t giving up without a fight.  Then, interestingly enough, the battle shifted to a corner of the box where some volunteer impatiens formed a dense phalanx of leaves and blooms over top of the area left bare by one of the listeria and a weakened snapdragon.  The lanatana shot off some exploratory stems right into the impatiens and the fight was on and it’s still going on.  I’m going to bring the box inside this winter to see who wins.  This stuff is better than gladiatorial combat.

Moral of the story, read up a little on what you’re mixing into your plant box.  You could be setting off a Texas cage match, right on your front porch.

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Empty Netter Assists - 10-03-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins

-“This team is the one that gave me my chance, and that I won a Cup with. I want to have another one.” - Marc-Andre Fleury (above) on his status as a pending unrestricted free agent next offseason.

-What's been different about Penguins training camp under Mike Johnston?

-“He’s a guy who took a very big step [during camp]. He’s got size, he’s good both ways. He’s very responsible." - Johnston on Oskar Sundqvist.

-“It’s been a little bit different and not in a bad way, just different. You’re used to things being a certain way for so long; it just becomes kind of routine. And then with a new staff and new head coaches, that kind of thing, it’s a little different. You just have to have really an open mind, kind of get used to everything.” - Crosby on changes under Johnston.

-After the Jump: Brenden Dillon gets paid.

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"Setting the SEEN": 007 Comes to Pittsburgh!

Written by Natalie Bencivenga on .

Who wouldn't want to be James Bond, seriously? And the second best thing would be checking out this Bond-themed charity bash at Perle in Market Square later tonight that Sara and I got a sneak-peak of earlier. Yes, 007 will pull up in his Aston Martin, just in time to watch the Bond girls walk the runway, along with other great surprises! Plus, it supports two awesome charities: Animal Friends and Charity:Water. For tickets, click here.

 

And until next time...we'll be seeing you!

Follow Natalie on Twitter @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci

Follow Sara on Twitter @SaraB_Pg and on Instagram @SaraB_PG

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Secret Service

Written by Rob Rogers on .

The Secret Service has been having a bad couple of weeks. First they failed to stop an intruder who scaled the fence and made it inside the White House. Then it was revealed that they failed to properly investigate shots fired at the White House and let a convicted felon with a gun get near the President on an elevator. 

100314 Secret Service

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