The Jackets enter the homecoming game on a high note after finally cracking the top 25 in this week’s national rankings, landing at No.18 in the BCS standings after beating preseason ACC favorite Clemson in Death Valley, 21-17. The win, coupled with losses by North Carolina and Virginia Tech, has made the Jackets the ACC Coastal division leader and the highest-ranked team in the conference.
Entering this weekend, the Jackets boast the ACC’s best rushing attack (and its leading individual rusher, B-back Jonathan Dwyer) and hope to continue the success on the ground against the Cavaliers’ 3-4 front. Virginia QB Marc Verica has been shaky, with seven interceptions so far, so the Jackets’ defensive line will look to pressure him into more mistakes that the secondary can exploit.
Unfortunately, the Jackets will play without two of their starters this weekend. Senior cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels is out with a hamstring injury, so true freshman Rashaad Reid will get his first start. Also, freshman receiver/punt returner Tyler Melton suffered a knee injury last week and could be out for the season; sophomore Correy Earls will fill in at receiver, and freshman A-back Roddy Jones will handle punt returns.
Virginia took the all-time series lead at 15-14-1 last year, defeating Tech 28-23 in Charlottesville. The Jackets look to avenge the loss and continue their push for the Coastal division title.
After a rough start in which they averaged nine points in each of their first four games, the Cavaliers have rebounded to win their last three, including a 16-13 overtime victory last week over the no 18 North Carolina, which has put them in the race for the ACC Coastal division title.
Virginia was not expected to have a great season after losing a number of key seniors, including All-American defensive end Chris Long and offensive guard Branden Albert, both first-round picks in the 2008 NFL Draft. Early on, it appeared this prediction would hold true; their only win in those first four games was over Division I-AA school Richmond, and their three losses came by a combined score of 128-20.
However, the team has rebounded well. After falling 31-0 to Duke, the Cavaliers shut out Maryland 31-0, and a week later, rolled to a 35-20 win over East Carolina behind strong play from senior RB Cedric Peerman. In the latest win over North Carolina, the Cavaliers drove downfield for the game-tying touchdown with under three minutes left and completed the comeback win in overtime.
Although Virginia has yet to record a win on the road this year, the team hopes to use the momentum from their recent success to pull off an upset in Atlanta on Saturday.