In less than one week, the BYU Cougar's will be traveling to the East Coast to take on their first opponent of the season, the Virginia Cavaliers. But what do we know about Virginia? As a team most BYU fans have no reason to regularly follow, and a team that has next to no history with the Cougar's (or any team in the state of Utah for that matter), this is the perfect opportunity to really analyze who the Virginia Cavaliers are. Here we will identify what they have done in recent years, preview their offense, their defense, what they are expected to accomplish this season, as well as how they match up with this year's Cougars.
Who are the Virginia Cavaliers?
The University of Virginia is located in beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia. Virginia's first recorded football season was in 1888, meaning this Saturday's kick-off with BYU will mark the beginning of their 125th year of collegiate football. They have been members of the ACC Coastal Division since 1953, and have won the ACC Conference Title two times, in 1989 and 1995. They play in Scott Stadium, which seats 61,500 fans. The Cavaliers have had their fair share of struggles in recent years. With the school experiencing four losing seasons in the last five years, and losing 10 of their last 14 games, Coach Mike London has completely revamped his coaching staff this past off- season. Will that be enough to lead Virginia to a winning season, and save Coach London's job? Let's take a closer look.
Last year's Cavaliers ended the season with a 4-8 record, however, four of those losses were decided by a touchdown or less. This led many to believe they were on the verge of being an 8-4 team and in the hunt for last year's ACC Championship Game.
After last season, BYU fans are all too familiar with that feeling, as the Cougars also had four losses that were decided by a touchdown or less. As a result of last year, both of these teams know how close they were to having completely different seasons. But with Virginia returning 16 starters from last season and having a revamped coaching staff, it's safe to assume they will be a legitimate threat not only to the BYU Cougars, but also every other team on their schedule this year.
Virginia's offense, which returns seven starters from last year, will be led by sophomore quarterback David Watford, who redshirted last season after seeing limited snaps as a true freshman in 2011. Virginia has had some serious question marks at quarterback for the last couple of seasons, but fans are hoping that issue has been resolved with Watford taking the reigns. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for with exceptional speed, mobility, and a powerful arm. The word from Virginia's fall camp is that we can expect to see this year's offense structured around his mobility. We will probably see them line up in the Pistol formation, which would give Watford the freedom to use his mobility as a threat at any time. Running an offense with a dual threat quarterback is always helpful in keeping a defense honest, and Virginia will undoubtedly try to take advantage of that this year.
Junior running back Kevin Parks will take the majority of the carries for Virginia this season. Parks rushed for 734 yards last year on 160 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per rush. Virginia's rushing attack ranked only 94th in the country last season, which probably means the rushing game has been a big point of emphasis this off-season. Given the question marks at quarterback, look for Virginia to run the ball a lot this year. We can anticipate a noticeable improvement in their running game, especially with highly-touted freshman, Taquan Mizzell, making his debut. Look for Mizzell to contribute early and often.
The receiving corps at Virginia is expected to be in great hands this season, being led by junior Darius Jennings and senior Tim Smith, who combined for over 1,000 yards last season. They have an excellent slew of receivers ready to back them up in E.J. Scott and Dominique Terrell, who each posted over 300 receiving yards last season respectively.
The final verdict for the offensive is they will almost certainly be better than last year. The offense should be solid, but probably won't be dominant anywhere. With four of last year's five offensive linemen returning, experienced receivers, and a dual threat quarterback, defenses who are found on their heels this season may find themselves paying for it.
Virginia's defense was ranked 28th in the nation last season, and has seven of last year's eleven starters returning. Last season they allowed just under 145 rushing yards per game, and gave up 208 passing yards per game. They are expected to have a solid secondary this season, returning both safeties and both cornerbacks. The linebackers are not quite as experienced as the secondary, as they must replace Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds, and the defensive line has several question marks heading into the season, especially with the loss of DT Chris Brathwaite.
Last year's defense greatly struggled against several opponents, giving up 56 points at Georgia Tech, 44 against Louisiana Tech, 42 at Duke, 40 against Miami, and 37 against North Carolina. That's one thing that will need to be corrected if the Cavaliers expect to make a bowl game this season.
What are they expected to accomplish this season?
Virginia has a grueling schedule this year. It begins with early non-conference opponents BYU and Oregon, and ends with a November lineup of Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, and Virginia Tech. With such a tough slate of games, people aren't a expecting a lot of wins. What they will be looking for though, is noticeable improvements on both sides of the ball, even if it doesn't reflect in the win column. With rumors circulating that this season may be Coach London's last chance to save his job, don't be shocked to see Virginia steal a couple of big games this year, and make a push for a bowl game. It's realistic for the Cavaliers to finish the season with a 6-6 record.
How do they match up with BYU?
Though maybe not quite as good as last year's, BYU is expected to have another great defense this season. That said, the Cougar's shouldn't have a problem containing Virginia's run game this weekend. With the new uptempo style offense being implemented at BYU, the Cougar's shouldn't have a terribly hard time finding opportunities to put points on the board. The biggest concern for the Cougars in this game is probably BYU's depleted secondary against Virginia's veteran receivers. If Virginia's offensive line can give QB David Watford enough time to exploit the holes in BYU's secondary, this game could get very interesting.
Ultimately, it's pretty clear that BYU is the better team. The Cougar's are likely going to walk out of Scott Stadium on Saturday with a victory. But just remember, Virginia is a good team, with good athletes, playing at home, with a need to make a strong statement to begin their season. Don't be shocked if the game is much closer than many are predicting.
Prediction: BYU wins 31-24
Note: For another look at the Virginia Cavaliers, see Matt Brown's article from last month, Know the Foe: Virginia Cavaliers.
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