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Chase Minnifield's ankle injury forces shuffling of roles in Virginia secondary

By Steve Yanda

Junior cornerback Chase Minnifield sprained his ankle during practice early last week, but he elected to try to play through the injury Saturday at Duke. Minnifield -- who entered the game tied for the national lead in interceptions (six) -- only managed to play a few series before having to leave the game late in the first quarter.

With Duke's reliance on the passing game, Virginia had planned to employ healthy doses of nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs) packages Saturday, and with Minnifield out, that meant some players in the Cavaliers secondary had to take on foreign roles. Virginia also was without senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who has been on the field for three plays in the last four games combined due to a right knee injury.

Starting strong safety Rodney McLeod became a de facto cover cornerback in nickel and dime situations. Reserve safeties Dom Joseph and Trey Womack saw more snaps than they otherwise might have. Even true freshman cornerback Rijo Walker was thrown into the mix.

"Chase is such a huge part of our dime and nickel packages because of the coverage part of it," Coach Mike London said Sunday. "When he's out, then you have to shuffle some guys ... If one more injury happened back there in the secondary, I mean, I might have had to suit up or something like that. It was getting down to that part."

Minnifield's absence was most notable during the latter stages of the fourth quarter, when the momentum of the game was swinging back and forth as each defense continued to cede yards and points. Virginia allowed 259 passing yards on the day.

And of course, there was that fourth and 20 play on which Duke converted with a 32-yard pass completion with about a minute remaining in the game. The Blue Devils scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown three plays later.

Minnifield is "our interception leader," London said. "We just talked about, when the ball's up in the air, go up and get it type of mentality. We missed that with him being out of the game ... When you go down a guy and you're already kind of limited in your secondary, it hurts."

London said the Cavaliers are "hoping to have Chase back this week." According to London, Minnifield did some light jogging Sunday.

"He looked okay," London said.

By Steve Yanda  | November 7, 2010; 8:20 PM ET
Categories:  Football  
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