Makeshift Secondary a Primary Reason for Big Win

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Marcus Hamilton won his matchup with Calvin Johnson.

At this time last year, Ryan Best had recently quit UVa’s soccer team. Byron Glaspy was just another engineering student. Jamaal Jackson and Chris Gorham were on the scout team. Mike Brown was a high school senior. Of all the defensive backs in Virginia’s nickel package during the final three quarters Saturday, only Marcus Hamilton played a significant role on last year’s team.

Logically, that kind of inexperience in the secondary should have killed the Cavaliers, especially with the ACC’s best receiver lining up for Georgia Tech. But logic took a backseat to emotion and heart and fortitude, not to mention some sound strategy and good luck. The result was one of the most remarkable (and important) victories in Al Groh’s five years as head coach.

No doubt about it. The ‘Hoos couldn’t afford to lose to Georgia Tech, not with Virginia Tech and Miami left on the schedule. Not with bowl eligibility at stake. Not at home, where they need every win they can get. A defeat would have created the distinct possibility – probability? – of a losing season and seriously disgruntled fans.

Given that importance, Groh surely could not have felt comfortable with the secondary he saw on the field most of the game. Not long ago, he probably envisioned a defensive backfield manned by Hamilton, Tony Franklin, Nate Lyles and Philip Brown . If you go back further, maybe Willie Davis and Randy Jones. Possibly Stefan Orange or Kenneth Tynes. But attrition, injuries and suspensions have ravaged the secondary. Brown, still a great prospect, is sitting out the season on academic suspension. Franklin, a team captain, was suspended this week for a team rules violation. Lyles was carted