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Cavaliers use Wake Forest as confidence builder in Homecoming blowout

After the humiliating loss to Clemson last weekend, many people were ready to write off the Virginia football team. Yet, in Saturday's 35-7 shellacking of Wake Forest, the Cavaliers did not look like a team that was ready to be disregarded.

Maybe it was the new stadium. Or maybe it was playing in front of a home crowd of 50,000 people, an all-time Scott Stadium record. Maybe the Cavs just wanted revenge after last week. But most importantly, it was confidence that helped Virginia stifle Wake Forest Saturday.

Again and again, Virginia fans have been told that Dan Ellis is a brand new quarterback, that the defense is hurting and that Virginia just is not going to be as good as it should be. This team is not capable of blowing another team out of the water, they said. Every game is going to be a struggle, they said. And despite these predictions, why did Saturday night's performance not look like a struggle?

One word -- confidence.

Virginia headed to the locker room trailing at halftime against both North Carolina and Clemson. Outscored by a combined total of 29-3 in the two games, the Cavs were forced to spend the second half playing catch-up in each of their first two contests.

And the first half against the Demon Deacons revealed a very important conclusion: the Cavaliers don't do well at playing catch-up.

Although most teams struggle in coming from behind, the Cavaliers have shown that they have exceptional difficulty at this task, with the notable exception of last year's victory over Virginia Tech.

"It's so much easier for us, as a team, to play ahead rather than play from behind," Ellis said.

And while no one knows for sure why the Cavs have such a tough time with comebacks, it probably has a lot to do with confidence.

With a new quarterback and an ailing defense, being down going into the second half is a little intimidating. The team is forced into an offense that doesn't gel completely, and the already-hurting defense needs to be perfect to prevent giving up any additional points. Staying calm and confident with that situation is tough even for the best of teams.

So, under the lights of Scott Stadium, when running back Thomas Jones scoring a touchdown with 2:59 to go in the first quarter, you could almost hear a sigh of relief coming from the field.

"We knew that we had to come in really hard at the beginning," Jones said. "We needed a lot of emotion and fire. And I think that's what we had."

With that emotion and fire came a comfortable football team that proceeded to score three more touchdowns in the first half alone.

"When you score first and score often, like we did [Saturday], we made their offense do things that they normally wouldn't do," linebacker Byron Thweatt said. "We force them out of their game plan. When the offense goes out there and plays the way they did, it takes pressure off of [the defense]. We can focus more on what we know their offense is going to do. They can't run the ball -- they have to pass. And that helps because we know exactly what they're going to do."

In other words, Wake Forest was forced into doing exactly what the Cavaliers had done for the last two weeks. And in this situation, Virginia finally was able to play the type of football that it was supposed to be playing at the start of the season.

"We're finally playing Virginia football," Thweatt said. "Last week, we were playing I-don't-know-whose-football."

After one game, this new confidence is probably not a definitive change for the Cavaliers. With a team like Brigham Young on the table for next week, Virginia's confidence only will go so far. But with so many struggles thus far this season, seeing a comfortable Virginia squad is refreshing.

It's still early in the season and anything can happen. But after Saturday's game, it is pretty clear that the Virginia team has something very important. The Cavaliers proved that they have confidence, emotion and fire, which they didn't have in the first two games of the season. And with these things going for them, it's just too early to write off the Cavs.