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Winless Cavaliers hope to find victory in Mississippi

Virginia prepares to play Golden Eagles for the first time in program history as team combats weight of demoralizing start, lack of offensive production

Virginia running back Mikell Simpson (5) in action against UNC. The Virginia Cavaliers defeated the #18 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels 16-13 in overtime in NCAA football at Scott Stadium on the Grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA on October 18, 2008.  The 113th meeting of the two teams, dubbed the "Oldest Rivalry in the South", saw UVA continue its streak of consecutive home victories over UNC -- the last time the Tar Heels won in Charlottesville was 1981.
Virginia running back Mikell Simpson (5) in action against UNC. The Virginia Cavaliers defeated the #18 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels 16-13 in overtime in NCAA football at Scott Stadium on the Grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA on October 18, 2008. The 113th meeting of the two teams, dubbed the "Oldest Rivalry in the South", saw UVA continue its streak of consecutive home victories over UNC -- the last time the Tar Heels won in Charlottesville was 1981.

The Virginia football team will look to rebound Saturday from its slow start to the 2009-10 season and remedy several problems it encountered during its first two games, as the Cavaliers travel to Hattiesburg, Miss. to take on Southern Mississippi.

The Cavaliers (0-2) will hope to find a solution to their offensive woes, especially after recording only 177 yards of offense and scoring only 14 points in last Saturday's disappointing loss to No. 16 TCU - all of which came after TCU was well in the lead.

The Golden Eagles (2-0, 1-0 C USA), on the other hand, come into Saturday's matchup after impressive showings in their last two games. Southern Mississippi outscored its opponents by a combined score of 78-19 in its first two games. Powered by a potent running attack led by senior running back Damion Fletcher, the Golden Eagles are averaging more than 250 yards of rushing offense per game.

The Cavaliers could find themselves at a loss to defend against that potent ground game, as they are looking to answer a series of questions raised during the team's first two games. After incorporating the spread offense this past offseason, the Cavaliers are searching for a way to better integrate their own running game into the new offense. While designed to extend the field and open up holes for the backs, the scheme has not led to significant improvements to the Cavaliers' rushing attack, which is averaging a mere 94 rushing yards per game.

If the Cavaliers can succeed in improving their rushing game, however, they may do a better job of controlling the time of possession, keeping the ball away from the likes of Fletcher.

"If you can control the clock by making first downs by [running the ball]," coach Al Groh said. "That's one of the ways to keep your hand kind of on the tempo of the game."

Also important for Virginia's offensive play is finding more consistency at the quarterback position. The offense has averaged only about 150 yards of passing offense per game, ranking 106th in the NCAA. Senior quarterback Jameel Sewell will once again start for the Cavaliers, but he will have to improve on his 40 percent completion percentage if the offense is to become multidimensional.

Groh still remains confident in his veteran quarterback, though.

He "had a very good presence about him throughout the game and everything he executed - whether it was run or pass - he did with a strong conviction," Groh said about Sewell's performance against TCU.

Additionally, the Cavaliers will also have to overcome injuries to their offensive line, most notably to junior guard B.J. Cabbell.

"There's no position that's as developmental as offensive linemen," Groh said.

On the other side of the ball, the Cavalier defense needs to work on getting a better push up front to slow down the Golden Eagles' running game.

"We knew we were going to have to shut down TCU on the inside with our linemen and linebackers," sophomore defensive end Matt Conrath said. "I feel like we are going to have to do the same with Southern Miss."

Ultimately, the Cavaliers need to turn things around quickly, as Saturday's game is the last tuneup before the start of Virginia's ACC schedule against No. 24 North Carolina Oct. 3.

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