By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Pittsburgh football team has one of the ACC’s premier wide receivers in Tyler Boyd, and UVa has an elite cornerback in Maurice Canady.
They’re likely to see a lot of each other Saturday night at Scott Stadium, where Virginia (3-2, 1-0) hosts Pitt (3-2, 1-0) in a Coastal Division game.
Boyd, a 6-2, 190-pound sophomore, has 27 receptions for 365 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Against Boyd, UVa head coach Mike London said Monday, the defense “is going to have to know where he is at all times … He’s a special player.”
Canady, a 6-2, 190-pound junior, has two interceptions, one of which he returned 69 yards for a touchdown Saturday in UVa’s 45-13 rout of Kent State.
Canady also has four pass break-ups this season, especially impressive considering how reluctant most opponents are to throw in his direction.
“I remember this summer we’re doing a seven-on-seven [workout], it was like the third week we’re doing seven-on-seven, and Maurice is getting mad,” UVa wideout Canaan Severin told reporters Monday at John Paul Jones Arena.
“No one’s throwing his way. I thought about that Saturday [after Canady’s TD]. That’s why, right there. No quarterback wants to have interceptions on them. It’s no coincidence people aren’t throwing his way. He’s long, rangy, he can guard you [man-to-man], he can play zone. He’s physical. He’s a good football player. Real talented dude.”
Canady, a graduate of Varina High who played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2012, twice was named ACC defensive back of the week last year.
“He plays a lot of positions,” London said. “He played safety at one point last year as well, and he’s a physical guy. He has the requisite size, tools and strength to play bump coverage, to play off, to play [like an] outside linebacker that can be involved in the running game.”
Canady’s presence on the field “makes a lot of other guys’ jobs a lot easier,” senior middle linebacker Henry Coley said Monday.
“Reese, he’s just another physical specimen. He’s a big guy. You don’t realize it till one day you actually look at him and you’re standing next to him like, `Dang, you got some size on you.’ Especially with his athletic ability, what he can do in space. And he has that attitude. Reese has one of those attitudes of a linebacker, if you want to compare it to anybody else on the defensive [side]. It’s a big asset to our defense.”
Severin, a 6-2, 210-pound junior, leads the Wahoos with 20 receptions for 225 yards and two touchdowns.
Asked Monday about Boyd, Severin said, “I’m excited to see against Maurice Canady, what he’s going to do, against Tra Nicholson, what he’s going to do, because those are the guys I go up against every week [in practice]. So I want to see how he does compared to what I do every day. And I want to see how I do against his corners.”
Demetrious Nicholson, a senior cornerback from Virginia Beach, missed the final seven games of the 2013 season and the first four this fall with a toe injury. He started against Kent State and had a pivotal interception in the end zone late in the first half.
“We definitely needed a corner like that,” Severin said. “Any team in the country could use a corner like Tra Nicholson. When he couldn’t play last year, it definitely hurt us, because he’s an All-ACC corner, so that’s going to hurt any team that doesn’t have him on the field. It’s good to see him back on the field.”
INJURY UPDATES: For a team heading into its sixth game, UVa is in good health. Quarterback Greyson Lambert and defensive lineman Mike Moore, both dealing with ankle injuries, are likely to play against Pitt. The offensive line, however, has lost a key member.
UVa announced Monday that Jackson Matteo, who started the Richmond game at left tackle and the Louisville game at center, will have surgery on his foot, and it’s not clear when he’ll return.
Matteo, a 6-5, 300-pound sophomore who hurt his foot late in the Kent State game, has been used primarily at center this season, often trading series with junior Ross Burbank, who has started four games.
“This is why we have everybody snapping all year `round, and this is why we rotate during two-a-days, because unexpected things happen, and you gotta have guys ready,” offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim said after practice Tuesday morning.
Fifth-year senior Cody Wallace has experience at center, and redshirt freshman Jack McDonald has worked there, too. The coaching staff would like to redshirt Eric Tetlow, who played in five games as a true freshman last year, but he could be pressed into service this season, Wachenheim said.
“And, of course, there’s always everybody’s favorite, [junior] John Pond, who plays center,” Wachenheim said, smiling. “We have plenty of options, and they’ll do very well.”
