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Georgia Tech Football: 2016 Opponent Previews - Virginia Cavaliers

Will a new coach and a new defense lead to new results?

NCAA Football: Duke at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

We continue the countdown to college football with a preview of the one team the media projected behind GT in the Coastal Division, the Virginia Cavaliers. Like just about every team, they are full of question marks.

Georgia Tech lost to Virginia in yet another close, forgettable game last season. They were 4-8 last season with several close wins against bad teams, and several close losses against decent teams. They finally decided to start over with a new coach and give themselves hope for the future, even if it doesn’t materialize right away.

Who’s Gone?

HC Mike London - Did you know Mike London was a police officer? If you’ve watched a Virginia game the past six seasons you probably did know that. London had high expectations after leading the Cavaliers to 8 wins in his second season at the helm. In the four years since then, they have not finished higher than 6th in the Coastal Division. He had strong recruiting, but players did not develop under him, and he was not a good in game coach. Almost all fans wanted London gone before last season, and his firing came as no surprise.

WR Canaan Severin - Virginia’s best true receiver last season, Severin racked up 761 yards at an impressive 10.3 yards/target. Losing him will leave the Cavaliers with no proven playmakers outside of Taquan Mizzel. The Cavaliers are going to need to find some new receivers fast or the passing game is going to continue to struggle.

Defensive Line - The Cavaliers are switching to a 3-4 defense this season, and they might struggle, without experience on the line, to stop offensive linemen from getting to the second level. Nose tackle David Dean along with defensive ends Trent Corney and Kwontie Moore combined for 15% of Virginia’s tackles last season as well as 23 tackles for loss. The Cavaliers have some talent on the line, especially 5-star recruit Andrew Brown who is now a more fitting system, but they will almost certainly take a step back on defensive line.

Who’s Back?

QB Matt Johns - Returning starter Matt Johns isn’t guaranteed the starting spot, but he is the likeliest to take the helm. Johns was very inconsistent last season. He was solid much of the season, but had some awful games against Boise State, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech. He threw for a decent 6.4 yards per attempt but way too many interceptions with 17. He loses his top two receivers, but keeps his biggest overall target in running back Taquan Mizzell. He doesn’t need to light the world on fire for this offense to work, he just has to cut down on the mistakes and let the running backs make plays.

RB Taquan Mizzell - Mizzell had 664 yards on the ground and 719 yards through the air. He is a major threat on both the ground and the air, and he isn’t Virginia’s only running back threat. Last year as a freshman, Olamide Zaccheaus had 7.9 ypc with 262 yards on the ground and 216 catching the ball. Albert Reid added 360 yards at 5.5 ypc. This three headed backfield led by Mizzell must be great this season to make up for the lack of experience on the outside of the offense.

LB Micah Kiser - When you are changing systems, it’s nice to have a stud like Kiser already in place at middle linebacker. He had 90.5 tackles on the season adding 7.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Unfortunately, the inside linebacker is not quite as important in the 3-4 as the 4-3, but Kiser can still be an anchor for this team as it transitions.


HC Bronco Mendenhall - It was a shock when UVA announced the hiring of Mendenhall, not because he seemed out of their league, but because he wasn’t on anybodies radar to leave his job at BYU. Leaving BYU makes sense for Mendenhall, he had early success but seemed to stall out. Virginia gives him a team without the onerous recruiting restrictions he faced in Provo, as well as a team that already has plenty of high rated talent on it. He could make a big improvement soon, but he will get several seasons to turn it around.

Best Name

Olamide Zaccheaus wins this one by a landslide.

What to Expect

Like all Coastal teams, UVA has quite a few question marks. Can Mendenhall make a big difference in his first season? Can the offense find enough receiving talent to let the strong backfield do their thing? Can the defense transition to the 3-4 successfully? While UVA went 4-8 last season, they did have one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country last season featuring Boise State, Notre Dame, and UCLA. This year, the schedules gets a little easier with games at Oregon and an improving, but still not good, UConn team. They trade Syracuse for Wake Forest so that’s a bit of a wash but still have Louisville as their crossover game. Just given the easier schedule, the Cavaliers could improve by a game or two. With a better coach and some returning talent, they could absolutely reach bowl eligibility. I doubt their ability to produce on offense if they have some injuries or can’t find a passing threat. Their cornerbacks and defensive line leave a lot of question marks especially with the defensive transition. They have a lot of toss-up games this year and I’m very torn on picking them between 5 and 6 wins.

Prediction: 5-7 (2-6)