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Virginia football's improving, whether it's easy to notice or not

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It's bowl or bust for the Cavaliers, but with this defense and maybe an improved offense, UVA has a chance against a rough schedule.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. If you improve, and nobody notices, did you really improve?

On paper, this was a dynamite coaching performance.

It was an improve-or-leave year for Mike London at Virginia. Following a decent breakthrough in 2011, his second year as Virginia's head coach, London had managed a 6-18 record in 2012-13, and his Cavaliers had ranked below 80th in the F/+ ratings in three of his four years. That he got a fifth year was a surprise to some and likely aided by his ability to sign a few blue-chippers. But it seemed like he was going to need to turn things around in a major way to get a sixth year.

Sure enough, the offense went from awful to mediocre, and the defense went from good to very good. The Hoos improved from 82nd to 39th in F/+ and from two to five wins, and they did so with underclassmen playing significant roles. London needed improvement to save his job, and he got it.

But he got it in the most frustrating possible way. A 4-2 start (with a win over Louisville and a solid performance against UCLA) begot a 1-5 finish (with a quarterback controversy). It looked like London's job was safe in October, and six weeks later, people assumed he was gone again.

Guess who's back for a sixth year?

When Virginia hired London, he looked custom-made to succeed in Charlottesville. He grew up in the Hampton Roads area, he played his college ball at Richmond (his brother played for George Welsh at UVA), he had six years of experience as a UVA assistant, and he had wrecked shop in two years as Richmond's head coach (24-5 with an FCS title). And after an 8-5 finish in 2011, it looked like everything was headed in the right direction.

Solid recruiting bought London time, and now it has a chance to save him. London returns high-end skill position talent, deep lines, and a potentially fantastic secondary. He also faces one hell of a schedule. And he bears the burden of proof. That Virginia improved is on him; so is the fact that the Cavaliers had to improve significantly. And his own decision-making played a role in the Hoos' fade.

This is a tricky job. George Welsh and Al Groh proved that you can be consistently decent; in the 21 seasons between 1987 (Welsh's sixth year) and 2007 (Groh's seventh), Virginia attended 16 bowls, won at least seven games 18 times, and finished between 15th and 23rd in the AP poll seven times.

But in hiring a coach, you're not aiming for decent. UVA aimed high in hiring London, and London has aimed high in his attempt to build a factory of pro talent. It hasn't completely worked, but he still has a chance to figure it out.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 7-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 39
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug UCLA 12 20-28 L 83% 22.5 83%
6-Sep Richmond N/A 45-13 W 81% 20.6 100%
13-Sep Louisville 23 23-21 W 78% 18.1 63%
20-Sep at BYU 46 33-41 L 46% -2.2 13%
27-Sep Kent State 107 45-13 W 92% 32.1 100%
4-Oct Pittsburgh 43 24-19 W 70% 12.1 50%
18-Oct at Duke 51 13-20 L 46% -2.3 15%
25-Oct North Carolina 70 27-28 L 31% -11.8 17%
1-Nov at Georgia Tech 8 10-35 L 26% -15.3 1%
8-Nov at Florida State 15 20-34 L 54% 2.2 23%
22-Nov Miami 31 30-13 W 98% 48.0 100%
28-Nov at Virginia Tech 33 20-24 L 49% -0.6 31%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 28.5 66 20.5 19
Points Per Game 25.8 88 24.1 33

2. Regression cost Virginia 3 wins

It is a question without a good answer. When your starting quarterback goes down, and your backup does well in his absence -- better than the No. 1, actually -- do you put the starter back in when he's healthy? There is a line between loyalty and pragmatism that is sometimes impossible to find.

Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert was lost to injury during UVA's 41-33 loss to BYU; he had played well against Richmond, but his passer rating hadn't topped 117 against UCLA, Louisville, or BYU. Still, UVA was competitive with him.