The 6-5, 290-pound McDonald, who’s from the Boston area, has yet to start a game, but he’s been in the rotation at right guard.
“Jack’s a great guy,” Wachenheim said. “He’s got a great family. He works hard. He’s very coachable, and he plays hard, and he’s getting better every day.
“For a redshirt freshman, he’s well ahead of schedule.”
Also Monday, London said wide receiver Dominique Terrell, who missed spring practice with a hernia injury and has yet to play this season, is a “huge possibility” to redshirt.
Terrell, who played as a true freshman in 2011, has 60 career receptions for 641 yards and one touchdown. He also has returned 32 punts for 203 yards (6.3 average).
Canady and Romero are starters. Moore, usually on the second team, played most defensive series Saturday in place of Mike Moore (no relation), who tested his ankle early in the game and then was held out as a precaution.
Kwontie Moore, a 6-2, 275-pound junior from Norfolk, began his college career at linebacker before moving to the line last season. He plays end when the Cavaliers are in their 4-3 defense and moves inside when they go with their nickel package.
Against Kent State, Moore made two tackles, one of which was a sack that forced a fumble which Romero recovered.
“I don’t want to say [he’s] arrived, because his ceiling is still high,” Coley said of Moore, “but he’s trusting the process a lot more than he wanted to do last year, and it’s been evident on the field.”
OLD SCHOOL: In this era of spread offenses and pass-first attacks, Pitt is a throwback. In 6-2, 250-pound tailback James Conner, the Panthers have the nation’s third-leading rusher (158.2 yards per game), and they’ve run the ball more than twice as much as they’ve passed it.
Another threat for Pitt is quarterback Chad Voytik, who has carried 33 times for 185 yards and one touchdown.
“They do a great job of running the football, and [Pitt head coach Paul] Chryst has made it known that, `We’re going to run the ball, we’re going to be physical [at the] point of contact,’ ” London said.
“They like to run plays and say we’re going to out physical you … They have an idea what they want to be, and they want to be a running team, and then when you start to crowd the box for the running game, they have a phenomenal receiver in Boyd. They have a formula that’s been working for them.”
UVa, by comparison, has 208 rushing attempts and 188 passing attempts this season.
UNDER THE LIGHTS: This will be first game the `Hoos have played at home on a Saturday night since Sept. 3, 2011, when they hammered William & Mary 40-3.
“We can play at 6 in the morning and I’ll be fired up,” London said, smiling. “It just doesn’t matter. But the reality of the schedule is that we’re playing a 7:30 game, and … I’m sure we’ll get their energy, coaches, players alike. We trust that our students will come out and other people will come out and support the guys.
“We’ll bring the energy, and we’re hoping that the Wahoo faithful will be out there as well.”
VOICE OF AUTHORITY: After an uninspired first half, UVa outscored Kent State 31-3 in the final two quarters Saturday.
“I guess we just started off a little slow, a little flat,” Severin said. “We bounced back. I think that’s what this team has been about, our first five games. We’ve been about bouncing back when we’ve faced some troubled times, and I think we did a real good job of that.”
In the locker room at halftime Saturday, several upperclassmen voiced their displeasure with the team’s play, including Coley, one of the Cavaliers’ captains.
“When Henry talks, everyone listens,” Severin said. “This guy, he’s a real good leader. Special player. When he’s saying we need to step it up, we’re not doing this, we’re not doing that, all eyes are on him when he’s saying that, and everyone really takes in what he’s saying, and we put it together in the second half.”
TWICE AS NICE: Sophomore Matt Johns, who appeared in each of UVa’s first four games as Lambert’s backup, started against Kent State and, his two first-half interceptions notwithstanding, looked comfortable in that role.
For the season, Johns has completed 51 of 86 passes (59.3 percent) for 594 yards and six touchdowns, with four picks. In four games, Lambert is 63 for 97 passing (64.9 percent) for 564 yards and two TDs, with four interceptions.
“I don’t think we have a quarterback controversy this year,” senior offensive guard Conner Davis said Monday. “I think if anything it’s a good thing that we have two quarterbacks that can play.”