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Despite absence of two starters, Virginia secondary holding steady

Relying on several previously inexperienced players, the Virginia secondary has performed admirably through the first two games of the season despite the injury-related absences of two starters -- senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling (hamstring) and junior strong safety Rodney McLeod (knee).

Virginia ranks No. 5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference in passing defense, having allowed opponents to throw for 195.5 yards per game. Against what was supposed to be a high-octane Southern California offense, the Cavaliers defense allowed 202 passing yards.

Cornerbacks Coach Chip West attributed the secondary's play thus far to its enhanced understanding of the types of man-to-man coverage Virginia wants to employ.

"Just in terms of different situations that we get put in, that the opposing offense puts us in, and we handle it pretty good," West said Tuesday night. "Just different situations as far as playing through receivers' hands. Even if we weren't great, per se, at the line of scrimmage, we haven't been quitting. We've played through the hands of the wide receivers."

Though Coach Mike London said Dowling and McLeod have returned to practice and possibly could play Saturday against Virginia Military Institute, Virginia coaches are hoping the experience gained by the players who've received heavy doses of playing time the past two games will yield long-term dividends.

Sophomore cornerback Devin Wallace has started in place of Dowling, and junior cornerback Mike Parker has received additional playing time, as well. Wallace played mostly on special teams during his redshirt freshman season last year.

Fifth-year senior strong safety Trey Womack has started in place of McLeod, and junior Dom Joseph also has seen a fair amount of action. Womack previously had played mostly on special teams, as well.

Junior free safety Corey Mosley said Tuesday that with McLeod out, he has had to play more snaps at strong safety than he otherwise would. He also has been responsible for making more pre-snap calls for the other defenders.

"Me and Rodney were used to playing with each other," Mosley said. "We had developed good chemistry between each other. Rodney being out, I wouldn't say it put pressure on me, but it just made me have to do more ... I don't really know what's going on as far as his injury, but I can't wait to get him back, as well as Ras-I out there.

"But the guys out there right now, we staying focussed whether (Dowling and McLeod) are with us or not. We're just trying to protect this team and get this team rolling."

By Steve Yanda  | September 22, 2010; 7:14 AM ET
 
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