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The big 2014 Virginia football preview: Can London pull off a comeback?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Mike London has reached Year 5 at Virginia because of potential and potential alone. His Cavaliers have won six games in two years, but recruiting means upside, and Virginia has quite a bit of it in 2014. They did last year, too, though.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. All the ingredients of a successful program ... except the success

According to 247 Sports, Virginia's last four recruiting classes have all ranked 32nd or better in the team rankings. According to Rivals.com, the Cavaliers will begin 2014 with former four- or five-star recruits at running back (Taquan Mizzell), receiver (Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell, Canaan Severin, Jamil Kamara), offensive line (Steven Moss), defensive line (Eli Harold, Mike Moore, Kwontie Moore, Andrew Brown), and, more than anywhere else, defensive back (Brandon Phelps, Tim Harris, Demetrious Nicholson, Kirk Garner, Quin Blanding).

Head coach Mike London is entering his fifth year on the job -- few hires make it that far today -- and his coaching staff is loaded with veterans of big-time college or professional football: Tom O'Brien, Jon Tenuta, Steve Fairchild, Mike Archer.

The Hoos have had four players drafted over the last two years. Virginia had one of the most efficient defenses, and one of the most aggressive, effective pass defenses, in the country in 2013.

The Cavaliers return 17 starters in 2014. They return almost every member of an excellent secondary, plus five front-seven members who logged at least 7.5 tackles for loss in 2013. The offensive line is big and seasoned. The offensive backfield is positively loaded with both experience and high ceilings. This program has all the makings of a up-and-comer ready to break through.

The only thing missing is any semblance of either success or a potential breakthrough.

This burgeoning power has gone 6-18 since an appearance in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl. Since suffering only one losing season in 19 years between 1987-2005, they've suffered five in the last six years, three in four under London.

London crafted a nearly perfect résumé for a future Virginia head coach. He was a successful defensive line coach at both Boston College and Virginia. He had NFL coaching experience (Houston Texans, 2005). He was the defensive coordinator for two of Virginia's best defenses of the last decade (2006-07). He led Richmond to the 2008 FCS Championship in 2008 and went 24-5 in two years there, then moved about an hour northwest, back to Charlottesville.

London has exceeded expectations from a recruiting standpoint, and he has loaded his staff with wise old hands. And he has barely won anything. One has to figure London got a fifth year on the job, in part, because of recruiting and potential. Despite diminishing returns, Virginia still landed top-35 classes in 2013 and 2014. And to be sure, Virginia will be better than it was last year, perhaps very much so. Experience of this level almost inevitably leads to improvement.

But how much improvement is enough from a team that enters 2014 on a nine-game losing streak overall and a 10-year losing streak to Virginia Tech and lost at home to Ball State by 21 points and Clemson by 49?

Virginia was better than its record would suggest last year (at 79th, the Cavs were ahead of teams like Buffalo, UL-Lafayette, Arkansas, San Diego State, and Rutgers) and really is rich with experience this fall. It feels like the only thing less likely than Virginia losing this much with this level of recruiting would be Virginia suddenly becoming a good team again, but with this ceiling and experience, the Hoos will at least have a non-zero shot of doing so.

That isn't really something you put on season ticket posters, but it's the best I can do. Virginia Football 2014: Hope is not lost, but don't get too worked up over here.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 79
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug BYU 30 19-16 W 12.8 - 14.2 L
7-Sep Oregon 5 10-59 L 17.5 - 31.6 L
21-Sep VMI N/A 49-0 W 26.5 - 2.1 W
28-Sep at Pittsburgh 54 3-14 L 4.4 - 4.0 W
5-Oct Ball State 57 27-48 L 27.5 - 24.2 W 2.5
12-Oct at Maryland 63 26-27 L 31.8 - 37.1 L 1.7
19-Oct Duke 41 22-35 L 19.9 - 26.3 L 3.3
26-Oct Georgia Tech 34 25-35 L 24.9 - 34.2 L -3.5
2-Nov Clemson 16 10-59 L 14.6 - 29.2 L -6.5
9-Nov at North Carolina 38 14-45 L 19.6 - 28.0 L -8.8
23-Nov at Miami 36 26-45 L 25.5 - 21.1 W -6.9
30-Nov Virginia Tech 27 6-16 L 23.6 - 25.9 L -6.1
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -11.9% 108 +4.6% 39 -0.4% 79
Points Per Game 19.8 111 33.3 99
Adj. Points Per Game 20.7 116 23.2 22

