For Virginia, Eli's coming to help the pass rush

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Virginia looking to end six-game losing streak

As the Virginia football team has hit the skids, losing six straight games, coach Mike London has had to weigh the present versus the future. Should the Cavaliers try to salvage this season or gear up for next year, giving talented young players experience?

Making one of those decisions easy has been defensive end Eli Harold. The recent work of the true freshman indicates he's the best man at his position for not only the future, but the present.

Up Next
Virginia at N.C. State
When » Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Where »
Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, N.C.

On a defense that has suffered from a lack of explosion in the front seven, Harold has shown a burst as a substitute. In a 16-10 loss to Wake Forest, Harold had seven tackles, including one for a loss. The previous game against Maryland, Harold had three tackles for a loss, 1? sacks and forced a fumble.

Saturday when Virginia (2-6, 0-4) travels to N.C. State (5-3, 2-2), Harold will get the first start of his college career, as the Cavaliers try to avoid their first seven-game losing streak in a season since 1975.

"Eli's a great player, obviously a dynamic player, and he has that big-play ability," junior defensive end Jake Snyder said. "He's being put in there because he's giving us the opportunity for big plays, and he's giving us an opportunity to win."

At 6-foot-4, 225-pounds, undersized for a defensive end, Harold was a candidate for a redshirt. But he was the highest-rated player in Virginia's recruiting class of 2012, and his performance off the bench has shown he's ready now. An injury to the team's best pass rusher, senior defensive end Billy Schautz, also has hastened the arrival of Harold.

With the promotion of Harold, Virginia is looking for more disruption from its line. Only two of the 120 teams in the FBS have fewer sacks than Virginia (seven). The lack of a pass rush has contributed to the Cavaliers forcing the fewest turnovers in the nation (four).

Harold isn't the only young Virginia lineman who has pushed his way into the rotation. Sophomore tackle Chris Brathwaite came off the bench and had nine tackles, including two for a loss against Wake Forest.

"It's been nice to see them make some big plays -- some game-changing plays," middle linebacker Steve Greer said.

Virginia hasn't given up on its hope for a bowl berth. The rest of the schedule isn't easy, but there is not a daunting test remaining. After N.C. State, the Cavaliers will finish with Miami (4-4, 3-2), North Carolina (6-3, 3-2) and Virginia Tech (4-4, 2-2).

With a revamped rotation, including a younger, friskier defensive line, Virginia has a chance to be more disruptive and dangerous.

"He's done a great job so far growing as a person and a player," Snyder said of Harold. "Any time you come in and play as a true freshman, that's a special situation. He's really taken full advantage of it."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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