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As the Cavaliers aim to run read-option plays more often, Watford is learning to read defenders differently.
Virginia quarterback David Watford throws a pass during the first half of the Cavaliers' game against Virginia Military Institute in Charlottesville on Saturday. Sept. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)]
Virginia quarterback David Watford talks during media day at John Paul Jones Arena on Aug. 2.
Virginia quarterback David Watford runs in for a touchdown during the second half the VMI game.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The first rushing touchdown of David Watford’s college career did not make many highlight videos.
Virginia fans might want to stay tuned, though. If the coaching staff has its way, there will be more of them.
What’s more, Watford has bought into the idea.
Watford’s 1-yard touchdown run against VMI, when he sold the defense on a fake to running back Daniel Hamm, came on one of the Cavaliers’ first attempts at the read-option.
The read-option is all the rage, even at the NFL level, where Washington Redskins fans are pining for the days when quarterback Robert Griffin III was running all over the field.
“Actually, with coach [Bill] Lazor, we did run a read-option,” said Watford, referring to UVa’s former offensive coordinator, now the quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. “It wasn’t out of the pistol.”
In the pistol formation, the quarterback lines up 4 yards behind center, with a running back several paces behind him. The quarterback takes a “shotgun” snap from center, but it differs from the shotgun formation, in which the backs are offset.
“I kind of had some experience with it in high school, but it wasn’t the same type of read,” Watford said. “I was keeping it either way. It was a designed run. So, I would just fake it and keep it.
“I’ve had to learn to read the defensive end, his body language [and] his eyes. I feel a lot more comfortable with it than I did at first. We’ve continuously repped it and repped it and repped it in practice.”
Watford was known more for his strong arm than his running ability at Hampton High School, but it wasn’t long after his January 2011 arrival at UVa that he established himself as one of the fastest players on the team.
In 47 rushing attempts, Watford’s longest run for Virginia has been a 15-yarder when he was a true freshman. Redshirted in 2012, he’s looking for the day when he can break one.
“I definitely do,” Watford said. “I was just watching film with my coach [offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild] about that. My coaches are saying the same thing. I just have to trust my speed.
“In high school, I would trust my speed. I would split defenders and make people miss and just run. Now, I’m kind of trying to find holes and lanes instead of just running.
“Coach Fairchild tells me, if something breaks down, I can always take off.”
In the opening game of the season, Fairchild called plays from the Scott Stadium press box. The Cavaliers upset Brigham Young 19-16, but Fairchild was on the sideline the next week.
“He had asked me, and I had told him straight-up that I would rather have him on the sideline than in the box,” said Watford, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound sophomore. “I’m able to communicate better with him.
“Instead of going through a headset, I can talk with him directly and get more information from him faster. With him being in the pressbox, he could see the defenses better, but I felt us being able to see each other eye-to-eye and being able to talk constantly is easier.”
Redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert replaced Watford for UVa’s final possession of the third quarter Saturday, but not before Watford had passed for more than 200 yards and tossed two touchdown passes — collegiate milestones for him in both categories.
Watford has completed 66.3 percent of his passes but has been intercepted five times, including twice in the first quarter against VMI, although both balls were tipped.
“I was out there flying around too fast,” he said. “As a quarterback, you’ve got to be able to stay calm and just react to what you see. You don’t want to be out there thinking too much.”
In three games, the Cavaliers (2-1) have a total of one touchdown in the first quarter, that coming when UVa was down 21-0 to Oregon. The Ducks beat the Cavaliers 59-10 and now Virginia visits a Pittsburgh team that is coming off a 58-55 win at Duke.
“It’s important to get off to a fast start, especially on the road,” Watford said. “We haven’t started as fast as we’ve wanted to, and I feel like some of that is my fault. I’m 100-percent confident that we can compete with any team shootout-wise.”
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