By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Whether Matt Johns, who came off the bench to throw two touchdown passes in UVa’s season-opener, will start Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium is still to be determined.
But Johns will play against Richmond, Virginia head coach Mike London told reporters Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. And so will Greyson Lambert, who started the opener against then-No. 7 UCLA and had two interceptions returned for touchdowns before Johns replaced him with UVa trailing 21-3 late in the first half.
“We don’t have a quarterback controversy,” London said on his Sunday night teleconference.
On the depth chart released Monday, the No. 1 quarterback is listed as Lambert or Johns. Virginia, which is looking to end a 10-game losing streak, hosts UR (1-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Lambert and Johns each will take snaps with the first team in practice this week, London said, and both “are going to play in this game.”
The Cavaliers, who were off Monday, return to practice Tuesday morning.
“We’ll continue to keep evaluating where we are and what we’re doing at that position,” London said.
Johns, a redshirt sophomore, played the entire second half against UCLA and finished 13 of 22 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. Until Saturday, Johns had never attempted a pass in a college game.
Lambert, also a redshirt sophomore, completed 16 of 23 passes for 112 yards and no touchdowns in his first college start. He was intercepted twice, the first time after UCLA defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa got around left offensive tackle Michael Mooney and deflected Lambert’s pass from behind.
London said he’s not worried that playing two quarterbacks will divide the team.
“As we have two capable young players that can play, there is no dissension amongst the team,” London said. “This team is unified.”
Mooney said the offensive line “really didn’t notice the change too much” Saturday. “Both guys were good quarterbacks, both made good plays, and I’m confident in either one of them.”
So is UVa tailback Kevin Parks.
“It’s up to the coaches to decide who’s going to play,” Parks said Monday. “I felt like both of them did great things [against UCLA]. Both of them still have things to work on, and that’s [true for] everybody on the team … I felt good about both of them.”
DUAL THREAT: Johns, who’s listed at 6-5, 210 pounds, scrambled four times for 13 yards against UCLA and passed up other opportunities to leave the pocket.
“Matt, he can definitely run, as he showed,” defensive lineman Mike Moore said. “People don’t realize how athletic he is, but he’s definitely one of the most athletic guys on the team. Just from working out with him all summer, he’s sometimes No. 1 in the sprints.”
Mooney said: “Matt’s an athletic guy. I think he surprises people with how fast he can run.”
INTO THE FIRE: A 6-6, 295-pound redshirt sophomore, Mooney was among the Cavaliers’ first-time starters against UCLA.
“I was a little nervous a couple days before the game, but I wasn’t throwing up in the trash can before the game or anything,” he said Monday, smiling.
Virginia’s offensive line, the team’s biggest question mark going into the season, did not allow a sack Saturday. But the Cavaliers had little success on the ground, averaging a modest 3.1 yards per carry.
“We definitely want to improve on the run game and even on our pass-blocking too,” Mooney said. “We have a lot to improve on.”
Even so, it was a strong debut from an unheralded group. Mooney’s fellow starters were sophomore Ryan Doull at left guard, junior Ross Burbank at center, senior Conner Davis at right guard, and sophomore Eric Smith at right tackle.
“Those boys, they worked their tail off. I’m really proud of them, the way they blocked,” Parks said. “We just gotta keep it up and keep doing it and get better each and every week, and that’s our goal: to improve each week.”
Others may have questioned the line, Parks said, but “I always believed. I never had a doubt in my offensive line. Those boys, they work hard each and every day, and like I said they’re getting better each and every week, through camp.”
FAMILIAR FACES: The Spiders, who compete in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, also plan to play two quarterbacks Saturday, as they did in their season-opening rout of Morehead State. Both QBs are former Cavaliers.
Michael Strauss, UR’s starter, transferred to Richmond from Virginia after the 2011 season. Michael Rocco, the starting quarterback on the UVa team that advanced to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2011, transferred to UR after the 2012 season.
“I wish the best for both of them,” London said Monday.
Strauss and Rocco, both fifth-year seniors, will serve as UR’s captains Saturday. Virginia’s captains include Parks, who’s looking forward to greeting them at midfield. He’s spoken to both on the phone this week.
“Just a little bit of trash talking,” Parks, a fifth-year senior, said with a laugh. “That’s how it is. That’s how it’s always been.”
Parks joked when asked what kind of reaction he expected Strauss and Rocco to get from the crowd Saturday.
“I hope they get some boos,” he said, smiling. “Nah. I like both of them. Hopefully it’s all good things for those two.”
The programs have many other ties. London, as has been well-chronicled, is a UR graduate who coached his alma mater to the FCS national title in 2008. Richmond’s head coach is former UVa assistant Danny Rocco, who is also Michael Rocco’s uncle.
Danny Rocco and Mike London worked together on Al Groh’s staff at Virginia.
Also, Rocco’s assistants at UR include two former UVa players: Byron Thweatt and Fontel Mines. Two other Richmond assistants, Bob Trott and Levern Belin, formerly worked at Virginia on Groh’s staff.
EXTRA EFFORT: On the kickoff that followed Johns’ second touchdown pass Saturday, reserve safety Wilfred Wahee raced down the middle of the field, got knocked down and then, from his knees, lunged forward to get his arms around the legs of the Bruins’ return man.
“That was crazy,” senior defensive back Brandon Phelps said Monday. “We need effort like that from guys. Wahee, he’s definitely been a big effort guy, and he’s definitely been growing as a player, too.”
When reviewing videotape of the UCLA game with his players, London said, he singled out Wahee’s hustle.
“That was a tremendous effort,” said London, who added that he wants his team to “play with that type of effort, play in and play out, not just special teams, but offensively and defensively, and here you have a guy that is not a household name. He’s a guy that just wants to play and help the team win, which was an unbelievable effort he showed. Now we all have the model of the type of effort. You get knocked down then you get back up. You’re not out of the play until the whistle sounds.”
Wahee, who redshirted in 2012, missed all of last season after suffering a torn ACL during training camp.
London also praised redshirt junior Vincent Croce’s work on special teams.
WAITING GAME: Cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, who played (and started) as a true freshman in 2011, is recovering slowly from the operation he had on his left toe in May.
Nicholson has been cleared to do some running in practice but not to participate in contact drills. It’s too early to commit to redshirting Nicholson, London said, but there’s “an array of options that we will consider and that’s one of them. But he also wants to play, [and] we’ll see how that works out.”
DOUBLING UP: Two true freshmen played for UVa against UCLA: Blanding, who started at safety and made nine tackles, and wide receiver Doni Dowling, who had five catches for 25 yards.