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Aug. 19, 2002

Gameday Central

The University of Virginia football team hosts Colorado State in the Jim Thorpe Classic Thursday night. This is the first game of the college football season. The Rams, a member of the Mountain West Conference, were 7-5 last year and defeated North Texas in the 2001 New Orleans Bowl. Despite posting a 5-7 record a year ago, Virginia gained confidence heading into the winter conditioning program by defeating Penn State 20-14 in the 2001 season finale.

“It’s good for us to be playing this team at this particular time,” according to head coach Al Groh. “We thought the challenge of playing a team that is picked to win their conference would be invigorating for our players.”

Wide receivers Billy McMullen and Michael McGrew and running backs Alvin Pearman and Marquis Weeks are several of Virginia’s primary offensive weapons. But if the Cavaliers’ attack is going to be successful this season, junior quarterback Matt Schaub must improve his passing efficiency.

“In the last two competitive situations that we’ve had with the team he’s completed 71% of his passes,” Groh said. “As a team we want to increase the overall team completion rate this year and that [Schaub’s performance] is consistent with what our aim is.”

On defense, Virginia’s line is very inexperienced. Among the players expected to see action against Colorado State, only sophomore nose tackle Andrew Hoffman has ever appeared in a college game. Fans should expect the Rams to test their strong running game against the Cavaliers’ young defensive line early in Thursday’s contest.

In contrast to the line, UVa’s linebackers are a veteran unit. Virginia will rely on the play of all-ACC selection Angelo Crowell, senior Merrill Robertson, sophomore Dennis Haley, and junior Raymond Mann to support the young lineman. Meanwhile, this year’s secondary may be the best group of safeties and cornerbacks since the days of Ronde Barber and Percy Ellsworth in 1994 and ’95.

“They’ve had a good camp,” Groh said of the secondary. “It’s an aspect of our team that I thing we can get a fairly good reading on because [Virginia has] good receivers, we have good throwers and we have a fairly sophisticated passing attack [to practice against].”

Cornerback Art Thomas in particular has caught Groh’s attention during the preseason.

“[Thomas has] continued to show a much elevated level of confidence, “Groh said. “He’s got the confidence to use his ability to challenge plays out there and has the ability to make a lot of plays for us this year. “

Thursday’s kickoff is 7:30 p.m. A limited number of tickets remain for this exciting start to the college football season. The game will be televised on Comcast Sports Network and broadcast statewide on the Virginia Sports Radio Network.

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