2. It only took one injury for the whole thing to fall apart

Through three games, Virginia wasn't exactly showing epic promise, but the Cavs were winning. They had lucked into a win over BYU -- I would certainly say that getting outgained by 139 yards and winning by three involves some luck -- and handled VMI as you're supposed to handle VMI. They got smoked by Oregon, but that will happen; if they could play well at home and steal a road win over a Pitt or Maryland, they could be bowling.

The offense improved, but only to a level that was still well below average. But when cornerback Demetrious Nicholson was lost for the season with an injury against Ball State, the defense stumbled just long enough for the Hoos to lose some winnable games (by one at Maryland, but 13 and 10 at home to Duke and Georgia Tech) and rule out bowl eligibility. But even as the defense rebounded, the team kept losing.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Virginia 17.7, Opponent 15.2 (plus-2.5)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Opponent 31.0, Virginia 22.2 (minus-8.8)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 2 games): Virginia 24.6, Opponent 23.5 (plus-1.1)

In 11 games against FBS opponents, Virginia's offense peaked at 5.5 yards per play. The national average was around 5.7. In eight games, the offense was at 4.8 or lower; in five, 3.8 or lower. A proclaimed "pro-style offense" helped to draw blue-chippers like Taquan Mizzell to Charlottesville, but the passing game was a trainwreck, there were no big-play weapons to be found (outside of maybe running back Khalek Shepherd), and an experienced line couldn't make enough of a difference. Like Wake Forest, Virginia wasted an exciting defense by giving it next to no support.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.98 121 IsoPPP+ 87.5 119
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 35.5% 119 Succ. Rt. + 90.6 92
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 33.9 120 Def. FP+ 96.4 94
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.3 118 Redzone S&P+ 92.3 90
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 30.5 ACTUAL 26 -4.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 90 103 93 83
RUSHING 77 86 85 73
PASSING 83 115 97 78
Standard Downs 94 88 94
Passing Downs 114 100 125
Q1 Rk 70 1st Down Rk 84
Q2 Rk 95 2nd Down Rk 111
Q3 Rk 106 3rd Down Rk 61
Q4 Rk 107

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
David Watford 6'2, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 244 427 2202 8 15 57.1% 19 4.3% 4.6
Greyson Lambert 6'5, 220 So. 3 stars (5.7) 33 75 340 1 2 44.0% 5 6.3% 3.5
Matt Johns 6'5, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Brendan Marshall 6'5, 210 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Corwin Cutler 6'4, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

3. A pass-first offense that couldn't pass

Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild was Sonny Lubick's offensive coordinator during Colorado State's heyday (1997-2000). He replaced Mike Martz as the St. Louis Rams' coordinator from 2003-05 and ran the show for the Buffalo Bills' offense from 2006-07. He spent four years as Colorado State's head coach (2008-11). In almost 20 years of running an offense, Fairchild has most likely never had a less effective quarterback arrangement than he had in 2013.

Virginia had a pass-first offense that couldn't even remotely pass. David Watford took most of the snaps behind center and was spelled with increasing frequency by then-freshman Greyson Lambert late in the year. Watford averaged 9.0 yards per completion, an absurdly low number even by short-passing-game standards. To be effective at 9.0 yards per completion, your completion rate needs to be 70 percent or higher. Watford's was 57 percent. He crossed 60 percent just twice in his last nine games and managed a passer rating greater than a paltry 115 just twice (and once was against VMI). Lambert came in and provided explosive numbers by comparison (10.3 yards per completion!) ... with an atrocious 44 percent completion rate. Against Clemson, Lambert was a combined 7-for-27 for 87 yards and two interceptions.

