Cavaliers Turn Attention To Pitt

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Mike London leads the Hoos to Pitt for their ACC opener.

Virginia plays its first road football game of the season this week when it travels to Pittsburgh on Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff. The contest also marks the ACC opener for UVa. Coach Mike London said Monday at his weekly media meeting that the Hoos will have to get the fact that they are playing on the road in an NFL stadium out of the way quickly and then concentrate on the task at hand.

“Obviously the venue changes because you’re going on the road and you’re playing in a professional stadium, which happens to be their home stadium, as well, and so human nature, you get all the oohs and the aahs out of the way and you just boil down to the fact that it’s a 100 yard field, just like it is at Scott Stadium and just like it is at the McCue Center where we practice, and what matters is what happens we’ve heard it before, but what happens between the white lines,” London said. “So there is a little bit of an element of a true freshman playing, but at the same time I think that concentrating on the task at hand and what needs to be done in the football game is where our guys at this point are starting to mature.”

The Cavaliers will need to be focused on the game because Pitt has put together back-to-back wins after losing to Florida State it its opener. The Panthers posted 58 points in a 58-55 shootout at Duke this past weekend as they piled up 598 total yards. London said the Coastal Division’s newest member is a physical football team that likes to run the football and make big plays down the field.

That certainly has been the case for Pitt’s offense, which averages 40.0 points per game so far this season. Freshman running back James Conner has rushed for more than 100 yards in both of the team’s wins, while the Panthers have a pair of receivers coming through in the passing game in senior Devin Street (129 receiving yards per game) and freshman Tyler Boyd (104.7 yards per game). That duo combined for 14 catches, 320 yards, and 5 touchdowns against Duke.

“They definitely can stretch the field,” London said. “You never know when you watch tape what the intent of the defense was, so you don’t know if it was a blown coverage or if it was just a personnel match up where a guy just ran by a guy, but whatever, it still resulted in long plays, and they both did a nice job.”

Quarterback Tom Savage orchestrates the offense and he’s off to a strong start in 2013. He has completed 51 of 78 passes for 861 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. Savage stumped the Blue Devils in a big way last week as he threw for 424 yards and tied an ACC record with 6 touchdown passes. That earned Savage the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week honor.

“Well, first of all, he’s 6’5″, so he’s a tall guy. He’s a pocket passer, but again, you have to know where he’s at because he will pull the ball down and run. But he’ll stay in the pocket and he’ll throw those balls downfield. Strong arm, long arm with the deep throws. He can throw the intermediate routes well. He’s got touch,” London said. “He’s got guys he can throw it and they can run under it. So obviously when you look at the way he plays, the style that they play, they want to be a physical, tough running team, but he also exhibited a skill of being able to throw the ball like that that makes him pretty special.”

Max Valles

Valles Enters Mix

Fourteen players made their UVa debut against VMI on Saturday. The list included true freshman Max Valles , who has vaulted to the top of the depth chart at strong side linebacker. He is listed ahead of Demeitre Brim and Mark Hall in that spot. With that said, Valles is really playing a specialty role for the Hoos in a bit of a defensive end-linebacker hybrid mix.

Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta and the coaching staff like Valles’ ability to rush the passer with a nice burst of speed. Remember, Valles already spent a prep year at Fork Union Military Academy where postgraduate coach John Shuman said noticed “nice speed and bounce” before making a lofty comparison in Cavalier circles. “All he needs is 15 to 20 pounds, and he is the next Darryl Blackstock,” Shuman said. Blackstock, of course, still ranks third in UVa history with 27 career sacks from 2002-2004. In his first season in 2002, Blackstock posted 10 sacks.

“If you look at the way our defensive personnel is structured, Jon is very much into where there is a base defense, a nickel defense, a dollar defense, a dime defense – whatever it is, it’s based on personnel, and it’s based on what teams put in the game, as well,” London said. “Max, even during the open week, had been demonstrating some abilities, one to be a pretty good pass rusher, to be dynamic off the edge, and the competition at that position was a guy that went out and practiced and showed coaches that he had what it takes to be put in that position. So through that competition he’s going to start this particular game. He played only seven reps [against VMI] because of, again, the packaging that we had going on. But during the course of the open week he was very much involved with getting as many reps [as possible] and if you noticed he also was heavily involved in the special teams, as well. We played a good number of freshmen because of depth and because of where they are in terms of a skill level, and he’s one of them that has stepped up, stepped his game up.”

Center And Freshmen Offensive Linemen

Throughout training camp Ross Burbank and Jackson Matteo maintained a close battle for playing time at the center position on the offensive line. Burbank has started all three games for the Cavaliers this season, while Matteo saw second half action against Oregon and VMI. London said that spot remains “an ongoing competition” as the Hoos enter ACC play.

