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Cavs target Hokies, look to build on win

With Saturday's dramatic 45-40 victory over BYU serving as the anomaly, Virginia's weekend expedition westward was a bit rockier than expected.

Following the late night heroics, the team bus was without escort, delaying the squad's arrival at the airport until nearly 1 a.m. As a result, a jubilant but exhausted Cav squad arrived in Richmond around 5 a.m. Sunday morning and spent much of the day fighting off jet lag.

Mention Virginia Tech, though, and the lethargic Virginia players abruptly cease all snoozing.

Take into account last year's improbable Cav comeback in Blacksburg, where Virginia stormed back from being down 29-7 to claim a 36-32 victory, and add a little more kerosene to an already blazing bonfire.

"Coming from out of state, Virginia/Virginia Tech is really like a Penn State/Ohio State type of rivalry game," guard Noel LaMontagne said. "This is going to be a springboard game for one of us. Hopefully we'll be the one with the perfect 10 dive, and they'll be the one doing a belly flop."

But three games into the 1999 season, Virginia Tech's defense -- a relentlessly attacking unit led by a pair of rabid defensive ends Corey Moore and John Engelberger -- has made quite a splash.

In the Hokies' 31-11 Thursday thumping of Clemson before a national television audience, the Tech defense lived up to its lofty preseason billing as one of the nation's finest.

Clinging to a 17-11 lead late in the fourth quarter, Moore and company uplifted a sputtering Hokie offense by playing a little offense of their own. Cornerback Ike Charleton intercepted a Brandon Streeter pass and returned it for a touchdown. Just 38 seconds later, the speedy Moore, a diminutive 212-pound end, blazed around the left edge to blindside Streeter. The Tiger quarterback fumbled and Moore, pigskin in hand, raced to paydirt.

"They're just as good as Florida State," Virginia coach George Welsh said. "I'm not sure anybody's any better than they are in the country -- I don't see how they can be. They're all so experienced."

To counteract Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer's planned defensive onslaught, Virginia offers a heavy dose of Thomas Jones mixed with play-action and quick passing schemes to negate the speed of the Hokie front four.

"Tech's gonna put eight or nine guys in the box to stop Thomas -- that's our strength, so they have to," quarterback Dan Ellis said. "They're going to force the wide receivers and myself to beat them."

Offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill has opened up his playbook in recent weeks, calling a reverse to wide receiver Tavon Mason against Wake Forest and a halfback toss and pass versus BYU. Mason remains tacit about the details of the Cav offensive game plan, but offers this subtle hint.

"Helping to free Thomas up is a big key," Mason said. "They're real quick, so you have to do some things to keep them honest. Teams coming in are looking for the traditional north/south [running], but if you throw something in there like a reverse, then they're like, 'What're we supposed to look for?'"

Moore and Engelberger horde much of the attention, but Virginia enters the contest as confident as it has been all year after staving off a volatile BYU offense in Provo over the weekend. Cornerback Tim Spruill thinks it's time somebody takes notice.

"One of the Clemson linemen said he thinks it's going to be a straight blowout, which is fine," Spruill said. "We like to be the underdog. We like people to doubt us. We want to be respected, though."

Virginia's search for respect continues without several vital offensive and defensive components. Defensive end Travis Griffith will undergo surgery on his ankle today and is expected to miss the rest of the season, while defensive backs Dwayne Stukes and Antwan Harris are questionable. Tight end Casey Crawford, who has yet to play a down in 1999 while recovering from a hernia operation, will practice this week and may suit up.