There are bad passing games, and there's Virginia's passing game. The Hoos were more explosive than exactly one team on passing downs: Florida International. And it's not like you can only blame the quarterbacks. Only running backs managed a greater than 60 percent catch rate, and only Tim Smith (15.0 yards per catch) and Keeon Johnson (14.1) even hinted at some level of explosiveness. There was just nothing here.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Kevin Parks RB 5'8, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 227 1031 11 4.5 4.6 32.2%
David Watford QB 6'2, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 85 344 3 4.0 3.9 36.5%
Khalek Shepherd RB 5'8, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 51 304 1 6.0 9.5 31.4%
Taquan Mizzell RB 5'10, 185 So. 5 stars (6.1) 45 184 1 4.1 4.1 33.3%
Daniel Hamm RB 5'10, 190 RSFr. NR 23 141 2 6.1 2.2 65.2%
LaChaston Smith RB 6'0, 215 So. 3 stars (5.7) 10 44 0 4.4 2.5 50.0%
Kye Morgan RB 5'11, 175 So. 3 stars (5.6) 8 13 0 1.6 0.9 12.5%
Darius Jennings WR 5'11, 175 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 4 19 0 4.8 8.7 25.0%
Greyson Lambert QB 6'5, 220 So. 3 stars (5.7) 4 5 0 1.3 2.3 25.0%

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jake McGee TE 81 43 395 53.1% 16.9% 47.9% 4.9 -182 4.9 34.2
Darius Jennings WR-Z 5'11, 175 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 75 38 340 50.7% 15.6% 43.9% 4.5 -183 4.6 29.4
Kevin Parks RB 5'8, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 45 38 329 84.4% 9.4% 53.7% 7.3 -76 7.5 28.5
Tim Smith WR-Z 45 26 389 57.8% 9.4% 52.9% 8.6 56 9.7 33.7
Keeon Johnson WR-X 6'3, 215 So. 3 stars (5.6) 44 20 282 45.5% 9.2% 50.0% 6.4 -11 6.0 24.4
Taquan Mizzell RB 5'10, 185 So. 5 stars (6.1) 37 29 164 78.4% 7.7% 42.9% 4.4 -156 3.8 14.2
Zachary Swanson TE 6'6, 260 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 33 19 173 57.6% 6.9% 64.3% 5.2 -71 5.3 15.0
Khalek Shepherd RB 5'8, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 31 23 125 74.2% 6.5% 64.3% 4.0 -135 3.8 10.8
Dominique Terrell WR-Z 5'11, 175 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 25 14 107 56.0% 5.2% 55.0% 4.3 -75 5.1 9.3
E.J. Scott WR 14 3 30 21.4% 2.9% 0.0% 2.1 -43 0.5 2.6
Kyle Dockins WR-W 6'3, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 13 8 96 61.5% 2.7% 40.0% 7.4 -3 6.5 8.3
Canaan Severin WR-W 6'2, 225 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 10 5 43 50.0% 2.1% 0.0% 4.3 -26 3.0 3.7
Miles Gooch WR-Z 6'3, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 8 2 25 25.0% 1.7% N/A 3.1 -18 0.0 2.2
Rob Burns TE 6'7, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 6 1 0 16.7% 1.3% N/A 0.0 -30 0.0 0.0
Jamall Brown WR-X 6'0, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Andre Levrone WR-X 6'2, 210 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Ryan Santoro WR-W 6'2, 205 RSFr. NR
Jamil Kamara WR 6'2, 210 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)

4. Starving for big plays

Johnson did show some glimpses of explosiveness as a freshman, backup running back Khalek Shepherd had a combined 18 carries for 164 yards against Oregon, Maryland, and Miami. Both Kevin Parks and five-star sophomore Taquan Mizzell have perfectly acceptable speed. And at the very least, incoming freshman Jamil Kamara gives Virginia another four-star option. In theory, there's athleticism here, but almost none of it translated to on-field big plays; Virginia had 34 gains of 20+ yards in 2013, 121st in the country. Without eating up big chunks of yardage, you have to play nearly flawless, efficient football to move the ball. Virginia was neither flawless nor particularly efficient.

