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
|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%|
|28-Nov||at Virginia Tech||33||20-24||L||49%||-0.6||31%|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||62||1st Down Rk||77|
|Q2 Rk||94||2nd Down Rk||77|
|Q3 Rk||71||3rd Down Rk||75|
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.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Matt Johns||6'5, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8562||89||162||1109||8||5||54.9%||3||1.8%||6.5|
|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.
|Taquan Mizzell||TB||5'10, 200||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9721||64||280||2||4.4||2.5||35.9%||1||0|
|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|
|TB||5'9, 207||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8667||16||61||1||3.8||1.9||37.5%||1||!|
|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.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|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|
|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|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||67||1st Down Rk||31|
|Q2 Rk||10||2nd Down Rk||34|
|Q3 Rk||26||3rd Down Rk||2|
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?
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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|
|Tim Harris||CB||6'2, 200||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9150||10||18.0||2.9%||1||0||1||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.
|Dylan Sims||6'0, 190||Jr.||65||62.3||29||4||44.6%|
|Ian Frye||6'6, 215||Sr.||34-35||17-17||100.0%||5-10||50.0%|
|Taquan Mizzell||KR||5'10, 200||Jr.||9||23.1||0|
|Special Teams F/+||63|
|Field Goal Efficiency||19|
|Punt Return Efficiency||81|
|Kick Return Efficiency||76|
|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
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|19-Sep||William & Mary||NR|
|24-Oct||at North Carolina||44|
|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
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.