First, a few general UVA football questions. Virginia's campus is beautiful and the academic reputation is tops and the school seems to have a lot going for it that could draw both good recruits and good coaches. It seems like almost very year I think they have turned the corner with the program and every year they end up right back where they started. The impression many of us have is that Virginia out recruits Tech most years and yet this never seems to translate into a good season for them. What institutional pressures or cultural issues hold this team back year after year, in your opinion?
Recruits follow wins. As an alum, I am extremely proud of Virginia's academic reputation and architectural beauty and how awesome Charlottesville is. But our football team hasn't been very good for a while. We spent most of the 1990s as a top-25 team, but that decade is becoming less and less relevant to recruits as the years go on. Al Groh (you guys love him too, right?) burned A LOT of bridges to some of the best high school programs in the Commonwealth. Mike London has done a great job rebuilding those connections: for instance, we've gotten the best player from Bayside High School for the last several years (Henry Coley, Demetrious Nicholson, Taquan Mizzell and next year Quin Blanding). As far as cultural/institutional pressures, UVa fans still aren't quite sure we're a football school. We love us some basketball (JOE HARRIS #SWOON) and non-revenue sports (whaddup baseball, lacrosse, soccer and field hockey). But football...yea let's tailgate and watch some of the game and cheer when we do well, but heavens we have to beat traffic to get back to Richmond so we're leaving with 7 minutes left in the 4th quarter no matter what. Success will follow success, but we've yet to see any success sustained long enough to perpetuate itself.
Mike London said yesterday that he "knows how to win". While he has an FCS championship to back that up, is it fair to say that knowing how to win at Richmond isn't the same as knowing how to win at UVA?
Yes. And many UVa fans are saying it. Time and again, London looks like he's in over his head. Whether it was the Great Timeout Fiasco at VPISU last season, or the end-of-game management against Maryland this year, or the seeming inability to make adjustments-either in games or between them-there is a sizable portion of the fan base that feels the players aren't being put in a position to win games. He knows how to recruit. He's an AMAZING recruiter. And he's a great motivator and molder of men. I like Mike London. I would want him to coach my son. I just don't want him as the head coach of my alma mater's football program.
Do you see the addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC as something that will help Virginia further expand their recruiting footprint as well as something that could increase the University's exposure in the Northeast? How have the fans reacted to the new teams in the league?
As far as recruiting: uh...sure? We don't really recruit a ton out of the Northeast. Nor does anyone else, since it isn't the biggest hotbed of talent. Groh recruited well from New Jersey (Eugene Monroe, for example, and Brian Cushing had UVa among his top choices before choosing USC). But our success is going to come from keeping Virginia talent at home, and poaching some from Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia. As far as feelings toward the two schools, I think we're excited about it. It adds two teams that we feel like we should be able to beat more often than we don't in football. But (returning to my above comments about other sports) what Syracuse and Pitt add to the ACC lines up with what UVa fans care about. Basketball is a lot stronger now; this should be an incredible season of ACC hoops. And adding Syracuse and Notre Dame for lacrosse makes the ACC the unquestioned top-dog among men's lacrosse conferences.
Before talking Saturday's game, we need to know something about a common opponent. When I look at what's happened in Charlottesville, I wonder how in the hell did they beat BYU? Have the Cougars improved a lot since that opening game, or has Virginia lost something?
It was a weird game. There was a multi-hour weather delay, then most of the 3rd quarter was played in a torrential downpour. We won on some screwy plays: a blocked punt, a botched snap we turned into a safety, and then picking a pass that BYU threw while leading with less than 5 to play in the 4th. Given the trajectory of the two teams since-BYU's dismantling of Texas the next week, and Virginia's spiral into irrelevancy-I'd be tempted to call it a fluke win. The barely competent offense that Virginia displayed against BYU has persisted, but the suffocating Wahoos defense from that game has become less effective in the intervening weeks.
