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Nov. 19, 2002

University of Virginia football fans are excited, as they should be. Over 53,000 sat in the cold rain last week to watch another Al Groh coached upset. With the 14-9 victory over NC State history was transformed again. It was the only time a football team beat every major school in North and South Carolina the same season and marked the seventh time in the Groh era UVA won as the underdog.

Pretty impressive I would say, but if Cavalier fans would like to step up to the Al Groh way of thinking, Saturday’s game against Maryland is a great position to be in.

For now.

“We didn’t come here to play for second place”, Groh told the media during his press conference Monday. “It’s a great start, and says a lot about the program and the kids here, but if you are a member of a conference, your main objective should be to play for the conference championship. Once you attain that goal much larger things will follow. You can reach higher.”

Not many expected Virginia to be at this level so soon. A defensive scheme frustrated one of the best quarterbacks in the country last week and for the third straight year the Wolfpack’s Philip Rivers failed to throw a touchdown pass against the Wahoos. The offense moved the ball against one of the league’s fastest defenses. And if it wasn’t for a questionable fumble call in the game’s final moments, the outcome might not have been that close.

“We’ve had terrific leadership,” Groh said Monday. The seniors bought in to our program right away and we’ve been able to put them in some pretty good positions.”

Virginia’s next position is that of the underdog again. Maryland is one of the nation’s hottest teams, winning it’s last eight games having discovered a left handed quarterback who is tough, a defense that won’t give you the time of day, and special teams performers who exemplify the word special.

Scott McBrien, the West Virginia transfer, has been very impressive for the Terps. During the eight game streak, the southpaw has completed 60% of his passes, thrown for 11 touchdowns, and has tossed only four interceptions; three of them came against Clemson. His efficiency rating is 12th best in the country and McBrien ranks second in the league in total offense.

Maryland’s defense has allowed just 10 touchdowns in the last eight games and has shut out opponents in 23 quarters of play for the year. Four times the Terps have intercepted passes inside their own twenty and the opponent’s red zone percentage is just 65.7. Linebacker E.J. Henderson is the leader averaging 13 tackles per game over his last 26 outings.

Special teams? Consider the Terrapin’s Steve Suter, who has returned four punts for touchdowns; not in his career mind you, but this year! He has tied an NCAA record shared by eight other players in D-1. Nick “the kick” Novak, the Albemarle High School product who somehow slipped out of town, has also been a constant hitting 27 of his last 31 field goals with three of the misses coming from 50 yards or more. He owns five 3 pointers over 50 yards.

Virginia is confident. UVA’s players have managed to put all of the bowl and post season talk aside and concentrate on x’s and o’s, match ups and schemes. Even guys like Jerton Evans, senior safety, are coaching. Evans spent the entire NC State game putting Willie Davis in position to make plays calling it one of his most challenging assignments ever.

Okay, so it’s for second in the ACC. So it means the Peach or Gator and a lot of money is on the line. This Saturday, win or lose, is a preview of the next few years. Al Groh told us when he accepted the job in January of 2001 that coaches without players are coaches of unimportant teams.

The Cavaliers are now important. With every game that unfolds in Charlottesville the level just gets a bit higher.

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