UVA’s Elliott gets two players back, discusses roster changes during Duke week

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Antonio Clary is expected to play against Duke Saturday. (Photo: UVA Athletics)

Virginia expects to have a couple of players back this week off the injured list, and Tony Elliott has made a couple of other changes as the Cavaliers brace for their third road trip of the season against Duke (7:30 p.m., Saturday, Regional Sports Network).

Elliott said that slot receiver Billy Kemp IV should return to action after missing the last two games with a kidney issue, while safety Antonio Clary is also expected to return to action against the Blue Devils. Clary made the trip to Syracuse, but did not play due to a “stinger.”

Kemp, who is fourth on UVA’s all-time receptions list with 179, is sixth nationally among active FBS players in most career receptions.

“Billy is back,” Elliott said. “It was a situation, probably more so my call last week than anything. He went to the doctor [last] Wednesday and was cleared. But he hadn’t practiced in a week and a half, hadn’t played.

“You’re talking about a kidney issue with a reaction to some sickness that he had before. I just didn’t want to put him in a situation where he takes a shot on that kidney and we don’t know.”

Elliott decided for Kemp not to take the trip to Syracuse, but instead stay home and rest to make sure the kidney issue had cleared up.

“He’s back flying around,” the coach said of Kemp. “Excited to get him back going.”

Meanwhile, Elliott decided to let Clary make the trip in hopes he would be cleared for a game-day decision, but the team doctor said the safety’s shoulder wasn’t where it needed to be in recovery. Reports on Monday this week were that it was anticipated Clary will be at full-strength for Duke.

Another safety, senior Coen King, was not a consideration for travel, where the team is limited to 80 players. King, who has a sprain to his MCL, hasn’t practiced since the injury, but is working out on the side to try to stay in shape.

“We’re hoping it’s nothing major, just a knee sprain,” Elliott said. “That’s one of those deals, it depends on the guy. That could be a two-week, four-week. It just depends on how quickly those guys can heal and what their pain tolerance is.”

There were three more changes on UVA’s depth chart, with sophomore Jestus Johnson III moving to the starting job at center over sophomore regular Ty Furnish, freshman place-kicker Will Bettridge named starter for field goals and PATs over senior Brendan Farrell, and junior D’Sean Perry stepping in as starter at the Mike linebacker role for regular Nick Jackson, who has to sit out the first half of the Duke game due to a targeting penalty in the second half at Syracuse.

“What you love about Perry is he’s physical, he’s strong, he’s a violent guy, who is twitchy,” Elliott said of the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Gulliver Prep in Miami, Fla. “He’s one of the more twitchy guys we have on the team.”

Coming into the season, the defensive staff felt the best thing for Perry would be moving him to a linebacker spot from his old position as an edge rusher, and that seems to have paid off. Last weekend, they had him back on the edge because of depth.

“What you like is the ability to go sideline to sideline,” Elliott said. “You’re playing a team that can spread you out [Duke], and has skill guys that can run. We have to have a backer that can defend the pass but also the run.”

Elliott switched centers, choosing to go with the 6-3, 306-pound Johnson over the 6-3, 279 Furnish.

“Man, I love Ty Furnish,” Elliott said. “What you’re seeing is a young guy that’s trying to figure it out. He has to learn on the go. The reason [for the switch] is because of the odd front and what we’ve noticed is for Ty, that’s probably not the best thing for him when he’s got a 300-pounder sitting on his nose right away.”

Elliott said that Furnish gave the team everything he had but abandoned technique, and that the bigger-bodied Johnson gives the offense a little better chance against the odd-man front.

“Right now, Jestus has the hot hand and we’re going to go with him, but we’re going to need Ty Furnish down the road,” Elliott said. “There’s a reason why he was a starter coming out of fall camp because he proved it on the practice field.”

As far as Virginia’s kicking game goes, the switch kind of occurred during Saturday’s 22-20 loss at Syracuse. Farrell, who was 11 of 13 on field goals in 2021, is only 4 of 8 this season, including two misses against the Orange. The misses Saturday were from 48 and 50 yards, and not even close.

Bettridge had an extra-point attempt blocked later in the game, but Elliott decided to stay with the switch.

“So the plan going forward is, man, I’m going to give Bettridge a shot to see what he can do, let him go into the week knowing that he’s going to be the guy that’s going to handle the field-goal duties,” the coach said. “Just let Farrell focus on kickoffs, but also be ready in case we have to make a change back.

“The biggest thing is on the two that we missed, good snap, good hold, good protection, we just miss-hit it. We’ve had a couple where we’ve miss-hit. You got to have points. I know he’s trying, but he’s got to work through it. Right now, with Will, that’s what we brought him here to do. I’ve got to give him a shot, see if he can be more consistent for us.”

Recruiting Note:

Rodney Lora, a 6-4, 270-pound defensive lineman from Woodberry Forest, announced on his social media account that he had decommitted from Virginia. Originally from New Jersey, Lora, a 3-star, chose UVA over Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Michigan, Indiana and Rutgers.