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Defense must shape up if Cavaliers hope to end losing streak

I t's time to stop arguing over which Virginia quarterback is better. Both Bryson Spinner and Matt Schaub are doing just fine. It's time to stop wondering when star running back Antwoine Womack will return. He made his re-entrance on Saturday and hopefully will make a full comeback next weekend.

The focus and discussion need to turn now to Virginia's defense, which must improve drastically if the Cavaliers stand any chance of attaining another win this season.

Saturday against Wake Forest, the Virginia defense allowed the Demon Deacons 481 total net yards. That may not sound like an extravagant number, but it's more than Wake, which averages 388.3 yards per game, has mustered against any of its other opponents this season. And it was enough to send the Cavaliers to their first loss to Wake since 1983. Worse, add 83 total yards on two punt returns and 113 on four kickoff returns and that's a great day for Wake and a sad, sad day for the Virginia defense. The Cavaliers simply let Wake Forest trample them on the ground and assault them in the air.

Special teams was no exception either. On a David Greene kickoff following a Virginia field goal late in the first quarter, Demon Deacon John Stone returned the kick 48 yards until he was forced out of bounds by Greene himself -- the last line of Virginia defense. It happened again on a Mike Abrams punt, too. Abrams floated the ball 44 yards to the Wake Forest 38, only to have Fabian Davis return it 62 yards for a touchdown. Abrams tried to tackle Davis but missed. But why should Greene and Abrams have to be going after the opponents returning the balls they just kicked? After all, that's why they're called special teams. Virginia coach Al Groh noted after Saturday's game that the feeble talent on the part of special teams has not gone unnoticed.

"The only way we can spend more time on special teams is not to practice anything else," he said. "I don't know what else to do."

But particularly on Demon Deacon Jason Anderson's game-winning 64-yard reception and subsequent touchdown run, the Virginia defense suffered a major breakdown. Wake quarterback James MacPherson was trying just for a first down with the short pass thrown to Anderson, but instead the Cavaliers gave Wake Forest the gift of a touchdown and an end to its 17 consecutive losses to the Cavaliers.

Overall, Wake Forest's offensive numbers just made Virginia look bad. The Cavaliers allowed the heroic Anderson, a redshirt freshman, to rack up 150 yards receiving when he normally averages 40. Fred Staton, the Demon Deacons' leading rusher on Saturday, averages 55 yards a game. Against Virginia, he ran for 151. Fabian Davis, who returned two punts for 83 total yards on Saturday, usually averages just 8.6 yards.

However, the Cavaliers' problem on defense was not exclusive to Saturday's game. Virginia has been letting its opponents rack up offensive yards all season. The Cavaliers rank second to last in the conference in average offensive yards allowed to opponents with 431.5. Maybe that says something about ACC offensive strength, but it says just as much about Virginia defensive vulnerability.

Virginia better remember for next week that it's not a surprise for No. 23 Georgia Tech to produce well over 400 total offensive yards in each of its games. If the Cavaliers don't want to be embarrassed (again) at home by the Yellow Jackets, they need some serious defensive work.

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