Virginia Football Notes: Defensive Backs To Be Tested By NC State Receivers

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Virginia football cornerback De’Vante Cross is “excited” to take on the challenge of NC State’s passing attack. ~ Photo courtesy Matt Riley/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Virginia football sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong has targeted wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. 15 times in two games. Around half of those opportunities have been deep sideline passes where the 6’7” true freshman was one-on-one against a cornerback, or “50/50” battles, as head coach Bronco Mendenhall has said previously.

Virginia’s defensive backs expect to find themselves in similar situations when the Hoos take on NC State this week. The Wolfpack (2-1) feature wide receivers Emeka Emezie and Devin Carter, who measure in at 6’3”, 220 pounds and 6’4”, 216 pounds, respectively. The Pack also boast 6’7” tight end Cary Angeline.

Emezie, who hauled in five receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown when NC State beat UVA in Raleigh two years ago, leads the Wolfpack with 12 catches and has 145 yards and two scores through three games. He had seven catches for 102 yards and two scores in last week’s win over Pittsburgh (highlights below, so you’ll see how he was effective). Carter, who leads the team in receiving yards (181) and average yards per catch (18.1), had three receptions for 72 yards against the Panthers.

Virginia starting cornerback De’Vante Cross knows what is coming on Saturday, and he is excited for the challenge.

“One thing at corner that’s big that goes for any corner in the country is that you’ve got to win your one-on-ones,” said the 6’2”, 215-pound senior. “And when you see a team that’s ready to launch the ball like NC State is, that’s exciting. That’s what you want at corner. You’re not there to play corner against a running team. You’re there to play corner against a passing team. It’s opportunities and it’s all about winning your one-on-ones.”

UVA matches NC State’s big receivers with good size, at least from starters Cross and Nick Grant. Grant is 6’1”, 200 pounds. Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach Nick Howell provided perspective on how they will prepare for those 50/50 situations against Emezie and Carter.

“There’s different things that go into that,” said Howell. “A lot is the position of the corner. If he’s underneath, is the ball going on top. If the DB’s on top, is the ball going back-shoulder. These quarterbacks and these receivers, it’s a read. It’s an in-flight read. And then a lot is just knowing the receiver – his body type, his speed, what he likes. You could take Hasise (Dubois) for an example. He was not a down-the-field fade guy. He was a definite back-shoulder guy. Each guy has tendencies. Each body type yields different types of routes. And then it comes down to your positioning and a quarterback/receiver read as the play is happening.”

Inside Linebacker Depth A Concern?

Inside linebackers Nick Jackson and Zane Zandier have combined for 46 tackles through two games in 2020. Jackson, a sophomore, leads UVA in total tackles (24) and is tied for the most solo tackles with safety Joey Blount with 13. Meanwhile, Zandier, a senior, is second on the team in total tackles (22) and first in quarterback hurries with four.

Aside from redshirt freshman Josh Ahern spelling Jackson for several plays against Duke, UVA has relied heavily on its starting inside linebacker duo. Senior Rob Snyder, who missed the first two games because of injury, would provide experienced depth, but the timetable for his return is uncertain.

Coach Howell knows inside linebacker depth will be important so as not to overuse his standout starters, but he does not seem concerned.

“We need to use multiple guys,” Howell said. “I’d liken it to a car. If you buy a new car and you drive it with your foot down on the gas all the time and forget about when it’s time to change the oil, that thing’s gonna break real fast. I feel like at inside ‘backer we’re in good shape, but yeah, using Rob, using Josh Ahern, using Hunter Stewart, using those guys … those guys, they’re trustworthy. Nick and Zane are playing really good right now, but we have confidence in those other guys as well.”

Keytaon Thompson Making The Transition To WR

Keytaon Thompson transferred to the University of Virginia this summer in hopes of beating out Armstrong for the starting quarterback position. The Mississippi State graduate transfer remains on the depth chart as Armstrong’s backup, but for now he is focusing on another position: Wide receiver.

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae admits Thompson’s transition is still in the “early stages” but had some praise for the Louisiana native.

“His mindset has been firm and his play has been steady,” Anae said.

“He works hard,” Anae added. “He trains well. He’s got a really good mindset. And the biggest thing I’m excited for is he’s working on his Masters degree. You know, if we get young men in our program, their development off the field is every bit as important to me as their development on the field.”

The 6’4”, 225-pound junior’s 3-yard touchdown reception against Clemson was his first touchdown catch of his collegiate career. He scored 10 touchdowns combined passing and rushing in his time at Mississippi State. Virginia has utilized his impressive frame primarily as a blocker, but as he learns the position his number of receiving targets could grow because of his athletic skill set.

“He’s athletic. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast,” Cross said of Thompson said. “I mean, what else do you want at receiver? I feel like he has handled that transition extremely well. Clearly, as you can see, he’s out there making plays. I think he’s doing a great job and I’m real proud of him.”

Worth Noting & Quoting

Cross on the benefits of playing the No. 1 team in the nation and how that helps the Hoos moving forward …

“They’re the number one team in the country, so in theory it doesn’t get better than that,” Cross said of Clemson. “Going into the rest of the season, you won’t see anything that’s better than. If anything, you’ll see teams that are equal to. You know you already have that under your belt. You already faced that level of competition, so now you’re prepared for anything else because you’re not going to see too many things that’s better than that. It’s a great way, you know, to see how you match up, how you stack up, and now the rest of the season you can just play. You’ve played the best of the best now at this point. You’re not going to face anything better, so just play.”

Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall on awarding a jersey to Jake Dewease, a redshirt freshman walk-on defensive back …

“It’s the thing I like most besides granting scholarships to walk-ons, having jerseys being awarded,” Mendenhall said. “To earn a jersey in season, that normally means that the player has done so well in a role they were elected as a member of our fourth side for a game. Then they have to win it again, to be able to get a jersey so those standards are really high, and it’s voted on by their teammates. It’s the most gratifying thing that I get to do, is watch someone be rewarded sincerely for their effort, recognized by their peers. Jake just tries hard every day. He just tries hard which is so valuable for life. He’s tough, he’s competitive and he just tries hard every single day. If I could say that and have a program that does that and develops people like that, it’s worth having a football team for that reason.”

Dewease, a product of Lord Botetourt High School (Daleville, VA), saw the first playing time of his collegiate career against Clemson. He dons jersey #51.

Two scholarship players have been awarded jersey numbers this week – redshirt freshman offensive lineman Zachary Teter (#75) and true freshman defensive lineman Su Agunloye (#71).

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