Virginia coach Mike London is ready to make changes on his offensive line and at the wide receiver positions after seeing mistakes Saturday in U.Va.'s 14-3 loss at Pittsburgh. He'll also keep an eye this week on his injured kicker.
London said Sunday night he wasn't pleased with the play of his interior offensive line against Pittsburgh. He said he'll announce changes Monday on the offensive line heading into Saturday's game against high-scoring Ball State (4-1 overall, 2-0 Mid-American Conference), which is averaging 40 points per game (26th in the nation among 125 Football Bowl Subdivision programs).
"Obviously, we need to shore up those inside positions, and we're going to make some changes with the offensive line," said London, whose team is 100th in the nation in scoring offense (20.3 points per game) and 112th in total offense (322.3 yards per game).
"We've got to put players in position to help us protect the quarterback and provide running lanes for us. We'll do that by evaluating what we've done to this point and get those players in the game that can help us."
Also, he was concerned about seeing 10 dropped passes in the Pittsburgh game. He and the coaching staff will evaluate many of the younger receivers in practice this week for more playing time against Ball State.
"That's way, way too many," London said. "Sometimes you may have a drop here or there, but typically when a ball hits a receiver's hands, you've got to come down with it. That's entirely too many. Those are the type of things that stall drives, kill momentum and doesn't allow you to move the ball, so something has got to get corrected."
As far as his decisions to bypass opportunities for 44 and 45-yard field goals in the second quarter at Pittsburgh, and a 20-yard field goal attempt with less than four minutes left in the game, London said kicker Ian Frye was suffering from a hip flexor injury that limited his range.
In the past, London said Frye's dependable range has been gauged to be about 44 or 45 yards. After the first kickoff Saturday, London said Frye told special teams coordinator Larry Lewis he'd strained his hip flexor, which left him unable to kick from the 44-to-45 yard range.
Trailing 14-0, U.Va. (2-2, 0-1 ACC) went for first downs in the second quarter on fourth-and-2 from Pittsburgh's 27-yard line and fourth-and-4 from Pittsburgh's 28.
On the fourth-and-2 play, running back Kevin Parks was stopped for no gain on a quick pitch from quarterback David Watford, a Hampton High graduate, to the short side of the field with Watford in the shotgun. On U.Va.'s next drive, Watford's pass over the middle on fourth-and-4 was unable to be handled by tight end Jake McGee.
"I think with a healthy Ian, with his leg power, he can do that or at least give us an opportunity to do that and make it," said London regarding why he decided to specifically forgo attempting the longer field goals in the second quarter. "Unfortunately, he wasn't (healthy)...we couldn't count on his leg for that, we didn't want to punt the ball based on where it was and we just decided on third-and-3, third-and-4 situations going for it there (on fourth down) was something that was in our best interest at the time."
Frye was successful on a third quarter field goal attempt from 32 yards that cut Pittsburgh's lead to 14-3, but he came to the sideline after the kick with bad news.
"Right after that kick, he was done, and basically just said whatever his issue was that he couldn't kick any further," said London, whose defense held Pittsburgh to 199 yards, sacked quarterback Tom Savage seven times and forced three Panthers' turnovers that resulted in no points. "We had to go to the next guy, and the next guy was Dylan Sims."
Sims, who had just one kickoff this season entering the Pittsburgh game, handled kickoff duties immediately after Frye's 32-yard field goal. Sims booted the kickoff for a touchback.
With under four minutes left in the game, U.Va. got to Pittsburgh's 3, where the Cavaliers faced fourth-and-2 trailing 14-3. Since Frye was unavailable, London elected to go for the first down or the end zone. Watford's pass to McGee in the back of the end zone fell incomplete with 3:30 remaining.
"It's one of those things that if Ian was healthy, would we have kicked a field goal? Absolutely, but with his issues, we decided to go forward with fourth down," London said.
"Now, we'll see where Ian is right now. We're in kind of a day-to-day situation as we get ready for Ball State."
London said if Frye isn't available for the Ball State game, Sims could handle all the kicking duties, or Sims could kickoff while another player could do the place-kicking. U.Va. also has redshirt freshman Willem van Reesema and senior R.C. Willenbrock available on the roster as kickers.