Matt Johns came in against BYU and produced a rating of 126, then 138.1 (while rushing for 65 yards) against Kent State. He was less successful against Pitt and Duke (31-for-61, 418 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT), but while the passing game was less efficient, it had some semblance of aggression. Johns would complete 55 percent of his passes at 12.5 yards per completion in 2014; Lambert would complete 59 percent at 10.6.

The combination of Lambert's return and John's not-great play against Pitt and Duke meant Johns was back on the bench when North Carolina came to town. And with Lambert only once topping a rating of 123, UVA went 1-4 after his return.

Fair or unfair, Lambert's return coincided with Virginia regression. Grayson was good against Florida State and Miami but lacking at other times. Meanwhile, the defense went from great to merely good.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 6 games): 75% (~top 30 | record: 4-2)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 6 games): 51% (~top 65 | record: 1-5)

In terms of adjusted scoring margin (how a team would have fared against a perfectly average team each week), Virginia was plus-17.2 points per game in the first half of the season and plus-3.4 in the second. It's ridiculous to pin all of this two-touchdown regression on Lambert, but whatever the reasons, those two touchdowns would have come in handy in a seven-point loss to Duke, a one-point loss to UNC, a four-point loss to Virginia Tech, and a 14-point loss to Florida State.

UVA was a bit unlucky in only finishing 5-7 -- the win expectancy figures above suggest the Cavaliers would have won the UCLA game more often than not, and they had a fighting chance in a few other losses.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.80 98 IsoPPP+ 91.9 86
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.5% 101 Succ. Rt. + 96.9 78
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.0 52 Def. FP+ 101.0 53
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.7 111 Redzone S&P+ 86.4 110
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.7 ACTUAL 24 +0.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 90 90 80 86
RUSHING 100 96 95 102
PASSING 58 72 55 78
Standard Downs 92 93 86
Passing Downs 77 50 88
Q1 Rk 62 1st Down Rk 77
Q2 Rk 94 2nd Down Rk 77
Q3 Rk 71 3rd Down Rk 75
Q4 Rk 100

3. Always be closing

Virginia was better in the first half of the year, better in the first and third quarters than the second and fourth, and better outside of the opponent's red zone than in it. When stakes were low, the Cavaliers were somewhere between decent and strong. Then the stakes went up, and the Hoos faltered.

In fan parlance, we can call this a lack of fortitude or a penchant for choking. And sure, maybe that's part of it. Most likely, the Cavaliers were simply limited at quarterback and not good enough at running the ball, and while interesting tactics can keep the heat off for a while, they probably can't all game or all season.

Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild is a pro-style, balance-at-all-costs guy. That's not the most exciting approach, but it can work if you've got the pieces.

And in Lambert, it seemed like he had a heck of a quarterback prototype. Lambert was a big four-star whose every move screamed "pro-style." And he was only a sophomore, so he had plenty of time to grow into himself. But he simply didn't play as well as lanky, less-touted Matt Johns, and the offense didn't move as well.

  • Lambert: 5.7 yards per pass attempt (inc. sacks), 4.2% INT rate, 3.3 yards per (non-sack) carry
  • Johns: 6.5 yards per pass attempt, 3.1% INT rate, 7.3 yards per carry

Johns overtook Lambert on the depth chart this spring, and Lambert transferred. His raw potential earned him a spot at Georgia that his production certainly couldn't have.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Greyson Lambert
154 261 1632 10 11 59.0% 11 4.0% 5.7
Matt Johns 6'5, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8562 89 162 1109 8 5 54.9% 3 1.8% 6.5
David Watford
3 4 45 0 0 75.0% 1 20.0% 7.4
Connor Brewer
(Arizona)
6'2, 206 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9270
Corwin Cutler 6'4, 200 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8889
Nick Johns 6'4, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8615

4. Johns will have help

Virginia returns seven linemen with starting experience (68 career starts). The line wasn't incredible, but kept defenders out of the backfield for the most part (12th in Adj. Sack Rate, 64th in stuff rate) and got a push in short yardage (49th in power success rate). Running backs didn't get many open-field opportunities, but that could have been the backs' fault. The line appears decent enough to help Johns out.

