Originally created 10/26/02

Streaking Virginia meets reeling Jackets



ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech is still trying to figure out how it lost to Virginia a year ago.

"We had the game in hand," Yellow Jackets safety Jeremy Muyres remembered. "Then they came out with that one play. The flea-flicker or whatever. The hitch-and-whatever. Whatever's it called."

For the record, it's the hook-and-ladder. Billy McMullen caught a pass, then lateraled to Alvin Pearman with two defenders closing in. Pearman went 27 yards for the winning touchdown with 22 seconds left, giving the Cavaliers a stunning 39-38 victory.

"There was this miserable feeling after the game," Muyres said.

On Saturday, Virginia (6-2, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) will go for its second straight victory over Georgia Tech (4-3, 1-3) in a series known for wild finishes.

The Cavaliers also are trying to win seven straight games for the first time since 1990, when they climbed to No. 1 in the polls for the only time in school history.

That year, Georgia Tech knocked the Cavs out of the top spot, winning 41-38 on a last-second field goal. The Yellow Jackets went on to an unbeaten season and a share of the national championship.

Georgia Tech isn't going to be winning any titles this year. It will be tough enough just to qualify for a bowl, considering the Yellow Jackets still have games against No. 12 North Carolina State, No. 11 Florida State and No. 5 Georgia.

"Obviously some of the goals we set before the season are unattainable," Muyres said. "But we still have a lot of football left to be played. There's still a lot out there to be accomplished."

Virginia was picked to finish near the bottom of the ACC, and the prognosticators seemed right on target when the Cavs started the season with two straight losses. They haven't lost since, wearing down teams in the second half.

Last week, Virginia trailed North Carolina 21-0 at halftime, only to rally for a 37-27 victory. Overall, the Cavs have outscored opponents 177-76 after halftime.

"It seems like, in the first half, it takes us a while to realize how good we are," tailback Alvin Pearman said. "In the second half, we come out with a whole other mindset, that we're the best team on the field."

Second-year coach Al Groh wouldn't have predicted that his team would be 6-2 in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Still, he doesn't want his players to start patting themselves on the back. As with Georgia Tech, the toughest part of the schedule is still ahead: No. 18 Penn State, North Carolina State, Maryland and No. 3 Virginia Tech.

If the Cavs don't win Saturday, they might have a hard time qualifying for a bowl.

"This is a marathon, it's not a sprint, and there's still five big laps to go," Groh said. "In the Boston Marathon, there's Heartbreak Hill. A lot of pretenders fall out on Heartbreak Hill."

Matt Schaub, the sixth-rated quarterback in the country, isn't surprised by Virginia's success.

"We knew we could be in this situation as a team," Schaub said. "Maybe we were the only ones, but this is where we expected to be."

Georgia Tech's first-year coach, Chan Gailey, wasn't around for Virginia's victory last season. Still, he's mindful of the Cavs' penchant for trick plays, saying they run more than any other team the Yellow Jackets have faced this season.

Muyres said the key to stopping trick plays is awareness.

"You have to be really disciplined with your eyes," he said. "That's the main thing: looking somewhere you're not supposed to be. Just realize they always can have a trick play."

Georgia Tech is sticking with quarterback A.J. Suggs, even though the offense has sputtered the last three games. Redshirt freshman Damarius Bilbo could get more playing time, especially since the Yellow Jackets had nine days to prepare after a 34-10 loss to Maryland.

Gailey, who coached in the NFL for 12 seasons, is trying to help a younger group of players cope with a difficult time.

"You have to help them more to fight through tough times," he said. "They don't have the amount of experience that the NFL guy has in dealing with success and failure. That's always a challenge, I don't care what level you're at."