Virginia Cavs in the 'Cuse

Virginia (1-0) makes its first ever trip to the Carrier Dome this Saturday to take on the Syracuse Orange (1-1). Kickoff is set for noon. ESPN 2 will televise the out of conference game. Both come off wins, and carry momentum into this matchup. The contest is Syracuse's third consecutive home game.

Damien Rhodes and the Orange defeated Buffalo last Saturday 31-0. Rhodes was responsible for each of Syracuse's four touchdowns, rushing for a total of 236 yards, 16 short of the school record. The senior tailback should will be key in this weekend's match-up as well, but can not succeed without the Orange's offensive line.


Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson said he was pleased with the line's performance last Saturday but also notes that Virginia is a higher caliber team.


            "The offensive line is going to get tested this week," he said. "I've watched them grow and develop. I thought in the West Virginia game there was a lot of good things to take from it. Then the other day I think Buffalo exposed themselves and our offensive line took advantage of that. (Virginia) is a tougher challenge. These guys are very good. They'll give us a real challenge."


Another difficulty the line will face on Saturday is the absence of senior starter Kurt Falke. The tackle hurt his leg in last week's game and isn't likely to play this Saturday. Falke caught a pass intended for Rhodes, and in doing so, injured his left knee. As of now, nobody knows the date of Falke's return.


The Orange's passing game is not up to par yet as quarterback Perry Patterson attempted 22 passes, completing only 10 of them for 139 yards last Saturday. Patterson showed some mobility though, rushing for 22 yards against Buffalo. A vast improvement over the 33 he lost against West Virginia.


            The Syracuse defense has been consistent throughout the Orange's two games. The defensive line and linebackers held Buffalo to a mere 50 yards rushing and 73 passing, shutting the Bulls out. Senior free safety Anthony Smith tallied two interceptions on the game while senior defensive end Ryan LaCasse totaled 3 quarterback sacks. But, LaCasse and fellow defensive end James Wyche will have their work cut out for them this week against talented Virginia quarterback, Marques Hagans.


            "If (Hagans) was 6'1" they would be talking about him as a Heisman candidate because it isn't just escaping," Robinson said of the senior QB. "He escapes, but he can also throw the ball. I saw him throw sliding to his right with his shoulders turned the sidelines throw a ball 55 yards dead on the money. He fired it down the field without his whole body to give him momentum. He's very accurate when he throws, he can fire it or take something off of it. We still haven't talked about his legs yet. He threatens you in lot of ways."


            The quarterback ran for two touchdowns and threw for one in Virginia's 31-10 victory over the Orange last season. He had 202 passing yards in the game.


Junior tailback Wali Lundy, and junior guard Elton Brown lead the Cavaliers rushing attack. Tight end Heath Miller is Virginia's best receiver. The senior is the front-runner for the Mackey Award. Last season he tallied 70 catches for 835 yards and six touchdowns.


            As for the Cavalier defense, there is a whole where junior linebacker Ahmad Brooks usually plays. The All-America candidate had surgery on his right knee over the summer and is still recovering. He missed the Western Michigan game last weekend and isn't expected to play this Saturday either.


Brooks is one of the top linebackers in the country. He was a first team All-American last season and named to every pre-season All-America team this year. In Brooks' absence, the rest of the defensive line and linebackers will need to step up. Defensive end Chris Canty and linebacker Darryl Blackstock are two of Virginia's best. Their main task will be to shut down Syracuse's Rhodes and put pressure on QB Perry Patterson early on.


            Virginia is at a disadvantage in that is has not only never played at Syracuse, but never played in an enclosed stadium.


"This is, mentally, a little bit different atmosphere," said Cavalier head coach Al Groh. "Obviously, none of these players have experience playing in a dome. None of them have any experience playing on FieldTurf. And, all of them have limited or no experience against this particular opponent," he added. "So, taking all of those things together, we'll try to, as we do every week, fill in more information in the who/what/where/when categories."


            This game is especially important for Syracuse, because the Orange starts a two game road trip after next week's bye. The Orange heads down to Florida State, and back up to Connecticut. Florida State is #8 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, and Connecticut has not allowed a point this year, so needless to say, Syracuse doesn't want to go into that difficult road trip with a 1 and 2 record. Syracuse tailback Damien Rhodes isn't looking that far ahead though, he's just excited to play a good team at home.


"It's just a chance to play another big game in the dome again," Rhodes said. "You got to love it, you know, every time you get the chance to play a big game at home."

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