By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the second time in less than a month, the UVa football team is getting ready to face one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks.
On opening day it was Brett Hundley, who passed for 242 yards and rushed for a touchdown in then-No. 7 UCLA’s 28-20 win over Virginia at Scott Stadium. On Saturday it will be BYU’s Taysom Hill, a 6-2, 232-pound junior who’s especially dangerous as a runner.
The Cavaliers (2-1) meet the No. 21 Cougars (3-0) at 3:30 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah.
In last year’s season-opener, UVa harassed Hill into a horrible passing day at Scott Stadium — he completed only 13 of 40 attempts — and rallied to win 19-16, thanks in no small part to an interception he threw late in the game.
A week later, however, Hill rushed for 259 yards and three touchdowns in BYU’s 40-21 rout of Texas. He finished the season with 2,938 yards passing and 1,344 rushing, and he threw for 19 touchdowns and ran for another 10.
On a teleconference with reporters this week, Hill said he’s “an entirely different player” now than he was at Scott Stadium last season. The Wahoos will attest to that.
“He’s a lot more comfortable in the schemes, and he’s making the hot reads a lot faster,” said senior middle linebacker Henry Coley, UVa’s leading tackler.
Hill “definitely looks a lot more comfortable,” junior defensive tackle David Dean said. “One thing that hasn’t changed, he’s still a playmaker with his feet.”
In wins over Connecticut, Texas and Houston this season, Hill has completed 67 of 98 passes for 689 yards and four TDs, with three interceptions. He’s rushed for 356 yards and six TDs.
“He’s a great quarterback,” UVa cornerback Brandon Phelps said. “He’s big, he’s elusive, he can throw the ball.”
Led by Hill, BYU’s offense will try Saturday to solve a Virginia defense that leads the nation with 13 forced turnovers.
“It’s a great challenge for us,” Hill said, “and we’re looking forward to it.”
FOOTBALL: Junior wide receiver Canaan Severin leads the Cavaliers with two touchdown catches, both of which came Sept. 6 in a 45-13 rout of Richmond at Scott Stadium.
A week later, Severin caught four passes for 19 yards against a Louisville defense that paid him close attention. He knows he can expect more of the same in games to come, and that’s fine with him.
“I feel at this level, if you’re going to make plays, you have to expect that your opponent is going to be watching you more and trying to scheme you up,” said Severin, who has 11 catches for 107 yards this season. “But you just gotta keep on working, working on your craft.”
MORE FOOTBALL: For Virginia, one of the highlights of its 23-21 win over then-No. 21 Louisville was starting quarterback Greyson Lambert’s 10-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter.
Leading Lambert to the end zone was fullback Connor Wingo-Reeves, who wiped out a defender with a textbook block inside the 5.
“I tell you what: Connor’s done a nice job this year,” running backs coach Larry Lewis said after practice Wednesday morning.
Wingo-Reeves, a 6-3, 235-pound sophomore, is No. 1 on the depth chart at fullback, and Vincent Croce, a 6-4, 270-pound junior, is No. 2. The `Hoos don’t use a fullback on every offensive play, but Wingo-Reeves “has a role, and I think you saw what it was the other day,” Lewis said.
“Thank God that he and Vince Croce are both very patient. They just work hard. They know what their role is, and they do everything they can in that role. And that role is limited somewhat, but when we call on them, it’s an important role, and I think they understand that.”
Lambert might have scored without Wingo-Reeves’ assistance, “but we aren’t counting on that,” Lewis said. “I think that’s the good thing about the fullback right now: You have that extra guy at times, and we’re counting on them to make that block.”
Wingo-Reeves, who had one reception for 4 yards last season, has excellent hands, as does Croce, Lewis said. It’s not always apparent on game day, but Virginia has plays designed to get the ball to the fullback.
“You have to, just to keep their spirits up,” Lewis said, smiling. “You gotta give them a bone once in a while.”
Wingo-Reeves and Croce also have important roles on special teams, which Lewis coordinates.
MEN’S BASKETBALL: Nearly two months before Virginia plays its Nov. 16 home opener at John Paul Jones Arena, season tickets for men’s basketball total more than 9,400, a program record. Fewer than 1,300 additional season tickets can be sold.
The previous record of 9,105 was set in 2007-08, the Wahoos’ second season at JPJ, whose official capacity is 14,593.
“Knowing you’re going to have a tremendous home crowd is really encouraging for me and for our players and staff,” said head coach Tony Bennett, whose record in five seasons at UVa is 106-60.
The Cavaliers, who posted a 20-2 record at JPJ in 2012-13, were 15-2 at home last season. UVa has won 18 consecutive ACC home games.
