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Welsh looks to heal wounds of defense

Of all the questions facing Cav coach George Welsh this week as he looks to improve upon Saturday's collapse at Clemson, the biggest is "Where do I begin?"

After being shellacked by the Tigers in Death Valley 33-14, Welsh is left to look at a secondary that had multiple coverage breakdowns, a defensive line that made mental errors and lacked a pass rush and an offense that was blanked in the first half.

Welsh would never be in such a position, however, had it not been for the rash of injuries and suspensions his team has faced this season.

"Between the academic suspensions, the assault suspensions and the injuries, we're hurting," Welsh said. "We haven't been this bad since '88. Hopefully we can get some of [the injured players] back this week."

Of those injured players, the most crucial right now for the Cavs are on defense. Defensive backs Antwan Harris (hamstring), Dwayne Stukes (thigh bruise), defensive linemen Monsanto Pope (torn MCL) and Travis Griffith (sore quadraceps) head the laundry list of gaping holes for Virginia.

The inexperienced defensive secondary left responsible for the Cavs' fate Saturday showed that they still need much more work in practice if they're to succeed against Wake Forest.

The focus this week, however, will be geared more toward the explosive running attack of the Demon Deacons, led by ACC-leading tailback Morgan Kane. Luckily for the Cavaliers, one of the few bright spots against Clemson was the play of third-year middle linebacker Yubrenel Isabelle.

"Isabelle's going to be a good linebacker," Welsh said. "I see toughness, intensity, good athleticism and an understanding for football."

Isabelle, who will call most of the plays in the defensive huddle this Saturday, isn't discouraged by his team's recent performance.

"It's all water under the bridge," he said. "We've got to look at what happened as the water went under and move on. We can't point any fingers. If the finger points anywhere, it should be in the mirror."

The third year, however, also feels more confident taking on a team known for the threat of the run. Without the confusion surrounding matchups that characterized the Clemson contest, the young defense can concentrate more on making plays.

"Playing the run is a little easier than the pass," Isabelle said. "On the running game, all you need do is attack and hit people. Its not just about Xs and Os. For every action there's a reaction and sometimes you've just got to be a football player."

The Cavaliers also will count on the experience and strong recent showing of defensive tackle Maurice Anderson up front to stop the run. The fourth year must help the inexperienced line cut down on mental errors such as the five offsides calls against the Cavalier defense Saturday.

"Getting called [for an offsides] rushing a fourth-down field goal, that's ridiculous," Welsh said. "It's a sign that mentally we were not prepared for the game."

"I knew we'd get nicked up, but I didn't expect so many guys missing games," Anderson said. "I know I've got to be the warrior right now and get the young guys to bring their game up."

Welsh maintains that if the defense can coalesce during the next week of practice, the sputtering offense will follow.

"The offense has to execute better," he said. "But it's really just a consistency factor. When we get down into the red zone [Saturday], we're going to score some touchdowns"


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