But as important as Minnifield’s presence has been to the Cavaliers’ defense this season from a pass-protection standpoint, his role against the run has been vital, as well. Only three Virginia defenders have tallied more tackles for a loss than has Minnifield (four), who also has recorded 1.5 sacks and ranks No. 5 on the team in tackles (28).
Coach Mike London said Monday that Minnifield – a first team all-ACC selection in 2010 – has demonstrated a more well-rounded skill set this year. And it hasn’t been so much that Minnifield has developed a greater knack for being more involved in stopping the run, but more that he’s embracing an increased responsibility load.
“Chase has kind of relished the role of being a guy that can come up and make plays and tackle and kind of being a complete player, not just you take their best guy and you guard him, but also a guy that you can depend upon versus the run in the run fits,” London said.
Against Georgia Tech, Minnifield was assigned to cover 6-foot-5 wideout Stephen Hill, the Yellow Jackets’ top receiving target, all game. Wherever Hill lined up and ventured, the 6-foot Minnifield followed. Hill – who entered the game averaging 2.8 receptions and 92 receiving yards per game – did not record a catch Saturday.
Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington tried to complete a deep pass to Hill late in the second quarter, but the throw was short and Minnifield was there to make the grab. At the time, the Yellow Jackets had erased a 14-point deficit only to have Virginia immediately respond with a 10-play touchdown drive.
Rather than march up the field with runs out of its triple option offense, Georgia Tech elected to go for a big pass play on the third play of its drive.
“I think he might not have wanted to go there,” Minnifield said. “He just tried to throw it up to him and tried to let his receiver go make a play. But I seen him throw it, so I kind of attacked it instead of letting the ball come down.”
Minnifield finished the game with five tackles, all of which came on Georgia Tech rushing plays. On third and 16 in the first quarter, Minnifield stopped Yellow Jackets A-back Roddy Jones after a four-yard gain, which forced Georgia Tech to attempt a 52-yard field goal. That field goal was blocked.
This season, London said, the defense is calling for Minnifield and the team’s other cornerbacks to rush into the backfield off the edge more frequently. And in the team’s nickel defensive package – when the team utilizes five defensive backs – Minnifield serves a role that takes on the responsibilities of a weak-side linebacker, London said.
“A lot of times in a regular defense, you bring a [weak-side] linebacker into a nickel package and he’s the” extra defensive back, London said. But in Virginia’s case, Minnifield “also will be called in to run the run stunts and pass game stunts, so I think he’s relishing that role probably more than he did last year.”