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Sept. 25, 2002

It’s not about streaks, records or stats. It’s not about friends, family, or homecomings. It’s an ACC road football game that Virginia needs to win.

Sure….the media will write about Al Groh returning to the sideline that he patrolled for six years as the Demon Deacons head football coach in the eighties. You will hear Mike Groh stories….how he stood on the sidelines and carried his dad’s headset cord during games….how he spent time at Wake Forest practices learning the game from players like tight end Phil Denfeld and wide receiver Tim Ryan…both all ACC performers. However, this game is a report card…a checks and balances for 2002 and UVA’s young guns.

Jim Grobe, Wake Forest’s head coach and ex UVA player and student, has taken the Winston-Salem area by storm. The Deacs put together a 6-5 record last season and posted wins in Charlottesville and Chapel Hill. Nine of Wake’s eleven games were decided by seven points or less….an ACC record….and Grobe’s 2001 team won three of it’s last four. Wake used a diversified offense last season that averaged 390 yards per game in total offense.

This year? Despite losing a couple of key players, Wake has pulled off two impressive wins…East Carolina at home and Purdue on the road. Wake is doing it by holding on to the ball, and creating turnovers. The Demon Deacons lead the nation in turnover margin at plus 12 and their ground game has more movement than the county fair. QB James MacPhearson is 8th in the league in total offense and 5th in passing efficiency. Despite being last in the league in sacks…only four in four games….Wake has picked off 7 passes and recovered 9 fumbles. The Deac’s offensive line has given up just five sacks in four games. And Grobe has the player’s attention.

Last year’s Wake -Virginia game in Charlottesville could have gone either way….but the Deacons hit a late pass for the win while rolling up 481 yards of total offense. It was Wake’s first win in ‘Hooville since 1981. UVA has won 15 of the last 19 games in Winston…and haven’t lost in “Tobaccoville” since 1983 when Derek Jenkins fumbled during a potential game winning drive.

Virginia is confident and the youngsters are learning poise…doing the little things during their modest two game winning streak. While Cavalier fans complained about soft coverage, linebackers not getting to the ball, corners being lost, and the popcorn not being fresh…Coach Groh is seeing some very positive results. Ball disruption, special team plays, jaw dropping tackles, picks at critical times, timely sacks, and quarterback pressures. Maybe the most confident is Matt Schaub….and yes it’s always easy to discuss the quarterback…but Matt is in a zone thanks to an offensive line that has been re tooled to protect him…only three sacks in four games and he is not getting hit very often. Against Akron he had five touchdown passes to five different players…tight ends….fullbacks, wide outs…they’re all involved and the Cavaliers have made great strides on offense since late August.

How does this all relate to Saturday? Virginia is a better football team now…and prepared for this kind of game. Wake is solid, deceptive, and versatile, also prepared and sports a better kicking game.

It’ll be close…..real close.

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