Virginia Football Notes: Recruit Turnout, Special Teams, & More

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The Virginia football program lost a closely contested ACC tilt versus Pittsburgh on Saturday, October 15. In this post-Pitt edition of “Notes,” I provide a report on those recruits we confirmed to be in attendance, Virginia’s special teams, and more.

Recruits In Attendance

Roughly 35-40 (possibly more) prospects made their way to Scott Stadium on Saturday to see Virginia take on Pittsburgh. First, here is a rundown of those Virginia commits we confirmed were there. All are class of 2017 prospects.

Mandy Alonso, NT, Gulliver Prep (Miami, FL)
Lamont Atkins, RB, Lake Braddock (Burke, VA)
Joey Blount, DB, Landmark Christian Academy (Fairburn, GA)
Tommy Christ, DL, Dominion (Sterling, VA)
Germane Crowell Jr., DB, Carver (Winston-Salem, N.C.)
Chris Glaser Jr., OL, Solon (OH)
Darnell Pratt Jr., WR, Good Counsel (Olney, MD)

Christ just received a scholarship offer from Ole Miss, so his visit is significant. I hope to catch up with him soon to discuss the new offer and his latest visit on Grounds. Christ was accompanied by his younger brother Jimmy, who is a 6’4”, 230-pound freshman, and Dominion junior defensive tackle Jayde Pierre. Pierre, a 6’2”, 300-pound prospect, has an offer from the Hoos.

We know Atkins and Crowell are in Charlottesville on official visits. Both players plan to enroll on Grounds in January of 2017.

In addition to those committed prospects, Virginia hosted a handful of top class of 2017 targets including Highland Springs (VA) tackle Mekhi Becton and Franklin-Simpson (KY) tackle/guard Cole Kirby, big running back Jamari Peacock of Yulee (FL), and Thomas Jefferson (Clairton, PA) senior outside linebacker Zane Zandier were also in Charlottesville. All four prospects have been offered by the Hoos.

Hopewell (VA) running back Ronnie Walker and Cumberland Valley (Mechanicsburg, PA) safety/linebacker Charlie Katshir, early top targets in the class of 2018, were there as well. UVA has offered both players.

Special Teams

In his Monday press conference ahead of the Pittsburgh game, Bronco Mendenhall described the kickoff coverage as “average to this point at best. We have a lot of work to do.”

TheSabre’s Kris Wright wrote this in is “Final Thoughts” feature:

Quadree Henderson and Pitt’s kickoff return ability feels scary to me. UVA allowed long returns that bordered on breakouts from Oregon (43), CMU (34), and Duke (29). Henderson leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally with a 33.1-yard return average. He posted a touchdown return to end last season and to start this season too.

Those concerns proved to be well founded as Virginia surrendered three long returns — two on kickoffs — that resulted in 17 Panther points. Henderson followed up Taquan Mizzell’s 44-yard touchdown run with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, tying the game at 14-14. UVA later gave up a 69-yard kickoff return to Rafael Araujo-Lopes, a breakdown that led to James Conner’s 1-yard touchdown run, which tied the game at 28.

There were some good plays. On Virginia’s first kickoff, for example, Daniel Hamm stopped Henderson after a 19-yard return. After Kurt Benkert connected with Olamide Zaccheaus on a 74-yard touchdown pass to give the Hoos a 21-14 lead, backup safety Chris Sharp drilled Araujo-Lopes after a 17-yard return. Nevertheless, special teams coverage will have to improve drastically and quickly with North Carolina coming to town next week. The Tar Heels feature one of the nation’s best punt returners in Ryan Switzer, and T.J. Logan has returned a kickoff for a touchdown this year.

On the plus side on special teams, junior placekicker Sam Hayward’s 36-yard field goal in the final minutes was his first ever field goal try and make. Hayward’s first extra point attempt was shaky — he hit the right post — but still counted for a point. He went on to make all four extra point attempts. I still don’t have a secure feeling when it comes to Virginia’s placekicking game, but hopefully Hayward’s performance is a good sign. It certainly couldn’t help but build his confidence moving forward.

Other special teams positives …

Nicholas Conte’s outstanding senior campaign continued, as he booted seven punts with an average of 45.1 yards per punt. He had a long of 57 yards.

Daniel Hamm has been a dependable punt returner to this point. He makes good decisions, has caught the ball well, and has shown the ability to make some plays. Against Pitt, he had an 18-yard return.

Quin Blanding led the Virginia football team with 16 tackles against Pitt.
Quin Blanding makes a big hit on Jordan Whitehead early against Pittsburgh. ~ Kris Wright

Virginia Football Notables

Quin Blanding had his best game of the season. It started with a big hit on Jordan Whitehead on Pitt’s first offensive play from scrimmage, and by game’s end the Preseason All-ACC performer had amassed 16 tackles including 10 solo efforts and a pass breakup.

Blanding has played all season long with limited practice and at less than 100% health. Mendenhall felt the bye week would be beneficial for the star junior to heal. If Saturday’s performance is an indication Blanding is feeling better, I look forward to seeing what he can do the rest of the way.

– Let me add Matt Terrell to the list of true freshmen to be excited about. The 6’4”, 225-pound outside linebacker has now played in three games this season, totaling eight tackles (three solo) with 0.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss. He showed flashes against Pitt. With UVA up 21-14 and Pitt driving, Terrell combined with Donte Wilkins to hold running back Chawntez Moss to a 2-yard gain. The very next play, Terrell broke through the offensive line and forced quarterback Nate Peterman to roll out of the pocket. The play resulted in a pass interference against UVA’s Bryce Hall. However, Terrell appeared to be tripped up from behind by a Pitt blocker. The Virginia coaches certainly thought so and let the referee know about it.

Terrell has size, versatility, and can really run. I’m excited to see how he develops the rest of this year and in the years to come.

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