Confident Cavs ready for Cougars

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    By DAVE SELLERS

    The Virginia Cavaliers came into the 1999 football season with a top-25 ranking and hopes for a successful season.

    After beating North Carolina 20-17 in their opener, the 19th-ranked Cavaliers were crushed 33-14 by Clemson and subsequently knocked out of the top 25. Though Virginia got back on track Saturday night by beating Wake Forest 35-7, it still comes to Provo for Saturday night’s game against the Cougars without a national ranking and looking for some respect.

    “We’re excited about making the trip to Utah,” Virginia running back Thomas Jones said. “This game will be a real confidence builder for our team. The more teams you beat in the top 25, the more respect you get.”

    Speaking of top 25, BYU made a large leap in this week’s rankings, jumping all the way to No. 17 in the Associated Press poll. Not only did the Cougars make the jump because of several top 25 teams losing this past weekend, but also because of two impressive performances by the offense and defense over Washington and Colorado State.

    After the two wins, the BYU offense now ranks No. 1 in the nation in passing and the defense ranks No. 7 in rushing defense.

    As far as going up against the Cougar defense, Jones said he likes Virginia’s chances.

    “I like that kind of challenge,” the running back said. “I think we should be able to run the ball on them.”

    Cavalier quarterback Dan Ellis shares the same confidence in the team’s running game.

    “Thomas will have a good game no matter who we play,” Ellis said. “He’s the type of player where you can’t really stop him, you can only hope to contain him. He’ll get his yards no matter what.”

    In three games this season, Thomas has definitely gotten his yards, carrying the ball 82 times for 410 yards and five touchdowns. He heads Virginia’s run-oriented, ball-control offense.

    Ellis said the Cavaliers will get the ball to Thomas about 20-30 times throughout the game, setting up their passing game. Like BYU, Virginia will look to get the ball to several receivers.

    “I like to spread the ball around to everybody,” Ellis said. “We don’t really have one guy the defense can key on. We like to be diverse and show different formations, but when it comes down to it, our running game is the thing.”

    “The thing” for the Cougar offense this year has been the passing game. Kevin Feterik leads the nation’s top air attack with a 69.8 completion percentage and 810 yards passing after just two games.

    With several injuries to key players on the defensive side of the ball, the Cavaliers know they will have their work cut out for them Saturday night.

    “The injuries have hurt us,” Virginia defensive back Tim Spruill said. “It messes up our defense, messes up the flow of the team.”

    According to Spruill, the defense hasn’t been clicking or playing as a whole so far this season. He said he knows the Cougars will test the Virginia defense with the pass.

    “It does concern you knowing that they’re going to come right at you and not shy away,” Spruill said. “I haven’t seen any team throw as much as BYU, but I enjoy passing teams. It’s a challenge to the secondary.”

    With a 2-1 record and five top-25 ranked teams still on their schedule, the Cavaliers know they need to get some momentum going.

    “This is a very important game for us,” Jones said. “Hopefully we can go out there, get a win and come home happy.”

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