Though almost everybody returns, the skill position roster could look quite a bit different this fall. Lambert overtook Watford as starting quarterback. Johnson, Kyle Dockins (eight catches in 2013), and Miles Gooch (two catches) finished the spring on the first string. That doesn't mean it will remain that way in the fall, but it does serve as a reminder that no incumbents are safe when the incumbents aren't actually very good.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 94.4 2.89 2.33 34.8% 69.0% 20.4% 143.6 4.8% 4.4%
Rank 90 75 123 108 65 77 23 70 28
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Morgan Moses LT 43
Luke Bowanko C 37
Conner Davis LG 6'5, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 20
Jay Whitmire LT 6'6, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 13
Eric Smith RT 6'5, 295 So. 2 stars (5.4) 8
Ross Burbank RG 6'4, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 4
Cody Wallace LG 6'4, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.1) 3
Jackson Matteo C 6'5, 290 So. 2 stars (5.3) 1
Sadiq Olanrewaju LT 6'6, 290 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Sean Karl RT 6'6, 305 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Michael Mooney RT 6'6, 290 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0
Eric Tetlow C 6'6, 310 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0
Ryan Doull RG 6'5, 305 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0
Jack McDonald RG 6'5, 280 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Jake Fieler RG 6'5, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Steven Moss OL 6'5, 275 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

5. So many sophomores

Compared to the other numbers, Virginia's line stats weren't too bad. Considering the Cavaliers had two linemen drafted (Morgan Moses was a third-rounder, Luke Bowanko a sixth-rounder), this makes sense.

But two guys do not a line make, and Virginia still returns six players with starting experience (49 career starts), including two sophomores. Five other sophomores will likely have a spot on the depth chart, as could freshmen Jake Fieler (in for spring) and Steven Moss (a four-star guy) pretty soon. The left side of the line is experienced, but even if the line numbers get a bit shakier in 2014, the future is bright for this unit.

Of course, one could say the same about the offense as a whole. It's possible that the best quarterback (Lambert), running back (Mizzell), and receiver (Johnson) are also sophomores. This offense could develop rather quickly in 2015 and 2016. The question is, who will be coaching these players at that time?

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.36 120 IsoPPP+ 90.9 109
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.9% 22 Succ. Rt. + 119.1 10
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.2 88 Off. FP+ 99.5 68
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.9 116 Redzone S&P+ 104.6 42
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 25.5 ACTUAL 21.0 -4.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 66 24 10 40
RUSHING 75 37 23 60
PASSING 67 16 7 26
Standard Downs 11 8 75
Passing Downs 55 41 108
Q1 Rk 28 1st Down Rk 17
Q2 Rk 9 2nd Down Rk 18
Q3 Rk 16 3rd Down Rk 39
Q4 Rk 78

6. A glitchy Michigan State

The offense gave the defense almost no points and awful field position, but the defense still allowed 16 or fewer points four times and played above average-to-good defense for most of the season. Jon Tenuta's D was ultra aggressive in 2013 and produced some of the best success rates in the country. The Cavaliers were outstanding on standard downs, and while glitches started to appear on passing downs, this defense was still successful more often than not. And as I've discussed quite a bit this offseason, if you have to choose one -- efficiency or explosiveness -- you might actually want to choose the former.

Of course, when breakdowns did happen, they were huge breakdowns. The Cavaliers were 39th in allowing 174 gains of 10+ yards but were 100th in allowing 69 gains of 20+ yards and 115th in allowing 39 gains of 30+ yards. You were either gaining three yards or 35 on Virginia. ("We all know how aggressive Jon Tenuta is defensively, and there were times last year when he went overboard.") This was, in essence, a defense similar in style to Michigan State's -- we dare you to beat us deep (it just got beaten a bit more frequently than Michigan State's did).

What's exciting, of course, is that this good defense returns almost everybody.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 115.7 2.70 2.96 37.6% 57.1% 22.9% 111.9 5.4% 7.8%
Rank 19 36 29 45 13 19 38 45 41
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Eli Harold DE 6'4, 235 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 12 42.5 6.9% 15.0 8.5 0 1 2 0
Jake Snyder DE 12 35.5 5.7% 7.5 1.5 0 5 1 0
David Dean DT 6'1, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 30.5 4.9% 7.5 4.0 0 1 1 0
Chris Brathwaite (2012) DT 6'1, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 27.5 4.3% 10.0 3.5 0 0 1 0
Brent Urban DT 8 26.5 4.3% 11.5 1.0 0 9 0 0
Mike Moore DE 6'4, 270 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 11 10.0 1.6% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Trent Corney DE 6'3, 250 Jr. NR 12 8.0 1.3% 4.0 2.0 0 1 1 0
Donte Wilkins DT 6'2, 290 So. 3 stars (5.6) 9 7.5 1.2% 2.0 0.5 0 0 1 0
Greg Gallop DT 6'1, 300 Sr. NR 4 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kwontie Moore DE 6'2, 250 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 2 2.0 0.3% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Andre Miles-Redmond DT 6'4, 280 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Jack English DE 6'5, 265 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Andrew Brown DT 6'4, 300 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
J.J. Jackson DE 6'4, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

