Cavaliers take on talented Trojans
Saturday, September 11, 2010
LOS ANGELES - First-year Virginia Coach Mike London knows as well as anyone the gap that exists between the classifications of college football. He spent the past two seasons as head coach at division I-AA Richmond and previously had served as the Cavaliers' defensive coordinator. In that light, he understands that the second opponent on Virginia's schedule poses an entirely different - and elevated - set of challenges than did the first.
When the Cavaliers take the field Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, they will face a Southern California team ranked No. 16 in the country and stocked full of high-end talent. And just as in Virginia's 21-point win over Richmond last weekend, the disparity in talent will be striking, at least on paper.
"This is a team that's a very good team that's going to cause you to have to play your best football," London said of USC. "Not in particularly where it's the best of the best, but what I'm saying is they are, you know, from top to bottom, the guys that they put in the game, they are guys that have had high school success and won championships and continue to play the players that are said to be the best in the country."
As London pointed out, the Trojans have won 11 national championships and sent more than 400 players to the NFL. But USC is not without its weaknesses, and the Trojans' own season opener - a 49-36 win over Hawaii - revealed vulnerabilities Virginia will attempt to exploit.
Against Richmond, Virginia quarterback Marc Verica threw for a career-high 283 yards, 210 going to wide receivers Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman. The trio will have an opportunity to extend its growth against a young and inexperienced USC secondary that allowed Hawaii 459 passing yards. Shawn Moore, Virginia's wide receivers coach, said that because Hawaii operates out of a spread offense - as opposed to the Cavaliers' pro-style attack - only certain elements of the blueprint the Warriors laid out were transferable to Virginia's game plan.
"The one thing we did see is if you're a pro offense and you run a three- or four-wideout set on third and long, you basically got a glimpse of what SC's defense did" in that type of situation, Moore said. "Some of the things that Hawaii did just in terms of getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quick and their draw plays and those types of deceptive plays, I think we were able to gain some information in terms of how we can attack the SC defense."
Virginia's No. 3 wide receiver, sophomore Tim Smith, had a rough outing against Richmond and still might not be up to full speed after missing practice time in recent weeks with an ankle injury. He recorded one catch for eight yards and dropped a pass in the flat in which he was wide open. Moore said junior Matt Snyder is the team's No. 4 wide receiver.
Although Moore said Smith "wasn't really playing with a sense of urgency" against the Spiders, he believes Smith has learned his lesson. As for the wide receivers as a unit, Moore will look to see if it can remain consistent from week to week, which means expectations will be set fairly high against the Trojans.
USC had to replace all four starters in its secondary after last season. At cornerback, the Trojans start Shareece Wright - a senior who sat out the 2009 regular season while academically ineligible - and Nickell Robey - the first USC true freshman to start a season opener at the position since World War II. Two sophomores - Jawanza Starling and T.J. McDonald - start at the safety positions.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin was not pleased with the lack of discipline his defense displayed against Hawaii, but he noted in a telephone interview that "it is just one game" and that the Trojans did hold Hawaii to two punts and two field goals in its first four possessions while tallying 20 points of their own.
Despite USC's wealth of skill and athleticism, Moore said he expects Virginia to remain competitive and have an opportunity to win Saturday's game. How the Cavaliers fare against USC will not define their season, though it will answer a few more questions about their short-term capabilities.
"The one thing I've preached all week is this is an opportunity to play on a national stage, and I don't think a lot of people are expecting us to do well against this team," Moore said. "But I think as well as we've been practicing and the confidence that these guys are playing with right now. . . . I think our guys are totally prepared. It will be interesting to see how we go out."