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Associated Press | File 2012
Virginia’s Rijo Walker (27), who has been a special teams standout for the Cavaliers, is listed as a possible starter at free safety this week.
Virginia running back Taquan Mizzell (top) is stopped by Maryland defensive back William Likely on Saturday. The Cavaliers rank fifth among FBS teams in average time of possesion (34:15).
Monday, October 14, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE - Virginia's football staff was so appreciative of Rijo Walker's special-teams contributions in 2012 that he was named one of the Cavaliers' three co-captains.
At the midpoint of the 2013 season, it appears that Walker might be taking on another, more pressing role.
Walker is listed as a possible starter at free safety this week after replacing junior Brandon Phelps on Saturday in the Cavaliers' 27-26 loss at Maryland.
Phelps (6-0, 185) has played in 31 games during his UVa career, the last 18 as a starter, and is still looking for his first college interception. He does not have an interception or pass break-up this season.
Walker (5-10, 190) is shorter than Phelps and may not be as much of a factor on the jump balls that were UVa's undoing Saturday, but tackling was maybe a bigger issue on a day when Maryland had seven plays of 30 yards or more.
Walker had seven special-teams tackles last year, one behind team-leader Jake McGee, and has four this season.
"In football games, you're going to have missed tackles," UVa coach Mike London said, "but it's those yards after catches and first contact that are critical.
"Safeties have to be great tacklers, and we'll make sure we put the right people in the game to make that happen."
Work in progress
Maryland was looking at a third-and-12 from the Cavalier 18 on Saturday before UVa defensive end Eli Harold was called for a late hit on Terrapins' quarterback Caleb Rowe. Brandon Ross ran 7 yards for a touchdown on the next play, giving Maryland a 14-6 lead in the second quarter.
The personal foul came one week after Harold was whistled for three major penalties in a 48-27 loss to Ball State, although London was a little more forgiving this time.
"It wasn't with the crown of his head; [Harold] wasn't leading with his forehead," London said. " It was basically contact above the neck area. I wasn't happy with the fact he got a penalty because it extended a drive. But, you don't want players to get hesitant in attacking the quarterback. ...
"The rules are intended to protect the quarterbacks at all costs. When in doubt, they're [officials] going to throw flags. When quarterbacks are running and ducking and they're moving, sometimes things happen, and there may be a foul. It's a teachable moment."
If not for the penalty, UVa linebacker Henry Coley would have had a tackle for a 3-yard loss.
"The rules are the rules," Coley said, "but it's taken away from football and it's definitely taken away from the defensive side of football - how aggressive you can be. I can see the one from last week, but the one from Saturday. ...
"I watched it, and I told Eli that I didn't agree with the call, and he didn't agree with the call, but I told him, ‘Bro, they called it. And because of the one you got last week, they're going to be watching you every week.' "
London was guarded in discussing the injuries that have sidelined place-kicker Ian Frye, cornerback Demetrious Nicholson and defensive tackle Brent Urban, although he said that Urban's injury "is not a season-ending injury."
Urban's replacement after he injured his right ankle early in the second quarter Saturday was Donte Wilkins, a 6-foot-2, 305-pound redshirt freshman from Woodbridge whose name often has been misspelled "Donta."
"I went through my whole life spelling it D-o-n-t-a, and then I turned 16 and went to get my driver's license," he said. "I looked at my birth certificate and I'm like, ‘My name's spelled with an ‘e,' mom,' and she said, ‘I didn't want to tell you because you've been spelling it with an ‘a' so well."
Virginia's one-point loss at Maryland came on an afternoon when the Cavaliers got off 93 offensive plays, compared to 64 plays for the Terps, and had a 15-minute, 30-second differential in time of possession.
UVa ranks fifth out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in average time of possession (34:15) and has 70 more plays than their opponents over its first six games.
Virginia (2-4, 0-2 ACC) has been installed as a 2 1⁄2 -point favorite over Duke (4-2, 0-2) for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Scott Stadium.
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