By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On a typical game week, UVa’s football team is off on Monday and then returns to the practice field Tuesday morning. Hurricane Sandy ensured this would not be a typical week for the Wahoos.
With classes cancelled at the University for the second straight day, the team did not practice as scheduled this morning. But the Cavaliers hope to get in a session this afternoon and then resume their normal schedule Wednesday.
On Monday, athletics director Craig Littlepage canceled all afternoon activities involving student-athletes. That left head coach Mike London as the football team’s only representative during the weekly media gathering that afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena.
Virginia (2-6 overall, 0-4 ACC) is preparing to face NC State (5-3, 2-2) in Raleigh, and London opened his remarks by announcing that his team will be without starter Henry Coley and reserves Jeremiah Mathis and LoVanté Battle on Saturday afternoon.
Each has been suspended indefinitely for a undisclosed violation of team rules. Coley, a redshirt sophomore from Virginia Beach, has started every game at strong-side linebacker this season. He’s fourth on the team in tackles, with 40.
Mathis, a junior tight end, has caught five passes for 42 yards and a touchdown this season. Battle, a senior fullback, plays primarily on special teams. UVa’s top three tight ends will be available Saturday — seniors Paul Freedman and Colter Phillips and sophomore Jake McGee — so Mathis is likely to be missed most on special teams, too.
Daquan Romero, a sophomore from Phoebus High in Hampton, is expected to start in Coley’s place against the Wolfpack, but true freshman Demeitre Brim also will see time at strong-side linebacker, London said.
“We’ll see what happens with Henry when Henry comes back,” London said, “but the signal is that a position that’s open now due to the circumstances that have occurred is wide open in terms of the competition.”
The Cavaliers haven’t played since Oct. 20, when they lost 16-10 to Wake Forest at Scott Stadium. The Wolfpack won’t be as well-rested this weekend. NC State lost Saturday to arch-rival North Carolina, which scored the game’s final 18 points to win 43-35 in Chapel Hill.
The Pack, now tied for third in the Atlantic Division, almost certainly must close the regular season with four consecutive victories to even have a chance to advance to the ACC title game. Virginia, meanwhile, is trying to end a six-game losing streak.
“This is a back-against-the-wall game for both of us,” NC State coach Tom O’Brien, a former UVa assistant, told reporters in Raleigh on Monday.
In Charlottesville, London didn’t mince words either.
“We desperately want to win a game,” said London, who was an assistant under O’Brien at Boston College.
In 2011, London guided UVa to an 8-5 record and an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. To earn a second straight bowl invitation, Virginia will have to beat, in order, ACC foes NC State, Miami, UNC and Virginia Tech.
“These are a series of one game playoffs or however you want to call it,” London said “These games are bowl games for us right now. We have to win these games that are … being presented to us. That’s how we have to look at it.”
Defensive end Eli Harold, a true freshman from Virginia Beach, will make his first start Saturday, London said. Only six seniors are expected to start against NC State, three on each side of the ball: Freedman, offensive tackle Oday Aboushi, tailback Perry Jones, defensive tackle Will Hill, middle linebacker Steve Greer and weak-side linebacker LaRoy Reynolds.
UVa’s reserves include several true freshmen who are likely to play significant roles next season, including Brim, middle linebacker Kwontie Moore, defensive end Mike Moore and safety Anthony Cooper. London said he would like them to gain more than special-teams experience this season, “but you also want to have an opportunity to be competitive and be in some games to win some games at the end.”
Three of Virginia’s past four games have been decided by seven or fewer points. In the other loss during that span, against Duke, UVa led at halftime. So London knows that his team easily could be 2-2, or better, in ACC play.
“It’s frustrating that you’re not there,” he said, “but to me, this has always been a process of building a team that has an opportunity to take some of those young players that have been talked about and get them to a point where they become older players … that can contribute significantly to you.”
The key now, London said, is to “just keep on trying to take what you have and grow them up and also try to put them in those positions where” a foundation is laid for future success.
In practices last week, the Cavaliers focused more on fixing their problems than on the Wolfpack’s tendencies.
“We don’t get a lot of opportunities to do that and go out [during the season] and practice the fundamentals of what we do, what we need to do,” London said. “Those are things that an open week allows you to do, and we try and take full advantage of that.”