By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Twice this season UVa’s football team has run a fake punt, catching its opponent unaware each time.
Against Southern California on Sept. 11, a pass from punter Jimmy Howell to tight end Colter Phillips went for an apparent 36-yard gain. But an officiating error — one for which the crew later was punished — wiped out the play, a pivotal turn of events in a game that Virginia ended up losing 17-14 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The officials stayed out of the way last weekend, and Howell’s pass to Trey Womack, who ran a flanker screen, produced a 56-yard touchdown against Eastern Michigan at Scott Stadium.
Clearly, Virginia coach Mike London is not averse to trick plays. The Cavaliers have yet, however, to run one with their offense on the field.
First-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was asked Wednesday night about his philosophy regarding such trickery.
“I’ve been in situations where we’ve tried to run a lot of them,” Lazor said. “Sometimes it was because we had people that had special talents and we wanted to kind of give them a chance to use them.”
When he was on the Washington Redskins’ staff, Lazor said, the team’s wideouts included Antwaan Randle El, who “could throw the ball really well. He used to tell his wife, ‘Honey, just get ready. When the NFL is over, we’re going to Canada, and I’m going to play quarterback.’ He was as good as some of the backups we brought in at throwing the ball.”
When he was in Seattle, Lazor said, the Seahawks’ backup quarterback, Seneca Wallace, “could run as well as some of the receivers, so we tried to find ways to use him.”
On other teams, though, “we didn’t use them as much,” Lazor said.
Whether a trick play will work depends on “the talents of the guys you have,” Lazor said, and how the play “matches up against a particular team you’re playing. Sometimes if a team’s a real wide edge team on defense, it’s a little bit harder to do some trick things outside.”
Moreover, Lazor said, coaches sometimes would rather focus on “getting some of the basics down” than spend valuable practice time on trick plays.
“I think when a staff is at the beginning of their time installing an offense, it’s easy to not call the trick plays, because you’re working on other things,” Lazor said. “But who knows? Maybe this is the week we’ve got a lot of them.”
UVa (0-3, 3-4) hosts No. 22 Miami (3-1, 5-2) in an ACC game Saturday at Scott Stadium. ESPN is televising the noon game.