CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- On the surface, Saturday's showdown between No. 7 Georgia Tech and Virginia would seem to have all the elements for a great battle.
The Yellow Jackets feature Joe Hamilton, a multidimensional quarterback and the nation's top-rated passer. The Cavaliers have Thomas Jones, the nation's leading rusher frequently annointed as the best in the country by opposing coaches and broadcasters.
And there is the matter of last year, when Virginia raced to a 38-17 lead in Atlanta, then went into cruise control as Hamilton and his mates caught fire, lighting up the Cavaliers' secondary in a 41-38 victory that helped turn the Yellow Jackets around.
But with Hamilton having a season that places him among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy and Virginia struggling, the game actually looks like a mismatch.
Georgia Tech went on to finish 10-2 after the victory in 1998, and hasn't stopped.
The Yellow Jackets (6-1, 4-1 ACC) have the nation's top offense in both scoring average and yards, and stumbled only against top-ranked Florida State this season. They also will arrive at Scott Stadium trying to win there for the first time since 1990.
"That's one of the first things coach (George) O'Leary said to us," safety Chris Young said this week. "He told us that we've not played well up there and we didn't play well last year in Atlanta until the last couple of quarters. It's going to be a tough atmosphere."
Not nearly tough enough by Virginia coach George Welsh's standards.
The Cavaliers have lost three in a row at home, and while the first loss was against No. 3 Virginia Tech and the last was against the Seminoles, the middle one was a 24-17 overtime embarrassment against Duke, and that one still stings the Cavaliers.
So, too, does last year's loss at Georgia Tech, especially for a secondary that gave up 312 yards passing by Hamilton -- 243 of those yards going to Dez White on just six catches. Three of White's catches were for long touchdowns, two in the last 8:13.
Preventing a repeat may mean realizing there's only so much you can do, said Cavaliers cornerback Antwan Harris. "You're not going to stop them, Joe Hamilton or their receivers," he said. "You just hope to contain them and keep them from the big play."
Hamilton is dangerous as a drop-back passer and when he runs the option, Welsh said. Harris expects the Cavaliers to vary their defense looks and create confusion.
"You can't just do one thing. You've got to keep changing up on them, try to mix their heads up, keep them off balance," he said.
Dwayne Stukes, who was beaten several times by White a year ago, said remembering that day provides incentive to play better, but there's more at stake than pride.
Virginia (4-4) is three victories shy of its 13th straight seven-win season and has only three games left, save for a possible bowl invitation if it can win at least twice.
"Who wants to go to a bowl 6-5?" Stukes scoffed. "That's a horrible record."
Virginia faced similar long odds last week when it played host to the Seminoles. The Cavaliers led 10-7 at halftime before Florida State rallied for a 35-10 victory.
"We have to play four quarters this time," Stukes said.
Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised regionally by ABC.
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