By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the practices leading up to UVa’s football game with ACC rival Georgia Tech last fall, the Cavaliers’ Miles Gooch was cast in the role of Josh Nesbitt, the Yellow Jackets’ extraordinary quarterback.
Nesbitt has moved on, but the Jackets have another standout QB at the helm of their high-powered triple-option offense — Tevin Washington — and now it’s Jacob Hodges’ job to impersonate him in practice.
Hodges, a 5-11, 190-pound senior from Stafford, is best known as Virginia’s holder on extra points and field goals, but he starred at quarterback at Mountain View High School. And with Gooch, a backup quarterback last year, now at wide receiver, Hodges was the Wahoos’ best option on the scout-team offense.
“Now, he can’t simulate he’s Tevin Washington by any stretch,” UVa coach Mike London told reporters Monday at John Paul Jones Arena, “but as far as the techniques of the footwork and things like that … he did a really nice job doing that [in practice last week].”
In its ACC home opener, UVa (0-1, 3-2) takes on 12th-ranked Georgia Tech (3-0, 6-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Scott Stadium. ESPNU will televise this Coastal Division game.
To say that Hodges has had an unusual college career would be an understatement. He spent his first two years at UVa as one of the team’s student-managers. A successful tryout in the spring of 2010 earned Hodges a spot on the roster as a player, and he appeared in all 12 games as Virginia’s primary holder last season.
In consecutive games, Hodges played key roles on fake field goals that produced touchdowns. Against Duke, he gathered in Danny Aiken’s snap and then flipped the ball over his head. Kicker Robert Randolph caught it in stride and raced to the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. A week later, against Maryland, Hodges caught Aiken’s snap and flicked a shovel pass to fullback Terence Fells-Danzer, who ran 16 yards for the TD.
At Mountain View, Hodges lettered in four sports: football, basketball, baseball, and track and field.
Washington, a redshirt junior, averages 51.5 yards rushing and 175.3 passing for a team that has scored fewer than 35 points in only one game this season. The Jackets are averaging 46.5 points and 553.5 yards.
Asked Monday about Hodges, UVa defensive end Billy Schautz said, “I wouldn’t think he’s quite as dynamic as Tevin Washington, but he is definitely putting in lots of work. He’s helping us out a lot. He knows the system.
“He knows how to take the steps, where to go. Clearly, we’re not going to get the same reads from our scout team, especially the speed. The speed will be the biggest difference from practice to this game.”
To slow down an option attack, defenders must learn and then execute their assignments. The Jackets thrive on deception, and it’s often difficult for a defense to know who has the ball. It might be the fullback, it might be the halfback, or the quarterback may keep it himself. Washington carried 32 times against Maryland on Saturday.
And so, Schautz said, the “most important thing for us this week is to make sure we know what our responsibilities are, our assignments are, on every play and just tackle every option that there possibly is, because there’s plenty of options on every single play.”
To that end, the defense practiced last week against a scout-team offense that ran its plays without using a football, Schautz said.
“We’re just tackling,” he said. “Every person has their own assignment, who they go to, where they go to, what decision you have to make, what read you have to make, and there’s no football. Everybody tackles each option in this triple-option offense … It’s different, but it’s definitely helping us.”
GOOD TIMING: The ‘Hoos haven’t played since Oct. 1, when they edged Idaho 21-20 in overtime at Scott Stadium. The players practiced several days last week, took Sunday off and then resumed preparations Monday afternoon.
“We got a lot accomplished during the week as far as defensively preparing for this very different style of offense,” Schautz said Monday, “but Coach also gave us enough time to rest and recover, because there were some nicks and bruises amongst the team, and it gave us enough time to recover from that, and I feel we’re 100 percent going into this full work week.”
Virginia’s banged-up players included tailback Kevin Parks, a redshirt freshman who leads the team with six touchdowns. Parks sat out the Idaho game with an ankle injury.
“I feel like I’m back to 100 percent now,” Parks said Monday.
Offensive guard Austin Pasztor said the coaching staff stressed the basics during the bye week.
