By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Look for Jim Reid on the UVa sideline Saturday.
For the first nine games this season, Virginia’s defensive coordinator and associate head coach has worked from the press box. Reid will join offensive coordinator Bill Lazor on the sideline during the Cavaliers’ remaining games this season, starting Saturday.
UVa (1-4, 4-5) hosts ACC rival Maryland (3-2, 6-3) at 3:30 p.m. at Scott Stadium.
“I think what we’re going to do is bring him down on the field and kind of give a presence again defensively to the guys,” head coach Mike London said Monday at John Paul Jones Arena, “to bring again that energy and that passion that we started out playing with. And we still play with.”
The issue has been execution, not energy, for UVa’s defense. The Cavaliers allowed 489 yards in a 55-48 loss to Duke in Durham, N.C., on Saturday. Ninety-one of those yards came on the Blue Devils’ final drive, which ended in the game-winning touchdown.
“It’s tough when you look back,” London said, “because you’re always trying to second-guess yourself — could you have done this better? — and critiquing ways of doing things.”
London said Lazor’s presence on the sideline helped quarterback Marc Verica finish with a school-record 417 yards passing against Duke.
“I think there’s a benefit for the guy that’s calling the plays to look into the eyes of the guys that he’s in charge of, and directing the plan,” London said.
Reid has been head coach at three schools: Massachusetts, Richmond and VMI. His first staff at UR included London, whom Reid to hired to coach outside linebackers and serve as recruiting coordinator.
“Coach Reid is undeniably one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever been around and bleeds football and wants these players to succeed and do well,” London said.
In 2011, UVa is expected to have back 11 players who started at least six games apiece on defense this season, including the front four of ends Zane Parr and Cam Johnson and tackles Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins.
So London is optimistic about the future on that side of the ball. The present, though, has been trying.
Among the 120 teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, Virginia ranks 23rd in passing defense but 111th in rushing defense, 80th in total defense and 68th in scoring defense. And that’s against a schedule that has included two Football Championship Subdivision opponents (Richmond and VMI) and one of the worst teams in the FBS, Eastern Michigan.
MIXED EMOTIONS: With 239 yards receiving Saturday, senior wideout Dontrelle Inman was 2 shy of the school’s single-game record. Inman also had a career-high 10 receptions, but he wasn’t aware of his feats until a postgame conversation with wide receivers coach Shawn Moore.
“I was in shock,” Inman recalled Monday. “Coach Moore came up to me and told me. It was a bittersweet moment, because even though I had that many catches, I felt that it wasn’t enough, because if I had one more catch or I had one more touchdown, we could have won.”
There were seasons during Al Groh’s tenure as UVa’s coach when the players had Sundays off. London brings the team together for video review and light running on Sundays. The players have Mondays off.
After a loss as devastating as the one UVa suffered at Duke, Inman said, it’s good for the team to get together the next day.
“It really helps, because Sundays you just get it out of your system,” he said. “After you get it out of your system, it’s on to the next game.”
Long-snapper Danny Aiken agreed.
“It was a hard loss,” he said, “but you’ve got to come into each game as a new day, and it’s a new week and a new game. We want to finish strong. It’s important for the seniors to do that, to finish out the season that way.”
NO LOVE LOST: UVa has won three straight over Maryland and 14 of the teams’ past 18 meetings. Few things would please junior center Anthony Mihota more than a fourth consecutive victory over the Terrapins.
“I guess we just don’t like them very much,” Mihota said with a smile.
The rivalry is “pretty intense,” fifth-year senior tailback Raynard Horne said. “Most people think that it’s Virginia-Virginia Tech, but the Maryland-Virginia rivalry goes way back also. It’s a big game for us.”
Virginia’s roster includes 10 players from Maryland, including regulars Johnson (Greenbelt), Jenkins (Westminster), Horne (Baltimore), Colter Phillips (Darnestown), Rodney McLeod (Oxon Hill) and Devin Wallace (Fort Washington).
For Horne, the rivalry “is a little more personal,” he said, “because my family, my friends back home, they’re all big Maryland fans too, so they try to juggle between Maryland and Virginia.”
HEIR APPARENT: From his first game as a true freshman in 2007, Aiken has handled all the long-snapping on field goals, extra points and punts for the Wahoos.
Matt Fortin is expected to take over those jobs next season. Fortin, a freshman from West Chester, Pa., is redshirting this fall.
“He’s been helping me out,” Aiken said. “I get as much help as I can. He got to go to a bunch of camps and stuff like that, so he’s been helping me out more than I’d say I’ve been helping him out.”
Aiken, who’s from Roanoke, is essentially a self-taught snapper who honed his skills in workouts with his father, Douglas.
“That was a gift that somehow I was given,” Aiken said. “I just come out, work hard at it every day and keep going. You don’t really think much about why. It just kind of happens.”
SPECIAL BOND: When Aiken was in the postgraduate program at Fork Union Military Academy, London, then UVa’s defensive coordinator, was the first coach to talk to him seriously about long-snapping at the major-collee level.
“And I really developed a relationship with him,” Aiken said. “Stayed in touch as much as the NCAA allowed, and playing with him my first year was actually a real experience. I got to get even closer to him. It was sad when he left to go to Richmond. I remember feeling upset, but I was ecstatic to hear he was coming back to be the head coach, and it’s been a great experience, especially being my senior year. It’s definitely good to be back with him.
“Coach London brings such a great presence to the game. He always preaches academics first … He’s big on student being before the athlete. He just brings an overall great presence to the game. Football was football again, and it was a lot of fun to be with him and be a part of his program, like it was my first year.”
PAYING THE PRICE: Mihota has started eight nine games this season. When Virginia’s offense took the field for the first time Oct. 23 against Eastern Michigan, though, sophomore Mike Price was at center, and Mihota was on the sideline.
He was among the UVa players punished that day for academic lapses. One Cavalier was held out of the entire game. Mihota missed only one series, but London got his point across.
“Go to class,” Mihota said Monday with his customary good humor. “Simple as that. There was no excuse for it. I apologized, and I don’t want to bring down the program at all. It was a learning experience, and I learned from it.”