Plus, in Canaan Severin, Johns has an underrated No. 1 receiver. Severin's production was better with Lambert (last five games: 19 catches, 312 yards), which could be an issue, but sophomore Andre Levrone had a solid rapport with Johns, and the addition of UNC graduate transfer T.J. Thorpe could create an athletic trio of big receivers.

A decent passing game, an experienced line, and Johns' mobility could make things easier for Virginia running backs.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Kevin Parks TB
189 745 4 3.9 3.9 29.1% 1 1
Khalek Shepherd TB
84 348 2 4.1 3.0 33.3% 6 1
Taquan Mizzell TB 5'10, 200 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9721 64 280 2 4.4 2.5 35.9% 1 0
Darius Jennings WR
24 115 1 4.8 5.1 41.7% 0 0
Greyson Lambert QB
24 79 2 3.3 7.6 25.0% 4 3
Matt Johns QB 6'5, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8562 19 138 1 7.3 5.4 57.9% 0 0
Daniel Hamm TB 5'10, 190 So. NR NR 17 75 1 4.4 1.8 47.1% 0 0
Albert Reid
(Maryland)
TB 5'9, 207 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8667 16 61 1 3.8 1.9 37.5% 1 !
David Watford QB
5 13 0 2.6 2.9 20.0% 0 0
Jordan Ellis TB 5'11, 220 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8442
LaChaston Smith TB 6'0, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8672
Olamide Zaccheaus TB 5'8, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8529







5. It's time, Taquan

Taquan Mizzell was a five-star recruit according to Rivals, a product of Virginia Beach Bayside, and he committed to Virginia in the lead-up to the Cavaliers' 2012 season. He stuck with the commitment after UVA's 4-8 campaign, despite offers from Clemson, Miami, Notre Dame, Tennessee, UCLA, and others.

London signed high-four-star defenders Eli Harold and Kwontie Moore in 2012, Mizzell and four-star DBs Kirk Garner and Tim Harris in 2013, and five-stars Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown in 2014. He has kept a lot of talent close to home, which is always impressive when you're recruiting to a school without vast historical success.

Most of it has been on the defensive side. Harold, a third-round pick of the 49ers this May, enjoyed a breakout year in 2014, and Blanding, thrust into a leadership role from Day 1, immediately looked the part.

But Mizzell has struggled. Or at least, he hasn't looked like a five-star. He became a decent efficiency option in 2014 -- 36 percent of his carries gained at least five yards, and he caught 39 passes with a 75 percent catch rate -- but the run game was lacking in explosiveness, and his 2.5 highlight yards per opportunity (not to mention 6.9 yards per catch) did not help.

Virginia's got Maryland transfer Albert Reid and some interesting young backs -- bigger guys like Jordan Ellis and LaChaston Smith and a potential change-of-pace guy in freshman Olamide Zaccheaus. But Mizzell will be given as big a load as he deserves. Time to prove the recruiting experts right.

