CFN Preview 2013 - Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia RB Kevin Parks
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Virginia Cavaliers
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By Richard Cirminiello
Mike London did in the offseason what any coach with a 16-21 career mark would do—he shook up his staff in an effort to locate a new direction and some fresh energy.
Head coach: Mike London
4th year: 16-21
Off. 21, Def. 18, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Virginia Players
1. LT Morgan Moses, Sr.
2. CB Demetrious Nicholson, Jr .
3. WR Darius Jennings, Jr.
4. RB Kevin Parks, Jr.
5. S Anthony Harris, Jr.
6. WR Tim Smith, Sr.
7. TE Jake McGee, Jr.
8. DE Jake Snyder, Sr.
9. DE Eli Harold, Soph.
10. LB Henry Coley, Jr.
9/14 OPEN DATE
9/28 at Pitt
10/5 Ball State
10/12 at Maryland
10/26 Georgia Tech
11/9 at North Carolina
11/16 OPEN DATE
11/23 at Miami
11/30 Virginia Tech
In response to his team's 4-8 finish, London's second one in three years in Charlottesville, the head coach hired two new coordinators and another prominent figure with a ton of ACC experience. Former Colorado State head man now leads the offense, venerable assistant Jon Tenuta is in charge of the defense and Tom O'Brien has been named the associate head coach of the offense. Virginia believes it's gotten markedly better on the sidelines, but will it translate on the field?
The Cavs were unable to build on their success of 2011. In fact, the program has now lost 10 of its last 14 games, piling pressure on both the coaches and the returning players to start a new trend. Virginia is in danger of retreating. The 2012 squad showed some early life before dropping six games and never recovering. A close loss to rival Virginia Tech, the ninth straight in the series, sort of encapsulated where the program resides right now.
So where does UVa go from here? The talent is decent enough to compete for bowl berths, but not for Coastal Division crowns or ACC championships. At least not now. The task for the staff, both new and old, will be to coach up the Cavaliers, extracting more efficiency and production from the holdovers.
The main objectives for Fairchild, O'Brien and the rest of the offense will be to decide on a quarterback and to get back to running the ball with authority. Three quarterbacks went toe-to-toe in the spring, with sophomore David Watford nudging into a lead. The D needs to produce more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ergo the hiring of Tenuta, a connoisseur of attacking defenses.
Since 2006, Virginia has authored just two winning campaigns, in 2007 and 2011. Sustained excellence is not a part of its personality. London knows that a second straight losing season will put him in a very precarious position, and has reacted accordingly with an infusion on new blood on the staff. The coach has proven he can recruit, but now he needs to transform the talent around him into a postseason return.
What to look for on offense: A (re)commitment to the running game. Virginia has always wanted to run the ball with an attitude, but it's now made it a top priority during the offseason. The Cavs rarely ride the back of the passing game, and have offseason uncertainty concerning the quarterback position. They do have a quality power back, Kevin Parks, capable of shouldering the load and a blue-chip rookie, Taquan Mizzell, who's determined to do more than just earn a letter in his ‘Hoo debut.
What to look for on defense: Ratcheting up the pressure. New coordinator Jon Tenuta plans to turn up the heat, as if anything else would be expected from the longtime assistant. He does have options with which to work, such as rising DE Eli Harold and speedy outside linebackers Demeitre Brim and Daquan Romero. If the Cavaliers can do a better job of perforating the pocket, their pass defense could rank among the leaders of the ACC. The secondary brings back all four starters, led by all-star candidate Demetrious Nicholson at cornerback.
This team will be much better if… it isn't among the nation's worst teams in turnover margin. The Cavaliers were last in takeaways in the ACC a year ago and No. 8 in turnovers, which is no way to remain competitive. Both figures need to move in the right direction in order for Virginia to turn more of those close losses, four by a touchdown or less, into victories. Last season's biggest culprit was in the passing game, marked by a -11 in interceptions made versus interceptions thrown.
The Schedule: The Cavaliers are trying to rebound after a bad 2012, right? Starting with BYU and Oregon, even though the games are at home, won't help. The ACC slate starts out with a date against a jacked up Pitt team looking to make some early noise in its new league, but things ease up a bit with Ball State, at Maryland and Duke and nice and breezy three game stretch before a horrible finishing kick. There's no Florida State to deal with from the Atlantic, but getting Clemson is no prize to kick off a brutal November, and going to North Carolina and Miami before closing out against Virginia Tech might all but squash any dreams of winning the Coastal.
Best Offensive Player: Senior LT Morgan Moses. It's time—time for Moses to assert himself as one of the nation's premier offensive tackles. The veteran of 31 starts hasn't quite become the next D'Brickashaw Ferguson or Eugene Monroe, as was expected, but there's still time. Moses is a hulking 6-6, 325-pounder, with the experience, power and footwork to play his way into the upper echelon of the 2014 NFL Draft. If the offseason counts for anything, he's been playing as if he knows a big paycheck is at stake this season.
Best Defensive Player: Junior CB Demetrious Nicholson. As he enters his third season as a starter, Nicholson is clearly trending north. He took a major step forward in 2012, parlaying 56 tackles and a team-high 15 pass breakups into honorable mention All-ACC. Nicholson is a fluid pass defender, both with his hips and his backpedal. Now all he needs to do is to add a few pounds to that 5-11, 170-pound frame, and finally start turning a few of those tipped balls into turnovers.
Key player to a successful season: True freshman Taquan Mizzell. Too much pressure? Of course. But the Cavaliers didn't land a player of Mizzell's caliber so that he can patiently develop over the next couple of seasons. He's an instant impact player for a program pining for more production out of the running backs. Kevin Parks is the starter, and a serviceable one at that. However, he doesn't have a star quality or transformational persona about him. Mizzell does, and the ‘Hoos need to see it develop quickly in 2013.
The season will be a success if ... Virginia plays a 13th game. The Cavaliers open with BYU and Oregon, so there's a very good chance they'll be digging out of an early hole. But few major-conference programs can tolerate back-to-back bowl-less postseasons. And Virginia isn't one of them. This team has to move forward in 2013, proving that the changes in the coaching staff were worthwhile ones. A bowl game—any bowl game—is going to take some heat off the staff and the kids.
Key game: Sept. 28 at Pittsburgh. Yeah, snapping the nine-game losing streak against rival Virginia Tech would be sweet, but the Week 4 trip to Heinz Field could be even more pivotal in 2013. There's a very good chance that the Cavs will be 1-2 heading into this road trip to Western Pennsylvania. With a win, the program finds stable footing, and can begin a serious run toward bowl-eligibility. If, however, it falls short, digging back from 1-3, with a remaining schedule that includes games with Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and the Hokies, will be a very tall order.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Interceptions thrown: Virginia 15 – Opponents 4
- Total offense per game: Virginia 396.5 – Opponents 353.3
- Sacks: Virginia 17 - Opponents 25
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