By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He’s not listed on the depth chart UVa released Monday, but don’t be shocked if offensive tackle Sadiq Olanrewaju plays Saturday against No. 21 Louisville at Scott Stadium.
A 6-6, 300-pound sophomore from Gaithersburg, Md., Olanrewaju had knee surgery last month. He resumed practicing this week, and his return strengthens a group that was perhaps the Cavaliers’ biggest question mark coming into the season.
“Gives us a lot more depth,” offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim said after practice Wednesday morning. “Gives us a guy that played some plays last year and a guy with a lot of ability that has a body that’s fit for playing left tackle.”
Olanrewaju, who missed spring practice because of injuries, played in five games as a true freshman last season. He has catching up to do, but Olanrewaju is in “great shape and condition,” said Wachenheim, who praised the work of strength coach Ryan Tedford and athletic trainer Kelli Pugh.
“He went a whole bunch of plays today and didn’t tire. Credit to Sadiq, he’s worked very hard on paying attention while he’s been out, and he didn’t miss an assignment today. So he’s right where he needs to be.”
Redshirt sophomore Michael Mooney started at left tackle in the Aug. 30 opener against UCLA. Because of what head coach Mike London called a disciplinary decision, Mooney did not start last weekend against Richmond — sophomore Jackson Matteo got the call — but he played in the game.
Mooney is listed as the starting left tackle on the depth chart released Monday. This is the ACC opener for Virginia (1-1), which hosts Louisville (2-0, 1-0) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Cavaliers ended a 10-game skid with a 45-13 rout of Richmond. Two other losing streaks, however, remain intact. The Wahoos have lost 10 straight ACC games since edging Miami 41-40 on Nov. 10, 2012, and 11 straight games to Football Bowl Subdivision opponents since defeating BYU 19-16 on Aug. 31, 2013.
“This will be a great challenge for us,” London said of Louisville’s visit.
The win over UR was gratifying, London said, but “we’re nowhere near satisfied with where we are right now. We have a challenging opponent coming in … It’s an opportunity for an ACC win.”
“I just think in our situation here, they both earned the right to see some playing time,” offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said Wednesday afternoon. “They’re both young, developing quarterbacks. They’re not perfect, but they’ve done some nice things, and we’ve continued to like to get `em both playing time.”
Lambert, who started both games, is a redshirt sophomore, as is Johns. Lambert has completed 29 of 38 passes for 214 yards and one touchdown, with two interceptions. Johns is 17 of 29 for 219 yards and three TDs, with one interception.
The coaching staff did not come into the season planning on rotating quarterbacks, Fairchild said, but Johns sparkled in the UCLA game after Lambert had two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
“Greyson and myself and Matt and all the quarterbacks in our [meeting] room, I think there’s a good relationship,” Fairchild said. “We’re very honest. We assess things after every practice, every game, about how everybody’s playing and what’s expected and so forth. I think everybody’s in agreement that the way we’re proceeding right now is the best way for now, and we’ll keep evaluating the situation.”
Asked Monday about the quarterback situation, London said, “I’m content with anybody that can help us win or whoever the guy is back there making it happen for us. If it’s playing one, it’s one. If it’s playing two, it’s two. So there is no timetable. There are no secret formulas or magic potions to say we’re going to have this guy. Right now it’s been productive for us, and we’ll continue to do that until it proves otherwise.”
UVa center Ross Burbank summed up the offensive line’s mentality this way:
“Whichever quarterback’s back there is going to give us a great chance to win, and they’re going to make plays,” Burbank said Monday. “It really isn’t a huge difference to us, whoever’s taking snaps.”
MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY: Part of the reason he’s confident a two-quarterback system can work at UVa this season, London said, is that Lambert and Johns are close friends.
That bond was apparent Wednesday morning during a teleconference they held with reporters.
“Anything that happens on the field, that hasn’t had any effect on friendships off the field,” Lambert said. “Whenever Matt’s in there, I’m rooting for him, and also I’m rooting for our team, because I want him to execute well so our team does well. I think that goes hand in hand with Matt, too.”
Johns said: “I wouldn’t be as good as I am today without Greyson, because of how hard he works. You see the effort he puts in the weight room and the effort he puts in the film room and just learning this offense … His work ethic off the field and on the field was very contagious, and definitely something that pushed me. Without Greyson, I never would have been as prepared as I was.”
