Keeping tabs on Simpson

Mikell Simpson got one carry in his last game of 2006, failing to pick up a yard against North Carolina State. This time, accounting for Simpson will be a major priority of the Wolfpack defense.

Coming off one of the best performances in ACC history, Simpson may again be needed in the backfield for No. 21 Virginia as it tries to set a school record for consecutive wins in a season when it faces N.C. State on Saturday.

Simpson, replacing injured starter Andrew Pearman, became the fifth player in conference history to reach 100 yards rushing and receiving in a game as Virginia (7-1, 4-0) beat Maryland 18-17 last week. The sophomore ran 16 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns - including the winning score with 16 seconds left - and had 13 catches for 152 yards to lead the Cavaliers to their seventh straight win.

"We just decided this was something Mikell has been waiting for a long time and let's ride him and see what happens," Virginia coach Al Groh said. "Obviously, he showed us early that he was up for it."

Simpson was listed third on the depth chart and had only two carries and four catches before that game. In his final contest last season, he had the one carry as the Cavaliers beat the Wolfpack 14-7 on Oct. 28.

Simpson was named the conference's offensive back of the week as he helped Virginia draw within a win of setting a team single-season record for consecutive victories. This is the fourth time the Cavaliers have won seven straight, doing it previously in 1914, 1949 and 1990.

"We're still hungry for more," Groh said. "We have more challenges ahead of us. The road isn't straight yet. The road's still got a lot of curves in it."

With Pearman and Cedric Peerman nursing foot injuries, Groh may again give Simpson the majority of Virginia's carries Saturday. Simpson is the first Cavaliers player to gain 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game since Thomas Jones did it against Buffalo on Nov. 13, 1999.

A strong ground attack will be especially important against N.C. State (2-5, 0-3). The Cavaliers have taken six of their last nine games against the Wolfpack, but have only been able to win when rushing for at least 100 yards.

Having a running game that can control the clock is also crucial for a Virginia team that has been winning by narrow margins, earning five of its seven victories by five points or less.

Strong defense has helped the Cavaliers keep games close, as Virginia has allowed less than 20 points in three of the last four games. Chris Long was named ACC defensive lineman of the week after his performance against Maryland, recording 10 tackles - five for loss - with two sacks.

N.C. State allowed six sacks in a 27-10 loss to Florida State on Oct. 6, but gave up just one as it bounced back with a 34-20 win over East Carolina last Saturday. The Wolfpack ended a 12-game losing streak against Football Bowl Subdivision teams that dated to 2005.

"I think it was a great monkey off their back," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said. "They've been living with this and there's all kinds of streaks going on. I told them, 'You're only responsible for this year' and tried to get them focused on one game at a time and we'll get this thing turned around and win. ... The challenge is we have to do it again."

N.C. State still has a nine-game losing streak against conference opponents. Its last ACC win was over Florida State on Oct. 5, 2006.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Virginia -3 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 80% of bets for this game have been placed on Virginia -3 (View College Football bet percentages).

The Wolfpack are starting a string of five ACC contests to close the regular season. They have a chance to turn a much-needed win into part of a strong finish to O'Brien's first year as coach.

N.C. State's only other victory was against Wofford, and its average margin of defeat this season has been 16.0 points.

"We could be a little more confident (than before the win) but I don't think we ever lost confidence," Wolfpack receiver Donald Bowens said after the victory over East Carolina. "We lost a few games, but I don't think we were ever really down."

N.C. State leads the series with Virginia 15-8.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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