UVA is Last Chance Island this year. Not only does London need to improve, and not only is Mizzell in need of a couple steps forward, but in Reid, Arizona/Texas transfer Connor Brewer, and Stanford transfer Charlie Hopkins, Virginia boasts quite a few who were highly regarded and need a late breakthrough.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Canaan Severin WR-F 6'2, 215 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8877 64 42 578 65.6% 16.1% 56.3% 9.0 72 9.0 73.1
Taquan Mizzell TB 5'10, 200 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9721 52 39 271 75.0% 13.1% 48.1% 5.2 -188 5.0 34.3
Andre Levrone WR-Z 6'2, 210 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8568 43 15 248 34.9% 10.8% 51.2% 5.8 38 5.8 31.4
Darius Jennings WR-X
41 27 521 65.9% 10.3% 48.8% 12.7 196 11.9 65.9
Miles Gooch WR
38 24 371 63.2% 9.6% 52.6% 9.8 80 9.9 46.9
Kevin Parks TB
38 30 179 78.9% 9.6% 52.6% 4.7 -171 4.8 22.6
T.J. Thorpe (UNC) WR-X 6'0, 200 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9213 33 16 237 48.5% 6.8% 57.6% 7.2 32 7.2 30.6
Zachary Swanson TE
25 14 185 56.0% 6.3% 64.0% 7.4 11 7.4 23.4
Doni Dowling WR-X 6'1, 215 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8100 25 17 141 68.0% 6.3% 24.0% 5.6 -62 6.6 17.8
Keeon Johnson WR-Z 6'3, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544 25 13 138 52.0% 6.3% 52.0% 5.5 -26 5.7 17.5
Khalek Shepherd TB
20 13 75 65.0% 5.0% 50.0% 3.8 -82 3.8 9.5
Kyle Dockins WR-F 6'3, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8185 13 5 48 38.5% 3.3% 53.8% 3.7 -20 3.6 6.1
Rob Burns TE 6'7, 260 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8519 2 2 11 100.0% 0.5% 100.0% 5.5 -12 N/A 1.4
Charlie Hopkins
(Stanford)
TE 6'6, 240 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8821
Brendan Marshall TE 6'5, 245 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8453
Jamall Brown WR-F 6'0, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8076
Evan Butts TE 6'4, 240 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8442
Umar Muhammad-Wyatt WR-X 6'1, 205 RSFr. NR NR
David Eldridge WR 6'1, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544

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 99.5 2.92 2.75 33.2% 69.0% 18.9% 161.4 3.2% 3.9%
Rank 76 69 106 115 49 64 12 26 12
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Conner Davis RG 32
Eric Smith RT 6'5, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8219 20
Ross Burbank RG 6'4, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8548 15
Jay Whitmire LT 6'6, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8725 13
Michael Mooney LT 6'6, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8479 10
Cody Wallace LG
9
Ryan Doull LG 6'5, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7852 6
Sadiq Olanrewaju LT 6'6, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8568 2
Jackson Matteo C 6'5, 295 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8005 2
John Pond LG 6'3, 320 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 0
Sean Karl RG 6'6, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8465 0
Jack English LT 6'5, 290 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8059 0
Jack McDonald C 6'5, 290 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8519 0
Eric Tetlow C 6'6, 315 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8253 0
Steven Moss RG 6'4, 290 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9157
Jake Fieler RT 6'5, 300 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8800
Grant Polk RT 6'6, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8467

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.81 43 IsoPPP+ 118.0 23
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.6% 30 Succ. Rt. + 120.3 14
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.7 19 Off. FP+ 104.0 25
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 24 Redzone S&P+ 127.9 6
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 30.1 ACTUAL 29.0 -1.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 29 19 12 23
RUSHING 18 10 9 15
PASSING 74 28 34 30
Standard Downs 17 10 23
Passing Downs 27 16 32
Q1 Rk 67 1st Down Rk 31
Q2 Rk 10 2nd Down Rk 34
Q3 Rk 26 3rd Down Rk 2
Q4 Rk 14

6. The defense deserved more

UCLA averaged 6.1 yards per play for the season but managed only 4.9 against Virginia. Louisville averaged 5.5, but 4.0 against the Hoos. Pitt: 6.2 and 4.8. Duke: 5.4 and 4.9.

For the first half of 2014, the Virginia defense was one of the country's best. The Cavaliers were good against the pass, great against the run, and elite in the red zone. They created more havoc than almost any defense and still did a good job of preventing big plays. They had six players with at least eight tackles for loss and 10 players with at least four passes defensed. They were the obvious reason for Virginia's 4-2 start. In terms of finishing drives, games, etc., they were the polar opposite of the offense.

As is often the case, one unit's struggles caused another's collapse. Injuries began to take a toll in the secondary, and after allowing 5.4 yards per play or fewer in six of the first seven games, UVA allowed 5.4 or more in four of the final five. This was still a good defense -- the Hoos allowed more than a national-average 28 points twice all year -- but it couldn't play at the level it needed to.

