Unheralded linebacker Darnell Carter is finally making an impact for Virginia

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 9:56 PM

With just more than five minutes remaining in the first half Saturday, Georgia Tech had first and goal at the Virginia 8-yard line. Yellow Jackets quarterback Joshua Nesbitt took the snap and turned to his left. It appeared as though he was going to run an option pitch with the running back several yards to his left.

But Nesbitt saw a 6-foot-2, 240-pound obstacle standing directly in his path. Nesbitt could not make a pitch safely -- he'd already tried to make several ill-advised pitches that afternoon -- and was fortunate not to have lost several of the fumbles that resulted. So instead of pitching the ball, Nesbitt tried to loft the ball over the obstacle's head.

That didn't work out so well, either. The obstacle -- Virginia fourth-year junior strong-side linebacker Darnell Carter -- batted the ball into the air and then caught it upon its descent to record his first career interception.

After the game, Coach Mike London said the staff needed to find more opportunities to get Carter on the field. On Tuesday, linebackers coach Vincent Brown concurred.

"His quickness is very much good enough to do what we want to do defensively," Brown said. "We've placed a great deal of emphasis on initial quickness and being able to change directions, and he certainly has those qualities. We feel pretty good about his ability to help us at a number of different spots, whether it be one of the outside [linebacker] spots or the [middle linebacker] spot, if needed."

On the season, Carter has 18 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Prior to this season, Carter appeared to have been little more than an afterthought. He appeared in four games in 2009 and in seven games in 2007, and he recorded all of one tackle combined during that time. Carter was suspended from the university for the 2008-09 academic year.

"He was here when I was here in 2007" as a graduate assistant, Brown said. "And during that time it was like, wow, you've got a big kid that can run, you know, with excellent quickness, and I was surprised during the previous two years that he hadn't played much. But he had some things that he had to get sorted out and work on, and he's done a good job of doing that, and he's becoming a big part of our defense. He has a knack for being around the ball and making plays. I think you'll see his role continue to grow with our defense."

Message not received

When the Virginia defense gave up 256 rushing yards during an Oct. 2 loss to Florida State, Cavaliers coaches pointed to five missed tackles that accounted for 172 yards that the Seminoles gained on the ground.

On Saturday, the Virginia defense allowed Georgia Tech's triple-option offense to rush for 477 yards in a 33-21 defeat. This time, Cavaliers linebackers coach Vincent Brown said Tuesday, it was missed assignments -- not missed tackles -- that led Virginia defenders astray.

Georgia Tech's "big-yardage plays came from guys just not being in the right gaps and not having the right run responsibility," Brown said. "But it wasn't so much guys in position to make a play and not being able to do it."

There still were times when Virginia's defenders -- particularly members of the secondary ¿ missed tackles, but the problem did seem less severe than it had been against Florida State.

Coach Mike London had spoken repeatedly last week about the need for assignment-oriented defense, and it appeared as though the coaching staff's messages either were not received or were not understood by most of the Cavaliers defenders. Georgia Tech rushed for 243 yards in the first half.

Granted, Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson's triple-option offense is not easy to prepare for, much less defend against, and Virginia's relative inexperience at the outside linebacker positions didn't help matters. But still, Brown seemed perturbed at the execution of the game plan with which Virginia headed into the game.

"You work all week trying to devise a plan that the players can execute and for whatever reason if it's not working, you know, you go in and you try to figure out what's the best chance we have at stopping these guys and slowing them down," Brown said. "We did make some adjustments, and some of those adjustments were very effective at times. And again, with the inexperience that we have and just guys not completely understanding where they should be at certain times resulted in some big plays against us."

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