Forget the dynamic cuts and highlight reel spins and lightning-quick dashes to the open field because perhaps they were expected to be on display this early.
Through the eyes of Kevin Parks, Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell has made his biggest waves this preseason with his hands.
Has Virginia’s ballyhooed freshman running back caught everything thrown his way? No, but he’s done his best to block everything.
“I believe, for a true freshman, his pass-protection is probably the biggest thing that stands out,” Parks said Monday. “I feel like he picked up in that area. In college football, you have to know the protections. I feel like the kid is ready and ya’ll going to see [him] on Saturday.”
Parks is the most established member of UVa’s backfield. The redshirt junior enters Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. season opener against BYU with 1,443 career rushing yards, the second-most among Cavaliers after their first two years in program history.
He said it probably took him his whole true freshman year at Virginia to figure out the blocking technique needed to see field time.
Mizzell’s been practicing for less than a month.
“He’s a very talented freshman that came in and the game wasn’t too big for him,” said offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild. “Usually running backs struggle with things like pass protection and things of that nature. He’s been really ahead of the curve.
“So he’ll play for us.”
Mizzell, UVa’s first Rivals.com five-star signee in the Mike London era, last played in an organized football game on Nov. 9, 2012. He ran for 175 yards on 20 carries in Bayside High School’s 35-12 loss to Oscar Smith in the first round of the VHSL eastern region playoffs.
He also played defense and dabbled in the return game that night.
What will his role be Saturday?
“I think you’re going to see him quick on the field,” said Larry Lewis, the Cavaliers’ special teams coordinator and running backs coach. “In the sense of our return game, right off the bat. But I also think that there are certain packages right now that we have that fit really what he does.”
Mizzell is third on the depth chart at running back behind Parks and Khalek Shepherd. He’s also third at kick returner behind Shepherd and Darius Jennings.
But, like the way Mizzell has built his legend of attacking defenders, things can move quickly.
“I’m sure he’ll go out there on Saturday,” said left guard Luke Bowanko, “and make you guys ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and call him Smoke throughout the season.”
So we meet again
The series history of Virginia-BYU is all of three games with the last coming in 2000.
The Fairchild-BYU series history goes a little deeper.
The first-year UVa OC has faced the Cougars 15 times during coaching stops at Colorado State, New Mexico and San Diego State.
As CSU’s head coach from 2008-11, Fairchild went 0-3 against BYU and head coach Bronco Mendenhall, losing by an average score of 45-25.
“I’ve known Bronco since he was the defensive coordinator at New Mexico and always respected the job he’s done defensively as a coach,” Fairchild said. “That’s kind of his background. And then he took over the BYU program [in 2005].
“I was a head coach in that conference the same time he was, and watching him do the things he did at BYU was tremendous. He’s a good coach. That’s a year-in, year-out very, very good football program.
“It’ll be a good challenge for us.”
Fairchild, a Colorado State quarterback from 1978-80, also played against BYU. Despite throwing for 2,573 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior, he only gained second-team All-Western Athletic Conference honors.
A certain Cougar signal caller by the name of Jim McMahon was in his way.
“They had a run of quarterbacks when I was there that was something,” Fairchild said.
Other UVa assistants who have faced BYU in their coaching careers include Lewis, Tom O’Brien and Scott Wachenheim. ... The Wahoos lead the all-time series, 2-1. Wins came in 1999 in Provo, Utah, and in the 1987 All-American Bowl played in Birmingham, Ala. The loss — 38-35 in overtime — came in 2000.