Virginia receivers out to prove worth in opener against Duke

Updated: August 29, 2003, 2:38 PM ET

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The only thing missing from Virginia's plan to promote Matt Schaub for the Heisman Trophy is a group of proven receivers to catch his passes.

Billy McMullen caught 69 passes last season, many as the guy Schaub looked to in dire situations, but he's now with the Philadelphia Eagles. Michael McGrew was second among the wideouts with 27 catches, but he'll miss the season with a broken leg.

Now, Schaub has a new group he needs to bring up to speed quickly.

The 18th-ranked Cavaliers open their season Saturday night against Duke at Scott Stadium.

"They've come a long way," Schaub said of the group led by Ottowa Anderson (17 catches last year) and Art Thomas, a cornerback on last year's team.

"Guys have stepped up this offseason, learning their playbooks, working on their routes, learning defenses, how to get open against certain zones and man coverages," Schaub said. "I think we're ready."

So is Duke, especially with four starters back in the secondary.

"It's not every day you get to play a Heisman Trophy candidate," safety Terrell Smith said. "If you look at the stats, it's pretty obvious that the secondary was our weak link, but we've worked hard this summer and in the preseason."

While the Cavaliers begin with questions at wide receiver, they have none at running back, where Wali Lundy starts and has a stable of proven backups. A year ago, Virginia had just 2 rushing yards in its 27-22 comeback victory against Duke, but Schaub's 315 passing yards and two touchdown passes made their late rally possible.

Lundy caught a freshman record 58 passes last season in establishing himself as the Cavaliers No. 1 tailback, and tight end Heath Miller added 33 catches, including nine for touchdowns. Still, threats on the outside will make things easier for everyone.

Anderson, with 29 career catches, thinks the Cavaliers will be fine.

"I know we're going to surprise a lot of people," he said. "I felt like we were going to have a great year at the position even before Mike went down."

The key is Thomas, who coach Al Groh said could be the first real deep threat the Cavaliers have had in three years.

"Their progress will only be measured by how they perform Saturday night," Groh said. "I have positive expectations, but they still need to step up and do that."

The candidates for filling the void include Ryan Sawyer, who rooms with Schaub and caught 11 passes for a 17.7-yard average last year, former backup quarterback Marques Hagans and freshmen Fontel Mines and Deyon Williams.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index