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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
ACC Coastal PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mike London, 16-21 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Fairchild | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jon Tenuta
Virginia has a new offensive coordinator and associate head coach for offense, but basically the same scheme and personnel. New coordinator Steve Fairchild isn’t attempting to re-invent the Cavaliers’ pro-style attack. He’d just like to improve it, particularly the running game, where the primary need is for more physical play up front. He’ll get help in that regard from associate head coach Tom O’Brien, the former head man at Boston College and NC State.
Who’s the quarterback? That’s the annual question. Tired of the revolving-door approach, Michael Rocco, who started eight games in 2012, transferred to Richmond for his final season of eligibility. That would seem to leave Phillip Sims, who started four games, as the clear No. 1, right? Not so fast. David Watford, who shuttled with Rocco in 2011 and redshirted a year ago, is back in the mix. So is redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert. Sims was ruled academically ineligible in late May, which leaves Watford and Lambert as the clear options battling for the No. 1 spot.
The key to beefing up the running game is an offensive line that was underwhelming a year ago. The return of tackle Morgan Moses, one of four starters back, gives the Cavaliers a big piece to build around. A former prep All-American, Moses flirted with entering the NFL Draft, but thought better. After an underwhelming junior year, he’s re-dedicated himself.
There’s no shortage of tailbacks, led by Kevin Parks, who was sixth in the ACC in rushing in 2012. There’s also speed and experience at receiver, with senior Tim Smith and juniors Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell all returning. Smith averaged 20.3 yards on 20 catches last season.
The fullback and tight end positions figure prominently in plans for a beefed-up running game. Tight end Jake McGee, a big-play type, must show improvement as a blocker.
The Cavaliers weren’t very disruptive last year. Enter Jon Tenuta, a veteran coordinator known for bringing heat with aggressive, blitzing schemes. “We’re not going to just stand still,” coach Mike London says. “We’re not just going to be a hood ornament, where you sit there and look nice.”
That suits defensive end Eli Harold, a speed-rusher who made an impact as a true freshman last year and has star potential. Tackle Brent Urban came on late last year and should anchor the inside.
At linebacker, a Tenuta specialty, four-year fixture Steve Greer and high-motor LaRoy Reynolds will be missed. There’s plenty of young talent, however, led by sophomore Kwontie Moore, who should push Henry Coley for the starting job in the middle.
Tenuta’s pin-your-ears-back scheme can leave cornerbacks isolated. Fortunately, Virginia has a capable pair in juniors Demetrious Nicholson and DreQuan Hoskey. Safeties Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps are also back, making the secondary the strength of the unit.
Virginia was last in the ACC in punt return average and kickoff coverage in 2012. Larry Lewis, a veteran special teams hand, was hired to shore things up. Punter Alex Vozenilek was solid a year ago, and Ian Frye replaces Drew Jarrett as the placekicker. True freshman Taquan Mizzell could add some juice to the return game.
A six-game losing streak and 4–8 finish sapped the momentum London had built over the previous two years. The overhaul of his staff smacked, if not of desperation, then clearly of a need for stronger direction and identity.
London has recruited well but has been criticized for his game management and lack of a consistent vision. His new hires have a combined 135 years of coaching experience. It feels a bit like a new start. Entering his fourth year, it’s probably the last one London will get.
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