Nov. 10, 2010

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — His move from the press box to the sideline will make him an easier target for snipers during UVa football games at Scott Stadium, Jim Reid told reporters Tuesday night.

He was joking, of course. Still, Reid knows that Virginia fans are unhappy with the play of his defense this season, especially over the past six weeks. The Cavaliers’ associate head coach and defensive coordinator is not satisfied either.

Virginia gave up 34 points to Florida State, 33 to Georgia Tech, 44 to North Carolina, 21 to lowly Eastern Michigan and, worst of all, 55 to Duke last weekend. The Blue Devils scored the game-winning touchdown with 40 seconds left — on a 35-yard run — against a UVa defense that was scrambling to get a new personnel group on the field.

The Wahoos’ defense distinguished itself in the Sept. 4 opener against Richmond and a week later at Southern California, but breakdowns have been increasingly common since then. UVa sparkled defensively for three quarters against ACC foe Miami on Oct. 30. In the fourth quarter, however, Reid’s defense surrendered 195 yards and 19 points, and Virginia was fortunate to pull out a 24-19 victory.

“We’re more inconsistent than I thought that we would be,” Reid said Tuesday night.

Of the 120 teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, Virginia ranks 80th in total defense and 68th in scoring defense. In rushing defense, the Wahoos ranks 111th. In pass defense, they’re 23rd, but that’s partly because opponents have been content to run the ball against the ‘Hoos.

After nine seasons in the 3-4 defense favored by Al Groh, head coach Mike London’s predecessor, Virginia now operates out of the 4-3, and the transition has been bumpy at times.

Injuries have contributed to UVa’s struggles on defense, too, especially the hamstring and knee problems that have sidelined senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling, a second-team all-ACC pick in 2009, for most of the season. Another key member of the secondary, junior safety Rodney McLeod, does not appear fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of the first two games.

Other defenders, including starters Matt Conrath, Cam Johnson, Ausar Walcott and LaRoy Reynolds, changed positions after London was hired and are still trying to master their new responsibilities.

So there have been extenuating circumstances. But that’s the case with most teams, Reid acknowledged, and he made no excuses Tuesday night. Still, if the defense’s execution has been subpar, Reid has no issues with its attitude or intensity.

“We just finished practice, and it was like we were practicing for a Super Bowl out here,” said Reid, who coached the Miami Dolphins’ outside linebackers in 2008 and ’09. “The guys have given us high effort and high energy all year.”

Three regular-season games remain for UVa (1-4, 4-5), starting Saturday against ACC rival Maryland (3-2, 6-3) at Scott Stadium. Reid, who will coach from the field for the first time this season Saturday, said he hopes to see the Cavaliers be “a little bit more consistent with some of our coverages” and repeat what has worked in their best performances.

“When you take a look at the Southern California game, you take a look at the Miami game, those were two teams where we just weren’t in fear of anything,” Reid said. “We got up in people’s grills and pressed them on defense when we had to and challenged them to throw the ball over our heads and to beat us.

“Then we get a little nervous as to exactly what to do, and we play a little bit soft. The pass rush we got back [against Duke], but that had been absent for a couple weeks. So we just need more consistency in those plays that can be dramatic game-changers. If we can do that, I just think that we’ll be in every game from a defensive standpoint.”

UVa’s defense has allowed 28 touchdowns this season. Many have come on big plays: a 70-yard run by Richmond, a 70-yard run by FSU, an 81-yard pass by UNC, 55-, 53- and 31-yard runs by Eastern Michigan, a 60-yard pass by Miami, 37- and 35-yard runs by Duke, a 30-yard pass by Duke. Opponents have had many other large gains that didn’t result in touchdowns.

“It’s amazing that when we make an error it hurts as bad as it does,” Reid said. “A lot of times you see a guy that might miss a tackle up front, and somebody comes in behind and it’s a 5- or a 6-yard gain. It just seems when we miss one time it goes 60 or 65.”

It’s impossible to say how the defense would have performed with a healthy Dowling in the lineup, but he was considered an All-America candidate coming into the season.

Dowling has not ruled the possibility of a late-season return.

“The one thing is that you never want to pressure anyone or make them feel pressured to play if they’re not ready to play,” Reid said.

“This is what I know about Ras-I: The guy is just a tremendous, tremendous, tremendous young man in every phase of life. And if he can play and help this team, I know that he will. And if he feels that he’s not going to help us out there, he won’t.

“So what we do is go ahead and wait for him. He works out every day best that he can, and I know when he’s ready he’ll let us know. We plan that we’re not going to have him. And then, shoot, if we ever do get him, it’ll be great.”

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