“Each week you have to prepare for a new opponent, so you don’t always get to work on all the fundamentals you want to,” Pasztor said. “But during the bye week we had a good chance to work on the little things again.”
SETTLING IN: At Bergen Catholic High in New Jersey, Schautz played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and safety. He also returned punts and kickoffs.
At UVa, he was slotted initially at tight end but then was moved to linebacker in Al Groh’s 3-4 defense. When London replaced Groh as head coach after the 2009 season, the Cavaliers scrapped the 3-4 in favor of the 4-3, and Shautz switched to defensive end.
“Done it all,” he said Monday with a laugh. “Played it all.”
In high school he weighed 210 pounds. He’s now around 255. Schautz suffered a knee injury during training camp in 2010 and was in for only 63 plays last season. As a redshirt junior, however, he appears to have finally found a home at UVa.
With senior Cam Johnson out with an injury, Schautz started against Idaho, and he’s been on the field more this season than Johnson or Jake Snyder, a redshirt sophomore who has started every game at defensive end. Schautz has 3.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
“It’s been a journey, I guess you could call it, from all those positions I’ve switched from,” Schautz said. “It’s been frustrating, because whenever I get to one spot, I seem to change to the next one.
“But being a defensive end now for over a year, I’m finally getting used to it, and hopefully I stay there and I keep producing enough that these coaches let me stay there. Because I’d rather just stay in one spot now and get used to it.”
FAMILIAR LOOK: Groh, of course, is in his second year as defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, where he installed his trademark 3-4. Of the 120 teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, the Jackets rank 31st in total defense and 53rd in scoring defense.
The older players on UVa’s offense, including Pasztor, center Anthony Mihota and wide receivers Kris Burd and Matt Snyder, practiced extensively against the 3-4 during Groh’s final years in Charlottesville.
“I think that’ll help us out [Saturday],” Pasztor said. “Obviously I’ve been trying to help the rest of the offensive line with how the defense works and some keys and reads you can get. I think it can help us. I don’t know how much it will.”
MULTI-TALENTED: Junior tailback Perry Jones has rushed for a team-high 365 yards. He’s also a threat in the passing game. Jones is second on the team in catches, with 24, and third in receiving yards, with 199.
He was blessed with good hands and excellent hand-eye coordination, “but it’s also something that I’ve worked on,” Jones said. “Before I was just doing a lot of short routes, check-downs or swing routes, but now the coaches are trying to get me more involved with the passing game, so now I’m starting to take it downfield. I work on not just my hands, but my routes also, because sometimes I line up out in the slot.”
FASHION STATEMENT: The players who stopped by JPJ to talk with reporters Monday included Pasztor, who has been sporting a shaggy mullet since last season.
“I kept getting so many compliments on it, I decided to keep it for a little bit,” said Pasztor, a 6-7, 305-pound senior. “Then I was too lazy to get it cut.”
Jones said: “I’ve actually heard people give him compliments. I haven’t been one of those people, but I think it’s a good look for him.”
POINT OF EMPHASIS: With an average of 6.1 yards, Virginia ranks 83rd nationally in punt returns. Dominique Terrell will continue to return punts, but Chase Minnifield is likely to be used in that role, too, London said.
Minnifield, a fifth-year senior, was UVa’s primary punt-returner last season. London and special-teams coordinator Anthony Poindexter gave the job this year to Terrell, and the true freshman has struggled with his decision-making. Terrell averages only 4.4 yards per return and has let several punts get past him.
“He’ll be back there [against Georgia Tech],” London said. “Chase will be back there. Without trying to give away too many things, we might have two guys back there.”
Virginia worked extensively on special teams last week, London said, and “I feel better coming out of this period, particularly dealing with the punt return.”
Terrell is one of 12 true freshmen to play for the ‘Hoos this season, and the newcomers’ inexperience is one reason the team has been inconsistent. But also, London said last week, “we have to coach better. The schemes that we use, we gotta make sure [they’re] conducive to the type of talent we have … That’s what we’re working on, and we’re a work in progress, but we’re trying to move in that direction.”