By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Senior tailback Mikell Simpson, who was taken to UVa Medical Center after suffering a neck injury against Indiana at Scott Stadium, is “feeling better,” Al Groh said on his Sunday night teleconference with reporters.
“He was in meetings today. Didn’t participate but was out at practice.”
Two of Simpson’s finest games have come against ACC rival Maryland, Virginia’s next opponent. The Terrapins (1-1, 2-4) host the Cavaliers (1-0, 2-3) at 4 p.m. Saturday in College Park.
Whether Simpson will be available at Byrd Stadium, the site in 2007 of his breakout game as a Wahoo, is uncertain. He was injured midway through the third quarter of UVa’s 47-7 rout of Indiana and left the field on a back board Saturday night.
He was evaluated at the hospital and then released that night.
“We’ll be doing some more tests and consultations,” Groh said, “and we’ll see as the week goes on.”
On a day when UVa rushed for a season-high 231 yards, Simpson had 83 and ran for a career-best four touchdowns against the hapless Hoosiers. Three of the team’s other tailbacks — Rashawn Jackson, Torrey Mack and Max Milien — added 73, 37 and 14 yards rushing, respectively.
Mack is a redshirt freshman whose role will grow this weekend if Simpson can’t play. Mack carried the ball eight times against Indiana, one more than in the previous four games combined.
“He had a couple spurts there,” Groh said. “He had one direct run where he ran it real well, and then he ran the outside scheme that we had a great deal of success on. [The coaching staff agreed] that this was a good thing for him to be able to do, just get game-type carries as opposed to scrimmages and practices.”
Mack, like all of UVa’s runners, benefited from excellent blocking, and that hasn’t been the case in every game this season.
“The offensive linemen, as anonymous and as unsung as they are, they really did a nice job,” Groh said.
The starters are sophomore Landon Bradley at left tackle, sophomore Austin Pasztor at left guard, junior Jack Shields at center, junior B.J. Cabbell at right guard and senior Will Barker at right tackle.
Cabbell, who’s been slowed by an undisclosed injury, didn’t play in the second half, and junior Issac Cain took over at right guard in the third quarter.
The linemen who’ve improved the most since the start of the season, Groh said, are the most likely candidates to do so. “That’s the two youngest players — Landon Bradley and Pasztor — but we’ve seen positive movement forward, really, with all of them.”
Late in the game, UVa’s starters were spectactors, and its offensive linemen included left tackle Oday Aboushi. Two true freshmen made their college debuts for UVa against Indiana: Aboushi and inside linebacker Tucker Windle.
Groh said he wasn’t trying to get Aboushi and Windle experience that will help them in 2010.
“No, actually the consideration right now is that they might have to play next week,” Groh said. “While there’s certainly the possibility that they won’t play, it won’t take much from an injury standpoint to get either one of them in the game.
“That was a benefit, that they’ve both been in it and kind of expressed afterwards that it was fun. They were also a little bit jittery out there. And so maybe they’ll get a little bit beyond that in case the occasion calls for it.”
On the depth chart distributed Tuesday, junior Darnell Carter and sophomore Terence Fells-Danzer were listed as the backups to starters Steve Greer and Darren Childs at inside linebacker.
Carter and Fells-Danzer are healthy, Groh said Sunday night, but the second-teamers are now true freshmen Connor McCartin and Windle.
McCartin could have played just as easily as Windle against Indiana, Groh said, “but frankly, for one or the other, for their first time in there, we wanted to leave them in there with somebody who had a little bit of game experience to help them out. So they didn’t have to make the calls. They just had to play the call that was made.”
Because the game was a blowout, several other inexperienced players got on the field Saturday night.
In such cases, Groh said, the coaches want to see “how they react to the game circumstance and how they perform the techniques. We try to keep it pretty basic when those players are in and [see how] they attempt to execute the techniques that have been emphasized to them quite a bit.
“It was good that quite a few of them had the opportunity to measure themselves against actual in-the-game competition. Some of those guys, we don’t know who it’s going to be, but clearly are going to be guys who as the season progresses, as things usually go, we’re probably going to need some of them to step up and give us some plays.”
Groh isn’t the only ACC coach whose job security is a heated topic among fans. Many Maryland supporters are unhappy about the state of that program under Ralph Friedgen.
Since beating James Madison in overtime Sept. 12, the Terps have dropped three of their past four games.
Nonetheless, Groh said, the Cavaliers’ approach never varies.
“We always talk team-wise that we expect the very best game everybody can play, every week,” he said. “We expected that here from all the first five teams that we played, and some of these guys we clearly got their very best, and we certainly expect the same to be true [against Maryland].”