Some of last year's play-makers are gone, but you have to figure this remains a good defense. Will the offense do it a few more favors?

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 117.4 2.75 2.56 37.0% 59.3% 22.2% 131.7 8.8% 7.2%
Rank 13 37 17 41 22 28 19 4 68
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Eli Harold DE
12 41.5 6.6% 14.5 7.0 1 2 1 1
David Dean DT 6'1, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8731 12 30.5 4.9% 8.0 1.0 1 3 1 0
Mike Moore DE 6'4, 275 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9192 12 27.0 4.3% 8.0 3.0 0 2 0 0
Donte Wilkins DT 6'1, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8542 12 12.0 1.9% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kwontie Moore DE 6'2, 290 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9467 10 6.5 1.0% 2.0 2.0 0 0 2 0
Andrew Brown DT 6'4, 290 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9941 6 3.0 0.5% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Andre Miles-Redmond DT 6'4, 285 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8650 2 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Trent Corney DE 6'3, 250 Sr. NR NR
Darrious Carter DE 6'5, 235 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8179
Chris Peace DE 6'1, 240 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000
James Trucilla DT 6'1, 265 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8417
Steven Wright DE 6'4, 235 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8346








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Daquan Romero WLB
12 62.0 9.9% 8.0 2.0 1 3 2 1
Henry Coley MLB
12 59.0 9.4% 12.5 8.0 0 6 2 0
Max Valles SLB
12 39.5 6.3% 12.5 8.0 1 8 3 0
Micah Kiser MLB 6'2, 245 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8778 12 12.0 1.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mark Hall SLB 6'2, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8557 10 5.5 0.9% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Zach Bradshaw WLB 6'3, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8532 12 4.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Darius Lee OLB
11 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 1
D.J. Hill WLB
11 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Malcolm Cook SLB 6'1, 210 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8727
Jordan Jackson WLB 6'4, 215 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8503
Caanan Brown MLB 6'1, 230 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8001
C.J. Stalker WLB 6'2, 225 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8690
Jahvoni Simmons LB 6'1, 240 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9310
Dominic Sheppard LB 6'2, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8575








7. A lot of play-making gone

Of the 10 players with at least four passes defensed, five return. And in tackle David Dean and end Mike Moore, UVA still boasts a couple of known disruptors up front.

But it's hard to overlook the fact that Eli Harold and all three starting linebackers (Daquan Romero, Henry Coley, Max Valles) are gone. These four combined for 47.5 tackles for loss (more than three entire FBS teams -- San Jose State, Navy, and New Mexico State), 25 sacks (more than Arkansas and 48 other teams), three interceptions, 19 pass break-ups, and eight forced fumbles.

This is a good coaching staff, and coordinator Jon Tenuta has long known how to play aggressive defense. But when you lose that much play-making talent, it's difficult to ignore. That every lineman besides Harold returns is good, and there's nothing saying younger linebackers like Micah Kiser and Mark Hall won't step in and wreak havoc. We should expect this to be a sound front seven. But matching that lost production will be incredibly difficult.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Quin Blanding FS 6'1, 215 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9966 12 91.5 14.6% 2.5 1 3 6 0 0
Anthony Harris SS
12 78.5 12.5% 2 1 2 10 0 0
Maurice Canady CB 6'2, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8300 12 30.0 4.8% 1.5 0 3 12 1 0
Brandon Phelps FS
10 29.5 4.7% 0.5 0 1 5 0 0
Tim Harris CB 6'2, 200 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9150 10 18.0 2.9% 1 0 1 4 0 0
DreQuan Hoskey CB
12 18.0 2.9% 1 0 0 4 0 0
Wilfred Wahee SS 5'11, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8055 12 16.5 2.6% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Demetrious Nicholson (2013) CB 5'11, 185 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9719 5 16.0 2.6% 0 0 1 4 0 0
Divante Walker CB 5'10, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8042 10 8.0 1.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kelvin Rainey SS 6'1, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8506 10 5.0 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kirk Garner CB 5'9, 180 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8761 11 4.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mason Thomas FS 6'0, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7717 9 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darious Latimore CB 6'0, 165 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8457
Juan Thornhill S 6'1, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8587
T.J. Griffin CB 5'9, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8385








