By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — More than a year has passed since UVa won an ACC football game.
The Cavaliers’ next chance to do so comes Saturday afternoon. At noon, in a game that ESPN will televise, Virginia (0-3, 3-4) hosts 22nd-ranked Miami (3-1, 5-2) at Scott Stadium.
The Wahoos have dropped nine straight conference games since winning 20-9 at Maryland on Oct. 17, 2009.
Until this past weekend, that rainy night in College Park also marked the last time the ‘Hoos had beaten another team from the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision. But Virginia ended that streak with a 48-21 rout of Eastern Michigan at Scott Stadium.
“It was a big win,” junior wideout Matt Snyder told reporters Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. “We’re still looking for that first ACC win, but any win is good at this point. It was a good confidence-booster, and the offense really got going, especially in the second half, so we’re looking to carry that into the Miami game.”
Five regular-season games remain for UVa, all against conference foes.
In September, London noted, the ‘Hoos “beat the teams, I guess, we were supposed to beat” — Richmond and VMI. “And the next thing was, ‘You haven’t beat an FBS opponent.’ We did that. That’s another success. Now we are in another series of trying to put some successes together.”
Virginia, which went 3-9 in Al Groh’s final season, was picked to finish last in the Coastal Division this fall.
“This year academically we’ve done well,” London said. “Recruiting-wise, we’re doing well. A lot of players are still interested in us. A lot of players are actually talking about coming to Virginia because of what they see, what they hear, what they feel when they come on Grounds and they sit and talk with the coaches and players that are in the program.
“Turning it around on the field, that’s another part of it. It’s frustrating, I know. At the same time how you take care of it is to recruit players. You continue to try to develop the players that you have in your system and you keep it positive, keep it energetic, passionate. You keep telling guys what they can do instead of harping on what they can’t do. That’s part of it.
“I think if you talk to any of our players, they’d probably tell you the same thing. That’s how you try to get things going. We’ve done a lot of things with recruiting, with coaches, addressing facility issues. We’re going to continue to keep talking about those things.
“It’s a work in progress. But I believe that we’re a better team than we were when we first started out and we’ll be a better team, because other players will join us. The players that we have that are going to stay are going to understand what it’s going to take to be on this football team … on the field, in the classroom and the community.”
PERSEVERANCE REWARDED: The ACC’s special-teams player of the week is UVa junior Terence Fells-Danzer, whose college career had stalled under Groh.
In part, Fells-Danzer acknowledged Monday, that was because he wasn’t a natural fit at inside linebacker in Groh’s 3-4 defense. Fells-Danzer considered transferring, but his mother and his grandfather persuaded him to stay.
“They just said, ‘Stick it out,’ ” Fells-Danzer recalled. “They said it’s a great school to get an education at, and that was my main reason for coming to this school, to get an education first, and football would follow suit, and it’s starting to pay off now.”
In late January, London hired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who installed a pro-style scheme that used a fullback, a position at which the Cavaliers were thin. Fells-Danzer had played running back at Culpeper High School, where he also was a track star, and he volunteered to switch sides at UVa.
Fullback can be a thankless spot, but that’s OK with Fells-Danzer. He’s a drama major at UVa, “but I don’t act,” he said with a smile Monday. “I like to be the man behind the scenes.”
Against Eastern Michigan, he made his first start and, after intermission, took an extended turn in the spotlight.
First, he caught the first touchdown pass of his college career, a 3-yard dart from quarterback Marc Verica. Then Fells-Danzer ran back a kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown in front of a crowd that included his mother, his grandmother, his sister and his grandfather.
For the season, the 6-1, 240-pound Fells-Danzer has 2 catches for 5 yards (and 1 TD). He has carried once, for 12 yards.
From the beginning, he’s felt more comfortable as a runner than as a receiver, so the TD catch “did a lot for my confidence,” Fells-Danzer said. “Because we run that pattern every week, and sometimes I drop it and sometimes I catch it. But I made sure I caught it this week.”
Asked if he’s earned a second carry, Fells-Danzer smiled.
“I’m not the offensive coordinator, and I don’t call the plays,” he said. “I just go out and do what I’m asked.”