“It’s on record how JPJ has been a tremendous home-court advantage and environment for us, and the more fannies in the seats, the louder it is and the better it gets,” said Bennett, whose assistant coaches — Ritchie McKay, Ron Sanchez and Jason Williford — have been with him since his first season at the University.
In 2009-10, Bennett’s first season at UVa, the Cavaliers averaged 10,141 at home. The average rose to 10,156 in 2010-11 and to 10,522 in 2011-12 before dipping to 9,403 in 2012-13. (The 2012-13 average was adversely affected by two home games in the NIT Season Tip-Off Consolation bracket that were not part of the season-ticket package).
In 2013-14, however, the average jumped to 11,684 — the third-largest increase in Division I.
Even when attendance wasn’t great early in his tenure at UVa, Bennett said, he remained confident that support for his team would grow.
“My thought was, if we can just keep improving and keep showing the fans that we can compete and we can be successful, I think they’ll start coming,” he said.
Season tickets totaled 7,718 in 2013-14, which turned out to be one of the greatest seasons in program history. The `Hoos swept the ACC’s regular-season and tournament titles for the first time and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.
Among the players back from that team, which finished 30-7, are sophomore London Perrantes, juniors Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte and Justin Anderson, and senior Darion Atkins.
UVa will play 16 regular-season games at JPJ in 2014-15. The home schedule includes visits from perennial powers Duke (Jan. 31) and Louisville (Jan. 7), and those games may be sold out before single-game tickets are available to the public next month.
Because of the interest in season tickets, UVa will not offer mini-packages this season. Ahead of the public sale that begins Oct. 10, season-ticket holders and Virginia Athletics Foundation donors will have an opportunity, starting Oct. 8, to purchase available single-game tickets.
SOCCER: En route to the NCAA men’s soccer title last year, Notre Dame lost only one match, and it was to UVa. Forward Darius Madison scored two goals in South Bend, Ind., to lift the Cavaliers past the Fighting Irish 2-0 on Oct. 26, 2013.
The teams met again in the ACC tournament at Germantown, Md., where Virginia prevailed 4-3 in penalty kicks to advance to the championship game. (That was officially considered a tie.)
The `Hoos and the Irish may end up clashing more than once this season, too, but they’re assured of only one meeting. That comes Sunday at Klöcknerckner Stadium, where No. 7 Virginia (4-1 overall, 1-0 ACC) hosts No. 5 Notre Dame (3-1-1, 1-0) in a noon game ESPNU will televise.
The second-ranked UVa women open ACC play on Saturday night. At 7 p.m., Virginia (8-0) hosts Miami (2-6) at Klöckner Stadium.
The Virginia men are coming off a 1-0 win over VCU at Klöckner. Madison, in his second game back from an ankle injury, collected an assist on the Cavaliers’ goal, heading the ball to sophomore forward Sam Hayward, who headed it home in the 76th minute.
Hayward also scored the game-winning goal Sept. 7 in UVa’s 2-1 victory over UAB at the Hurricane Classic in Tulsa, Okla. A transfer from the University of Pennsylvania, Hayward leads Virginia with two goals and, with sophomore forward Riggs Lennon out with an ankle injury, is likely to see his role grow.
BASEBALL: Fall ball is under way for the `Hoos, who’ll play the first of their two exhibition games Tuesday at Davenport Field.
In its second exhibition, UVa will host Towson at Davenport at noon on Sept. 18. O’Connor’s goal with the exhibition games?
“No. 1, when we play Ontario, we look to find a future great shortstop,” he said. “No, I’m just kidding. It’s really an opportunity to kind of assess where your guys are at, especially your new players, your first-years, and give them a opportunity to compete against another team, with fans in the stands.
“It’s the best thing we can do to prepare our guys for how they’re going to feel on the field when the spring rolls around.”
The exhibition games also allow the coaching staff to experiment with lineups and try players at different positions.
“It’s something that’s been important for us to do every fall,” O’Connor said.
The `Hoos are coming off a season in which they were runners-up at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Gone from that UVa team are such standouts as Nick Howard, Derek Fisher, Mike Papi, Brandon Downes, Branden Cogswell, Nate Irving, Artie Lewicki and Whit Mayberry.
Among the newcomers who have impressed O’Connor are freshmen Adam Haseley, Pavin Smith and Christian Lowry, all of whom are competing for playing time in the outfield. Haseley and Smith are from Florida. Lowry starred at Hickory High in Chesapeake.
There is no admission charge for either exhibition or for the seven-game Orange and Blue World Series, which begins Sept. 30 and runs through Oct. 18.
Members of Virginia’s 2014 team will be honored at a ring ceremony before the game Oct. 18.