By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – That Joe Torchia is an immensely talented athlete, with size and speed, has been clear since he arrived at UVa in 2006.
For various reasons, including injuries and Al Groh’s flirtation with the spread offense in 2009, Torchia had not done enough before this season to add his name to the list of superlative tight ends who have played at Virginia. But the 6-6, 260-pound fifth-year senior may yet do so.
Torchia entered the year with career totals of 15 catches for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. All came in 2009 after Groh scrapped then-offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon’s spread and returned to a more conventional offense.
Through two games this season, Torchia has 8 receptions for 102 yards. He had 5 catches for 73 yards — both career highs — Saturday in UVa’s 17-14 loss to then-No. 16 USC, a performance that earned Torchia recognition Monday as the ACC offensive lineman of the week.
In addition to getting open and making catches, Torchia blocked well, and “that’s what we’d like to do,” Virginia coach Mike London said Sunday night.
“We’d like to be able to get the tight end involved in the game, and sometimes flex him out and try to create a mismatch with him and the safety, or bring him on the edge and let him down-block on a defensive end or a linebacker.
“We’re going to try to do more things with our tight ends and keep trying to find out who are the playmakers.”
After replacing Groh in December, London made it clear that he wanted to again make tight end a position of prominence at UVa, the alma mater of Heath Miller, Tom Santi, Jonathan Stupar and John Phillips, among others.
That was welcome news to Torchia and the Cavaliers’ other tight ends, as was the hiring of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. In Lazor’s pro-style offense, sets that include two tight ends are common.
Torchia also has enjoyed playing for Scott Wachenheim, UVa’s new tight ends coach.
” He’s very knowledgeable, very intense, and that’s something I can relate to,” Torchia said last week.
* The Cavaliers, who don’t have a game Saturday, will practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, London said. If he’s pleased with the players’ effort, London may give them Saturday off.
Virginia’s next game is Sept. 25 against VMI at Scott Stadium. Kickoff has been set for 1:30 p.m.
London said he’s optimistic that cornerback Ras-I Dowling and safety Rodney McLeod, neither of whom has played this season, will be available against the Keydets. Dowling has been slowed by a hamstring injury and McLeod by a sprained knee.
Also, outside linebacker Jared Detrick, who missed the opener against Richmond while recovering from a high-ankle sprain, saw some action against USC. Detrick, who took a medical redshirt in 2009, was a special-teams standout early in his college career.
* Of the 120 teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, only 14 have yet to make at least one field goal this season. That group includes Virginia, which is 0 for 4.
The two misses against UR — one by Chris Hinkebein, the other by Robert Randolph — were from 51 and 50 yards, respectively. The two misses against USC, both by Randolph, were well within his range.
Randolph missed a 45-yard attempt on the Wahoos’ first drive and a 35-yarder on their penultimate drive.
Danny Aiken is in his fourth season as UVa’s starting long-snapper, and Randolph made 17 of 19 field-goal attempts in 2009. Holder Jacob Hodges, however, is new.
“We have to look at the whole operation of it, from the snapper to the holder to the kicker and the timing,” London said. “We’re not satisfied with that [not] being as good as it needs to be, and so we’re going to have to go back and evaluate who’s doing what on all those positions.”
London said it appeared to him that the misses against USC occurred, at least in part, because “we were just operating too slow … whether it’s the snapper to the holder or the holder getting the ball down properly. We’re going to have to address that and make sure, because that’s two field goals that we should have had, which is six points, and that’s a significant different in the game.
“With this open week, I guarantee you we’re going to work on that and make sure that doesn’t become an issue again for us. Field goals can win games for you, and field goals [at USC], as we all clearly see, could have won a game for us.”
*London doesn’t want his starters to be ironmen.
“I think that you’ll start seeing more guys getting in there and rotating a little bit, because we’ve got to get guys game-tested,” he said. “The Morgan Moseses of the world, we’ve got get him more reps to get him in the game, because he’s going to play. He’s playing, but he needs to play more.”
Moses, an offensive tackle, is one of two true freshmen to have played for Virginia this season. The other is cornerback Rijo Walker.
* London wasn’t happy that the Pac-10 officiating crew blew a call Saturday night, costing UVa a 36-yard gain on a well-executed fake punt, but there were other factors in the three-point loss at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“We were 4 for 15 on third downs. Gotta do a better job with that,” London said. “We had over 100 yards in penalties. Gotta do a better job with that. It wasn’t probably that one single incident. There were other things that led to us not having a chance to win.
“Sometimes you’re the beneficiary of good calls, and sometimes you’re on the other end of it. We’re going to keep practicing those kind of plays” — such as the fake punt — “within the letter of the rules and see what happens.”
The good thing about the penalties, London said, is they’re “all correctable. [The players] understand and they see now that if you’re going to play a top-caliber team like that, then don’t do things that are going to put you in position to help lose the game.
“If they’re better than us athletically, then so be it. But if not, then at least give yourself a chance.”