By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the 2011 regular-season finale against Virginia Tech at Scott Stadium, David Watford, then a true freshman, played briefly off the bench for UVa. More than 21 months passed before Watford appeared in another football game. That was last Saturday, when Watford started at quarterback for Virginia against BYU.
“I felt like I was kind of anxious to get back on the field and just perform,” Watford, who redshirted last season, said Wednesday, “but after a while I got back into my groove and just started to get the rhythm of the game and feel everything out. I feel like getting that first start under my belt, that really calmed me down and that helped me out a lot.”
Watford struggled at times Saturday, as did the entire offense in its first game under new coordinator Steve Fairchild. But when the final second ticked off the clock at Scott Stadium, ending a game that had been interrupted by a 129-minute weather delay, the Cavaliers could celebrate a hard-earned 19-16 win over the Cougars.
“Offensively, we did some positive things,” Watford said, “and [there] was a lot of stuff to learn from and grow off of from that game. We’re just looking at it in a positive way and trying to move from there. We’re trying to take it step by step.”
In his first start as a Cavalier, Watford completed 18 of 32 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown, an 11-yarder to junior wide receiver Darius Jennings. He was intercepted once.
“Just knowing Dave, I know he’s his biggest critic,” Jennings said Monday, “so I know he’s going to be tough on himself, and he’s going to correct his mistakes. But Dave did what we needed him to do. We got the W. We put enough points on the board. When we needed to score, Dave was there to make plays. He made plays with his arm and his feet. He can definitely do that for us, and I definitely expect Dave to play better as he goes throughout the season.”
Offensive tackle Morgan Moses agreed. “We knew going in it was going to take time,” he said Monday. “It was David’s first start.”
Virginia’s two touchdowns came on possessions that started inside the BYU 20-yard line. The Wahoos totaled only 223 yards and punted 13 times, and they know a similar performance this weekend is likely to result in a defeat.
At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, UVa hosts second-ranked Oregon (1-0) at Scott Stadium.
“There’s a lot we’ve got to improve on,” Fairchild said Wednesday. “[The BYU game] was a barometer. We took kind of a gauge of where we’re at, and every phase of the game’s got to get better.”
Still, Fairchild said, he liked some of what he saw last weekend.
“I thought we were a little more physical than I anticipated going in there,” he said. “I thought we held our own at the line of scrimmage against a very, very good front seven. We generated some run game, which was positive. We only had one offensive penalty, we only had one turnover, which David, I’m sure, would love to have back.
“There’s some things you can build on. We’ve got to become a lot more explosive offensively, there’s no question about it, and we’ve got to be a lot more consistent. But this is just the beginning. We’ll keep working.”
Watford said: “I feel like for the first game there were a lot of positives. Offensively we wanted to do more and we should have done more, and I take that on myself. We had a great scheme in, Coach Fairchild called a great game, and I just have to demand more of my guys and be more demanding of myself and more of a leader out there on the field.”
Oregon opened with a 66-3 win over Nicholls State. Such outbursts are nothing new for the Ducks. In 2012, they ranked second nationally in scoring offense (49.5 points per game) and fifth in total offense (537.4 yards per game).
The Ducks weren’t as dominant defensively, but they allowed only 21.6 points per game last season. That ranked 25th in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision.
“Their defense doesn’t get as much credit as I think they should, because their offense kind of overshadows their defense,” Watford said, “but their defense does a hell of a job out there … They pin their ears back, they get after the quarterback, [run] a lot of exotic blitzes and schemes. It’s going to be a tough challenge, but I think we’ll be ready for it.”
Watford is one of UVa’s fastest players, and Fairchild wants to take advantage of that speed. Watford wasn’t sacked against BYU, which ranked No. 2 nationally in rushing defense last season, but he netted only 10 yards on his 10 carries.
“BYU’s defense, they flew to the ball,” Watford said. “That’s one thing I really noticed on film, and then just being on the field: Those guys, they flew to the ball. They were ball hawks. Every time I tried to break contain or break the pocket, I had two or three guys chasing me.”
He can expect to see Ducks flying to the ball Saturday. Oregon led the nation with 40 turnovers gained last season — 26 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. It’s no secret why.
“No. 1, they play a lot of man coverage,” Fairchild said. “Their guys on the outside are very talented at cornerback. They’re not afraid to jump routes.”
No. 2, Fairchild said, “they’re fast. At all 11 spots, they’ve got good speed, so if the ball does pop on the ground or something, they’ve got very good team speed to kind of swarm to it and a get a lot of hats to the ball.
“They’re impressive. Everybody comments how fast they are offensively, which I’m sure they are, but they’re very, very fast defensively.”
Virginia’s defense distinguished itself against BYU, but it can’t do it alone this weekend, Watford knows. The offense must play better, and that starts with him.
“I have to just be more demanding of myself, I have to just be more demanding of my guys,” Watford said. “We just have to make plays. I have trust in those guys, and I know they have trust in me. So I have to make more plays, I have to make first downs, keep our defense off the field, give them time to rest and get themselves together.
“But we have to put points on the board. That’s the bottom line. Coach Fairchild called a great game [against BYU]. It’s my job to execute. It’s my job to lead my troops, so I have to do that, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Fairchild called plays from the press box in the opener. He might move down to the sideline Saturday.
“We’re going to do what’s necessary for the team and David to be successful,” head coach Mike London said Wednesday.
Fairchild said: “The vantage point’s always a little better upstairs, and you can get away from all the chaotic part of the game, so to speak. So there’s some advantages to being upstairs. The advantage to being downstairs is a little more in player involvement during the game, especially with the quarterback, David, being new.
“It’s something we’re considering. We haven’t made a final decision. I’ve called plays before on the field, both in college and the NFL, so it wouldn’t be anything new to me.”