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November 8, 2012For the first time all day, Chris Brathwaite isn't sure where he's going. Deep underneath Carter-Finley Stadium last Saturday evening as UVa prepared to head back home following a 33-6 win, there he is walking between buses only to be told to go this way or go back. He's still wearing a smile on his face.
The same was true for Maurice Canady, who leaves the media room with headphones around his neck, eating grapes just an hour or so after a coming out party of sorts for what could be a stellar UVa career.
At the time neither Brathwaite, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, or Canady, a true freshman cornerback, could have known that they would be the first players in UVa's 2012 season to earn Player of the Week honors from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Bigger than that, they are part of a youth movement that may have breathed new life into these Cavaliers as they prepare for Coastal Division leading Miami (5-4, 4-2 ACC)
Brathwaite, a 6-foot-1, 270 pounder from Brooklyn, redshirted in 2010 and was hampered by an injury for a good part of 2011. This season, whenever UVa's coaches have called his number, he has created havoc. He has 34 tackles on the year for Virginia (3-6, 1-4) going into Saturday's home tilt against the Hurricanes.
The Hoos will need Brathwaite, who has 7 tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble this season, to keep up his level of play. Against the Wolfpack, Brathwaite was credited with five tackles, two sacks and 2.5 TFLs while also forcing a fumble, good enough to earn him defensive lineman of the week honors.
Canady, meanwhile, is a 6-foot-2, 180 pounder who got his first start against NC State last weekend. He led Virginia's defense with seven tackles and had an interception that he returned 39 yards, play good enough to net him a co-defensive back of the week nod.
"I think I played well enough for us to win," Brathwaite said Saturday following the win. "I don't think it was a great game. It wasn't my best performance."
"Personally, I'm never going to say I played a good game because I'm my biggest critic. I'm going to get better," Canady added.
Despite their own inability or unwillingness to say so, both Brathwaite and Canady (neither of them listed as a starter on the depth chart this week) are part of a group of first-time contributors who are coming up big.
They were integral in holding NC State to a season low 197 yards passing and 19 rushing yards and helping to crack an 84-game streak where the Pack had at least one pass play go for more than 14 yards. State entered the game averaging 306.9 yards per game and the Cavaliers yielded only 216, a season low.
"It's very rewarding, knowing that our hard work is paying off," Brathwaite said. "We work hard on getting pressure on the quarterback and still being able to stop the run. Things haven't gone our way much this season but today, today we executed almost to perfection."
A firm believer that the time UVa spent getting back to fundamentals was important in beating NC State, Brathwaite says the uptick in quarterback pressure really changed things.
"Make them think," he said. "Make them read and react. Make them put the ball in the air and let our guys go get it."
That's what Canady and his group at defensive back did, helping to give UVa more forced turnovers (five) in that game than the Cavaliers had to that point all season (four).
Getting the start after Drequan Hoskey suffered a knee injury during the bye week, Canady says he got word three days before the game that he'd be on the field for more reps than when he had been in on UVa's Nickel package.
"I'm just grateful, for real," Canady said. "I went after it all week in practice so I just tried to take advantage of it as best I could."
From his point of view in UVa's defensive backfield, the Wahoos were able to create turnovers because of Brathwaite and the defensive linemen who were relentless in their pursuit of the quarterback.
"Mainly, it was pressure," Canady said. "Our D-line did a great job of getting pressure on him and it forced him into some throws."
The pick that Canady had, an over-the-shoulder highlight that will stick with him for the rest of his career, was one where he went from being a cornerback to having to recall his days playing offense back at Varina.
"I didn't really think I was going to get it," Canady said with a huge smile. "I was able to track it down, though. I tried to score with it, to be honest."
Though it was his first start, nerves weren't an issue. He admits there was some pent-up frustration not only for him but for other players as well.
"We came together as a team and went as hard as we could," Canady noted, saying it was good to be able to celebrate again. "It really felt good to do it today."
Added Brathwaite, "We did the countdown, we threw the water. It's something that we haven't done in a while. That was really, really, really fun. We missed that. Being happy, being excited. It was really good that we got this win on their homecoming."