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Virginia secondary continues to evolve without Ras-I Dowling

Senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling sat out his fourth* game of the season Saturday during Virginia's 24-19 upset victory over then-No. 22 Miami. Dowling dealt with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first two games of the season and has been enduring a right knee injury that has sidelined him for nearly all of the past three games.

* Really, Dowling missed his fifth game of the season Saturday. He lasted on the field for three plays against Eastern Michigan before removing himself due to the knee injury.

But despite the absence of Dowling -- a two-time second team all-ACC selection -- the Virginia secondary has performed admirably on the whole. And on days such as Saturday, it performed rather remarkably, for the most part. The Cavaliers tallied five interceptions against Miami, and that played a large role in keeping momentum in Virginia's favor throughout the first 49 minutes of the game.

The Cavaliers are allowing 178.4 passing yards per game, which ranks No. 2 in the ACC and No. 17 in the country. Junior cornerback Chase Minnifield has recorded six interceptions, which ties him for the most in the country with Buffalo's Domonic Cook.

Minnifield had two interceptions Saturday, as did junior free safety Corey Mosley. Junior strong safety Rodney McLeod also registered an interception against the Hurricanes.

With Dowling out of the lineup, sophomore cornerback Devin Wallace (5-foot-11) has made six starts. But against Miami and its stable of tall wide receivers, London gave 6-foot-2 senior cornerback Mike Parker his first career start. Wallace entered the game as a reserve, though, and played plenty of snaps.

London said that aside from being out of position on Miami wideout Travis Benjamin's 60-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter Saturday, Parker "did a nice job." Miami wideout Leonard Hankerson (6-foot-3) recorded six receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown. LaRon Byrd (6-foot-4) tallied six catches for 78 yards. And Benjamin (5-foot-11) caught four passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.

"One of the strengths that we thought coming into the season was the secondary, but that's been a continued work in progress," London said. "The first couple games Rodney and Ras-I don't play. And then you've got to get ready for if you're going to have these nickel and dime packages, then you've got to be able to move people around and so you bring another corner in. You might move Chase to a dime personnel, so that required Devin Wallace to play. And now Mike Parker, because of taller receivers and he had a good week of practice.

"It's tricky a little bit, but you always try to find ways to get guys in the games with personnel groupings that can help. God bless Ras-I, man. It's one of those things that whatever it is, I don't know what it is, the doctors are still working with him to try to get him in a position where he can go out and feel good and play. Hopefully before the (end of the) season that will happen, but you know, this game we had to play personnel groups with the guys that we have that are able and ready to play. We'll see what happens again here Tuesday if Ras-I is ready to play. If not, we'll come up with another game plan."

London said that in the last few weeks it has been up to Dowling to decide during pregame warm-ups whether his knee is healthy enough to play.

"Ras-I's the type of guy that probably even if he was 80 percent he'd probably be like, 'Coach, I know that a 100 percent Mike Parker or a Devin Wallace is probably better than me right now,'" London said. "Very selfless, saying, 'Listen, let's go with them.' He's a guy that he'll play before the season is over. He'll play when he's ready. I'm not a doctor, and I don't play one. I don't make any determinations on how a guy feels or not feels. I let him tell me in concurrence with the doctors, and then we go from there."

By Steve Yanda  | November 1, 2010; 7:06 AM ET
Categories:  Football  
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