CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia offensive lineman Oday Aboushi wasn't impressed earlier this week when informed that Southern Mississippi, Saturday 's opponent, is a physical team.
"They're not coming into Candy Land," Aboushi said. "We like to hit, too. We like to be a physical team. If they're going to bring the wood, we'll bring it, too."
The Cavaliers have backed up that talk through three weeks, averaging 190 yards rushing per game behind the stout offensive line.
With a pair of physical teams up front, though, the difference could be the passing game.
U.Va. quarterback Michael Rocco is three years younger than Southern Miss QB Austin Davis, but Rocco's receivers are feeling more confident by the week.
"Just being in the huddle with him, you can see the confidence and the look in his eyes when it comes down to those gut-check moments," receiver Kris Burd (Matoaca) said. "I feel he's definitely growing as a quarterback."
The receivers' ranks also are swelling, with 12 players having caught a pass.
Sophomore Tim Smith said practices have become interesting, because of the heavy rotation of players and the uncertainty of who will be running what plays. U.Va. is hoping that uncertainty pays dividends.
One thing Burd says all 12 have in common is a commitment to blocking hard.
"I feel like we're a very physical team as well," he said. "If they're a physical team, we'll match it or do more."
It's an attitude that will have to be adopted by the Wahoos' defense. Virginia (2-1) has been banged up at key positions, including linebacker and safety, and will need to keep the spread offense in check to beat Southern Miss (2-1).
Cornerback Dom Joseph enters the game more often when opponents pass from the spread formation, so he's taking it as good news.
"At corner, you're basically out there on the island, but it's different, the notion that they're going to pass more," he said. "I get a little more excited that maybe they'll test me."
At stake is a 3-1 record and increased momentum for a potential six-win season and a bowl appearance.
For the upperclassmen, they sense their time at U.Va. running out. Burd said last week's loss to North Carolina stung more because of how much the Cavs have improved.
"We've had a great offseason, a great training camp," he said. "So when we come up short it hurts more in the heart, and you can see it in guys' eyes that we don't want to feel that way again."
• Read Michael Phillips' Virginia blog at http://www2.timesdispatch.com/list/sports-college-uva/