Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Virginia fans came into this year hopeful. Last year's frustration at the Cavaliers inability to win the big game led to depression after losing in overtime to Fresno State in the humanitarian Bowl. Virginia's heart might not have been in that game, but fans still had hope that returning quarterback Marques Hagans and running back Wali Lundy could put up the offensive firepower UVA displayed when it started the year 5-0. Ahmad Brooks looked to continue his stellar career. Expectations and reality however, would not coincide in 2005.

Virginia began the year against Western Michigan, a team without it's starting quarterback and following a winless season. Right away UVA showed vulnerability on defense. The Broncos constantly were able to use quick, short passes to move down the field and the defense seemed unable to tackle. The absence of Ahmad Brooks was disconcerting but it would be a theme for the entire year as the linebacker could not seem to shake off his offseason surgery. Hagans started out hot, but when Lundy went down on the second play. The injury bug made its first appearance of what would be an extended stay. Some fourth quarter antics helped seal up a victory, but a far from inspiring one. UVA won 31-19, but showed problems on both offense and defense that were not just a fluke.

Virginia's next game took them to the road and take on the Orange of Syracuse. The Cavaliers defense once again seemed unsure of itself, giving up a touchdown on Syracuse's opening possession. The game had several ebbs and flows, even a 70+ yard touchdown run by Johnson to make the score 24-14 was not enough to insure the victory. A tough stretch in the fourth by the Orange tied the game at 24 with a little over 7 minutes to go. Virginia would put together one impressive drive down the field. Even converting a fourth and one to give Connor Hughes a game winning chip shot of a field goal for a 27-24 victory. Cavalier fans were worried, but certainly could see a better performance here than they had in the opening week. They had no idea that this would prove to be their only road win of the season.

The Duke game continued to show the injury virus coursing through the Cavaliers. During the second quarter all star OL D'Brickashaw Ferguson was taken out with an injury. Now with Brooks not even having played one down so far this year and Lundy completely ineffective, Virginia's stars were few and far between. This injury also set the offensive line into a tailspin it would never really recover from. New faces like Marshall Ausberry, Jordan Lipsey and Eugene Monroe were thrust into starting positions and had to respond. In this game they did admirably, as did most of the team. Ferguson's injury woke up a sleeping offense and Hagans was able to exploit his athletic advantage over the porous Duke defense en route to a 38-7 drubbing. Finally Virginia had the decisive victory they had hoped for and a 1-0 record in the ACC.

Therefore, by the end of September things were still okay. The Cavaliers were still 3-0, not winning by as much as they had hoped but not dropping these critical games. These teams would all go on to have losing seasons and perhaps underperformed by their own standards. October loomed large for the Cavaliers with Maryland, Boston College and North Carolina, all on the road as well as a visit from the undefeated Seminoles. Nevertheless, Virginia had improved every week and news came that Brooks would play against the Terps to begin October. Maybe the Coastal Division was going to be a race after all.


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