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Cavs eye Terps, bowl game

For the past 12 years, only four teams in Division I have racked up seven or more victories every season. Virginia is one of them. The other three are Florida State, Nebraska and Michigan -- pretty impressive company. Company that Virginia Coach George Welsh would like the Cavaliers to keep, but with six wins heading into their final regular season game at Maryland Saturday, the seven-game streak is on the line.

"The seventh win is still in front of them," Welsh said. "I don't let them forget about that."

As important as a seventh victory would be for the Cavs, Maryland also needs this victory to end up with a requisite six wins to earn bowl eligibility.

"They're really going to come out fired up and do their best to get to a bowl game," quarterback Dan Ellis said. Ellis was the Player of the Game against Buffalo last week when he threw six touchdowns in the 50-21 victory, a school record.

But the Cavs will not be able to depend on Ellis alone against Maryland.

"I'm sure they'll pull out all the stops," Welsh said. "We have to be ready to do the same."

In the past two games, the Cavaliers have done just that, scoring an astronomical 95 points. The passing game has also vastly improved -- the Cavs scored nine touchdowns in the last two games in the air, compared to seven total in the first six games of the season. Ellis credits the recent success of the passing attack to the offensive line.

"I think the offensive line is playing a lot better," he said. "The last few weeks we've had a lot of time."

Led by first-year Billy McMullen, who received ACC Rookie of the Week honors this week, the Cav wide receiving corps has done its part to add to the potency of the Virginia passing game.

"That's a big confidence booster when you can throw it up and they can go get it for you," Ellis said.

McMullen has caught 22 passes for 405 yards to lead the team. He has also earned praise from his coach.

"He's got a chance to be a big-league receiver," Welsh said. "I think people have underestimated him. They're not going to underestimate him now, though."

Another Cavalier that cannot be underestimated is running back Thomas Jones. After rumbling for 221 yards on the ground against Buffalo, three yards short of a Virginia single game record, the Heisman hopeful is a mere 14 yards short of the ACC season record. He also became the first Virginia player to gain more than 100 yards both rushing and receiving when he amassed 331 yards of total offense.

Saturday's game also will be a duel between the ACC's top two rushers. Jones, who leads the nation in rushing with 170.7 yards per game, will face LaMont Jordan of Maryland, who is sixth in the nation with an average of 132.6 yards per game.

The success of the offense can be attributed to improved play at every position, but also to necessity. The Cavs have had to put up impressive offensive numbers to stay ahead of teams that have run right through a porous Virginia defense.

"I don't think we tackled well in the open field," Welsh said after the Buffalo game.

The Cavs have given up 59 points in their last two games. The 21 points allowed to lowly Buffalo, new to Division I-A football, were especially humbling.

"After they started moving the ball, I think the defense got a little bit frustrated," Welsh said.

But Welsh has not been overly disappointed in the defense and contributes its performance to more wide-open play in the ACC.

"I don't remember a year in the ACC ... with all the scores like we're seeing now," he said. "You're seeing different offenses every week, and defense is recognition."

Defensive lineman Mo Anderson has added consistency to the struggling defense. Coming off two turf-toe injuries, Anderson has established himself as the best player on the defensive line.

"Mo's been the stalwart for us," Welsh said.

Anderson and the rest of the Cavs will have to be prepared to battle with the Terrapins Saturday for this all-important seventh victory.

"They always play well on defense," Ellis said. "They've always had good athletes, so I expect it to be a real tough game"


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