Mike London

Offseason Q&A: Virginia

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Part two in our series looking at Notre Dame’s 2015 opponents. Check out our entry on Texas here. 

 

You can understand if Virginia fans aren’t dying to talk about the football season. That’s because the Cavaliers are back playing for the College World Series title, a return to Omaha and a chance to win the title for former Notre Dame assistant Brian O’Connor.

If O’Connor’s ability to bring the Hoos to the top of the mountain fulfilled the promise that the top-notch assistant showed when he worked under Paul Maineri in South Bend, Mike London’s tenure in Charlottesville has been a little less cheery.

Since taking over the program in 2010, London has had a winning record only once, an eight-win season that ended in a lopsided loss to a 7-5 Auburn team. So with one of the country’s most difficult schedules ahead of them and a head coach on the hot seat, forgive Virginia fans for enjoying these final days of the baseball season, especially if they can sneak pass Vanderbilt.

Nice enough to give us the intel on Virginia during the middle of a title run is Jay Pierce of Streaking the Lawn, the SBNation home for all things Virginia sports.

Let’s get to it.

 
Let’s start with pretty much the only connectivity between these two programs:

JON TENUTA.

Charlie Weis’ former defensive coordinator is now running the UVA defense, meaning that sunny press conference personality is now on display in Charlottesville.

How has the Tenuta era been at Virginia? And what type of defense will he utilize against Notre Dame? (Safe to guess, a blitz until you can blitz no more approach?)

Considering all of the frustration UVa fans have with the football program, Tenuta’s one of the more appreciated members on the coaching staff. Tenuta’s defense at UVa last season improved from allowing 433.1 yards per game in 2013 to 353.2 ypg. Turnover production is up, sacks are up, and the defense has a more aggressive style of play all around.

While they haven’t won too many games recently, no one would put that on the quality of the defense – and at the very least, I’ve enjoyed the team’s penchant for beating the crap out of the opposing QB weekly. The Hoos will run primarily out of a nickel set and certainly you can expect plenty of blitzes from any position out there.

 

After a relatively hard-luck 5-7 season, Mike London was brought back for a sixth season, a somewhat controversial decision. AD Craig Littlepage cited progress that wasn’t necessarily reflected in the won-loss record.

Tell Notre Dame fans a little bit about London the head coach. And if you think Littlepage made the right decision.

To put it bluntly: London is a great guy, solid recruiter, wonderful figurehead for a program, and has produced very little in terms of success on the field. Aside from an 8-5 2011 season, every one of his years at UVa has been a losing season, including some abysmal records in conference games.

He’s 23-38 in five years overall and has managed to win 11 ACC games in that timespan. Was keeping him the right decision? Perhaps there are/were pressures (financial, political, or otherwise) that led it, but to me, it says nothing more clearly than an acceptance of mediocrity by the athletic department.

 

Big news came last week with the transfer of Greyson Lambert after starting nine games last season. Matt Johns won the job out of spring practice, but what’s the state of a quarterback position that’s seemed like a rollercoaster since London came to town?

For most of Mike London’s tenure, UVa has used multiple starting quarterbacks each season, often switching out QBs every few series. Rarely does this ever work and as such, it’s brought little success to the position for the Wahoos. While Greyson Lambert was a leader on the team and probably the most talented of the quarterbacks, UVa fans can take solace in the fact that now there’s a legitimate QB1 with (hopefully) no threat of an in-game carousel.

Johns showed some moxie last year, appearing in 12 games, starting 3, and throwing for 1109 total yards with a 54.9% completion rate. While he brings a little more of a gunslinger mentality than recent UVa QBs, he did struggle with some costly turnovers at times, throwing 5 picks to match his 8 touchdowns.

Where does that leave the team this year? I like Johns. Especially now that he’ll have a whole summer and fall to know that he’s the go-to guy. However, if he gets hurt, or the wheels really come off, UVa’s only got RS-Fr Corwin Cutler, incoming Fr Nick Johns, and newly-committed transfer Connor Brewer as the scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. That said, with an experienced guy in Brewer transferring in this summer, perhaps the coaching staff can start shuffling again soon.

