By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Any preseason list of the players likely to figure prominently in UVa’s passing game this fall would have included wideout Tim Smith and tight end Joe Torchia.
Neither is an option anymore. Smith had season-ending ankle surgery last late month, though he’s expected to receive a hardship waiver and so will return as a redshirt sophomore in 2011.
Torchia’s hard-luck college career is over. The fifth-year senior from Cold Spring, N.Y., will have season-ending surgery soon to repair shoulder damage, Virginia coach Mike London told reporters on a teleconference Sunday night.
“With Tim Smith done for the year and now Joe Torchia, guys that are very important elements for us, guys like Paul Freedman and Colter Phillips, are going to have to step up,” London said. “They’re going to have to step up and provide playmaking opportunities and be able to move the ball for us.”
The injury is not a new one for Torchia. He played much of last season with a hurt shoulder that later required surgery.
Torchia, a team captain, started UVa’s first four games this season and caught 9 passes for 113 yards. But he re-injured his shoulder recently and didn’t play Saturday in Virginia’s 33-21 loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re going to lose Joe for the rest of the year, but that’s what happens sometimes,” London said.
The task facing the coaching staff now is to identity a No. 3 tight end. That player will not, London made clear, be a true freshman.
“I’m not going to take the red shirt off of [Zach] Swanson or [Jake] McGee,” London said.
Against Georgia Tech, sophomores Phillips and Freedman split all the tight end snaps. Each caught 2 passes for 5 yards.
Had a third tight end been needed against the Yellow Jackets, London said Sunday night, he would have to turned to redshirt freshman Luke Bowanko, a 6-6, 285-pound offensive guard, or redshirt freshman Jeremiah Mathis, a 6-3, 255-pound defensive end.
Mathis, who played the position at DeMatha High, practiced some at tight end last week.
“We just kind of put him through individual periods, threw some footballs to him, and actually did a pretty nice job,” London said. “I’m probably going to take a closer look at him again. He’s 250-something pounds, he’s athletic, he can run, so we’ll take a long, hard look at him and Bowanko and try to find that third tight end.”
Torchia arrived at Virginia as a heralded recruit in 2006 but for various reasons, most out of his control, never was able to turn that potential into production.
Ahead of him on the depth chart in ’07 were Tom Santi, Jonathan Stupar and John Phillips, and Torchia played mostly special teams as a redshirt freshman.
He was Phillips’ backup in ’08, but a separated left collarbone limited Torchia to seven games, and he didn’t catch a pass that season. Torchia encountered yet another obstacle in 2009 when then-coach Al Groh switched to a spread offense in which the tight end was a virtual afterthought.
Early in the 2009 season, though, Groh scrapped the spread and switched back to a more conventional offense. Torchia finished the year with 15 catches for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns and was expected to be one of the ACC’s best at his position this season.
UVa (0-2, 2-3) hosts ACC rival North Carolina (1-1, 3-2) at Scott Stadium this weekend. The teams will meet at 6 p.m. Saturday in a game that won’t be televised.
THE NEXT GENERATION: Don’t be shocked if Sean Cascarano and Morgan Moses play extensively on the offensive line against the Tar Heels.
Cascarano, a 6-6, 275-pound redshirt freshman, took over at left tackle after starter Landon Bradley suffered a hand injury midway through the third quarter at Georgia Tech.
If Bradley can’t play this weekend, Cascarano is likely to start, though it may be at right tackle. Sophomore Oday Aboushi, the usual starter on that side, can also play left tackle, London said, and might help the team more there.
Moses, a 6-6, 350-pound true freshman, played nearly 30 snaps at right guard against the Yellow Jackets, in place of senior B.J. Cabbell, and graded out well, London said.
A former Parade All-American, Moses came to UVa as an offensive tackle but recently started working at guard.
“Morgan is here to play,” London said. “He’s got a learning curve like a lot of offensive linemen do. We moved him from tackle inside to guard, hopefully to make the transition to college ball a little easier for him. But he did a nice job [against Georgia Tech]. He’s going to start playing here as we go along, because that’s what he came here for.”
Moses and Cascarano are “two young players we’re throwing into the mix here early, and they’re going to have to get ready to play. Because we’re at the halfway point to the season right now, and no one’s always 100 percent healthy, and those guys are going to have a chance to go in and play, and hopefully they’ll play themselves into being experienced players.”
Asked if, with Bradley injured, Moses might move back to tackle, London said, “I think Morgan is probably better suited to be inside. It’s kind of his niche. We do plays where we pull the guard and things like that, and protection-wise it makes it easier for him. He likes guard, because you’re playing next to the center. The center makes the calls.
“I don’t want to put him back out to the outside and confuse things.”
ON SECOND THOUGHT: Late in the third quarter Saturday, trailing 27-14, the Cavaliers faced third-and-2 from the Yellow Jackets’ 31.
Tailback Keith Payne had carried twice on that drive, for 5 yards and then for 7, and on UVa’s previous possession he had run three times for 13 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown.
Instead of calling on Payne again, however, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor chose to have quarterback Marc Verica attempt a long pass for wideout Kris Burd. The pass fell incomplete, but the play wouldn’t have counted even if Burd had caught the pass, because Payne was called for holding.
That pushed Virginia back 10 yards. Verica threw another completion on third-and-12, and the Wahoos were forced to punt.
Payne has rushed for 7 touchdowns this season, and London conceded that the 6-3, 255-pound senior might have been a better option on the third-and-2 play.
“I think you look at opportunities for him to fall forward for 2 yards, because of his big stature and everything like that,” London said. “You can’t ignore that.
“He’s done a pretty good job, and he’s demonstrated as far as getting the tough yardage [that] probably the good way to go would be to hand it off to him and let him try to get 2 or 3 yards. So we’ll look at that and make sure that we do the right thing the next time that we get an opportunity.”
SUCCESS STORY: Matt Snyder appears to have established himself as the team’s No. 3 wideout, behind Burd and Dontrelle Inman.
Snyder, a redshirt junior who came to UVa as a walk-on, finished with 4 catches for 96 yards, both career highs, at Bobby Dodd Stadium. On the Cavaliers’ final drive, he made two leaping receptions, one for a 39-yard gain and the other for 40 yards.
London put Snyder on scholarship before the season, a decision the Cavaliers’ first-year coach hasn’t regretted.
“Here’s a guy that walked on, and, as I said before, at the end of spring he said, ‘Coach, if I’ve earned anything, please consider me [for a scholarship],’ ” London recalled. “He didn’t beat the table for himself or anything like that.
“If you go back and look at some of the catches that he’s made in practice, down at ODU [during a spring scrimmage], in the game, he can really go up and get it. So I’m happy for Matt and his success right now. It’s good to see good things happen to him.”