Game Week Arrives for UVa Football
Aug 25, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Afternoon had turned to evening on a sparkling Saturday when UVa football coach Mike London addressed his players at Scott Stadium.
“The game will be over this time next week. Over,” London told his team. “In the books.”
That game, of course, is the Cavaliers’ season-opener. At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Virginia hosts BYU at Scott Stadium. A week later, at the same time, on the same field, UVa will take on Oregon, ranked No. 3 in The Associated Press’ preseason poll.
Virginia, which opened practice Aug. 5, broke training camp Saturday night. The knowledge that traditional powers are coming to town has heightened the intensity of the Wahoos’ preparations this month.
“When you’re playing against some of the best teams in college football, you better get your act together, particularly when you’re at home, or else you get embarrassed,” London said. “And I think the players are excited about the challenges that present themselves. We feel pretty good about where we are, who we are, but [these games are] definitely a true barometer as to where you are, where you need to go. After next week, there are no do-overs.”
UVa lost redshirt freshman Wilfred Wahee, a reserve cornerback who was likely to play on multiple special teams, to a season-ending knee injury this month. Overall, though, the `Hoos emerged from training camp in excellent health.
“We practiced hard, and we got after it pretty good,” London said. “But we also gave them some time to get off their feet and get their legs back, and I think it’s always important in camp in order to play at your best. We’ve had a pretty good camp, and we’ve had some guys that got dinged, but at the same time, if you look at us from a health standpoint, we’re about as healthy as we’ve ever been coming out of a camp.”
London announced Aug. 12 that David Watford would start at quarterback against BYU, and since then the redshirt sophomore from Hampton has taken most of the snaps with the first-team offense.
“Being named the starter is a blessing, I’m thankful, but it didn’t change my attitude and my mindset,” Watford said after practice Friday. “I just came ready to work. Whatever reps I got, I wanted to make the most out of them and be beneficial to my team, be efficient.”
The Cavaliers, coming off a 4-8 season, have new coordinators for offense (Steve Fairchild), defense (Jon Tenuta) and special teams (Larry Lewis). Watford raves about Fairchild, who has extensive coaching experience in college and in the NFL.
“He’s very efficient,” Watford said. “He puts a lot on us, and he expects a lot from us. He tries to bring the best out of us, and that’s all we ask as quarterbacks: for him to push us and keep us motivated, keep us working hard.
“I love working with Coach Fairchild. I’m blessed to have him as my coach, so I’m just thankful.”
Fairchild has been offensive coordinator at four colleges, including Colorado State and New Mexico, and with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills. His offenses have evolved throughout his career, Fairchild said, “because I’ve been involved myself in a lot of different systems.”
At UVa, he said, the offense “is a collective effort. We’ve got a very talented offensive staff, guys like Tom O’Brien and Larry Lewis have been around quite a bit. Scott Wachenheim’s coached in the NFL, and Marques [Hagans] has played in the NFL.We’ve got a staff here that has a lot of good ideas.”
Watford is the only quarterback in the program who has played in a college game. That was in 2011, when as a true freshman he backed up Michael Rocco. Watford redshirted last season.
“He continues to progress,” Fairchild said Friday afternoon. “He’s not where he needs to be. He knows that. But we’ve still got some time … I think he’s going to be a good player for us.”
The `Hoos began focusing on BYU’s schemes in practice Friday morning.
“We had been doing things all camp long that we thought were applicable to what we would do in the opening game,” Fairchild said that afternoon, “but today we gave them the exact looks. We went against something other than our own defense.”
Virginia runs a 4-3 defense. BYU’s base scheme is a 3-4.
The Cougars “do move around a little bit,” Fairchild said, “but there’s some two-gap principles in terms of their defensive line technique that we haven’t seen from our defense. But they are a big, physical front seven. They’re hard to push out of there. They’ve got a couple outside linebackers that are very talented, one in particular, Kyle Van Noy, that’s probably going to play in the NFL.”
Watford said: “It’s going to be a tough game for us, but I know we’ll be prepared.”
BYU has a new offensive coordinator, Robert Anae. The former Arizona assistant has installed a no-huddle spread offense that the Cougars will use to increase the game’s tempo.
Asked Thursday about the spread offenses so popular in college football today, Tenuta said a “lot of it’s still option football, a lot of it’s still Wing-T football. These guys haven’t reinvented football. They’ve just taken what people have done in the past and added it to their packages. So you still have to be sound, but you still can’t wait for what happens. You have to make something happen.
“You have to be more aggressive and attacking, but you can’t blitz [on every play]. You can’t bring five, you can’t bring six, you have to pick and choose when you do that. You have to be sound, and you’ve got to get lined up. Things happen fast.”
In 2010, London’s first season as UVa’s head coach, he played three true freshmen. The total rose to 12 in 2011 and then fell to nine last year. At least a half-dozen true freshmen are likely to play this season. The leading candidates include tailback Taquan Mizzell, fullback Connor Wingo-Reeves, defensive tackle Donte Wilkins, linebacker Zach Bradshaw and cornerbacks Tim Harris and Kirk Garner.
Mizzell, who’s nicknamed Smoke, dazzled throughout training camp.
“We’re looking to get him involved,” Fairchild said. “He’s not going to redshirt. He’s a talented guy, and he’ll have a role. He’ll be on the field for us for sure offensively and I’m sure in the return game.
“Very talented freshman that came in and the game wasn’t too big for him. Usually running backs struggle with things like pass protection and things of that nature, and he’s been really ahead of the curve.”
UVa’s players, who had been staying in a local hotel since the start of training camp, got to sleep in their 2013-14 residences Saturday night. The Cavaliers, off Monday, return to the practice field Tuesday morning.
The coming week will “probably go by fast,” Watford said, “but we have to slow it down and get the most out of every rep at every practice every day. We have to put ourselves in the best position to win and just be all-out when it comes to next Saturday.”
London said: “You always want to make sure you’ve covered all the what-ifs, but you’re never going to cover all the what-ifs. You try to prepare as much as you can. You have a faith in the plan that we all put together. The task is one that we’re ready for. Now’s the time to put it all together.”