Name: Donovan Dowling
24/7: 81, three stars; #193 WR, VA #48
ESPN: 72, three stars; #210 WR, VA #43, East #220
Rivals: 5.4, two stars
Scout: two stars
Other offers: Marshall, various I-AA
At this point in the recruiting series, we're going to have to establish some uncomfortable facts. Donovan Dowling committed in November, by which time nearly every door had been closed to Mike London on account of losing ten games (or being on the way to doing so.) The recruiting focus shifted almost exclusively to scrounging the bargain bin for projects and players who had, for whatever reason, missed out on the recruiting cycle. The reason I keep using words like "almost" is Jamil Kamara. Every commit besides him, from here on out, is such a project, most of them having either picked up football late or been injured right when they needed to be on the camp circuits. And while individually, each one of these guys has reasons they might pan out and be the proverbial diamond in the rough, the odds are against them. Collectively, there's just a lower chance of stardom from this batch. That's just going to have to be the overshadowing truth in the rest of these profiles.
Depressing stuff out of the way, Donovan Dowling is not one of those guys who is a physical freak who barely knows which way his shoulder pads go. He's been at this football thing for a while, though he was offered originally as the sort of generic athlete that Mike London offers all the time. In high school he was more productive than flashily athletic, this past season scoring five touchdowns of 82 or more yards. All in different ways, too, as he played both ways for Varina. As a junior he made the RTD's all-metro team as a receiver, catching 42 passes for 587 yards.
And finally, maybe the highest praise of all: his high school coach called him the most dominant player but one that he'd ever coached. So with that being the case, why the two-star ratings and utter lack of I-A offers?
My guess, and only guess because reporting on Dowling is slim, is that the answer can be found in ESPN's evaluation, which makes it clear he's got no explosion in his step. Usually you have to parse these reports a little bit; they're sensitive to being overly critical, so they use words like "flashes the ability to" or "can do X" in order to mean "doesn't always" or even "doesn't usually." If they specifically say "does not" or "is not" then they really mean it. And in Dowling's case, "quick twitch," "sudden athlete," and "initial quickness" are all phrases they use to describe what Dowling lacks.
This makes him a lousy fit as a cornerback and probably as a linebacker, which is occasionally mentioned - it would take a few years to teach the linebacker position to the point where he'd be useful. Especially outside 'backer. Safety would be a better bet, as Dowling is accustomed to playing defensive back and your quickness at safety is as much dependent on your mental acuity as physical skills. However, Dowling appears initially headed for wide receiver.
This is a logical choice for several reasons. One, the impending WR exodus, with E.J. Scott and Adrian Gamble transferring (well, I assume this on Gamble, but he's no longer on the team) and Pablo Alvarez not coming back for a fifth year. Slotting Dowling at receiver makes far better sense from a depth chart standpoint. It makes good sense from a skills standpoint too; ESPN, despite all that about not being a super athlete, gives him good marks on skills useful for a possession receiver: length and size, catching in a crowd, field savvy (i.e., finding the holes in a zone), adjusting to the ball, and so forth. Besides, a guy who scores a whole bunch of 80-yard touchdowns might not have a first gear, but he's probably got a fifth. (And top-end speed is not that useful for a cornerback - if you ever have to use it, you're already in deep trouble.)
The one problem with being a guy with possession-receiver skills in UVA's offense is that tight ends are really the possession receivers. Canaan Severin came in as such a player and has barely gotten off the ground. We haven't really used a possession receiver since Matt Snyder. If the coaches (whether that's London or a whole new staff) decide we need a possession receiver, though, Dowling is a guy to look at. I don't think he'll ever top out as a #1, all-ACC guy, but if he plays up to his potential (and he's a 4.0 GPA student, always a coachable sort of player) then I picture an efficient chain-mover, 20-30 catches, 250-350 yards on the stat sheet.
We can has nice things?
