It’s been a while since there was one of these. Kris Wright of TheSabre.com and I did and exchange of Q&A to prepare for Saturday’s game. You can find my answers to his questions over at their site.
If you looked at the Virginia schedule, you would notice a surprising 8 home games this year. The reason according to Kris is that while UVa was supposed to give a return game to Penn State this year, they bumped them (or possibly bought the game out) in favor of doing starting a home-and-home with Oregon. And any school that blows off Penn State can’t be all bad.
1. Like Pitt you have faced a patsy (blown them out), a top-10 team (blown out) and a somewhere-in-the-middle of the 1-A level major conference team (get by with a 3-point win). What do you know? What do you think you know? What don’t you know about this Virginia team, at this point?
Kris Wright/TheSabre.com: Not much in any of those categories really. Well at least not for the offense. Against BYU in the opener, the game was delayed for 2 hours due to a lightning storm and then it resumed in a steady rain so both offenses struggled quite a bit. Against Oregon, the Ducks ran all over Virginia. Against VMI, it was a slow start but then a stretch of 25-30 minutes of pure dominance. Basically, the offense has been fairly simple and straight forward as new offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild gets the team better acclimated to his plans. Add in a first-time starter at quarterback in David Watford and it’s been conservative city so far.
One thing we do know, however, is that the defense is versatile with multiple sub packages and concepts being used under new coordinator Jon Tenuta. It’s night and day from the conservative offensive approach because Tenuta is aggressive from beginning to end. That’s put some good speed to use and the defense looks like a potentially game-changing unit.
All in all, the Cavaliers enters this week in about as good a shape record wise as anyone could have predicted through three weeks. The four-game run beginning at Pitt is viewed as the critical stretch on the schedule for any hopes of postseason play this year.
2. The Cavs are among top-5 in time of possession. The passing offense is near the bottom of 1-A. Is it fair to consider this Virginia team a run-first offense or is there more to this offense than has been shown?
Kris Wright/TheSabre.com: Virginia is definitely a run-first offense right now as it breaks in a new starter in David Watford at QB. If UVa can do a better job of establishing that running game like it did against VMI, that should take pressure off of Watford – and he performed much better last week with a complementary running game than in the first two weeks. Of course, it was VMI and that defense hasn’t stopped anyone from Division II on up from running the ball this year. Nonetheless, that’s the desired identity for the offense: power running with play action. It’s similar to Pitt in that regard I suppose.
There is another wrinkle going on in that time of possession stat, though. The Cavaliers played BYU and Oregon, two teams in the hurry-up mode all the time on offense. Those two teams want to run plays every 14-16 seconds. In other words, they don’t want to have the ball for long so it was easy for the Hoos to own the TOP in those two games. UVa used more hurry up offense itself last week against VMI so TOP could go down if that continues.
3. Notwithstanding the Oregon game, the defense has appeared to be the strength of Virginia. Is there one player or one portion that keys the defense? What does he or this group do exceptionally well?
Kris Wright/TheSabre.com: Ask any Virginia fan that question and you’ll probably get two different answers, but it really goes hand in hand. The defensive line has been masterful in two dominant performances and actually played fairly well against Oregon too. The starting front four has two rock solid defensive tackles in Brent Urban (remember that name as he’ll be on NFL Draft boards with your own Aaron Donald) and David Dean, a speed rusher in Eli Harold, and a steady/always delivers guy in Jake Snyder. That quartet has done an excellent job of moving the line of scrimmage and firing into the backfield to disrupt things. Add in the pressure packages that Tenuta likes to bring and this group can really cause headaches for some teams.
The other answer you may get, however, is the secondary. All four starters are back from last season as well as the top two reserves so there is a ton of experience back there. Corner Demetrious Nicholson tied for the ACC lead last season with 15 pass break-ups, while safety Anthony Harris is the leading returning tackler from 2012 and leading the team in that category right now too. Virginia is ranked No. 6 nationally in pass defense by allowing just 140.0 yards per game and the defense is ranked No. 2 nationally in completion percentage against right now at 37.0%. In other words, that looks like a strength-on-strength battle with Pitt and that strong passing attack.
4. Coming into this season, there was a lot of rumbling on the national level that Mike London was heading for the hot-seat with another down season. Is that an accurate feeling among the Hoos?
Kris Wright/TheSabre.com: No. I believe 2014 is viewed as the “make or break” year for London by most fans. He inherited a mess in a lot of ways that took some time to cleanup and then this offseason he shuffled his coaching staff and coordinators. That puts next season in the limelight in terms of hot seat talk because most of his first two recruiting classes will be juniors or seniors and the coaches will have been in place for more than a year.
5. As newbies to the ACC we Pitt fans are still getting a feel for things. One thing that I seem to get a sense from other blogs and writings is that there’s a lot of dissatisfaction/frustration by ACC fans of their own programs. That they should be better than they are based on history, recruiting potential, expectations, etc. NC State, UNC, Miami, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia Tech, VT. Heck even Wake Forest. Is this an accurate view? If so, is it typical or just something recent?
Kris Wright/TheSabre.com: I think that’s pretty accurate. I think it is typical of the expansion era. The ACC started the musical chairs game in a lot of ways by taking Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech a few years back. Obviously, the latter two are viewed as football schools and it was clearly a football-motivated decision to expand the conference. With that move, expectations grew across the board among ACC fans and it hasn’t really let up since. Add in several mediocre years in postseason play by the ACC teams and it is easy for fans to get restless and expect more.
I will say that Virginia fans expect more. How could they not? Under George Welsh, the program won 7 games per year and earned bowl invitations regularly. Over the past decade plus, that has deteriorated into losing seasons. In fact, UVa hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 2004 and 2005. Of course, Hoo fans expect better than that!