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Virginia is paying VMI $325,000 to come to Charlottesville, money that will help fund Keydets' athletics.
VMI falls 24-7 as #5 William & Mary rolls up 216 yards on the ground.
The Roanoke Times | File 2009
VMI head football coach Sparky Woods says depth and special teams are particular worries for the Keydets as they face Virginia this week.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
For the VMI football players, Saturday’s game at Virginia offers an exciting chance to play a big-time foe in a large stadium.
For their school, it is a business trip.
UVa is paying VMI $325,000.
That’s why VMI, an FCS program which has a tough enough time beating FCS and even Division II teams, is willing to step up in weight class to play FBS member UVa.
“One big reason is the money. We play for the money,” VMI coach Sparky Woods said. “It’s expensive, what it costs to run an athletic department.
“I would think they see us as an opportunity to gain a win, and we see them as an opportunity to make some money.”
The six-figure guarantee is a sizable sum to VMI, which has a $10 million athletic budget. VMI has just 1,650 students, so its athletic department does not get much revenue from student fees.
“A guarantee check from an FBS team is important to us,” athletic director Donny White said.
The Keydets (1-2) are looking forward to their visit to 61,500-seat Scott Stadium.
“That’s the stage you dream of playing at when you’re in elementary school,” quarterback Eric Kordenbrock said. “We’re going to be on a big stage in front of a lot of people, which is always fun.
“This is a big-time game. This isn’t really a big-time game for Virginia, but it’s fun for us to go out there and see what we can do against a team like Virginia.”
This is the sixth straight year in which VMI is playing at least one FBS team. Next year, the Keydets will play Navy and Bowling Green.
VMI has not beaten an FBS (formerly Division I-A) foe since it defeated Virginia Tech in the 1981 season finale.
That year was also the last time VMI had a winning season — and the last time VMI belonged to college football’s top tier. In 1982, the Keydets dropped down to the FCS level (formerly I-AA).
The Keydets beat UVa three straight times in the 1970s but is 0-7 in the series since dropping to the FCS level, including a 48-7 loss in 2010.
“You hear all the time here, … ‘Remember beating Virginia Tech? Remember beating Virginia?’ Well, there’s a lot [of] difference in the programs now,” Woods said.
As an FBS school, UVa funds 85 full football scholarships. VMI funds 62 full football grants, one below the FCS maximum.
The Keydets could get worn down in the second half because of UVa’s superior depth.
“Depth is a big concern,” said Woods, a former UVa assistant. “That’s why you do see lots of [FCS] teams being in there for a half [against FBS foes] and then in the second half it usually can, if you’re not careful, get ugly.”
Woods is also concerned about UVa (1-1) returning a kickoff or punt for a touchdown.
“Because there’s a really great athlete with the ball in his hands in space, our biggest challenge might be to be good in special teams,” Woods said.
VMI, which was without two injured linebackers last weekend, is coming off a 37-24 loss to Division II member North Greenville.
“We’ve had trouble tackling some really good athletes and we’re going to see probably the best group we’ve seen [Saturday],” Woods said.
VMI does have a hot quarterback, though.
Kordenbrock has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the past two games, the first time a Keydet has done that in back-to-back outings since Dave Brown in 1986.
Kordenbrock tied a school single-game record with 27 completions last weekend. The senior threw for 369 yards in the loss — the third-best total in VMI history. He moved into third place on the VMI career passing list (5,341 yards) and into first place on the career attempts list (922).
“I really feel comfortable running this offense, so I don’t really have any hiccups anymore,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to run the show when I’ve been running it for so long.”
He will likely have a tougher time Saturday than he did against Division II defenses the past two weeks, though.
Woods is worried about the size of the Cavaliers’ offensive and defensive linemen, as well as UVa’s speed.
He isn’t the only one.
“They’ve got the speed, the size and the talent,” Kordenbrock said. “We’ve got to play our ‘A’ game if we plan on even being in the game with them.”
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