2013 Virginia Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Virginia Cavalier Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Mike London shook up his offensive staff, adding former Colorado State head coach Steve Fairchild as his coordinator and longtime ACC head coach Tom O'Brien as an associate head coach of offense. Their directive from London has been simple—recommit to running the ball. The 2012 squad ranked 37th nationally in passing, yet struggled to score, and turned the ball over too often. UVa would like to get back to basics, grinding out yards from Kevin Parks and hopefully blue-chip rookie Taquan Mizzell in order to set up the pass. The pilot of that passing game has yet to be determined, though sophomore David Watford, who redshirted last year, appears to have an edge. The Cavaliers do have a nice set of hands for the quarterback, from wideouts Darius Jennings and Tim Smith to TE Jake McGee. The O-line is marginal, with massive LT Morgan Moses standing out as an exception. The senior will entice plenty of pro scouts to watch him perform in the fall.
Star of the offense: Senior LT Morgan Moses
Passing: David Watford
30-74, 346 yds, 3 TDs, 4 INTs
Rushing: Kevin Parks
160 carries, 734 yds, 5 TDs
Receiving: Darius Jennings
48 catches, 568 yds, 5 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB David Watford
Unsung star on the rise: Junior TE Jake McGee
Best pro prospect: Moses
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Moses, 2) Junior WR Darius Jennings, 3) McGee
Strength of the offense: Athletic quarterbacks, pass-catchers
Weakness of the offense: Consistency in the passing game, the ground game, the O-line, converting on third downs, turnovers
With the transfer of Michael Rocco across state to Richmond, conventional wisdom suggested that the job would be handed to junior Phillip Sims. Conventional wisdom apparently jumped the gun. The Alabama transfer and former blue-chipper from the 2010 class
was a part-time starter for the Cavs a year ago,
finishing 114-of-203 for 1,263 yards, nine
touchdowns and four interceptions, but he chose to transfer out leaving the race down to two options.
Sims was apparently lagging behind 6-1, 200-pound sophomore David Watford, whose work-ethic and desire to win the job have trumped his competitors. The dual-threat redshirted in 2012, using the time to grow bigger, stronger and wiser. And it has showed. He's not the same young kid who appeared in 10 games as a rookie, completing 30-of-74 passes for 346 yards, three touchdowns and four picks. He's elusive, poised, and will showcase zip that that belies his modest size.
Redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert is yet another of the highly-touted UVa quarterback recruits. The 6-5, 215-pound pocket passer from Georgia was ranked as the nation's No. 9 pocket passer of 2012. He sees the field well and has good arm strength, but just needs more live snaps in order to flatten the learning curve.
Watch Out For .... Watford to end the quarterback debate early in August. The staff wasn't ready to anoint a starter in the spring, but it's becoming increasingly clear that No. 5 could be the guy to lead the Cavaliers attack in 2013. He's smart, mature and multi-faceted in his ability. As tough as it was to be idle in 2012, that year away from the game could wind up serving as a career launching point for the sophomore.
Strength: Raw talent. New coordinator Steve Fairchild, who's also the quarterbacks coach, is probably pinching himself right now. He inherits more young talent than any Virginia coach in recent history. Sure, it's largely undeveloped, but when do the ‘Hoos harbor a former three, four and five-star hurler on the roster at the same time?
Weakness: Consistency in the passing game. This is a problem that has vexed Virginia for many years. The quarterbacks are really good athletes, but can they consistently deliver strikes through the air? Last year's team put up a lot of yards, but also ranked 82nd nationally in passing efficiency, the trademark of an attack that lacked accuracy, big plays and finished drives.
Outlook: It's the dawn of a new era behind center in Charlottesville, yet uncertainty remains a perennial problem in these parts. Watford appears to have the inside track, which
led Phillip Sims to transfer. The staff really likes the upside of its young hurlers, but might not witness all of their potential until 2014.
Over the last two seasons, Kevin Parks has been forced to share touches with teammate Perry Jones. Now that Jones has graduated, Parks is gearing up for an expanded role within an offense determined to do a much better job of running the ball. The junior actually led the Cavaliers on the ground in 2012, rushing for 713 yards and five touchdowns on 152 carries. In a show of versatility, he also caught 23 balls out of the backfield for 185 yards. Parks goes 5-8 and 200 pounds, using his leverage, lower body strength and determination to plow his way to extra yards after contact.
