Nov. 28, 2013
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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- The plan, UVa coach Mike London has said several times this week, is for Greyson Lambert to play in the season finale against Virginia Tech. But redshirt sophomore David Watford will make his 12th straight start at quarterback for the Cavaliers, and Lambert himself isn't sure what his role will be Saturday at Scott Stadium.
"Right now I'm the backup quarterback, and that's all I know," Lambert said Wednesday morning in the George Welsh Indoor Practice Facility.
At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, UVa (2-9 overall, 0-7 ACC) and Tech (7-4, 4-3) will meet for the 95th time in football. Among the storylines in the battle for the Commonwealth Cup is the uncertainty over how Virginia will divide its snaps.
"I think it's a feel thing," offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild
said on a teleconference Wednesday. "We'll just see how the game is going."
After passing for a career-high 376 yards and two touchdowns Oct. 26 against Georgia Tech, Watford has regressed. In the Wahoos' past three games -- losses to ACC rivals Clemson, North Carolina and Miami -- he has completed only 40 of 90 passes (44.4 percent) for 365 yards and one TD, with six interceptions.
For the season, Watford ranks 96th nationally in passing efficiency. He's completed 231 of 404 passes (57.2 percent) for 2,080 yards and eight TDs, with 15 interceptions. UVa's wideouts and tight ends have been prone to drops, but many of Watford's passes have been off the mark, and his decision-making has been poor at times.
All of which has made No. 11 an intriguing option. A 6-5, 220-pound redshirt freshman from Jesup, Ga., Lambert has played in six games, all of whose outcomes were decided by the time he entered. He struggled early in the season, but Lambert threw a 23-yard TD pass to true freshman wideout Keeon Johnson at UNC on Nov. 9 and then shined in the Cavaliers' next game.
Last weekend at Miami, after Watford threw his third interception, Lambert came in and delivered by far the most impressive performance of his college career. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 135 yards and wasn't intercepted.
"It's just all experience," Lambert said. "It's just reps and seeing things more than once and being able to capitalize on what you see."
Like Watford, Lambert is playing for his second coordinator at UVa. In January, Fairchild replaced Bill Lazor, who left to join Chip Kelly's staff with the Philadelphia Eagles.
When evaluating Lambert's progress, Fairchild said, "I don't look at any one thing. What I see is where he came from.
"He's a relatively young guy, was kind of learning his way around in the spring, was still kind of stumbling around a little bit in August two-a-days, but he's been getting better, and you've just seen it throughout the whole season at practice. Lately when we've been able to get him some time, he's played fairly well in games.
"It's a developmental position. David's still developing. Greyson's still developing. I like [redshirt freshman] Matt Johns. I like our third guy as well. We'll just keep working with all of them, and hopefully they'll all keep improving."
Lambert graduated from high school early and enrolled at UVa in January 2012. Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims, neither of whom is still at Virginia, split the snaps at quarterback last season, and Lambert and Watford redshirted.
"I've learned a lot," Lambert said. "I didn't really know what to think when I was coming out of high school, but I've learned a lot since that first semester here, and I feel like I've seen things that are helping me progress."
And if he gets to play against Tech with the outcome still undecided?
"Our coaches prepare us really well," Lambert said, "and so I'm hoping that it's just going to be just like practice, like it has been, and go from there, and do what I've done in practice."
At his weekly press conference Monday, London was asked the process for making personnel changes.
The coaches grade the players' film, London said, and then "collectively we discuss the issues that can help us or things that might be hurting us, things that we can do to perhaps make a change.
"I'll talk to the staff about making some changes or the things that we see that we have to get done in order for us to be successful. It's not a dictatorship type of thing. You value the input that you [get from] experienced coaches, and that's all part of it.
"And then ultimately the decision has to be made, and if it's something that's all agreed upon, we make it. If it's not, if there's dissenting opinions which you allow for, then I have to make that decision."
Virginia has lost eight consecutive games in a season for the first time since 1975. Breakdowns in every phase have hurt the `Hoos. Fairchild's group ranks 104th nationally (out of 123 teams) in scoring offense, 86th in total offense, 78th in passing offense and 76th in rushing offense.
"It's been a work in progress all year," Fairchild said. "We have gotten better. We've developed a lot of young players, a lot of new players. I know each week we've gotten a little bit sharper in the way we've practiced and gone about things.
"We're a long way from being where we need to be, obviously, but I like our kids. They work hard, and if we keep working I think we'll get there."
Only four seniors have played on offense this season: tackle Morgan Moses, center Luke Bowanko, fullback Billy Skrobacz and wideout Tim Smith.
Fairchild said he believes Watford will improve, and "we'll continue to get better around him, which is going to help. So as we get better, he'll get better. He's been improving. There's obviously been some bumps in the road, but that's part of the new deal when you're a new starter. We just gotta keep pushing our way through."