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Cougars hope experience helps

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The BYU Cougars are on the road again, making their second East Coast trip in as many weeks. Their tour of the Atlantic Coast Conference began with a 29-3 loss to No. 2-ranked Florida State and continues Saturday afternoon when they visit Virginia.

Coach LaVell Edwards is looking for a better performance, not to mention a different result, this time around. "Someone once said — I don't know if it's true or not — you probably have the greatest improvement during the first and second games as any time in the season," he said. "Hopefully that will be the case."

The Cougars believe they have an edge against the Cavaliers, who open their season on Saturday, because they have already played a game.

"It's a huge advantage," said defensive end Setema Gali. "Now a lot of our guys know what it's like to be in a game. A lot of guys are fresh off missions and are out of high school. This game won't be a walk in the park, but it will be easier (than last week)."

"Having already played Florida State, we got all the jitters out of us and we kind of know what to expect," said safety Jared Lee.

Aside from the fact it is the season-opener, it figures to be a charged atmosphere in Charlottesville. It will mark the inaugural game at Virginia's expanded, 61,500-seat Scott Stadium. The school enlarged the facility's seating capacity by 15,000 and added 44 luxury suites.

FOURTH TIME'S A CHARM? Edwards, who will retire after the 2000 season, has one final shot to beat George Welsh. Edwards is 0-3 all-time against the Virginia coach. His Cougars lost to Welsh's Navy team in the 1978 Holiday Bowl and fell to his Virginia squad in the 1987 All-America Bowl. Last season, Welsh and the Cavaliers defeated BYU, 45-40, in Provo. Welsh is one of two coaches Edwards has never beaten in more than one meeting.

"This is my fourth shot at George," he said. "Hopefully we can beat him this time. I know he'll have his team ready to play. I just hope I can get him at least once before it is all said and done."

LOSING STREAK: BYU is riding a four-game losing streak, dating back to last season. It is the Cougars' longest skid since 1993, when they lost to UCLA, Notre Dame, Fresno State and Utah State. BYU is trying to avoid matching the longest losing streak under Edwards — five games. That occurred when the Cougars lost the final two games of the 1990 season and the first three of 1991. BYU's all-time losing streak is 11 games, set in 1949 when it went 0-11.

PICKLE JUICE BOWL II: BYU head trainer George Curtis pulled out all the stops (including having players drink pickle juice) to prevent muscle cramping last Saturday night in Jacksonville, with great success. But this weekend, the heat and humidity may be more severe since kickoff is in the afternoon (3:30 p.m. in Charlottesville).

Pickle juice aside, Edwards said his team's conditioning helped last week. "These guys came in to camp in better shape than any other group we've ever had here," he said. "They really worked hard during the summer, and it is already paying off. Before the (Florida State) game, we drank some pickle juice. I don't know if that helped or not, but we had very little cramping all night. At Virginia the weather will be a little different. We will be playing in the afternoon, and I think there is a greater chance of more humidity than we experienced in Jacksonville. That has us a little concerned at this point."

DEJA VU DEPT.: A week after playing the Florida State Seminoles, BYU's team hotel where the Cougars are staying in Charlottesville is located on a street called Seminole Trail.

NOTES: Running back Luke Staley, who suffered a concussion against Florida State, may not play Saturday. Edwards says it likely will be a game-time decision. . . . Saturday will be BYU's third straight game in the Eastern Time Zone, including last year's Motor City Bowl in Detroit, Mich.


E-MAIL: jeffc@desnews.com