The junior was supposed to be the Cavaliers’ best threat in the passing game and expected to take the mantle from Kris Burd because he was the lone experienced option available. Instead, he has played only five games because of an ankle injury and has just 12 catches for 223 yards and two touchdowns this year.
But the bye week came at the perfect moment for Smith, who used the down time to “really get myself right,” he said.
“It’s definitely hard watching and not being able to help the team out when the team was struggling,” said Smith, who played at less than 100 percent in Virginia’s 16-10 loss to Wake Forest two weeks ago. “But I never lost focus. I’m the type of player, no matter what the situation is, it happened for a reason. So I just stayed focused and stayed positive and try to do everything I can whether I’m playing or not playing.”
Smith originally suffered the injury in Virginia’s win over Penn State in September and did not play the next weekend at Georgia Tech. But he returned to start in the Cavaliers’ loss at TCU, and even caught a touchdown on a halfback pass from running back Perry Jones the next week against Louisiana Tech.
A few plays later, though, a Bulldogs defensive back landed on his ankle while breaking up a deep pass, and Smith has been trying to recover ever since.
“The hardest part is just not being able to physically help the team make plays,” he said. “I mean, talking helps, but it only helps so much. When you can’t go out there and make plays, it hurts that much more on the sideline.”
In his place, sophomore E.J. Scott (Good Counsel) has emerged as quarterback Phillip Sims’s favorite target and sophomore Darius Jennings has morphed into Virginia’s leading receiver. Neither, though, are the sort of security blanket Burd became in 2011.
But with his health back, Smith hopes to shed some light on what he could do with a full season next year. He’s taking an optimistic outlook on the last four games of the season, hopeful all the lumps he and Virginia have taken this year will be for a reason.
“I wouldn’t say a disappointing season. I would definitely say some kind of rebuilding season. We have a lot of young guys playing and for them to go through this now, you look at it in a positive way,” Smith said. “It could be a good thing for them to go through it now, so they can learn and grow from this experience, because I know if you come in winning you really don’t know what it feels like to lose and how it feels to re-group and get back on top. I don’t think this season would be a loss.”
Note: Virginia released its injury report for its game at North Carolina State and the Cavaliers will be without defensive end Billy Schautz, who is still nursing a hamstring injury. Running back Clifton Richardson (medical) was listed as questionable, while defensive end David Dean, cornerback Drequan Hoskey and kicker Ian Frye are all probable with lower extremity injuries.