Junior Khalek Shepherd has solidified his hold on the No. 2 spot, especially after Clifton Richardson decided in May to leave the program. Shepherd is one of the program's top all-purpose performers, using his quickness and 5-8, 185-pound frame to dart in and out of traffic. Besides being the Cavs' best return man on special teams, he also ran 19 times for 122 yards and a score, adding six catches for 129 yards and another touchdown.
The new fullback in Charlottesville is sophomore Vincent Croce. The converted defensive lineman is 6-4 and 275 pounds, a physical lead blocker whose assignments this season will be rather elementary.
Watch Out For .... rookie Taquan Mizzell to make immediate noise upon arrival. The four-star gem from Virginia Beach is a classic case of need meeting talent. He's one of the highest rated backs to ever select UVa, an explosive downhill runner who's capable scaling the depth chart in August.
Strength: North-south runners. Parks is going to set the tone for the backfield, a no-nonsense back who will not waste a lot of movement to get from Point A to Point B. Mizzell is likely to follow, saving his shiftiness and scatback qualities for those moments when he gets out beyond the line of scrimmage.
Weakness: Explosiveness. Big plays on the ground continue to be scarce for the Cavaliers, which averaged only 3.7 yards per carry in 2012. Sure, the O-line shares in some of the blame, but it's not as if there's a sure-fire second-coming of Tiki Barber in the bunch. Of last year's 417 carries, just one produced a jaunt of at least 30 yards.
Outlook: Parks is serviceable and might even poke his head above the 1,000-yard mark if he gets more than 200 carries. However, he'll struggle to match the excitement and anticipation currently surrounding Mizzell. Virginia beat out the likes of Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Clemson to land the precocious runner, and it plans to remove his training wheels as soon as he's ready.
The Virginia passing attack desperately needed a wide receiver to step up his game and support the development of the quarterbacks. Junior Darius Jennings answered the call, finishing No. 2 on the team with 45 grabs for 545 yards and five touchdowns. While the Cavs' go-to guy would benefit from adding weight to his 5-11, 170-pound frame, he's thriving just fine with the help of great wheels and get-off. Jennings is one of the most explosive and hardest working weapons on the roster, using his quickness to turn a simple route into a momentum-changing play.
Over at the other wide receiver spot, 6-0, 190-pound senior Tim Smith hopes to be the kind of producer who takes heat and attention away from Jennings. Smith has played a lot of football for the Cavs since arriving in 2009. He's a steady veteran of 22 starts, making 20 grabs for 405 yards and four touchdowns in nine games last year. Smith has had a big-play penchant, averaging just under 17 yards a reception for his career.
Regardless of the coaching staff, Virginia has always made good use of its tight ends in the passing game over the years. With Jake McGee back for his junior season, there's absolutely no reason to deviate from old habits. The 6-5, 235-pound athlete emerged suddenly as a preferred target of the Cavaliers' quarterbacks in 2012, catching 27 balls for 366 yards and five touchdowns. More of a super-sized wideout than a true tight end, he possesses the speed, quickness and acrobatic leaping ability to create major matchup headaches for opposing linebackers.
Virginia's first receiver off the bench will be 5-11, 170-pound junior Dominique Terrell. The former four-star recruit has a similar build and style of play to Jennings, using his quickness and athleticism to beat bump-and-run coverage at the line of scrimmage. He started six games in 2012, filling in for an injured Smith to catch 38 balls for 475 yards.
While junior E.J. Scott is somewhat buried on the depth chart at this stage of the offseason, the staff knows what it will get from the 5-11, 185-pounder. He was productive on the outside as a two-game starter and first-time letterwinner, catching 29 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns.
No one is quite ready to hand the tight end job to McGee without a fight. Junior Zach Swanson, for one, is not. The 6-6, 255-pound is returning to his natural position after selflessly pitching in at fullback in 2012. He did catch eight balls for 88 yards and a touchdown, and gives the Cavs the added size needed to support the ground game as a blocker.
