Cavaliers host in-state opponent Richmond

After close loss to UCLA, football faces Spiders, two former quarterbacks

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Coach Mike London will face his alma mater and former employer Saturday when Virginia football plays host to Richmond in a showdown of Commonwealth rivals. The Cavaliers (0-1, 0-0 ACC) are coming off a 20-28 loss against No. 11 UCLA last weekend, characterized by the strong play of both teams’ defenses.

London played for the Spiders (1-0, 0-0 CAA) from 1979 to 1982, returning as head coach in 2008 and 2009. He led Richmond to a national championship over Montana in his second season before coming to Virginia in 2010.

“It’s our second game, and the opportunity to play against my alma mater, a place I spent some pretty good years at,” London said. “I have a lot of respect for Danny Rocco — who is a good friend of mine — a lot of coaches on that staff I’ve known over the years, [and] administrators.”

This time, London will face not only his old team, but also a team which features two of his former Virginia quarterbacks: Michael Rocco and Michael Strauss. Strauss transferred to Richmond in spring 2012 with Rocco following in 2013.

But London must face a decision at quarterback for his own team first. The two players in consideration are sophomore Matt Johns, the unpredictable breakout who threw for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore Greyson Lambert, the sure-fire starter who was removed minutes before halftime after throwing for only 112 yards and two interceptions.

Johns was one pass away from winning the game for Virginia — a situation few Cavalier fans expected after the sluggish start from Lambert Saturday. Johns would be the popular choice at starter, but London will not likely disregard all of Lambert’s hard work in practice this offseason. Lambert proved himself in camp, but Johns proved himself in a game — now, London will have to decide.

Team members expressed support for whoever takes the field first Saturday.

“Whoever is our starting quarterback, we’ll feel comfortable with him, because they’re both leaders of this team,” sophomore outside linebacker Max Valles said. “Every quarterback we have on our team is a leader, so whoever goes out there as our quarterback…we’ll play for him.”

And then there is the defense. Many fans who watched what was almost a miraculous win against UCLA this weekend saw how dominant the Cavalier defense was. The pass defense held Heisman-hopeful quarterback Brett Hundley to one touchdown and the Bruins to a total of 10 offensive points.

A number of experienced players bring the defense together, led by senior linebacker Henry Coley, recently named ACC Linebacker of the Week, and senior safety Anthony Harris, last year’s national leader in interception. At the same time, youth is represented throughout depth chart — most notably in two former five-star recruits, freshman safety Quin Blanding and freshman defensive tackle Andrew Brown.

“Henry and Anthony are the leaders of our defense, so when they have big games like that we don’t really expect anything else because them two are the type of guys who come out here every day and give it their all no matter what,” Valles said.

Cavalier fans can complain Johns and company did not pull through for the win Saturday, but they showed up strongly against a highly-ranked team led by one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. The defense proved resilient, and Johns gave the offense an extra boost to compete.

“I just feel like everybody’s just more bought in this year,” Valles said. “Last year we had a bunch of individuals who were out there gunning for themselves, but this year as a team we definitely do it for each other and there’s no individuals out on the field.”

Last week, Richmond defeated Morehead State, putting up 643 offensive yards in a 55-10 triumph. The competition gets tougher this week for Richmond as they visit Charlottesville, but Rocco and Strauss have shown they could still sling the ball, just like they did in their time at Virginia.

Richmond should prove an easier opponent than UCLA, but the Cavalier defense will need another strong showing to slow the Spiders’ offense.

Kickoff between Virginia and Richmond is set for 3:30 p.m. at Scott Stadium.

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