Football shakes up receiving corps
London lists all receivers as starters, hopes to bolster production
Virginia welcomed Pittsburgh to the ACC Saturday with a tale of two teams — the defensive unit and offensive unit. One was full of energy and terrorized the opponent’s backfield; the other was lethargic and produced at an anemic level, at best.
As he has most of the season, sophomore quarterback David Watford barely completed 50 percent of his passes and produced a disappointing stat line, connecting on a paltry 15-of-37 passes for 123 yards. Watford struggled to make the proper reads, and failed to throw accurate passes even when he did. His woes were only exacerbated by the Virginia receiving corp’s struggle to hold on to catchable throws.
“You can’t have 10 drops in a game,” coach Mike London said. “There’s a lack of production that needs to be done and there needs to be accountability for that.”
London made clear to the team Monday that the flailing offense is not something he takes lightly, listing every receiver on the team as a starter on the weekly depth chart. The move gives juniors Miles Gooch and E.J. Scott and sophomores Canaan Severin and Adrian Gamble the chance to show what they can do.
“Drops definitely can get contagious,” Gamble said. “But on Saturday I kind of want to be that guy to spark the offense. It can be contagious, but I just want to end it.”
Junior Jake McGee was the primary tight end against Pittsburgh, filling in for injured junior Zach Swanson, who is generally seen as the better blocking tight end. Swanson’s production was missed as McGee managed only 10 yards on two receptions.
“It’s critical not having a guy of [Swanson’s] caliber that was kind of an on-the-line tight end,” London said. “McGee, you could flex him out, catch the ball. When you have a guy that’s been a primary blocker like Zach, you do miss him.”
For some, like junior wide receiver Darius Jennings, games like this are symbolic of a struggling season. Jennings is on pace for 42 receptions this year, six fewer than last year. More tellingly, his average yards per reception have fallen from 11.8 last year to 7.6 this year.
For others, like Gamble and freshman Keeon Johnson, the wavering offense presents a chance to make impact that will help the squad finally find an identity.
“Being that everybody wants to be on the field, that’ll bring more competition,” Gamble said. “Competition makes other players better, so it’s definitely a big opportunity for me. I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity.”
Johnson impressed the coaches this offseason and is known for his strong athleticism. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman will add a physical aspect to an undersized receiving corp, which is something both teammates and coaches will keep an eye on for in the next few games.
“Keeon is freakishly strong, gifted and talented,” London said. “What’s happening in the weight room, you can see it happen out on the field as well. We’ll give him an opportunity to show the things that people have been seeing thus far in camp.”