By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Flash back to early August and the start of training camp for the UVa football team. Had someone told me then that Jacob Hodges, one of the team’s managers in 2008 and ’09, would be a pivotal figure in two of the Cavaliers’ touchdowns this season, I might have responded with this line from The Princess Bride.
But however inconceivable it might have seemed before the season, Hodges, Virginia’s holder on extra points and field goals, indeed contributed significantly to two TDs. And that was not the only improbable storyline in Mike London’s first season as the Wahoos’ head coach.
UVa finished 1-7 in ACC play and 4-8 overall after losing to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last weekend. Coming off a 3-9 season, the ‘Hoos were picked last in the Coastal Division, so their record can’t be considered a huge surprise.
Not everything, though, unfolded as expected. It never does. Heading into Virginia’s Sept. 4 opener against the University of Richmond, I would not have predicted that:
* The Cavaliers would score five touchdowns on special teams this season: two on kickoff returns (one by Raynard Horne, the other by Terence Fells-Danzer), two on fake field goals and one on a fake punt.
* Hodges would figure so prominently in two of those TDs. On the first, against Duke on Nov. 6, he caught the snap from Danny Aiken and expertly tossed the ball back over his head to kicker Robert Randolph, who outraced stunned defenders to the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. On the second, against Maryland on Nov. 13, Hodges took the snap from Aiken and flipped a shovel pass to Fells-Danzer, who rumbled to the end zone to complete a 16-yard scoring play.
* Trey Womack, a reserve safety, would score a touchdown on a trick play. Against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 23, with Jimmy Howell back to punt for UVa, Womack lined up at receiver. When the ball was snapped, Womack ran a crossing pattern and caught a pass from Howell, a former high school quarterback. Womack, a fifth-year senior, sprinted untouched to the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown reception.
* Keith Payne would lead the ACC with 16 touchdowns and be named second-team all-conference. Payne quit the team on the eve of the 2009 season — Al Groh’s last as the Cavaliers’ coach — and had to meet multiple conditions set by London before being allowed to play in 2010. The 6-3, 255-pound fifth-year senior proved to be a powerful complement to 5-8, 185-pound sophomore Perry Jones, with whom Payne split time at tailback.
* True freshman Morgan Moses would distinguish himself as a starter at two positions on the offensive line. Moses, a Parade All-American as a Meadowbrook High senior in 2008, started three games at right tackle after junior Landon Bradley, a starting tackle, broke his hand Oct. 9 against Georgia Tech. Bradley returned to face Duke, and Moses started at right guard in that game.
Bradley, however, suffered a knee injury early in the second quarter at Wallace Wade Stadium, and Moses moved back to right tackle. He started the Cavaliers’ final three games at that spot.
“I don’t know that people understand how hard it is and what an unbelievable job Morgan Moses is doing,” UVa offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said after the Duke game.
* UVa would surrender 55 points and lose for the third straight season to Duke. Not since a 63-21 loss to Illinois in the 1999 Micronpc.com Bowl had Virginia allowed so many points in a game. Duke did not win another conference game and finished the season with a 3-9 record.
* The ‘Hoos, because of injuries, would be without four of their top players for most of the season. Two of them — tight end Joe Torchia and cornerback Ras-I Dowling — were team captains. The other two were Bradley and wideout Tim Smith, who is expected to receive a hardship waiver and return as a redshirt sophomore in 2011.
* Virginia would be able to start its projected first-team secondary only twice. First against Georgia Tech and then versus Maryland, UVa started Dowling and junior Chase Minnifield at cornerback and juniors Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley at safety. Others who started at various times in the makeshirt secondary were Womack, junior safety Dom Joseph, sophomore cornerback Devin Wallace and senior cornerback Mike Parker.
* The UVa cornerback named to the all-ACC first team would be Minnifield, not Dowling. A second-team all-conference pick in 2009, Dowling battled various injuries as a senior and appeared in only five games. Minnifield finished the regular season ranked second among ACC players with six interceptions. He was the first defensive back from UVa named to the all-ACC first team since safety Anthony Poindexter in 1998.
* UVa would set school records for penalties (98) and penalty yards (880) in a season. Of the 120 teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, only three averaged more penalty yards per game than the Cavaliers (73.3) in the regular season.
* Marc Verica would break Matt Schaub’s school record for passing yards in a game. In 2003, Schaub threw for 393 yards in a loss at N.C. State. Verica passed for 417 in the loss at Duke. Verica, a fifth-year senior, finished the season with 2,799 yards passing. Only Schaub — with 2,976 in 2002 and 2,952 in ’03 — has thrown for more yards in a season at UVa.
Virginia averaged 265.5 passing yards this season, a school record.
* Wideouts Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman would combine for 109 catches and 1,614 yards receiving. Burd, a junior, had 58 catches for 799 yards and 5 TDs. Inman, a senior, caught 51 passes for 815 yards and 3 TDs. With 239 against Duke, Inman was two shy of the school record for receiving yards in a game.
Until this season, UVa had never had two wide receivers with at least 40 catches apiece in the same year. Only one Virginia wideout has caught more than 58 passes in a season — Billy McMullen, who had 83 receptions in 2001 and 69 in ’02. Three UVa wideouts have caught 58 passes in a season: Burd, Deyon Williams (2005) and Kevin Ogletree (2008).
* Wideout Matt Snyder would catch 30 passes (for 393 yards). Snyder, a redshirt junior who came to UVa as a walk-on, was awarded a scholarship before the season. His brother Jake, a redshirt freshman, is one of the Cavaliers’ reserve defensive ends.
* Jeremiah Mathis, who came out of training camp as a second-team defensive end, would spend most of the season at tight end. Mathis, a redshirt freshman from DeMatha High, switched to offense after Torchia suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Mathis finished the year with 3 catches for 11 yards and 1 TD. He’s likely to remain on offense, where he could play tight end, H-back or, London said Wednesday, fullback.
* UVa would have 19 players with at least one reception apiece, matching the school record set in 1959. Here’s the breakdown: Burd (58 catches), Inman (51), Perry Jones (31), Snyder (30), Colter Phillips (18), Payne (12), Torchia (9), Horne (9), Paul Freedman (8), Jared Green (8), Max Milien (80), Torrey Mack (4), Fells-Danzer (4), Ray Keys (3), Tim Smith (3), Mathis (3), Womack (1), Brendan Lane (1) and Billy Skrobacz (1).