One year ago, the Virginia football team finished their storybook 2002 season with a 48-22 trouncing of then-15th-ranked
West Virginia in the inaugural Continental Tire Bowl, surging to a final rank of 22nd in the Associated Press
poll after being picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the ACC.
With fourteen true freshmen seeing playing time and only five starters departing, expectations for Al Groh’s young
squad skyrocketed. ESPN’s Ivan Maisel picked Virginia to win the ACC, as did The Sporting News. Even with only
six seniors expected to start for the Cavaliers in 2003, Virginia began the season ranked 18th, only the
fourth time in school history that the Cavaliers had been ranked in the top-20 entering a season.
With reigning ACC player of the year Matt Schaub back at the helm, offense was not expected to be a problem for the
Cavaliers. After being benched early in 2002 in favor of Marques Hagans, Schaub rebounded and had a record-breaking
year, throwing for 2,976 yards and compiling a 28:7 touchdown to interception ratio. ESPN mentioned Schaub as an early
Heisman candidate last November, and the university opened a major preseason campaign marketing their star quarterback.
Schaub would be losing his favorite target, as Virginia career receiving leader Billy McMullen graduated. But an
improved ground game featuring 2002 Continental Tire Bowl M.V.P. Wali Lundy running behind the same five linemen he did
in Charlotte was expected to compensate for losing McMullen.
Heading into 2003, defense was the bigger concern, as the Cavaliers had allowed over 420 yards per game in 2002 and
were graduating 277 tackles from their senior inside linebackers, Angelo Crowell and Merrill Robertson. Opponents
averaged nearly 210 yards rushing in 2002 against Virginia and a pair of freshmen—Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham—were
expected to take the reins in the middle.
The defense seemed to silence its critics in the opener, as the
Cavaliers shut out Duke 27-0 and held the Blue Devils to just 272 yards of total offense. The shutout was Virginia’s
first since they blanked the Blue Devils in the 1998 season. After Schaub completed five of six passes on the opening
drive for 84 yards to take the Cavaliers to the Duke one-yard
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