CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia and Boston College have been virtual strangers since the Eagles entered the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2005, meeting only during that season.

That was also two head coaches ago for the northernmost team in the ACC, but Cavaliers coach Al Groh said the schemes seem to be the same as the ones he faced four years ago.

“Through all the changes they have had, they maintain a lot of continuity in their style of play,” he said. “They’re very fundamentally sound in their execution, they have certain things that they want to accomplish and they’re going to play the game on those terms.”

The Eagles (6-3, 3-2 ACC) also have a lot to play for. They enter Saturday’s contest a half-game behind Clemson at the top of the Atlantic Division. The Eagles are also coming off a bye week that set them up for a closing stretch that includes games against North Carolina and Maryland.

Virginia (3-6, 2-3) has lost three straight and is on the brink of not qualifying for a bowl game for the third time in four seasons. That has fueled speculation that Groh’s tenure as coach will end after this season, but has also changed the motivation for the players.

“Pride. You’re playing to win games obviously, but a sense of pride,” senior linebacker Aaron Clark, the lone Cavalier to have faced BC, said. “Nobody expects the season to go the way it’s gone, and you just try to turn it around every week and you’ve got to look within yourselves and within your team to find that energy to re-establish some sort of respect.”

The Cavaliers have never beaten the Eagles in three tries, but might take some comfort, if not gain some confidence, from the fact that BC is winless in three games on the road.

Of course, the Eagles are very eager to change that at Scott Stadium.

“We’re thirsty,” 25-year-old starting quarterback Dave Shinskie said. “We haven’t won on the road. We just haven’t. It’s not like we went out there and were scared or we didn’t try. We work hard. But we just have to do it. Our focus this week is getting (win) number seven.

“We’ve got to bring the enthusiasm that we play with at home and take it on the road.”

Shinskie, a minor league pitcher for six seasons before returning to school this year, is just a freshman, but his improvement has been evident throughout the season, Groh said.

“He is doing a remarkable job for a player in his first year of college football and has made some plays and made some throws in games that have elevated his team,” Groh said.

He only wishes the same could be said for the Cavaliers, who have started three different players at quarterback, and may even need to use a fourth because of injuries this week.

Jameel Sewell, the primary starter, is recovering from a shoulder injury, and he and backup Marc Verica, listed as having a head injury, are both questionable for the game.

Vic Hall, who started the opener before getting hurt, has since switched to wide receiver, where he’s the most consistent pass-catcher on the team. That means redshirt freshman Riko Smalls, who has never played at Virginia, could be pressed into duty.

With so much on the line, though, Boston College is taking nothing to chance.

“We don’t know which team we’ll see,” receiver Rich Gunnell said. “They’ve been up and down and I know they were up-and-down last year. But they’ve got great players and they always bring in great recruits. Their two corners that they have, they’re both prototypical NFL corners. So we have to do a lot of studying on them, watch their tendencies and prepare.”

Declining fan support has been a growing issue for Virginia, which has seen its average crowd dip to 46,605, down more than 7,200 from what last year’s 5-7 team drew on average.

Clark is hoping that will change for the next-to-last home game.

“We really love and cherish our fans and we need their support,” he said. “It’s extremely beneficial to come out there and to see fans excited about football and excited to watch us play football, regardless of how the season’s going or what may be happening at that specific moment. We need fan support, always. It would be really great to see a full stadium.”

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