 

One gambling website put the over-under on Virginia wins this season at 4.5. The schedule is a meat grinder. The roster lost some talented players. But what are your expectations after a three-year stretch of 11-25 football?

Bet the farm on the under.

Really, like most fans, I try to be optimistic going into each season. But, as they say: “fool me five times, shame on me.” Like you said, the schedule is brutal.

At first glance, there’s one (should be) definite win and maybe one or two probable wins but there’s just way too many “ifs” to think this team will win five games.

If the defense can replace two star DEs, if Matt Johns stays healthy and shows a year’s worth of progression, if we continue whatever voodoo hex we have on Miami, if we catch a UCLA team replacing their star QB off guard, if we avoid disastrous time management blunders, if we finally manage to beat our coastal division overlords (that would be Duke, of course, not Virginia Tech). The list could go on and on.

UVa usually wins a game or two that they’re not supposed to each season, but getting to five wins would require that – plus not losing the game or two that they’ll be favored in. My expectation is a four-win season.

 

A handful of graduate transfers. Former 5-star recruits Andrew Brown and Taquan Mizzell. The home opener. I could make the argument that this game sure feels like a trap for Notre Dame.

Will you?

Absolutely. Would I bet on it? No.

But, considering our knack of handing one team a year a big upset, you can’t completely ignore the possibility of a UVa win here. As you said, there’s talent on the roster – though the defense is replacing a lot in the front seven. The team should come out amped for their home opener and the crowd should be lively with a big-name school in town.

I really like the potential of TJ Thorpe and Canaan Severin as the starting wideouts having months of reps with one (and only one) starting QB. You force a few turnovers (as we know Tenuta’s defense can do)…make a few plays here and there…get the desperate-for-a-winning-team crowd behind you…

I’ll say this: I’d be shocked if UVa pulled out the upset, but the players wouldn’t be. There’s enough talent and experience to keep it closer than most fans might expect. That said, the differences between the two programs should be clear by the second half and the Irish should get a double digit win – if they show up ready to play.

Kizer named MVP at annual ECHOES awards

echoes
@NDFootball Twitter
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DeShone Kizer was named the Monogram Club’s Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season at the 96th annual Notre Dame football awards banquet. Kizer was voted team MVP by his teammates, after throwing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 472 yards and eight scores.

He was one of 15 players honored with an award at the “ECHOES,” with the following accolades being given:

Equanimeous St. Brown, Offensive Player of the Year.
James Onwualu, Defensive Player of the Year
Greer Martini, Next Man In award
Drue Tranquill, Rockne Student-Athlete Award
Cole Luke, Nick Pietrosante Award
Isaac Rochell, Lineman of the Year
Quenton Nelson, Offensive Lineman of the Year
Scott Daly, Special Teams Player of the Year
Alex Bars, Newcomer of the Year, Offense
Nyles Morgan, Newcomer of the Year, Defense
Ben Stuttman, Scout Team Player of the Year, Offense
Jonathan Jones, Scout Team Player of the Year, Defense
Mark Harrell, Father Lange Iron Cross
Tyler Newsome, Irish Around the Bend

 

 

Notre Dame names 7 captains for 2017 team

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame named seven captains for the 2017 season, the most to wear the ‘C’ in school history. Quarterback DeShone Kizer, linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan, offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, safety Drue Tranquill and walk-on receiver Austin Webster were all given the honor.

McGlinchey returns in the role, the 22nd different two-time captain in the program’s history. New to the job are the rest, including Kizer, who has yet to make a decision on if he’ll return for 2017 yet.

After worries about the team’s leadership heading into the 2016, the naming of captains in the immediate aftermath of the season is a change—Brian Kelly not naming his team’s official leaders into August training camp last year. It’s not an unprecedented move for Kelly (he named Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd team captains at the banquet following the 2010 season), though it points to some changes—some subtle, others not—that’ll likely take hold after a four-loss season.

Webster, a rising senior reserve wide receiver from California who has yet to register a stat in a Notre Dame uniform, made his debut as a sophomore in 2015 against UMass, is the first active walk-on to receive the honor.

 

Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

aaron-banks
Tom Loy, Irish 247
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Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.

Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.

As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.

Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.