David Watford couldn’t have scripted a better start. Maurice Canady couldn’t have displayed better hustle.
There’s always a double-edged sword to intrasquad football situational scrimmages. If the offense is thriving, the defense is struggling and vice versa.
Virginia held a tune-up for next week’s spring game on Saturday at Scott Stadium. On the first snap, Watford treated spectators to an in-stride bomb down the right sideline for Tim Smith.
The senior receiver grabbed it cleanly and made a diagonal dash for the end zone.
But Canady wasn’t having it. The sophomore cornerback sprinted to Smith’s heels and caught him short of a touchdown.
“Maurice, he did a good job of not giving up on the play,” said safety Anthony Harris. “He hustled and was able to knock him out at the 2.”
And things were off.
Watford handled the majority of first-team QB duties. Experiencing his first spring in that role, the redshirt sophomore had his ups and his downs. The Smith highlight was clashed with interceptions to Canady and Brandon Phelps.
The running game featured a healthy dose of Clifton Richardson (two touchdowns), Khalek Shepherd (two touchdowns) and Kye Morgan. Kevin Parks was held out.
“We worked well as an offense,” Shepherd said. “We still have some things to get fixed, but, overall, we’ve covered a lot over these first two weeks.
“We’re still just getting better every day, that’s our mentality right now. We want to make sure that, by the time we get to the summer, we have this offense down pat. Right now, it’s just a learning curve.”
On both sides.
Shepherd and the offense are under the rule of new coordinator Steve Fairchild. The defense is backed by new coordinator Jon Tenuta.
The latter unit is trying to learn a more pressure-oriented system with an emphasis on getting sacks and forcing turnovers.
That’s the reputation Tenuta’s built in his 30-plus year in the business. He brought it to Charlottesville to try to help a team that finished last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in takeaways and 10th in sacks in 2012.
Saturday might have just been a brief snapshot of things to come, but Tenuta’s bunch got those two picks and recorded three “touch” sacks.
“It creates a lot of energy for us,” Harris said. “The defensive line, they’re excited, getting after the quarterback. [With] different pressures that we put in, guys have the opportunity to get after the quarterback, potentially get sacks.
“With stuff like that just comes a lot of energy. So guys are really embracing it.”
And reaching — literally — their potential.
Defensive tackle Brent Urban, all 6-foot-7 of him, was a force in the middle on Saturday, stuffing runs and using that long frame to knock down a pair of passes.
“Brent was real good today,” said defensive end Mike Moore, who got two sacks. “He’s a great defensive lineman. With him, he’s just going to help you out if you’re a defensive end because he’s so big. He’s so big and strong that he can take on those guys and still beat those guys.”
Prior to the scrimmage, UVa head coach Mike London expressed the requirements he had for his quarterbacks. They included few errors, a command of the huddle and completions.
“There’s so many things that you practice, try to ingrain in them now that coaches are off the field,” London said. “We’ll see how they can handle what we’re asking them to do. It’ll be a big day, today, for them.”
They took their reps in their order on the depth chart. Watford, Greyson Lambert, then Phillip Sims.
Sims, a four-game starter last season, didn’t get action until the fifth series of the afternoon. His second drive, which started from his own 40, went seven plays and ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass to E.J. Scott.
Symbolic of his late-game heroics in 2012, tight end Jake McGee provided the day’s final highlight with a 3-yard touchdown catch from Lambert with all of nine seconds remaining in a two-minute drill.
Cue the storylines for next week.
“Going out there, you just want to compete each play, take it one play at a time,” Harris said. “The most important play is the next play. Obviously, we feel like we won on some plays, but there’s going to be room for improvement.
“So we’re just going to go back, look at the tape, and try to correct ourselves.”
NOTE: Two-year starting cornerback Demetrious Nicholson (hamstring) was held out of the scrimmage. London said the junior is expected to play in the spring game.