7. A potentially excellent line

The Cavs' two-deep is almost completely intact at linebacker and in the secondary, and while the line must replace two starters (end Jake Snyder and tackle Brent Urban), it also gets one starter back from 2012 (tackle Chris Brathwaite, an academics casualty in 2013). And because of depth, Brathwaite spent most of spring ball dominating walk-ons on the third string.

In Eli Harold, Virginia has one of the best defensive ends in the country, a blue-chipper from Virginia Beach who is absolutely living up to his potential. In David Dean, the Hoos might have one of the quicker tackles in the ACC, one capable of both standing up to power blocking and getting into the backfield on passing downs. In Mike Moore and Kwontie Moore, UVA has two four-star juniors who showed potential (2.0 tackles for loss among their 12.0 tackles) while buried on the depth chart. In Brathwaite, Greg Gallop and Donte Wilkins, they have three nearly identical tackles to fill out the two-deep. In incoming freshman Andrew Brown (in for spring), they have someone ready to blow up the two-deep at tackle.

Outside of Florida State and Clemson, Virginia probably has the best, deepest defensive line in the league. (And yes, in almost any circumstance, to judge the rest of the ACC effectively, we have to start with "Outside of Florida State and Clemson...")

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Daquan Romero WLB 6'1, 235 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 66.5 10.7% 7.5 1.5 0 4 0 0
Henry Coley MLB 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 66.0 10.6% 10.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Max Valles SLB 6'5, 240 So. 2 stars (5.4) 10 15.5 2.5% 5.5 4.0 0 4 1 0
Demeitre Brim SLB 6'3, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 12.5 2.0% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Darius Lee WLB 6'1, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 7.5 1.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
D.J. Hill WLB 6'0, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 7.0 1.1% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Zach Bradshaw WLB 6'3, 220 So. 3 stars (5.6) 5 6.0 1.0% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Mark Hall SLB 6'2, 245 So. 3 stars (5.6) 9 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Micah Kiser MLB 6'2, 225 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Anthony Harris SS 6'1, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 61.0 9.8% 3.5 1 8 6 1 0
DreQuan Hoskey CB 6'0, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 40.0 6.5% 3 0 1 6 0 0
Maurice Canady CB 6'2, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 9 35.5 5.7% 2 2 0 8 1 0
Brandon Phelps FS 6'0, 185 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 12 35.0 5.6% 1 0 0 3 0 0
Tim Harris CB 6'2, 200 So. 4 stars (5.8) 11 21.0 3.4% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Rijo Walker FS 12 19.5 3.1% 0.5 0 0 0 1 0
Demetrious Nicholson CB 5'11, 185 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 5 16.0 2.6% 0 0 1 4 0 0
Kelvin Rainey SS 6'1, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5) 9 9.0 1.5% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Divante Walker CB 5'11, 190 So. 2 stars (5.3) 11 7.5 1.2% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Mason Thomas SS 6'0, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 6 1.5 0.2% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Cooper FS 6'0, 190 So. 3 stars (5.7)
C.J. Moore CB 5'10, 160 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Wilfred Wahee FS 5'11, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3)
Kirk Garner CB 5'11, 180 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Malcolm Cook SS 6'1, 205 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Quin Blanding S 6'4, 210 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Jeff Farrar CB 6'1, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

8. A potentially spectacular secondary

You can obviously be too aggressive for your own good at times. Tenuta toed that line in 2013, but can you blame him? With an offense that ineffective, Virginia's defense had to create its own breaks and did so effectively at times. The offense isn't likely to improve by leaps and bounds, so expect another risk-taking affair from Tenuta this fall. But he really might have the bodies to pull it off.