After starting center Ross Burbank blasted a snap over Watford's head in the first quarter while Watford was in the shotgun, Burbank was replaced by Jackson Matteo. Watford fell on the resulting fumble for a 17-yard loss back to U.Va.'s 8, and the Cavaliers ended up punting the ball away two plays later.
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In addition to Matteo, U.Va. shuffled in several backup interior offensive linemen against Pittsburgh, including redshirt freshman guards Ryan Doull and Michael Mooney and true freshman guard Eric Tetlow.
Senior Luke Bowanko started at left guard against Pittsburgh, while junior Cody Wallace started at right guard. Senior Morgan Moses started at left tackle, and sophomore Jay Whitmire started at right tackle. Junior Conner Davis was listed on the depth chart early last week as the starting right guard, but he didn't play against Pittsburgh due to a lower extremity injury.
U.Va. surrendered three sacks against Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers also ran just 65 yards on 33 carries. Running backs Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd and Daniel Hamm combined to have 20 carries for 46 yards.
London said Shepherd tried to play, but he was still very limited by a sprained ankle. He had two carries for seven yards and a catch for seven yards. His injury kept him from being a viable option to step in for punt returner Dominique Terrell, who had a key muffed punt in the first quarter that led to a turnover and a Pittsburgh touchdown.
London added Hamm, who had two carries for five yards against Pittsburgh, suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter that took him out of the game. Hamm, a walk-on, had 21 carries for 136 yards and two touchdowns Sept. 21 in U.Va.'s 49-0 win against Virginia Military Insitute.
Freshman Taquan Mizzell wasn't available against Pittsburgh while he continued to recover from a sprained ankle. Freshman LaChaston Smith didn't make the trip to Pittsburgh due to disciplinary reasons.
"I'm hopeful the trainer is going to be the MVP for us this week," London said.
At the receiver spots, junior Miles Gooch, redshirt freshman Kyle Dockins and sophomores Adrian Gamble and Canaan Severin got some playing time as backups.
Darius Jennings had two catches for 30 yards and Tim Smith had one catch for four yards in the starting receiver spots. Terrell added two catches for 27 yards. Gamble had a catch for 16 yards. Parks led the team with six catches for 29 yards. McGee had two catches for 10 yards.
London said the drops by pass-catchers will result in close evaluations this week in practice. Dockins, Gamble and true freshman Keeon Johnson, who has yet to play in a college game, were specifically mentioned by London as players that could get chances to play more.
"When you have those kind of drops, they're unacceptable," London said. "They did an adequate job, but in letting everyone know particularly at the wide receiver position that we need more, we need better, and that the positions or the opportunities at that position are going to extend themselves to some players that have shown capability in practice. Whether that's Keeon Johnson, Adrian Gamble, Kyle Dockins, we just want to make sure we send a message that no one gets comfortable as far as where they are and what they're doing.
"Wide receivers have to catch the ball. That's their job. If that's not being done, then we've got to make sure we have opportunities or guys that are doing it and can go in the game and help us. That's something else we'll discuss again, whether it's Monday or Tuesday, but we've talked about making changes or providing opportunities for receivers that we think can make it happen."
As far as Watford's play was concerned, London said the idea is to continue to utilize his running ability. There was no discussion Sunday night of replacing Watford as the starter.
He completed 15 of 37 passes for 123 yards against Pittsburgh. He ran for 50 yards, including a 19-yard gain in the second quarter where he stepped out-of-bounds just before breaking into the open field, but he was only credited with 15 yards on 11 carries due to the three sacks and a lost fumble in the first quarter (4-yard loss for Watford on the play).
"David's a guy who wants to shoulder everything, 'Put it on my back, I'll do it,'" London said. "Obviously, he can play better in where he's throwing the ball and those type of decisions. Three of the runs that we had that were for extended yards involved him, involved him pulling the ball and running or using his skill set to make it happen. He never lets anything get him too high or get him too low. He just wants to win. Our job is to make sure we keep on using his skills to help us win, and then put him in position to do some of the things with some of these other positions we're talking about to be successful.
"David has a positive outlook, positive mindset. He came out (Sunday) morning with some of the guys and they were throwing around over here at the practice field. They know what's at stake, and they know that there has to be improvement. He shoulders a lot of it and wants to, and now again, we have to show it on the field."
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