A Nov. 16 Sports article said the University of Virginia football team lost at Georgia Tech in 1990 and 1998. The 1990 defeat was in Charlottesville. (Published 11/18/04)
So what now for Virginia's football team? Where do the Cavaliers go from here, now that they have squandered two chances to prove themselves on a national stage and have almost no shot at a Bowl Championship Series berth?
Despite dropping from 10th to 18th in the national rankings after Saturday's 31-21 loss to Miami, Virginia's most immediate goal is still within reach. It would earn a share of the ACC championship with wins in its final two regular season games: this week at Georgia Tech and next week at Virginia Tech.
"That's the goal in the first place," Coach Al Groh said. "If you're in a conference, you're in it for one purpose: to try to win the conference championship. Otherwise, you might as well be an independent."
Thus the Cavaliers (7-2, 4-2) will spend the week focusing on Georgia Tech (6-3, 4-3), which has revived its season with four wins in five games. They will work to fix the defensive and special teams breakdowns that cost them against Miami and had Groh, unable to sleep, at his office Sunday morning at 3:45. They will attempt to reverse the month-long decline of quarterback Marques Hagans and the passing game.
The Cavaliers have a lot of work to do -- "We knew it was never going to be easy," tailback Alvin Pearman said -- but the reward, they said, remains great.
"The conference championship is something that none of us on this team have ever achieved," outside linebacker Jon Thompson said. "That's a huge thing in and of itself."
Virginia, which shared the ACC title in 1989 and 1995, could tie for first place with Florida State (8-2, 6-2) and perhaps Virginia Tech (7-2, 4-1) or Miami (7-2, 4-2), but it would be almost impossible for the Cavaliers to earn the conference's automatic BCS berth. To win any of the three possible tiebreakers, they would need to be ahead -- in some cases well ahead -- of the other contenders in the BCS rankings. They are 19th right now, trailing No. 8 FSU, No. 12 Miami and No. 15 Virginia Tech.
First, though, the Cavaliers have to win two on the road, where Groh's four Virginia teams are 7-13. Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium has been the site of some of the toughest losses in Virginia history, including a pair of 41-38 defeats that knocked the Cavs from the ranks of the unbeaten in both 1990 and 1998. They haven't succeeded there since a 24-7 win in 1994.
Groh said he's not worried about the ghosts of Cavaliers teams past, but he is eager to see improvement from a passing game that foundered against Duke, Maryland and Miami in the past month. Hagans, an ACC player of the year hopeful after five games, has completed only 50 percent of his passes for 371 yards in the last three games. He has completed 8 of 24 on throws to wide receivers, including 3 of 14 to Deyon Williams.
The team needs to find a solution, Groh said, but it can't allow its collective focus to be shaken by outsiders.
"When things don't go well," Groh said, "the winds of negativity blow in like a hurricane. . . . That happens very quickly to a team, and that happens very quickly to certain positions like quarterback."
Wide receiver Michael McGrew spoke of the challenge by echoing another of Groh's favorite analogies -- that of a boxer fighting to get up after a knockdown.
"The wind's kind of been knocked out of us, so we've just got to get back and know that we're a good football team," McGrew said. "We're 7-2. Let's finish with two wins."
Cavaliers Notes: Nose tackle Andrew Hoffman should be ready to go this week after missing nearly all of the Miami game because of a concussion. . . . Chris Johnson started at defensive end instead of Kwakou Robinson against the Hurricanes because Robinson had been lax in his academic responsibilities last week. Their play in practice this week will determine who starts in Atlanta. . . . Virginia's game at Virginia Tech, like this week's game, will start at 1 p.m. and be televised by ABC.