Last year's game saw Virginia use two QBs -- the incumbent Michael Rocco, and the talented QB-in-waiting Phillip Sims. However, neither guy is with the program this year, and the new starter is sophomore David Watford. What should we know about him, and what should we expect to see from him on Saturday?
I think there's some hope among UVa fans you won't see him at all. The coaches said Watford was tapped for the starting gig because of his leadership during the offseason. He's got great wheels and a cannon for an arm. With a shaky O-line in front of him, his athleticism has been a plus at times. But there are huge question marks about his performance that have led for fans to call for a switch under center. Watch the "read-option" looks: he doesn't read anybody! When he carries, he looks scared of contact, usually scooting out of bounds after a yard gain instead of working upfield for three or four yards. His throwing accuracy is a big issue. We don't know if redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert (a Georgia boy!) would do any better. But he'd be a change of pace: a more typical drop back passer with an accurate arm and a quick release. And there's a strong sense that at the very least, it's unlikely Lambert would be any worse.
The team's leading rusher and receiver, Kevin Parks seems to be the do-it-all guy. What is it that he does so well? Also, who steps up as the go-to guy on offense if he's not in the game?
KP runs HARD. He's short but incredibly tough. A few commentators have compared him to Ray Rice; he's not quite as stout but I think the comparison is apt. He runs with incredible focus, too. Against BYU, he had a TD run that looked like he would be down on the five, but he kept his balance and lunged into the end zone. Last week against Duke, he caught a pass by trapping it against his calf, scooped it up and flipped over three defenders into the end zone. So...we like him. Khalek Shepherd and Taquan Mizzell
are his change-of-pace partners in the backfield: Shepherd is a straightaway burner (see: TD run against Oregon) and Mizzell is a shifty, Barry Sanders type (see: long sideline run against Duke). As far as a go-to guy, TE Jake McGee seems to be the favorite of both fans and the coaches. He seemed to break out of a slump against Maryland and provides spectacular plays on a pretty regular basis. Having a big target that causes matchup problems can be a safety valve for a young QB, and Watford goes to him pretty often.
Virginia for a number of years has had a pretty solid defense, yet this year they find themselves in the middle of the pack in a lot of categories. What difficulties has this had to deal with, and are there one or two major playmakers on that side of the ball we should know about?
This has been the most frustrating development over the last few weeks. This defense looked All-World for the first four weeks of the year; even giving up 59 points to Oregon, they were making plays but were just out-talented. Teams have attacked the edges with quick passes and seemed to catch our guys out of position a lot. The run defense had been pretty stout, but Duke was able to take advantage of our need to protect against the pass and gouge us a few times. There are playmakers across the board. SS Anthony Harris has been the big-play guy: he was Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week after the BYU win, and he's made great strides in his pass coverage. DEs Eli Harold and Jake Snyder are great off the edge, and converted OLB Max Valles has added some speed and size as a freshman. Losing DT Brent Urban to a leg injury has been a major setback. Urban is a 6'7 athletic freak who can get into the backfield and disrupt plays. Before his injury, he led the ACC in passes defended-not led the ACC's defensive linemen, led EVERYBODY.
Time for a game prediction. Keys to the game? How does Virginia win? How do they lose? What will happen in your opinion?
Virginia wins if it plays disciplined, assignment defense, pounds the ball on offense to open up deep passes, and keeps mistakes to a minimum. If we can make Vad Lee make bad decisions (something he seems quite capable of doing) and capitalize on them, we're going to be a lot better off. But if the penalties and turnovers keep rearing their heads, and the UVa coaches can't make adjustments to counter Paul Johnson's, then the Hoos come out on the bad end of this one. Tech's attack takes advantage of blitzes that move defenses out of position. I think Vad Lee will pick up on just enough of those instances to gash the Hoos. We'll scramble to respond and do something stupid. The game will be closer than the final score indicates, but Georgia Tech will win 31-19.
Thanks again to Paul and the crew over at Streaking the Lawn! You can check out my responses to their questions here. Make sure you follow them on Twitter!Follow @TheUVAFool Follow @PWiley87