SIGN OF THE TIMES: The Eastern Michigan game drew a crowd of 37,386, the fewest fans for a UVa home date since 36,600 witnessed Duke’s visit in 1997.
In ’97, however, Scott Stadium’s capacity was 40,000. The stadium was expanded to 61,500 before the 2000 season.
Only once in Groh’s final four seasons as UVa’s coach did his team finish with a winning record, and home attendance declined dramatically toward the end of his tenure.
A reporter asked London on Monday about the small crowds this season.
“Obviously, one thing that can affect it is being competitive and winning games,” London said. “And that’s my job … . Hopefully this game against Miami, which is a TV game against a very good and nationally ranked team, will [bring] a lot of the Cavalier faithful out to Scott Stadium to cheer us on.”
BAPTISM BY FIRE: One day, London is convinced, Ausar Walcott and LaRoy Reynolds will be stellar outside linebackers in UVa’s 4-3 defense. But each was a reserve safety last season in a different scheme — the 3-4 — and at times opponents have exploited the sophomores’ inexperience this year.
“There’s a learning curve still,” London said. “But they’re getting better at it because of the accumulated amount of reps they’re getting — basically, on-the-job training. They’re going against other offenses, first-team offenses, schemes of the game, angles of the blockers, seeing the holes of the runners, getting in the passing lanes of the quarterback. All those things that linebackers do close up, they’ve got to react faster. [At safety] you can see things happen in front of you. Plus we added more weight on them.”
Reynolds leads the team in tackles with 41. Walcott is second with 38.
“When they get better, we’ll also be a better team,” London said. “They’re going to get better here quickly as we go along because every game has been an opportunity for them to step up, make plays and get better.”
HIGH EXPECTATIONS: Junior defensive end Cameron Johnson, who played outside linebacker in the 3-4, has 6 of the Cavaliers’ 9 sacks this season. He’s third on the team in tackles with 36 and has recovered 2 fumbles.
“I think there’s more Cam can give,” London said, “and I’m going to ask more of him, because he’s going to have to play more and give more as we go down the stretch. Big-time players make big plays in big games. He’s going to have to be one of those guys as we go down the stretch.”
WAIT AND SEE: UVa doesn’t practice on Mondays during the season. In Tuesday’s practice, the coaching staff will watch Landon Bradley closely.
Bradley, a two-year starter at left offensive tackle, broke his right hand Oct. 9 at Georgia Tech, an injury that required surgery. He hasn’t played since then, but Bradley was available against Eastern Michigan and hopes to play, with his hand wrapped, this weekend.
“Obviously you can’t grasp a jersey or you can’t use your hands as effective as you want to, so you’ll have to adapt in some other kind of ways to get the job done,” London said.
“But his competitive nature in and of itself is something. He’s one of our best players. Now we’ll see whether one of your best players at 90 percent is better than a guy that’s not injured at 100 percent. That’s what practice is for. Whether he plays on the left side or right side, we’ll see how that works out, too.”
Another UVa starter who has been dealing with injuries is senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling (hamstring and knee). Dowling, a second-team all-ACC pick, has missed three games and played little in two others.
Asked about Dowling’s spirits, junior cornerback Chase Minnifield said, “I think Ras-I’s doing fine. He’s being a great leader. He’s being a great captain. Some things haven’t gone as he expected, but he’s not letting that show, and that’s a good thing about Ras-I. He’s going to be a leader and a captain first.”
FAMILY AFFAIR: The Snyders of western Henrico County had much to celebrate Saturday night.
Matt Snyder, UVa’s No. 3 wideout, finished with a career-high 6 catches for 68 yards. One of his younger brothers, Jake, made his first start for the Cavaliers.
Jake Snyder, a redshirt freshman, had two tackles at defensive end, including one for loss.
“I love watching Jake play, and he’s been working hard since he got here,” said Matt, a redshirt junior who liked Jake graduated from Deep Run High. “It’s great to watch him start and play, and I’m looking forward to it more in the future.”
When the offense comes off the field, its members meet on the sideline with Lazor, Matt said. “But after that we try to get up and support the defense and get them excited. I got to see a little bit of Jake in there at that point.”