Matt Johns

Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP

Virginia wraps up spring still searching for starting QB

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Bronco Mendenhall had the luxury of having some stable quarterback options to work with running his offense at BYU, but in his first season at Virginia, he will see a quarterback competition continue after the spring. As is typically the case at a number of college football programs once the spring season concludes, there is as much uncertainty at the quarterback situation as any at Virginia.

Our quarterback situation right now has not revealed itself,” said offensive coordinator Robert Anae, according to The Free Lance-Star. “So we’re going to continue to go into fall camp, and it may take all of fall camp before we get to the bottom of it.”

The two main competitors for the starting job for the Cavaliers are Matt Johns and Connor Brewer. Johns handled the majority of the offensive responsibilities last season, leading the offense with mixed results. Johns opened the spring as Virginia’s first-string quarterback but wrapped up with him seeing split duties with Brewer, a former Texas Longhorn and Arizona Wildcat.

“Matt was the returning starter and he started practice that way, taking the first reps,” said quarterbacks coach Jason Beck. “But then as we went on, Connor was playing really well. So we just split up the reps, made an even competition and they went after it every day that way.”

Each quarterback has their strengths and weaknesses depending on the style of offensive play calling, so whichever style ends up being the way Mendenhall and the Virginia staff choose to roll with could determine which player gets the nod. Brewer could be more of an ideal fit if Virginia chooses to take to the air with a more pass-heavy attack, but Johns could be the go-to guy should the Cavaliers look to keep things a bit more balanced and grounded if he can improve his decision-making and cut down on turnovers.

Virginia’s first game of the 2016 season is at home against FCS Richmond, which could be an opportunity to give each quarterback a live audition in a real game situation.

No. 9 Notre Dame loses QB Zaire, escapes Virginia with win


Quarterback Malik Zaire left the game in the third quarter with a season-ending fractured ankle injury, but in stepped redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer for the miracle play to give the Irish a nearly unexplainable win for No. 9 Notre Dame (2-0). Kizer unloaded a deep touchdown pass down the left side of the field  from the Virginia (0-2) 39-yard line, with Will Fuller using speed to his advantage to get by the defender and his hands to haul in the game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left to play. Notre Dame escaped Virginia with a 34-27 win.

Zaire left the game late in the third quarter with a right ankle injury. He would be carted off the Notre Dame sideline for further medical examination after having his ankle rolled over while being tackled. With Zaire sidelined, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly had no choice but to go with redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer the rest of the way. Kizer had already thrown a touchdown pass before entering the game to lead the offense. Kizer executed a trick pass on a fake field goal on the opening drive of the game, giving the Irish an early jump in the Cavaliers. Kizer will be expected to lead the offense moving forward with Zaire out of action.

Notre Dame running back C.J. Prossise had a big day on the ground, with 155 rushing yards and a touchdown. He was the most effective player for the Irish in this one, and  that helped keep things within reach for the Irish against a balanced Virginia offense, which wore down Notre Dame’s defense. Virginia put up 406 yards of offense, with quarterback Matt Johns passing for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and rushed for one more as the Cavaliers looked for the upset. They nearly got it too.

Virginia looked like a formidable foe for much of the afternoon, which was a good sign for head coach Mike London after his defense was shredded the previous week by UCLA. The bottom line though is Virginia is off to an 0-2 start to the new season, and there will be some tough games to come , once again putting Virginia in an early hole to dig out of in order to make a bowl game. Virginia will stay home next week when William & Mary comes in. The following week will see the Boise State Broncos come to town.

Things will get tougher for Notre Dame from here. Next week the Irish host Georgia Tech in another match-up against an ACC school.

UPDATE (7:31 p.m.): after the game, Brian Kelly announced Zaire suffered a fractured ankle and is out for the season.

Virginia rallies from 12-0 hole to lead Notre Dame at half

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Halloween candy is starting to be sold in the stores, which may be why both Notre Dame and Virginia got in the early trick or treat fun this afternoon. Notre Dame jumped out to a 12-0 lead on its first three possessions of the game, but Virginia is taking a 14-12 lead into the halftime break at home.

Notre Dame took the opening drive of the game all the way down to the Virginia seven-yard line before Virginia’s defense came up with a stop. The Irish, though, would not leave the field without putting some points on the scoreboard. On a trick field goal play, DeShone Kizer tossed a pass to Durham Smythe for a seven-yard score that took the Cavaliers by surprise. Feeling a little hyped to take advantage of the situation, Brian Kelly opted to go for a two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead, but Notre Dame was unable to punch it in on the conversion attempt.

