UVa.'s defense can finally crow

Solid effort in upset of Florida State does wonders for morale

ACC notebook

October 19, 2005|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

Virginia senior quarterback Marques Hagans might have played the game of his life on Saturday, when he drove visiting Florida State's pass rushers crazy by sidestepping and running away from them while slicing up the Seminoles' pass defense to lead the Cavaliers to a 26-21 upset victory.

But Cavaliers junior cornerback Marcus Hamilton is here to tell you not to sell Virginia's defense short, not quite yet.

That was a tough argument to make after Virginia surrendered 45 points at Maryland in a loss on Oct. 1. And through six games, the Cavaliers are hardly intimidating, what with a unit that has allowed 24 points and 393.8 yards per game, good for respective rankings of 49th and 79th among Division I-A teams.

"We feel like we can go into any stadium and win. The Maryland game hurt us. As a group, we decided we were going to turn things around," Hamilton said. "We had to come into the [Florida State] game with a chip on our shoulders, especially in Charlottesville."

Virginia's defense did not dominate the Seminoles, who rolled up 472 yards and averaged 5.9 yards on 80 plays, but hurt themselves with 13 penalties.

But by using a well-executed zone alignment with an occasional blitz, and by playing enough good prevent defense with a big lead, the Cavaliers did enough to confuse Florida State freshman quarterback Drew Weatherford, one of the brighter young talents in the league, who threw three costly interceptions.

Hamilton produced the first pick. Next came sophomore cornerback Chris Gorham. Finally, after the Seminoles had cut into a 26-10, fourth-quarter lead and were driving for the possible game-winning score in the closing minutes, junior cornerback Tony Franklin ended Florida State's comeback hopes.

"We probably gained enough yardage," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "What [Virginia] did was just about what I thought they'd probably do, and that was back everybody off, put on a controlled rush, and make [Weatherford] throw good enough to beat them."

Hamilton thinks the defense can turn a corner after this win, and make Hagans' job a little easier as Virginia (4-2, 2-2) - back in the rankings at No. 23 - begins its stretch run at NorthCarolina on Saturday.

"I guess it can change our season. It's a boost for our team," Hamilton said. "I believed the whole time that we've got a pretty good defense. When we proved we could stop Florida State, it gave us reason to believe it even more."

"We always say that the only thing the defense is out there for is not to give up a lot of points, and they certainly did a good job of that," Virginia coach Al Groh said. "Florida State had us on our heels with a couple of those drives, but the kids really bucked up at the end of the drive and took points away from them."

Amato feels heat

North Carolina State (2-3, 1-3) has lost six straight conference games at home dating to last fall, and is in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the second year in a row.

Last week's 31-10 flop against visiting Clemson brought out the mean streak in the home fans, many of whom left early, but some of whom stayed long enough to jeer an appearance by coach Chuck Amato on the Jumbotron at Carter-Finley Stadium.

That prompted N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler to give Amato a vote of confidence by posting an open letter to fans on the school's Web site.

"I ask you, our partners, and those who have invested so much in our football program, those of you who love N.C. State, to resist the urge to criticize, to become doubters and faithless about our program," the letter read. "The support you give now, when it is needed most, may well determine the outcome for the rest of the season."

After starting out with a 34-17 record in his first four seasons, Amato is 7-9 the past two years. And after playing at Wake Forest on Saturday, the Wolfpack still has road trips to Florida State and Boston College. Which might be a good thing.

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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