If the line is the strongest unit on the defense, it's not without quite a bit of competition from the other two units. Last year's starting lienbackers combined for 23 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and eight passes defensed. They all return, as do the backups. Meanwhile, thanks to injuries and shuffling in 2013, Virginia returns four cornerbacks who both saw extensive playing time and made some plays. Nicholson was getting his hand on a pass per game before his injury, DreQuan Hoskey and Maurice Canady had five tackles for loss and 15 passes defensed between the two of them, and four-star sophomore Tim Harris more or less held his own as a freshman.

These corners will team with a pair of senior safeties ... that is, unless some youngsters can push the seniors for playing time. Anthony Harris was probably a bit lucky to pick off eight passes while breaking up six (the typical ratio of INTs to PBUs is about one to four, not four to three), but he still got his hands on 14 passes while making 3.5 stops behind the line. Brandon Phelps is decent at cleaning up messes. Behind them, three sophomores are vying for the role of 2015 starter, but will have to hold off incoming five-star freshman Quin Blanding to see the field in 2014.

Virginia has had more success recruiting for its secondary than for any other unit, and it shows. Now if only one of these guys could line up at wideout...

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Alec Vozenilek 5'10, 190 Sr. 85 41.2 7 29 23 61.2%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Dylan Sims 6'0, 185 So. 38 61.3 14 0 36.8%
Ian Frye 6'6, 195 Jr. 14 62.3 3 0 21.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Alec Vozenilek 5'10, 190 Sr. 14-15 11-11 100.0% 1-4 25.0%
Ian Frye 6'6, 195 Jr. 10-10 2-3 66.7% 1-1 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Darius Jennings KR 5'11, 175 Sr. 24 21.8 0
Taquan Mizzell KR 5'10, 185 So. 21 16.5 0
Dominique Terrell PR 5'11, 170 Sr. 18 7.9 0
Tim Smith PR 13 6.2 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 79
Field Goal Efficiency 32
Punt Return Efficiency 80
Kick Return Efficiency 119
Punt Efficiency 51
Kickoff Efficiency 62
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 62

9. Find a return man

Virginia was decent-to-good in terms of both place-kicking and kick/punt coverage last fall.

But wow, were returns a drain on the field position game. To offset an awful offense, the Cavaliers needed as much field position help as possible from the special teams unit but got very little from Darius Jennings and Taquan Mizzell on kicks and Dominique Terrell and Tim Smith on punts. This team has athletes; surely one of them can at least produce average numbers in the return spot.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug UCLA 20
6-Sep Richmond NR
13-Sep Louisville 16
20-Sep at BYU 33
27-Sep Kent State 107
4-Oct Pittsburgh 39
18-Oct at Duke 56
25-Oct North Carolina 35
1-Nov at Georgia Tech 44
8-Nov at Florida State 1
22-Nov Miami 30
28-Nov at Virginia Tech 19
Five-Year F/+ Rk -6.2% (78)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 34
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -5 / -5.0
TO Luck/Game +0.0
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 17 (7, 10)

10. Opportunities at home

Virginia is basically Wake Forest with more size. Like the Demon Deacons, the Cavaliers had a salty, fun defense whose effect was completely wasted by a feckless offense. And as with Wake, it's probably unfair to assume the offense will improve at any sort of magic, drastic rate in a single offseason. Like Wake, Virginia's offense is loaded with sophomores, and the Hoos probably have greater upside in guys like Mizzell and company. But like Wake, whatever upside the offense has probably won't be reached until 2015 or beyond.

That said, the defense is going to be awesome, potentially great, and it's hard not to notice the opportunities Virginia will have at home in 2015. UCLA, Louisville, Pitt, North Carolina, and Miami all come to Charlottesville (eat at Mel's while you're in town, visiting fans!). Beat Richmond and Kent State and go 3-2 in the above games, and you're one upset from bowl eligibility.

That's probably too much to ask, of course, but it's at least on the table. And with a young, athletic team, some early momentum could be rather beneficial. This isn't going to be a good team in 2014, but it could be competent and strong enough to improve its win total by at least two or three games. And if Mike London has reached Year 5 because of potential and potential alone, that might be enough production to achieve a Year 6.

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