CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia Coach Mike London has been so insistent about having a more explosive offense next season, even defensive coordinator Jim Reid would get a bit perturbed when one of his players sacked the quarterback the past three weeks.
After all, any dropback by a Cavaliers signal-caller represented another chance for evaluation, and an early whistle defeated the purpose. “It was like, ‘Dang, we want the ball downfield,’ ” Reid said.
So it should come as no surprise that long passing plays were the theme of the afternoon when Virginia held its spring game Saturday in front of approximately 8,500 fans at Scott Stadium. Officially, the Orange team beat the Blue team, 20-17, courtesy of a 27-yard field goal by place kicker Drew Jarrett with 58 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but each side had its share of encouraging moments when it came to offensive fireworks.
Quarterback Michael Rocco led the Orange team by completing 12 of 21 passes for 194 yards, and he couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. A year after entering the spring game with his status as the team’s starting signal-caller in doubt, the rising junior connected with tight end Jake McGee for a 47-yard connection on the fourth play from scrimmage.
Running back Perry Jones then capped off the eight-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge, all the more impressive considering three of Virginia’s projected starters did not play Saturday.
“I think Mike has taken his game to another level. He’s been making those types of [deep] throws,” London said.
Leading the first-team offense in the fourth quarter, backup quarterback David Watford (5 of 16 for 61 yards) later completed a 34-yard pass to McGee. Cavaliers fans also got a glimpse into their future with the debut of 6-foot-5 freshman quarterback Greyson Lambert, a highly touted recruit from Georgia who graduated from high school a semester early to participate in spring practice.
Lambert entered the game to begin the second half and promptly marched the Blue team 60 yards in three plays, finding wide receiver Miles Gooch for a 31-yard reception and then hitting running back Kevin Parks in the flat for a 13-yard touchdown pass.
Sophomore Khalek Shepherd added a 75-yard touchdown run for the Blue team and led all rushers with 102 yards on the ground. But of the 500 total yards piled up by both sides Saturday, 410 came through the air.
“We have more plays built in for the deep pass and really using us up the seam for long passes, so there’s been more of an emphasis,” McGee said.
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor talked Saturday of wanting Virginia to be “better than anyone in the country at throwing it between 15 and 25 yards deep” to take advantage of a diminutive receiving corps that has speed to spare.
Former All-Met Dominique Terrell showed why that strategy could be so effective, leading all wide receivers with three receptions for 61 yards and showing off athleticism after the catch that could produce big plays in the fall. It was only fitting then that after the game he was named the team’s most improved player this spring.
“Defense played a little slow today, but everything’s all good,” Terrell said with a smile.
That, though, seems to be the plan these days.
Cavaliers notes: Jones, offensive tackle Oday Aboushi, linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, defensive tackle Will Hill were announced as the team’s captains for the 2012 season. Jones served as a captain last year as well. . . .
Reynolds led the defense with eight tackles and defensive tackle Justin Renfrow added two sacks.