CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -A most convenient three-game homestand coincided with Virginia's transformation from doormats to contenders in the ACC's Coastal Division.
Now the Cavaliers have to prove that they really belong in the discussion, heading back on the road to face No. 21 Georgia Tech, suddenly the top-ranked team in the league.
Virginia (4-3, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved into contention during its homestand, beating Maryland, East Carolina and North Carolina in succession. The Cavaliers also gave new quarterback Marc Verica a chance to grow comfortable in his role, and need it to continue.
``It's good to get a couple of good, tough wins in, especially the UNC win,'' senior tight end John Phillips said this week as he looked ahead. ``It was pretty difficult for us.
``Hopefully the young guys feel confident going down to a hostile environment.''
Verica said the game is the same, and so are the objectives.
es,'' he said. ``We're not thinking that we're playing at Georgia Tech. It's really what happens between the white lines that matters. You can't let any outside distractions get to you if it's their crowd or our crowd.''
He laughs, though, at the notion that a team accustomed to having 60,000 fans screaming their approval at every good play adapts easily to having 50,000 cheering against it.
``Playing away isn't really a good excuse for not playing well,'' the sophomore with five starts under his belt said. ``As much as we appreciate their support, they're not in the game. They're not playing, and that will be the case when we go to Georgia this week.''
The Cavaliers had no reason to feel good about themselves the last time they went on the road. In Verica's first start after former starter Peter Lalich was left home before being dismissed from the team, they lost 45-10 at Connecticut. Verica threw four interceptions in his second start, a 31-3 loss at Duke that ended the Blue Devils 25-game ACC losing streak.
This team, though, goes into Saturday's game with more confidence, especially after doing nothing offensively for 58 minutes against North Carolina last week before Verica led a 2-minute-drill drive to a tying touchdown in regulation, and they won in overtime, 16-13.
with games still to play against each of them.
Starting fast, Verica said, would simplify Saturday's game.
``Just executing right off the bat would help us,'' he said. ``Sustaining drivers, just establishing something, because when you do that, you really take the crowd out of it.''
Defensively, the Cavaliers face a big challenge, too, going against the spread option offense employed by first-year Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson. Georgia Tech ranks ninth nationally in rushing yards per game with an average of more than 248 yards.
Virginia, by contrast, averages 305 yards of offense per game.
Before this season, there was talk that spread option offense wouldn't work at a BCS conference level, and that stopping it would be simply a matter of playing with discipline.
Cavaliers linebacker Clint Sintim wishes it looked that easy on film.
``They're 6-1, so it can't be that easy,'' he said.

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