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Tailback rotation working out for Virginia so far

Through three weeks and two games of the 2010 regular season, fifth-year senior tailback Keith Payne leads Virginia in rushing attempts (28), fifth-year senior Raynard Horne is the team's No. 3 tailback option and redshirt freshman tailback Dominique Wallace no longer is a member of the program. Each of those points would have been difficult to predict at the conclusion of spring practice.

Regardless, that's the way the chips have fallen. Virginia is averaging 177.5 rushing yards per game (No. 6 in the ACC) and 5.0 yards per carry (No. 5). Payne has rushed for 171 yards on 28 carries, while sophomore tailback Perry Jones -- who has started the first two games -- has carried the ball 23 times for 150 yards. Payne (85.5 ypg) and Jones (75 ypg) rank No. 4 and No. 7, respectively, among the ACC rushing leaders.

"Any one of them guys can play in any particular situation, but we started out where Perry was starting the game and playing a couple of series, and Ray Horne would go in for him; then Keith Payne would go in in short-yardage situations and certain formations," Virginia Running Backs Coach Mike Faragalli said Wednesday. "It's still the way we're going. It's just taken on its own personality a little bit, and it's going okay."

One notable development has been the apparent struggles Horne has had rushing the ball. Horne entered Virginia's season-opener against Richmond No. 2 on the depth chart at tailback. He tallied five carries and 19 yards against the Spiders. The next week Horne was dropped to No. 3 on the depth chart. He gained zero yards on two carries at Southern California.

Both Faragalli and Coach Mike London said the decrease in Horne's workload is more a reflection of how well Jones and Payne have played than it is an indicator of disappointment in Horne's production. And while that may in part be true, the fact is when Horne has gotten opportunities to carry the ball, he hasn't yet been able to take advantage of them.

Still, Faragalli lauded Horne for his pass-blocking ability. In fact, he said that among Virginia's tailbacks, Horne is the best pass protector, which means he'll continue to play a role at least in third down passing situations. Faragalli also said he planned to get Horne "a little more work" carrying the ball on Saturday against Virginia Military Institute.

If Horne continues to falter running the ball, one option Faragalli no longer has is turning to Wallace, who left the team for personal reasons on Monday. Faragalli said he spoke with Wallace just before Wallace met with London the day before Wallace's departure.

"It's just sad when it doesn't work out in his mind for whatever reason," Faragalli said. "My message to him was that you're at the University of Virginia, one of the finest academic schools in the country, playing for Mike London, the best head coach in the country, who loves his players off the field more than he does on the field. I mean, you're just not going to find that anywhere else. I don't know so much that it was a football decision, as much as it was some personal things."

So long as Jones and Payne continue to compile sufficient rushing yardage and touchdowns, the impact of Wallace's departure won't be acutely felt in the short term. Payne has taken on a larger role in the Cavaliers' run game ever since he tallied four touchdowns against Richmond in Week One.

"Just kind of going with the hot hand," Faragalli said. "When you have three guys like (Payne, Jones and Horne), you're comfortable with all three of them. But if somebody shows that they're in a groove and feeling good and seeing things, you kind of ride with those guys a little bit."

Right now Faragalli and the Cavaliers are riding with Payne, who at 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds looks more like a linebacker than he does a tailback.

"He's just got a lot of vision, sees things, understands the blocking schemes," Faragalli said. "He's really quick in a short area. When he sees it, he gets through it fast. He might not be fast in a 40- or 50-yard run, but in a 5- or a 10-yard run, he's as fast and as quick as anybody. His vision is kind of what sets him apart."

By Steve Yanda  | September 23, 2010; 9:47 AM ET
 
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