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Keeping an eye on Virginia

Sophomore UVA tight end Jake McGee has hurdled into the spotlight, assuming the playmaking role in Charlottesville.
Sophomore UVA tight end Jake McGee has hurdled into the spotlight, assuming the playmaking role in Charlottesville.

Mike London brings his Virginia Cavaliers to Fort Worth a week after getting torched in Atlanta. It’s the second of a difficult stretch of games for the Cavs; after TCU the Cavs face surging Louisiana Tech. "It's a humbling experience when you come in and get beat like that," Virginia head coach Mike London said after the game. "When you don't execute well on defense or offense, things like that happen."

TCU | Schedule | Roster | Stats

But the season moves on. "When you have such a young group, particularly on the back end, the secondary... you have to have a short memory and move on to the next game because if you tie your identity into a particular game, it's a long season. ... So our focus has got to be on the things that we have to do.... You have to have confidence. That's all I'll talk about to these guys about letting that one go and then moving on."

So the Cavs move on, turning their attention to TCU.

Mike London is impressed by what he sees of the Horned Frogs. "When you see [TCU] play, they run. They run well... They're very multiple. They give you a lot of different formations.... I think it's a challenging defense because of [how the defensive ends and the safeties coordinate run blocking.]... They kind of dare you to throw the ball, but they have those defensive ends, linemen, outside safeties that can come off the edge or they can play coverage."

Daring UVA to throw probably means daring Darius Jennings, Kevin Parks, and Jake McGee to make plays. The trio is UVA’s leading group of receivers (Parks is the team’s leading rusher, as well). Parks is 5-8, and weights 200 pounds. He reminds me of Kansas’s versatile Tony Pierson—and, no doubt, it’s also occurred to the coaches at UVA.

Part of the problem UVA faces this week is a weakened interior of its offensive line. The problems up front surfaced two weeks ago against Penn State, when the Cavs got only 32 ground yards. Virginia OC Bill Lazor said after thag game, "When I look at the numbers, I’m not happy with our rushing average." The o-line didn’t improve against Georgia Tech. London is philosophical about it: "You look at our depth chart there, we're kind of beat up [in the interior of the offensive line]. There's no secret right there. We started with Tim Cwalina disqualified for the year because of a heart problem. Kelby Johnson was suspended, Cody Wallace, his ankle. And that's the reality of football, particularly as you're playing guys that are up front and they're blocking constantly and pass protecting."

London doesn’t see personnel as the problem in the running game, however. How do you fix it? Simple, says the coach, "Got to block better."

The o-line does get help from a big fullback, Zachary Swanson. "He's probably the biggest fullback in America, 6'6", however much he weighs right now, and he's done a nice job of being able to handle that position, and he has the skills of when you run a power, you also run a power pass, you can leak him out into the flat, things like that," says his coach.

Who’ll those linemen be protecting? The starting QB was, and still is Michael Rocco, who had a mediocre game in Atlanta last week. Blue chip transfer Phillip Sims played the fourth quarter (admittedly against a less motivated defense) and played well (6-of-8 for 56 yards and 2 TDs). Coach London refuses to describe the situation as a controversy: "Our guys are the cheerleaders for each other. There's no animosity. There are no inferences as to who should be this guy, who should be that guy because they understand that as one guy has a good game or a bad game, he can have a good game. I think there's no controversy, there's no quarterback controversy with us... It's important that Michael plays well. It's important that Sean Cascarano plays well so Sean Karl doesn't have to play. I mean, everybody has to play well." Which means what, exactly? Rocco starts, and Sims comes in when he doesn’t play well?

We’ll expect to see Sims, probably earlier than the fourth quarter, on Saturday.

The depth chart has been unsettled on the defensive line as well. DE Ausar Walcott replaced Bill Schautz in the lineup, and made his first start. He’d been effective the week before against Penn State, but was less successful against Georgia Tech’s triple option.

London on Perry’s low stats to far: "we know that we have to find creative ways to get him the ball... That's a conscious effort that we have to make is to get him in the game, on the field, and get him the touches... But Perry, the kind of young man he is... he's all about winning those games. He's selfless."

Not all the news out of Charlottesville has been downbeat. Jones is getting touches—he’s third on the team for carries, and averages 3.0 yards per carry. He’s also 7 catches for 147 yards. But he’s been completely upstaged by sophomore tight end Jake McGee (6-5, 240 lbs, and fast). McGee has been a one-man highlight reel for the Cavs. (Like this one on third and long, in traffic against Penn State.) He draws comparisons with Virginia’s great tight end of the last decade, Heath Miller (now a standout in the NFL). Virginia coach Mike London said Monday, referring to Milleresque performances. "I mean, the Richmond catch (a one-hander), and then this [Penn State] catch were two unbelievable catches. I think his best football is in front of him and he can be as good as he wants to be."

McGee is Rocco’s escape valve on third down. McGee averages over 16 yards on his nine catches to date, first on the team (and third for number of receptions). For all the hype, McGee started his first game only last week, and hauled in a touchdown pass from Rocco in the first quarter.

Also good: Clifton Richardson returned from a minor injury to play against George Tech for the first time this season.