- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE | The slow start followed with an early autumn flourish isn’t necessarily the best approach to chasing a conference title - let alone a bowl berth.

There’s angst, consternation and more often than not a mob figuratively calling for a coach’s head. Then comes the turnaround, accompanied by glee and even greater befuddlement at a team’s striking dichotomy.

Virginia knows this all too well. So after digging an imposing 0-3 hole, the Cavaliers (2-3, 1-0) have rattled off consecutive victories and remain one of two unbeaten teams in ACC play entering Saturday’s visit to Maryland (2-4, 1-1).

“You would like to think that we’re going to pull off another one of those Virginia streaks right now, but you have to take it week to week,” linebacker Aaron Clark said Monday. “I know in the past those streaks have been fun. … You’d like to think you could do something like that, but we have to keep grinding.”

Uncorking an October surprise shouldn’t be considered much of a shock for a program with a history of waiting a few weeks before making midseason runs to pacify fans disgruntled with coach Al Groh’s job performance.

In 2006, the Cavaliers rattled off three wins in four games before missing out on bowl eligibility with a season-ending loss at Virginia Tech. The next year, Virginia followed an opening loss at Wyoming with a seven-game winning streak. Then last fall, it produced a spotless October (4-0) before collapsing in the final month.

Clearly, Groh and the Cavaliers have done a vastly better job of channeling Reggie Jackson (won 11 of the last 12 October games) than Derek Jeter (lost nine of 12 in November). But for the moment, the most significant development is they no longer look like the inept outfit of September.

Virginia committed seven turnovers in a shocking loss to William & Mary and followed with setbacks against Texas Christian and Southern Mississippi. Then came a bye week, and the Cavaliers scrapped some of the tenets of the spread offense new coordinator Gregg Brandon installed in the offseason.

The results? Progress from quarterback Jameel Sewell, back-to-back defeats of North Carolina and Indiana and the sense the Cavaliers still could salvage a solid season in the ever-wacky ACC.

“They’ve got eyes and ears, and they can see; they don’t always need the coach to tell them,” Groh said. “When a player can see that he can do things better than he could do them before, that makes everybody feel better, whatever we’re doing.”

The resurrection isn’t complete. The Cavaliers haven’t been over .500 since halfway through last year’s November collapse, and they still easily could miss the postseason for the third time in four years.

That might not auger well for Groh, who has two years left on his contract and was the subject of much fan discontent early this season. Some of it was audible from grouchy fans, but the announced crowd Saturday at Scott Stadium was only at three-quarters capacity and could prove louder than any message-board discord.

Still, Virginia appears markedly more stable than earlier in the season after regrouping during a bye week. The Cavaliers are committed to one quarterback (Sewell) rather than rotating three. Vic Hall returned from a hip injury and flourished as a receiver. And the defense, torched at times in September, has held consecutive opponents to less than 300 yards.

“The way we started, the bye week was very needed,” Clark said. “It came at a crucial point in our season, and I think it was what the doctor ordered. We needed to pull the reins back in and refocus our team.”

Whatever the case, the revamped Cavaliers no longer are the punching bags they appeared to be a few weeks ago. Now it’s just a matter of extending their October magic through the end of the month - and perhaps even further than that.

“We seem to be getting our legs underneath us,” Groh said. “It’s a long way to go yet, but the key thing now is for us to establish for ourselves what level of consistency of performance we’re going to get. To have done it a few times doesn’t necessarily lock it in, so I think we feel significantly challenged to try to step up and do that.”

Notes - The ACC announced game times for Oct. 24. Virginia will host Georgia Tech at noon in a game televised by Raycom. Maryland will visit Duke at 1:30, with ESPN360 providing an online broadcast. …

Maryland kick returner Torrey Smith (specialist), Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling (defensive back) and Virginia Tech tailback Ryan Williams (rookie) were among the ACC’s players of the week.

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