SLOW START: An ankle injury slowed tailback Taquan Mizzell as a true freshman last season, but he came through training camp healthy this summer and was expected to be a focal point of the Cavaliers’ offense.
Mizzell’s long-awaited breakthrough has yet to occur. Through two games, he has one rushing touchdown and is averaging 2.8 yards per carry. He has a team-high 11 receptions but is averaging only 3.7 yards per catch. His longest run has been 7 yards, his longest reception 8.
London said he believes Mizzell, whose elusiveness as a young player earned him the nickname Smoke, is “one wiggle, one tackle away from having an explosive play. So he does have that kind of skill and that talent. Obviously, we need that kind of skill and talent versus this [Louisville] defense we’re getting ready to play. But Smoke, as we call him, is a guy that can be dynamic — he’ll need to be dynamic for us — and we believe that he can do those things that can turn a routine run into a home run.”
Mizzell has been more productive on special teams. He had a career-long 39-yard kickoff return against Richmond. He’s averaging 27.3 yards on his three returns.
BREAKOUT YEAR: In his first two seasons at UVa, wide receiver Canaan Severin totaled six catches for 46 yards and no touchdowns. Since the end of last season, however, Severin has dropped about 20 pounds, and his role in the offense has grown.
“He put in the work, and now he’s reaping what he sowed,” said another wideout, redshirt freshman Andre Levrone.
Severin, a 6-2, 210-pound junior, has seven receptions for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s been playing well for us, and I think he’s got an even bigger upside,” Fairchild said.
BIGGER AND BETTER: Defensive end Eli Harold played at about 220 pounds as a true freshman in 2012 and at about 230 last season. He’s now around 250, and the added bulk is serving him well.
“I’m not being knocked around like a pinball,” Harold said Tuesday.
Harold, who led the Cavaliers in sacks last season, is tied for second on the team with three tackles for loss season. He has one sack, for a 10-yard loss. He also has forced a fumble and, against UR, returned a fumble 22 yards for his first touchdown as a college player.
“Scoop and score, that’s exactly how I pictured it in my head,” Harold said after the game. “What’s the odds of me getting a pick-6? The ball has to get batted and just land in my hands. Scoop and score is more realistic.”
EAGER TO LEARN: Harold graduated from Ocean Lakes High. Representing another Virginia Beach high school, Bayside, in the UVa program are Mizzell, senior linebacker Henry Coley, senior cornerback Demetrious Nicholson and true freshman safety Quin Blanding.
Blanding, a starter since the first day of training camp last month, has impressed his older teammates.
“He’s a very humble guy,” Harold said, “and learning from [All-America safety] Anthony Harris really helps him a lot.”
Blanding was a coveted recruit who had scores of scholarship offers, but he doesn’t advertise that fact.
“With Quin, the great thing about him is, he came and didn’t even say one word about it,” senior linebacker Daquan Romero said. “He never brought it up. He never talked about his five-star [rating], never talked about his offers.
“He really didn’t say much the first couple days of camp. He was like an open book, just ready to read and ready to learn. He knew that coming in he didn’t know everything. He knew he still had stuff to improve on, and that’s the great thing about Quin, and that’s why he’s starting now.”
Blanding, who intercepted a pass against Richmond, is tied for third on the team in tackles with 16.
When defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta put him in the starting lineup immediately, Blanding recalled Monday, “I was a little nervous. I’m not going to lie. I was a little nervous, but I knew if he threw me out there, I just had to go out there and do what I do best and just work hard.”
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: UVa came into the season with the ACC’s top returning rusher, senior tailback Kevin Parks, who ran for 1,031 yards in 2013. So far, however, the Cavaliers’ running game has sputtered, in part because of the line’s inexperience.
Parks is averaging a team-high 53.5 yards per game, followed by another senior tailback, Khalek Shepherd (26 yards per game).
“It’s definitely gotta get better,” Fairchild said. “We haven’t produced in the running game like we need to. We haven’t had as many explosive runs pop through there as we would like.
“I think [the blockers are] fitting on the right guys. I think we’re not far off, but obviously we need to turn some of these 4- and 5-yarders into 6-, 7-, 8-yarders, and some of the ones that aren’t getting much, we’ve still got to get 4 and 5 on them.
“We’re working hard. It’s a point of emphasis, and we should continue to get better.”