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.