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Something to prove

With No. 7 Georgia Tech rambling into town this weekend and looking to wreak havoc on the Virginia defensive unit, many Cavs are feeling the pressure to perform at their peak. Yet nobody feels the heated glare of the spotlight more this week than fourth-year cornerbacks Antwan Harris and Dwayne Stukes.

These two pillars of the Cav defense at corner are responsible for shutting down the No. 1 scoring offense in the country. Moreover, the Cavaliers must deal with the palpable stigma of last season's come-from-behind victory by the Ramblin' Wreck, in which wideout Dez White torched the secondary for 243 yards, a Georgia Tech single-game record, on only six catches.

"We need to do a lot of different things to stop them," Harris said. "If we keep changing up on them and mixing their heads up, we'll keep them off-balance."

Balance seems to be the strength of the Jacket attack, with Heisman contender Joe Hamilton directing an option-offense that can show many unique looks. Couple this with White on one side of the field and speedy Kelley Campbell, who leads the ACC in receiving yardage, on the other, and Tech's offensive threat is as serious as a heart attack.

This is not the ideal time for Harris to be put up to such an important test, either. He suffered a hamstring injury following the North Carolina game and just played in his first full game since the injury Saturday against FSU.

Yet if Harris feels any trepidation entering the pivotal contest against a passing attack that eats cornerbacks for breakfast, he's doing his best not to show it.

"We're going to try to stick up to the challenge," he said. "If I'm going to go out scared, then why am I out there? To prove I'm a great cornerback, I have to do what I say."

Stukes is no stranger to the threat of White and the Wreck, as he was singled out in last year's loss for being burned twice for huge plays. Yet the fourth year gives off the impression that he's familiar with being forced to overcome adversity.

Stukes entered the season with sights set on the NFL Draft. But a thigh bruise in his first half of play this season kept him out of four games and still hampers his return to the full athletic ability he once possessed.

"I don't like to make excuses for myself," he said. "I view bad situations as obstacles I have to get over. If you make bad situations worse, you'll just be a rut, and you'll never get out."

While Stukes says he has realized that he can't center his entire life around football, he still values the opportunity to prove that he can be as good as he was before the injury.

"Everybody in my family knows the situation," he said. "This will be a big test for myself and my teammates."

Stukes also relishes the chance to play once again alongside his good friend and counterpart Harris in the secondary.

"Teams that are playing us can say Virginia's got two good corners out there," Stukes said. "'Twan and myself have a little more experience than the other corners, and teams can't game plan to one side of the field."

While both Harris and Stukes may find some motivation in the embarrassment they suffered last year at the hands of Georgia Tech, Cav Coach George Welsh scoffs at the suggestion that some players still may be hung up on the past.

"They need to forget about last year," Welsh said. "You've got to forget about the last play and play the next one. Corners get beat all the time, and they've got to go back out. Ted Williams struck out a lot, Michael Jordan started games 2-for-12. You think they worried about it?"

But unless defensive coordinator Rick Lantz and the rest of the coaching staff can come up with an effective game plan against the Wreck -- and the secondary can execute it to the letter -- the painful memories of the past may come back to haunt the Cavaliers twice over.