8. More than enough weapons in the secondary

Barring a collapse in the front seven, the secondary will still make plays. Despite playing almost the entire year without starting corner Demetrious Nicholson, and despite starting a freshman free safety, UVA still held opponents to only a 123.1 passer rating and only let three opponents fare better than a 132.

There are losses to account for; strong safety Anthony Harris was both instrumental in helping then-freshman Quin Blanding get acclimated and great in his ball-hawking responsibilities. Plus, Brandon Phelps was a solid third safety, and corner DreQuan Hoskey was a solid third corner.

But in bringing back Blanding and corners Maurice Canady, Tim Harris, and Nicholson, UVA has three-quarters of a strong starting secondary and four-fifths of a good nickel. If one of two juniors (Kelvin Rainey or Wilfred Wahee) is able to play competent at strong safety, UVA's fine in the back. The front seven is the concern, and it's only a concern because of the high bar it set.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Alec Vozenilek 58 42.5 8 14 15 50.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Dylan Sims 6'0, 190 Jr. 65 62.3 29 4 44.6%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Ian Frye 6'6, 215 Sr. 34-35 17-17 100.0% 5-10 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Darius Jennings KR 25 27.1 0
Taquan Mizzell KR 5'10, 200 Jr. 9 23.1 0
Khalek Shepherd PR 26 4.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 63
Field Goal Efficiency 19
Punt Return Efficiency 81
Kick Return Efficiency 76
Punt Efficiency 104
Kickoff Efficiency 16
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 32

9. The right pieces are back

UVA stunk at punting (or at least, punt coverage) and lost its punter. The Cavaliers were below average in the return game and are replacing both return men. A new starter doesn't equate to automatic improvement, but regression isn't likely.

Meanwhile, the good members of last year's special teams unit -- place-kicker Ian Frye and kickoffs guy Dylan Sims -- are back. If the defensive play-making regresses at all, offense and special teams are going to have to pick up the slack in field position. There's a chance that happens.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep at UCLA 7
12-Sep Notre Dame 16
19-Sep William & Mary NR
25-Sep Boise State 27
10-Oct at Pittsburgh 38
17-Oct Syracuse 73
24-Oct at North Carolina 44
31-Oct Georgia Tech 19
7-Nov at Miami 28
14-Nov at Louisville 32
21-Nov Duke 54
28-Nov Virginia Tech 26
Five-Year F/+ Rk -8.2% (76)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 43 / 37
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 5 / 6.4
2014 TO Luck/Game -0.6
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (6, 6)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 6.0 (-1.0)

10. This isn't going to be easy

Scouting the enemy

Virginia finished 39th in the F/+ rankings last year, and it's not too hard to see how. The defense held most opponents below season averages, and the Cavaliers beat Louisville, Pitt, and Miami and came within one score of UCLA, BYU, Duke, UNC, and Virginia Tech. With a few more good bounces, they could have gone 8-4 (or better) against a schedule that featured six top-35 teams.

The defense might take a small step backwards, but the offense might be able to improve enough to offset it. In theory, that means another potential top-40 performance and another chance at a breakthrough for London.

Of course, a breakthrough would be a lot easier without a schedule that features home games against teams projected 16th, 19th, 26th, and 27th, and road trips to teams projected seventh, 28th, 32nd, 38th, and 44th. A top-40 team might be happy to go 3-6 against those opponents.

That means that another potentially strong UVA team will have no margin for error if it wants to eke out bowl eligibility. That might be just enough to earn London a seventh year in Charlottesville, but it's going to be close.