You didn't think I'd go and say nothing about the Pitt game, did you? It's just, I have a to-do list that I'm behind on, which is really a good position to be in given what I consider the #1 challenge of this whole operation, but it necessitates some doubling up if I want to get in some basketball talk sometimes. And damn do I ever want to get in some basketball talk.
You've heard me say it before: there's no reason a game has to be a defense-free scoring carnival to be entertaining. Those are fun - so is a clash of styles such as the VCU game, and so is a defensive slugfest where a basket is a really big deal and nobody ever gets so much as a five-point lead. You could almost hear Tony Bennett tell Jamie Dixon, "Ain't gonna be no rematch."
The whole time, I confess it, I was waiting for the shoe to drop, big time. I figured it was happening when Cameron Wright (a career .250 three-point shooter) heaved a shot-put.... with half a second left on the shot clock.... and Joe Harris all over him.... and it banks the hell in. Living proof that the ACC scheduling office and referees aren't the only ones who observe Rule 2(b). I further absolutely expected the referees to decide that the shot clock had properly reset on the scramble in which Pitt scored with -4 seconds left. The fact that they didn't - and apparently, that one of them was spotted giving the Genuine Home-Cookin' clock operator what for - renews a small amount of faith in ACC refs.
Giving them credit for not 2b-ing us probably says something about my jade-colored glasses, but it's nice to know these days that in the struggle between 2b and TB, Coach is winning. UVA now has a pelt for its wall, and the good news is that Pitt didn't even drop out of the top 25. I know - the top 25 means zilch, but it's just nice to have the warm and fuzzy that people who are paid for their opinions saw fit to reward UVA more than punish Pitt.
Most of the conference is now exactly halfway through their season, and UVA sits with a surprising two game lead on the field (said field consisting of Pitt and Duke) and a game back of Syracuse - and with the most favorable schedule in the whole league. The guaranteed tiebreaker over Pitt is nice, and we have an ace in the hole over Duke, too: the fact that Duke must still play Carolina twice, just in time for UNC to be belatedly hitting their stride. (Also, that Duke must play Carolina while wearing Duke uniforms, which tends to fire up the Heels because obviously it does.) Syracuse will visit Duke, Pitt, and Florida State, all the while looking over their shoulder hoping we stumble against the putz parade in the next month. (At some point, we probably will. It's just the nature of things. Let's all promise not to run off a cliff when that happens.)
If you'll allow me to think loftily for a minute, I'd say the ceiling for this team - should it make a miracle run through the schedule that doesn't stop until they're cutting down the nets in Greensboro - is a 2 seed. If UVA just takes care of business against Boston College on Wednesday, Lunardi will probably say 4 seed on Thursday. I'd be good with that. I'd be better with taking this sucker one game at a time - not because the cliche says you should, but because this is too much fun not to.
-- Mike Tobey could use some coaching on passing out of a double-team. That having been duly noted, the refs could use some coaching on the fact that when the ballhandler is bashed upside the head and shoved so hard he travels, "traveling" is not the correct call.
-- I wish someone had just told me that Wright's prayer-bucket, with 6:52 to go, would be Pitt's last points except for a single free throw. My cardiac rate could've used the help.
-- Lamar Patterson had a completely terrible game. He shot 1-for-10 inside the arc. Here's a list of other players who've had completely terrible games against UVA: T.J. Warren, Pat Connaughton, Jabari Parker, Jarell Eddie. What do they have in common? All but Connaughton are their team's leading scorer, yes - and generally, that they're small forwards guarded by Joe Harris, or else Akil Mitchell.
-- Jamel Artis is a fine player for Pitt - a freshman, so nowhere near the star, but probably going to develop into a pretty good hoopster. And I think you'll take it 10 times out of 10 when he's the leading scorer.
-- By my count, Pitt fans can now commiserate with five or six other groups of ACC fans, none of whom, apparently, saw their teams bring their best game to the floor against UVA. What lucky coincidence for us that nobody bothers to actually play well against UVA. Nine games in and nobody has seen fit to bring their so-called A-game. We're so lucky to have such an accommodating conference.