Banged-up UVA secondary benefits from bye week

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Led by quarterback Stephen "Buckshot" Calvert and receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty's passing game is putting up 300.4 yards per game through the air this season.

That's good for No. 16 among all FBS teams nationally, and the best per-game average of any teams on Virginia's schedule. So the Flames' passing game will be a stiff test for UVA's banged-up secondary this Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium.

"Nothing's changed in the back end, really," UVA co-defensive coordinator Kelly Poppinga said after practice on Wednesday. "It's not like the NFL, where we could have picked somebody off the waiver wire."

The defensive backfield was considered a position of strength for the Wahoos entering the season -- but that was before UVA lost Darrius Bratton, a projected starter at cornerback, in preseason camp, All-American corner Bryce Hall at Miami, and safety Brenton Nelson in practice prior to the North Carolina game. All three will miss the rest of the season.

Nick Grant stepped into a starting spot at cornerback when Bratton went down over the summer. Grant is the only player to start all 10 games in the same position in the secondary this season. De'Vante Cross has started all 10 as well, but moved from free safety to corner when Hall got hurt.

Safety Joey Blount has played in all 10 games, with seven starts, and leads the secondary in both tackles (67) and interceptions (3, a team high). Chris Moore stepped into the safety role vacated when Cross shifted to corner -- but Moore got hurt against Georgia Tech, forcing cornerback Heskin Smith on the field just days after he was cleared following a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Jaylon Baker saw significant time at UNC, and broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone that helped preserve UVA's win.

"Every guy has embraced the 'next guy up' mentality, and willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish this defense's goals, and doing whatever they can to help out," senior inside linebacker Jordan Mack said.

After beating Georgia Tech two weekends ago, the Wahoos had last week off. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall said on Monday that Moore returned to practice during the down time, and will be back against Liberty on Saturday.

"Everybody in the country is beat up. So I think for us, I thought the bye week came at a great time," Poppinga said. "Obviously this is our second one of the year, but it gave some of those secondary guys, with the little experience that they've had, helped them gain a little bit more repetition. But also, helped some of the other guys, helped us get healthy as well."

"Depth is really important down the stretch. And one player makes a huge impact, on our roster as well as it does on most rosters. And especially for us in our secondary," Mendenhall said. "So we were able to target that position, work on specific things to address it, improve it, make it more cohesive."



 
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