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Front five anchors Cavs

Unheralded offensive linemen quietly catalyze teammates

The Virginia football team currently sits bowl eligible with six wins, but has seemingly done so without a solitary star or most valuable player.

The Cavalier offense has rolled in recent weeks thanks to several offensive weapons, including three tailbacks, junior Perry Jones, redshirt freshman Kevin Parks and freshman Clifton Richardson, and sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco.

Such skill players have all found increasing success during recent weeks, but have largely improved because there are in fact five offensive MVPs on this Virginia squad - and each can be found on the offensive line.

The P.A. at Scott Stadium may never announce them and their names may not appear in the stat sheets, but the players know credit for their strong season belongs to the big men in the trenches.

"It starts up front with our offensive line," Rocco said. "They [do] a great job protecting in the passing game and opening up things in the running game. What they do sets the course for our offense."

It is easy to see why Rocco gives his "front-five" such high praise. Through nine games and 238 passing plays, the sophomore quarterback has been sacked just six times which has allowed him to focus more on the targets downfield during his first year as the starter.

The line has allowed just eight sacks all season for more than 300 passing attempts, the 13th best in the nation.

"I think it just speaks to the ability of [sophomore tackle] Morgan Moses, [junior tackle] Oday Aboushi, [senior guard] Austin Pasztor, [sophomore guard] Luke Bowanko and [senior center] Anthony Mihota," coach Mike London said, crediting his first-string offensive linemen for the team's strong pass protection.

Virginia's success also stems in part from another unsung hero, Scott Wachenheim. As the offensive line and tight ends coach, Wachenheim is responsible for teaching technique, footwork and blocking assignments to the big men up front.

"We have a really good relationship Coach Wachenheim]," Mihota said. "He really knows what he's talking about, is easy to talk to and [is] easy to learn from."

Wachenheim joined London after serving as the Washington Redskins' tight end coach in 2009. During only his second year in Charlottesville, Wachenheim is already helping the Virginia offensive line make a name for themselves, as Mihota, Aboushi and Pastzor have all earned ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors this season.

Virginia linemen have won five of the nine weekly awards handed out this season, with Pastzor taking the most recent honor after a nearly flawless game against Maryland last Saturday.

The senior graded at 93 percent and notched six knockdown blocks during 87 plays, while Virginia's tailbacks ran for 220 yards. Meanwhile, Rocco threw for a career best 307 yards and did not hit the turf once in 36 pass attempts, marking the second straight week that opposing defenses failed to penetrate the Virginia line and record a sack.

That win gave the Cavaliers their sixth win of the season and virtually locked up the team's first bowl bid since 2007. Since the team's bye week the first week in October, a new-look Virginia offense has won three of its four conference matchups.

The Cavaliers averaged a respectable 177.2 rushing yards before the bye week, but have smoked opponents for 233.7 rushing yards per game during its recent wins. Rocco has also reached a new level of efficiency, throwing seven touchdowns with only two interceptions during the past five games.

"That's how our offense is designed; to pound them in the running game and [let] things open up in the passing game," Rocco said. "You can see our offense is becoming something special."

The team's offensive revival would not be possible without the exceptional play of the talented and experienced guys in the trenches. The group not only has the Cavaliers bowl-bound, but also a mere game behind arch-rival Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal Division standings.

"Our offensive line has always been strong," senior wideout Kris Burd said. "[They're] our identity right now. They're just big and physical up front, and we'll go wherever they take us"


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