CHARLOTTESVILLE – Do you keep the coach to preserve the recruiting class?
That’s the question facing UVa administrators as the Cavaliers spiral toward their worst football season in more than 30 years.
With a remaining schedule of North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech – the first two of those on the road, it appears likely that UVa will end the season on a nine-game losing streak and go winless in the ACC for the first time since the 1970s.
At the same time, there have been no defections from an 11-member recruiting class that is ranked among the nation’s top 25. And, it’s possible that Mike London’s return would help Virginia get the state’s top-ranked receiver, Jamil Kamara, from Bishop Sullivan in Virginia Beach.
Kamara has visited Wisconsin and Michigan State and has trips upcoming to UVa and Pittsburgh, but it will be difficult for him to resist the lure of playing with quarterback Corwin Cutler, now at Fork Union Military Academy after signing with UVa in February out of Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach.
At 6-1, 202, Kamara is the big receiver with which the Cavaliers have become increasingly enamored because of their ability to help support the running game. It’s one of the reasons that 6-3, 200-pound Keeon Johnson from Kannapolis, N.C., got on the field so quickly this year as a true freshman.
Johnson had a team-high five receptions for 77 yards in a 59-10 home loss to Clemson. Veterans Darius Jennings and Tim Smith, who had combined for 23 receptions and 270 receiving yards one week earlier in a 35-25 loss to Georgia Tech, had three receptions between them (all by Jennings) against the Tigers.
Quarterback David Watford was 16-of-35 for 130 yards against Clemson, continuing a trend that has to concern the Cavaliers. He played well in a 27-26 loss at Maryland, took a step backward in a 35-22 loss to Duke, had maybe his best game against Georgia Tech, then one of his worst against Clemson.
Late in the first half, if Watford had connected with an open Jennings, the Cavaliers were looking at a first down close to the Clemson 30, trailing 14-7 with under five minutes remaining before halftime. Instead, Watford sailed the ball 7 feet over Jennings’ head, and it was picked off by Clemson safety Jayron Kearse.
Kearse returned the ball 37 yards to the UVa 33, Clemson scored moments later and the Tigers were able to tack on two more touchdowns to go into halftime leading 35-7.
Watford has been plagued by overthrows throughout the season, including early in the Georgia Tech game, and it is no secret that he has some issues with his mechanics that need to be adjusted.
When four assistant coaches were let go following a 4-8 season in 2012, it was felt that the addition of former N.C. State head coach Tom O’Brien and ex-Wolfpack defensive guru Jon Tenuta would give Virginia the kind of coaching firepower that would serve as a pre-emptive strike against doing anything with London.
What sometimes gets forgotten is that former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor left of his own volition, taking a position as Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach almost two months after his former associates had been sacked.
Also leaving on his own was Jeff Banks, viewed as a diamond in the rough as a special teams coach at Texas-El Paso. Banks was only at Virginia for a few days before he was snapped up by Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
To take Banks’ place, the Cavaliers hired his mentor and former position coach at Washington State, Larry Lewis. Lewis was the head coach at Idaho from 1999-2006 and later served as an aide at Colorado State for four seasons, 2008-2011.
The head coach at Colorado State during Lewis’ tenure was Steve Fairchild, and when Lazor left Virginia, it was Lewis who recommended that the Cavaliers talk to Fairchild, an offensive assistant on Norv Turner’s last San Diego Chargers’ staff in 2012.
Much was made of a retooled Virginia staff that included three former Division I head coaches – O’Brien, Lewis and Fairchild – but the Cavaliers’ record would suggest that this year’s staff is no better than its predecessor.
Virginia continues to commit stupid penalties, the special teams haven’t been particularly special and the play-calling has been unspectacular. Plus, the newcomers have been unable to rid London of one of his more questionable habits – burning redshirts.
Basketball Will Provide Diversion
The good news for Virginia is that the newly No. 24-ranked men’s basketball team begins its season Nov. 8 against James Madison, a 2013 NCAA Tournament team.
Four days after that, another NCAA Tournament team and a team that’s been ranked ahead of Virginia in the polls, Virginia Commonwealth, comes to John Paul Jones Arena.
It was Virginia’s hope last year that a strong early season schedule would be a consideration for the NCAA Basketball Committee come tournament selection time, but a home loss to Delaware in the preseason NIT kept the Cavaliers from advancing to New York, where the field included Michigan, Pittsburgh and Kansas State.
Virginia started the 2012-2013 season without its top two point guards, Jontel Evans and Malcolm Brogdon, who were both injured. The starting point in the opener at George Mason, where the Cavaliers lost, was subsequent transfer Taylor Barnette.
This year, everybody is healthy and the Cavaliers appear to have a deep and talented roster. Brogdon, a redshirt sophomore, will be playing point guard for the first time, but freshman London Perrantes, the 2013 Los Angeles player of the year, is in reserve.
With newcomers such as 6-8, 230-pound Anthony Gill, a starter two years ago at South Carolina, the Cavaliers should be able to withstand anything short of an injury epidemic. That hasn’t been the case with the football team, which has to be a consideration in any discussions whether to retain London.
The starting defense that Virginia put on the field against Clemson was without three of the Cavaliers’ top performers – cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, defensive tackle Brent Urban and cornerback Maurice Canady.
Nicholson, who previously had started 30 consecutive games, has missed four games with a turf toe. Urban, a 6-7, 295-pounder who has eight pass knockdowns, has missed three games (and most of a fourth) with a high ankle sprain. Canady, probably in the top half of UVa’s defensive starters, has missed two games with a lacerated kidney.
In the absence of Nicholson and Canady, true freshman Tim Harris has been starting at one of the cornerback spots and was torched by Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins to the tune of eight receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage has been public in his support of London, but any more 59-10 games – and there have been two already, including Oregon in Week Two – and calls for London’s head will only get louder.