-- The Virginia Cavaliers were in the midst of what would become a blowout victory at Western Michigan last season when rookie wide receiver Deyon Williams came to the line of scrimmage early in the second quarter, still looking for his first catch in three games as a collegian.
Unfortunately, Williams hadn't quite understood the play called in the huddle and had no idea what pattern he was supposed to run. He turned and asked veteran receiver Ottowa Anderson for help. "Just run a post," Anderson said.
So at the snap, Williams started upfield for 10 or 15 yards and then slanted right, streaking through the secondary. He looked back for the ball, caught it in stride and eased in for a 35-yard touchdown.
It wasn't the only time last season the 2002 All-Met from Suitland High School got lost in Virginia's playbook. It also wasn't the only time he made up for it with his natural athletic skills.
"That's how I was last year," he said.
This season has been a vast improvement. Williams isn't a football genius just yet, but he has learned enough to start at split end for the 14th-ranked Cavaliers (5-1, 2-1 ACC) and catch 15 passes for 232 yards. At 6 feet 3, 188 pounds, the former track star at McNamara and Suitland high schools is perhaps Virginia's fastest and most gifted wide receiver.
"When he touches the ball, anything can happen," right guard Elton Brown said as the Cavs prepared for Saturday's game at Duke (1-5, 0-3). "He's one of those type of players."
Williams, whose first name is pronounced DAY-on, ranks eighth in the ACC with an average of 46.4 receiving yards per game and is second among Cavaliers in receptions behind all-American tight end Heath Miller. Twelve of Williams's catches have produced first downs, including four third-down conversions.
The Cavaliers expect there will be plenty more to come. Because Williams, 19, played three sports in high school and spent each week last fall in game preparation, this past offseason was his first opportunity to focus on his overall development as a wide receiver. He added 10 or 12 pounds to his lanky frame, polished his route running and blocking and strived to earn Coach Al Groh's highest compliment as a "dependable" player.
Two weeks ago -- days after sitting out the Sept. 25 game against Syracuse because of a hamstring injury -- Williams put together an excellent week of practice that culminated with the most productive game of his career: five catches for 83 yards as Virginia beat Clemson in a Thursday night game shown on ESPN.
"It was very verifying to him, I think, that that kind of week produced that kind of results," Groh said. "Plus, he started to get a little picture of what might be out there for him. . . . I think he can get a lot done. . . .
"I don't mean this in a demeaning way, but he didn't have any knowledge last year. As it is with a lot of young players, it was . . . 'Okay, this is where I line up and this is where I'm supposed to go.' Then the process from then until now is how to get there, how to refine the techniques in getting there, how to make the adjustment reads as you get there. That process is still going on, but the [Clemson game] showed there's been substantial movement in that direction."
Last weekend at Florida State, Williams had three catches for 34 yards against a pair of tough cornerbacks. "I'm improving as each game comes along," he said. "I'm learning how to be that starting receiver that I'm supposed to be."
Cavaliers Notes: Groh confirmed he is considering adjustments to the starting lineup and the distribution of playing time after last weekend's 36-3 loss, though he declined to give specifics. Virginia's defensive players all wore blue in practice this week, with no one in the orange jerseys that signify first-team defenders. . . .
Wide receiver Fontel Mines was in uniform at FSU and could have played if needed, but the Cavaliers were glad to be able to take the conservative approach and give his broken collarbone another week to heal. He likely will play against Duke. . . .
Groh, 60, grew up on Long Island rooting for Mickey Mantle, Bob Turley and the New York Yankees, but his baseball allegiances shifted when he coached with the New England Patriots from 1993 to '96. "Living in Boston, I kind of got the flavor of the Red Sox and Fenway and that business," he said. "I wouldn't say that I'm a Red Sox fan, but if there's a team that I occasionally see what's going on with them, it's the Red Sox." . . .
Brown (Lombardi Award) and sophomore inside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (Butkus) are among 12 semifinalists for national awards at their respective positions.