Gearing Up for Virginia

It's been one long year since Wyoming lost a heartbreaker on the road to Virginia. Now the tables are turned, and the Cavaliers will have to do battle on the Pokes' turf. But will home field advantage be enough to swing the odds in the Cowboys' favor? Or will Virginia's talented returning veterans be too much for Wyoming to handle?

When Wyoming faced off against Virginia last season, the competition could not have been more even.

A pair of forced fumbles from Virginia and an interception by both teams highlighted a defense-dominated regulation that saw the score tied 6-6 as the fourth quarter ended. Backup Virginia quarterback Kevin McCabe found wide receiver Kevin Ogletree for a 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime. An added extra point made the score 13-6 and put pressure on Wyoming's offense to respond with their first end zone trip. The Cowboys did just that when quarterback Jacob Doss found tight end Chris Sundberg for a three-yard TD on fourth-and-1. Double overtime would have been in order had kicker Aric Goodman converted the Pokes' chip-shot extra point. Instead, the freshman's PAT sailed wide right, and Virginia escaped with its first win of the season.

After a year of mulling over "what if's" and "might have been's," Wyoming will have a chance to avenge last year's loss when the Cavaliers make their way onto Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium Saturday.

Virginia made the long trip out to Laramie yesterday, and the Cavaliers practiced at Cheyenne Central High School. UVA head coach Al Groh told the Casper Star Tribune that his team was as ready as it could be given the time of year. Still, he is not denying the importance of the game.

"This is the most exciting game of the season because it is the first," he said in a press conference Tuesday. "I think any first game will show us a lot about the team."

Al Groh, Virginia Head Coach

Wyoming head coach Joe Glenn told the Casper Star Tribune that the Cowboys were "real close" to being ready for Saturday's match.

"We need more polish," he said. "We're going to work right up to kickoff."

"Our performance was much better than (Tuesday)," he said of Wednesday's practice. "We're passing and catching and things were clicking."

The Cavaliers return 18 starters from last year—eight on offense and 10 on defense. It's the most the team has returned since 1989 when it won its first ever ACC championship.

UVA's most notable returning starter is All-America defensive end candidate Chris Long, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long. A Second Team All-ACC selection a year ago as a junior, Long has been named to several preseason All-American teams. Last year, the Pokes held the big pass rusher to just one tackle and a quarterback hurry, but with Long's development and Virginia's other defensive playmakers, limiting the senior to those kind of numbers this year may be a tall order for a young UW offensive line.

Chris Long, Defensive End

Offensively, the Cavs will look to sophomore quarterback Jameel Sewell to lead the team. After taking over the starting job in Virginia's fourth game of the year, Sewell completed 143 of 247 passes (.579) for 1,342 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions, He was named an Honorable Mention Freshman All-American by the Sporting News.

"He (Sewell) has a much higher level of confidence in himself and in handling different aspects of the offense and game situations," Groh said Tuesday.

A left-hander, Sewell had a similar 2006 season to that of Wyoming southpaw gunslinger Karsten Sween, and one of the big story lines going into this weekend's match-up will center on which sophomore can show the most improvement from a year ago.

"He's a very poised player," Groh said of Sween. "He certainly appeared to have a very good grasp on the system and what they wanted him to do with the ball. He has very good accuracy and can really put the ball in some tight spots, lot of moving around and can put them on the run. (He has) real good eye and hand coordination, and he is a very impressive player."

One of the keys for both quarterbacks in Saturday's contest will be avoiding the rush. There is a good chance that this year's game will be another defensive battle; in the end, it may well come down to which team's offensive line can best protect its passer. Even with a veteran OL unit, the Cowboys struggled to give Sween time to throw in '06, giving up 40 sacks on the season (3.3 per game). They'll likely need to do better against a tough Cavalier defensive front on Saturday to pull out a win.

Whatever the outcome, the game will be a historic one. Perhaps the most anticipated home contest in recent history, ticket sales so far all but guarantee Saturday's match-up will boast one of the largest crowds in school history. It also marks just the second time in UW history that a team from the ACC has visited Laramie. The first came in 1961 when North Carolina State, led by All-America quarterback Roman Gabriel, came to War Memorial Stadium. The Cowboys won that game by a score of 15-14.

Log on later for a position-by-position breakdown of the game.

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