Watch Out For .... the passing game to make even better use of the tight ends. This program loves to employ the position, and rarely has had trouble attracting big and talented pass-catchers to campus. McGee and Swanson bring something a little different to the offense, but both figure to be productive, especially with the likely bumpy road that'll be experienced by a young quarterback.
Strength: Yards after the catch. Each of Virginia's top three weapons, Smith, Jennings and Terrell, is more than just a speedy threat going from Point A to Point B. The trio is also elusive with the ball in their hands, using quick moves and cutbacks into daylight to turn short slants into backbreaking gallops toward the end zone. The Cavs averaged 11.7 yards per completion, despite throwing a lot of balls to backs and tight ends.
Weakness: Inconsistency. The ensemble of wide receivers is still a little unpolished, dynamic one week, yet AWOL the next. The play of the quarterbacks has certainly been a contributing factor, but the support team on the outside must raise the level of their play, reducing its number of off weeks in 2013.
Outlook: This is a better group than the stats indicate. The Cavaliers house playmakers at wide receiver and a couple of reliable targets at tight end. On a different team, one with more consistent quarterbacks, the skill players would shine brighter. For now, though, Jennings, Smith and McGee will need to work a little harder to get open and get downfield with the ball in their hands.
The upcoming season is a huge one for Virginia's big man up front, 6-6, 325-pound T Morgan Moses. Yeah, he's been productive in Charlottesville, starting 31 career games, but just the fact that he's back for his senior year is an indication that he hasn't quite fulfilled the expectations of a former mega-recruit. Moses flirted with the idea of leaving for the NFL, but instead will be shifting from the right side to left tackle now that Oday Aboushi has graduated. Moses is a massive, physical presence at the point of attack, who'll benefit from maintaining his weight and improving his agility before scouts get their hooks in him.
Bucking to replace Moses at right tackle will be 6-6, 295-pound Jay Whitmire, a returning letterman who started last year's Wake Forest game. The solid three-star recruit, who was pursued by Penn State and Notre Dame, has filled out nicely, and has a future at left tackle with proper development.
Senior Luke Bowanko is on the move again. The former right guard, who started all 12 games at center last season, has taken up residence at left guard. Steady, experienced and strong at 6-6 and 295 pounds, he brings much needed stability and a veteran presence to the interior.
Over at right guard will be Sean Cascarano, a veteran letterman in each of the last three seasons. The 6-6, 280-pounder can play multiple positions, though he started all 12 games at right guard in 2012. The senior is longer and leaner than most guards, so his leverage and ability to bend at the knees will be especially important to his development.
The story of the spring up front has been authored by redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo, the new frontrunner at center. The walk-on eschewed a scholarship offer from Temple to play for the ‘Hoos, but a free ride might be right around the corner. While listed at just 6-5 and 260 pounds, he has the long frame that can handle additional weight.
The Cavaliers' most experienced guard and tackle will be 6-5, 300-pound junior Conner Davis and 6-4, 295-pound junior Cody Wallace, respectively. Davis actually started all but a single game in 2012, but is now looking up at Cascarano. A player of his experience is a luxury coming off the bench. Wallace appeared in 10 of 12 games last fall, starting the opener before getting injured.
Watch Out For .... Moses to play as if a fat salary is at stake … because one is going to be. No. 78 passes the eye test, and is adequately experienced as a Cavalier. If he puts it all together, which looked to be the case in the spring, he's capable of shooting up NFL draft boards leading up to next February's Combine.
Strength: The left side. Now that Moses and Bowanko has shifted from right tackle and center, respectively, the Cavs are likely to direct most of their running plays to the left of center. The pair manning tackle and guard is strong, experienced and capable of creating much-needed holes for the backs.
Weakness: Point of attack. Moses can handle himself in the trenches. But those around him are generally middling blockers who too often are being pushed off the line. Last year's unit ranked 71st nationally in sacks allowed, and paved the way for a ground game that averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Now, Virginia will be breaking in a rookie center and a young right tackle.
Outlook: The O-line disappointed a year ago, when a future NFL draft choice occupied left tackle. Moses is going to raise the level of his play in 2013, but will it be enough to elevate those around him? These Cavs are seasoned and hard-working. They're also no better than average by ACC standards, which will be evident against the faster pass rushers on the schedule.
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