“The opportunity for guys to play always presents itself even in practice, because if a guy is feeling satisfied about where he is and the guy behind him is not, then the guy behind him pushes the guy in front of him to make sure, ‘Listen, if you don’t want it, I’ll take it.’ So I think that drives the competition of the guy that’s in front. What you see is a healthy, competitive battle between both of those guys, and the opportunities to play will present themselves, as they’re successful playing [in games],” London said. “Now, Pittsburgh has a dynamic defensive lineman [in Aaron Donald]. He’s big, strong, athletic; he’s a wide bodied guy, and I’m quite sure he’ll give our guards and our center all they can handle, and we’ll keep a close eye on that type of contest because it’ll be important to know where he’s at and block him.”

The other piece of the offensive line puzzle that caught everyone’s attention from the VMI game? True freshmen. The Hoos played three true freshmen against the Keydets: Eric Smith at right tackle, Sadiq Olanrewaju at left tackle, and Eric Tetlow at right guard. Tetlow experienced a knee injury early in August camp, but has bounced back to get in the mix again at guard while the two tackles have been in the mix for a spot on the two deep since the opener with BYU.

“Well, for two of them, Eric Smith and Sadiq O., I don’t want to mess the last name up, they were showing progress of improving – in particular the open week, we had a scrimmage, a live scrimmage with those guys because we wanted to see how much of a progression they’ve made. It got to the point where with so many games still left on the schedule, do you worry about redshirting guys that physically probably are not as strong as what they need to be, and that’s where Evan Marcus and the strength program gets into it, or two, they are talented, they have the skill set to play the position, minus that overall physical strength, which they’ll get, and you make the decision we made the decision that we’ll play them because we’ll need them as we go on through the year,” London said. “They’ll continue to get stronger. Our team does a great job, Evan does a great job of over the last couple years of our guys getting stronger as the season goes on. And I think that’s important. But Eric Tetlow was a guy that was injured, kind of the early part of camp, but when he wasn’t, was showing opportunities that, you know what, he’s going to be a good football player, and got himself healthy, and now he’s in the mix, as well. We all talk about the competition of the positions and where they are. Those three that I mentioned have stepped up their game. Are there deficiencies, yes, but at the same time their skill level that they have demonstrated that we feel are going to be pretty good players for us.”

Kevin Parks leads UVa with 260 yards rushing this season.

Worth Quoting

Mike London on running back Kevin Parks : “In a close game where you have KP [Kevin Parks ] into a rhythm, whether that’s staying in every 1st, 2nd, 3rd down play, that remains to be seen, but obviously he did do a great job, fantastic job [against VMI], with not only breaking the one long run, catching the ball, making a long run out of it, but there were a number of times that he’d go through the line of scrimmage and their defender would come up and tackle him and he’d stay on his feet. As a matter of fact I showed one to the team the other day. We talk about effort. It kind of reminded me of the BYU game after Anthony [Harris]’s interception, the guy came up to tackle him. It was a solid hit. Kevin has got such a low center of gravity that he stayed on his feet and got into the end zone. This play that I showed the team was the same type of play which spoke to the effort, that the individuals [if] they give us enough of [those], I like our chances of winning. Kevin with several games left to play will have plenty of opportunities to get the ball and we will see what he can do with it.”

Worth Quoting Too

UVa quarterback David Watford on read option: “With coach [Bill] Lazor we did kind of run a read option. It wasn’t out of the Pistol, it was more of an offset back type of read option. I kind of had experience with it in high school, but it wasn’t the kind of read – I was just keeping it either way. (smiles) It was a designed run. I would just take it and keep it and I’d have a pulling guard. So it was a much easier read, but now I’ve had to learn how to read the defensive end, his body language, his eyes, and just different stuff like that. I feel a lot more comfortable with it now than I did at first. We’ve just continuously repped it and repped it and repped it in practice and we’ve just gotten comfortable running it.”

Worth Quoting III

UVa defensive back Demetrious Nicholson on Brent Urban ‘s team-leading 5 pass break-ups: “It definitely helps a whole lot. Sometimes it’s frustrating because one play in the BYU game he jumped up and batted a pass down and I was ready to hop the route. I was happy but at the same time I was like ‘Dang, I could have had that one.’ (wide grin the whole time) No, it’s definitely good to have a 6’8″ tackle get up in the quarterback’s face, put pressure on him, and cause him to throw bad passes.”

Worth Noting

  • Coach London said that information on injuries would be released Thursday per ACC policy and that would update the health of tight end Zach Swanson, who left the field limping against VMI.
  • Virginia only has scored 7 points in the first quarter this season.
  • Linebacker Daquan Romero said that defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is the same whether the defense gave up a lot of points (59 to Oregon) or none (0 to VMI). He said Tenuta points out mistakes to be corrected either way.
  • Cavalier quarterback David Watford said that offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild does not script plays to be run in a row at the beginning of the game or second half, but that he has a collection plays that the offense wants to run based on down and distance. Watford said “it depends on the play” when asked if he calls audibles.
  • Watford also said that he and Coach Fairchild had talked about “trusting” his speed more as a runner. Watford said he used to do that in high school to split defenders and make people miss, but that he’s been looking for holes and thinking too much so far this season at UVa.
  • Pitt has played 12 true freshmen this season.

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