ACC Football Preview: Idaho at Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. ó Darius Jennings is ready to start making an impact for Virginia.
The high school quarterback-turned-wide-receiver is still adapting to the switch, but he’s one of the fastest players on the team. Coach Mike London has mandated that he and fellow freshman Dominique Terrell be more involved and it’s exactly what he wants to hear.
“Whenever I can get the ball into my hands, I always try to make the play because it can be one play in the game that can change the whole atmosphere of the game,” the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Baltimore native said. “Just as a playmaker, you always want to try to change the game.”
The Cavaliers have mostly been slow starters this season, scoring 70 of their 115 points in the second half, and London said the players need to more energized and the coaches need to be more aggressive offensively at the start of games, beginning with Saturday against Idaho.
“Some of the players have to take on the mentality that when they come out of the tunnel, this is not about the smoke, it’s about the first play, the first couple plays, the first series of energy and passion that they bring,” London said. “But certainly play calling, certainly the players’ initial emphasis on the first couple plays ó all those things are important.”
Virginia (2-2) has lost two in a row, and getting the freshmen like Jennings and Terrell that he has committed to playing more involved could also give the team a boost offensively, he said.
Still unclear is who will start at quarterback for the Cavaliers. Starter Michael Rocco was beat up in last weekend’s loss at Southern Miss, and London has not said if he will be ready Saturday. If Rocco can’t go, freshman David Watford and redshirt sophomore Ross Metheny will both likely play.
“The skill level will speak for itself. I think that we’re at this point of trying to bring the team along ó when you’re playing young players to bring them along ó that the packages increase,” he said of incorporating them more into the rotation. “We’re going to do more of that to try to create more opportunities for those guys to catch the ball in space and run.”
Jennings leads the team with an average of 14 yards per catch, but has caught only eight passes, and Terrell has yet to really make a mark. His two catches have gone for minus 3 yards.
The Vandals (1-3), however, might prove to be an accommodating opponent if beefing up the passing numbers is the goal. The Western Athletic Conference teams has allowed an average of 302 passing yards, and 10 touchdown passes, including plays of 76, 54 and 51 yards.
While Idaho’s secondary has been to blame for some of it, coach Robb Akey said the defensive front hasn’t done enough to force other teams to throw quickly. The Vandals have just two sacks.
“That’s not healthy. That’s not good enough,” the coach in his fifth season said.
And it’s not likely to improve on the Vandals’ first trip to Virginia.
The Cavaliers’ veteran offensive line has allowed just three sacks, and while the passing has been dominated by short passes through the first four games, it still averages 243 yards.
Jennings loves the idea of seeing that number go higher, and being part of the reason why. First, though, he said he’s got to remind himself to keep things simple, and just play.
“Just me being a freshman, you know, there’s an understanding that I might go out there and I might make a mistake, so I just try to go out there and just try to play mistake free, just not try to think too much,” he said. “But at times I do catch myself out there just trying to focus on the small things too much instead of just going out there and playing football.”
If London has his way, that will start to change this weekend.