Virginia would have some fun of its own later in the first half. From around midfield, Virginia put the ball in the hands of two different Virginia players before getting it in the hands of quarterback Matt Johns, who lined up at receiver on the play. Johns then found a wide open Canaan Severin down the middle of the field for a 42-yard touchdown that gave Virginia a 14-12 lead. Johns has thrown two touchdowns and has completed 10 of 11 pass attempts for 139 yards.

Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire has completed five of 13 passes for 38 yards so far against a defense that gave up 351 yards and three touchdowns to Josh Rosen and UCLA in Week 1. Irish running back C.J. Prossise leads all players with 107 rushing yards at the half. Notre Dame has yet to complete a third down conversion (0-for-5).

Duke clinches bowl eligibility (again) and sits atop ACC Coastal (technically)


Maybe we should start getting used to this whole winning thing Duke has been doing. Maybe David Cutcliffe should start making some room for another possible coaching award. For the third straight season, Duke (6-1, 2-1 ACC) is eligible for postseason play, and the Blue Devils have now moved into first place in the ACC Coastal. The bowl-eligibility clincher came Saturday afternoon with a 20-13 victory over Virginia (4-3, 2-1 ACC). The win puts Duke on top of a crowded and wide-open ACC Coastal Division, but the Blue Devils now get a week off to get ready for a potential division championship defense in November.

Duke’s ability to win this game against Virginia took some character. The Blue Devils were held to 334 yards of offense while Virginia racked up 465 yards, including 325 through the air. Duke was just 4-for-13 on third down conversions and Virginia was a much more successful 8-for-16. Virginia even owned a small advantage in time of possession, but Duke won where it counts the most. They did so playing disciplined football with just three penalties to Virginia’s six, and not having a turnover on offense (Virgina had one).

Anthony Boone completed 22 of his 37 pass attempts for 176 yards and a touchdown. Jamison Crowder was the big target, as he usually is for Duke, with 99 receiving yards on eight catches. Virginia receiver Miles Gooch (129 yards ) was the big target for Miles Gooch (129 yards ) was the big target for Matt Johns, who passed for 306 yards.

At this particular moment, there is a four-way tie for first place in the ACC Coastal between Duke, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh played Thursday night, beating Virginia Tech. Georgia Tech is at North Carolina tonight. Duke owns head-to-head victories over Georgia Tech and Virginia.

Duke gets a week off before returning to action. The Blue Devils take to the road to visit Pittsburgh on November 1. Pittsburgh is coming off a Thursday night victory over Virginia Tech this week and will be coming off a home game against Georgia Tech before Duke arrives in the Steel City.

Virginia will be home next weekend when North Carolina travels to Charlottesville. Virginia has an important stretch that kicked off against Duke. After hosting UNC, Virginia travels to Georgia Tech and then Florida State before reaching a bye week.

Duke and Virginia knotted up in battle for ACC Coastal lead

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First place in the ACC Coastal Division is on the line this afternoon in Durham, North Carolina. The defending division champions from Duke saw a 10-0 lead wiped away as Virginia came up with a huge drive at the end of the first half to tie things up, 10-10.

Duke quarterback Anthony Boone has been smart and accurate with his pass selection, completing 14 of 18 attempts for 119 yards and a touchdown in the first half. The lone touchdown pass was a short toss from the goal line to Erich Schneider midway through the first quarter for a 7-0 lead. Coming into today Schneider had caught just two passes all season. This was his first career touchdown.

Virginia’s defense has not allowed Duke to run away with anything though. Thanks to the performance of the defense, Virginia has managed to keep the game easily within reach. A Matt Johns touchdown pass to Khalek Shepherd in the second quarter got the road team on the board, and gave the offense some life.

Virginia put together a huge drive at the end of the half, starting from its own 11-yard line and moving all the way down to the Duke four-yard line to set up a last-second field goal. Johns completed five passes on the drive, none bigger than a 38-yard gain to Miles Gooch from the Duke 42-yard line. Gooch was brought down with one second left on the clock, but Virginia had a timeout to use to allow for the game-tying field goal to be kicked.

Despite how that final drive ended the half, this game appears to be one that will be won by the defenses in the second half.