CHARLOTTESVILLE — The Virginia football team spent the spring focused on all the new within its program. There is a new, and more experienced, coaching staff; new schemes on offense, defense and special teams; and a new $13 million practice facility to entice recruits.
But Saturday’s spring game only confirmed that the Cavaliers will need to solve many of the same problems that ailed them during last year’s 4-8 campaign. In a defense-dominated scrimmage that featured 14 sacks and three safeties, Virginia proved its quarterback situation remains in flux, especially with an offensive line that couldn’t open up holes in the running game.
Even the final score, with the Orange team besting the Blue team, 18-15, added to the intrigue because backup quarterback Greyson Lambert accounted for two Orange-squad touchdown drives, compared with just one orchestrated by No. 1 option David Watford.
“We thought we’d taken strides as an offense, and it didn’t show today,” said redshirt junior Phillip Sims, who has fallen to No. 3 on the quarterback depth chart this spring even though he’s the lone signal-caller on the roster to play during the 2012 season. “Today was like a slap in the face that we’re not where we want to be yet.”
For the fourth straight year, Coach Mike London declined to name a starting quarterback following the spring game. But he emphasized there are still three practices remaining this spring — Virginia will use them to prepare for the offensive challenges posed by BYU, Oregon and Georgia Tech next season — and the Cavaliers’ revamped offensive coaching staff will make a decision at that point whether to declare a favorite heading into training camp in August.
“All three of them have a high skill level and all three of them want to play. And the good thing is all three of them have to compete for every snap, every rep. Their actions off the field, everything is being scrutinized,” London said. “I see promise in all three of them. . . . We’ll continue to try and find that thing or those things that will separate them.”
Lambert and Watford seemed to live up to the billing Saturday. Lambert was the most impressive, finishing 21 of 36 for 248 yards and two touchdown passes, showing poise in the pocket when given time to throw. Watford completed 5 of 10 passes for 119 yards and also had a 17-yard touchdown run out of a five-receiver set on the Blue team’s first possession of the afternoon. Sims was 8 of 18 for 89 yards as the Cavaliers did not commit a turnover.
“I feel like I’ve matured a lot mentally and just my knowledge of the game . . . training myself to read defenses better,” said Watford, who took a redshirt last season after appearing in 10 games in 2011.
Watford’s speed and shiftiness could come in handy with an offensive line that struggled to hold back the Cavaliers’ defensive front, even though he was tackled in the end zone on two of Virginia’s three safeties. Running back Clifton Richardson, back from a hamstring injury that hampered him last season, gained 41 yards on 11 carries, but Virginia didn’t generate much else on the ground.
New offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild wants to play a smash-mouth style in the fall, and the Cavaliers mustered just 40 rushing yards on 57 attempts.
Cavaliers notes: Sophomore defensive tackle David Dean and junior tight end Zachary Swanson, formerly a fullback, were named Virginia’s most improved players this spring.
Watford and defensive tackle Brent Urban, who finished with a team-high 31 / 2 sacks Saturday, were honored for their work in the weight room this offseason.