By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from publicly mentioning by name recruits who have not signed letters of intent.
With signing day still three months away, that means UVa’s football staff can’t get into specifics about its 2011 commitments or targets. But a large group of those high school players were at Scott Stadium on Saturday afternoon, and the special guests saw Virginia upset then-No. 22 Miami 24-19.
“It was a fairy-tale ending the way it ended up, with all the kids that we had on campus and all our committed kids that were here on campus and all the recruits that were here to see the game,” recruiting coordinator Jeff Hanson said Tuesday night.
“It was a great game to watch. It was exciting, and we won. And it was a huge win for us. We played well on both sides of the ball, and that’s part of it. I was really happy the way it all turned out, and everybody that came really enjoyed what they saw.”
At head coach Mike London’s weekly press conference Monday, he was asked about the feedback he received from prospects who attended the game.
“You know I’m not allowed to speak on recruits,” London said, smiling. “Let’s just say that I thought it was a good day. It was very positive for us. It was very positive for those that were there to see that this is a team that is playing well together.
“Virginia is a best-of-both-worlds opportunity, academically and athletically. If you were a young man out there looking for a school to go play and consider, with the type of staff I have, all the other things that go with it, this is a great place to be. Winning the game, and [seeing] the students storming the field, that was awesome right there, too.”
This is London’s first season as UVa’s head coach, and “I definitely think the recruits see a change,” junior safety Rodney McLeod said.
“Coach London’s a great guy. The whole coaching staff from Day One has just been great.”
KEEPING THE FAITH: Senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who didn’t play against Miami, practiced Tuesday, but his status for this weekend remains uncertain.
Dowling, a second-team all-ACC pick in 2009, has missed four games, plus all but one series of another game, because of injuries (hamstring and knee). Still, Dowling is a team captain who remains an important part of the program.
“Right now he’s still got a story to write,” London said. “He’s not finished. He told me, ‘Coach, don’t let anybody count me out.’ If he says that, then I believe him.”
Virginia (1-3, 4-4) visits Coastal Division rival Duke (0-4, 2-6) on Saturday afternoon. When the Cavaliers played at Wallace Wade Stadium in 2008, Dowling had 2 interceptions and 8 tackles.
NEW CHALLENGE: For the season, he’s thrown more interceptions (15) than touchdown passes (11). But Duke quarterback Sean Renfree is coming off a performance in which he completed 28 of 30 passes for 314 yards and 1 TD, with no picks, in an upset of Navy. So UVa is understandably wary of the 6-5, 220-pound redshirt sophomore.
Renfree’s favorite targets are wideouts Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner, who between them have caught 90 passes for 1,226 and 5 TDs this season.
The Blue Devils “utilize the skill of two very good receivers,” London said. “They spread you across the field horizontally and make you defend a bunch of gaps. [Renfree] does a great job of throwing the ball and filling those gaps and then making you go tackle those players.”
OVERCOME: When the final second ticked off the clock Saturday at Scott Stadium, London dropped to his knees on the UVa sideline. He said after the game that he had skipped breakfast and so was lightheaded, but there was more to it than that, London acknowledged in subsequent interviews.
He’s an emotional man, and the impact of his first ACC victory, which also was the Cavaliers’ first conference win in more than a year, had hit him hard.
“That’s the way I am,” London said Wednesday on the ACC coaches’ teleconference. “People say, ‘Act like you’ve been there.’ Well, you know what? I haven’t been there. I’m going to continue to be same person I’ve always been, and that’s just the way it is.”
MANY HAPPY RETURNS: At Henrico High School, Cory Mosley returned kicks on special teams. On offense he played wide receiver, running back and quarterback. At UVa, the 5-10 junior is a safety, but that Mosley is comfortable and confident with the ball in his hands was clear Saturday on his two interceptions.
He returned the first one 44 yards. Mosley was credited with a 25-yard return on his second pick, though he ran at least twice that far as he weaved his way across the field looking for holes, much to the crowd’s delight.
“I was really eager to get in the end zone, to try be like my fellow teammate Chase Minnifield out there,” Mosley said Tuesday night. “I haven’t had my hands on the ball in a long time, so I was really eager and just trying to take full advantage of the opportunity.
“Hopefully it’ll come again, but if not, I’ll remember those two interceptions for the rest of my life.”
Minnifield, a junior cornerback, is the Cavaliers’ top punt-returner. Raynard Horne, a senior, usually lines up deep with sophomore Perry Jones to return kickoffs. Might Mosley be interested in replacing Horne in that role next year?
“If Coach ever called on me to do it, he knows I’m right there,” Mosley said. “Having the ball in my hands always has been a favorite part of the game of mine. Being on the defensive side, it’s not that often that you get the ball in your hands, so when you do, it’s a special moment. I just tried to take advantage of the opportunity [against Miami].”
Minnifield also picked off two passes against the Hurricanes, and he and Mosley were honored as the ACC’s co-defensive backs of the week.